Notes on some of the books I”ve read recently:

Caroline Smailes, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton (2013). A properly wonderful tale of water nymphs living in a northern English swimming baths, and the boy who falls for one of them. The clash between timeless magic and the modern, rather mundane, setting is amusing at times; but a deeper sense of something genuinely strange and dangerous also emerges. Smailes tells a coming-of-age story with an atmosphere all its own.

Richard C. Morais, Buddhaland Brooklyn (2012). Seido Oda is dispatched from his monastery in Japan to set up his sect’s first temple in America – Brooklyn, to be precise. Once there, Oda finds a ragbag of individuals who mean well, but who aren’t the kind of Buddhist he is used to. This is an engaging tale of different cultures meeting, as both Oda and the Brooklyn Buddhists find that they can learn from each other.

Gila Green, King of the Class (2013). A few years hence in Israel, Eve has a decision to make about her relationship when her fiancé Manny embraces religion. A decade later, she faces new pressures when her son goes missing. Green’s debut examines issues of identity, faith and love, as it moves between character-based drama and mystery-thriller.

Peggy Riley, Amity & Sorrow (2013). Amaranth,  one of the wives from a fundamentalist cult, flees the cult’s compound with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. One of the girls responds well to the outside world; the other longs to return. Riley goes back to examine how and why Amaranth joined the cult, and what led to her leaving; as well exploring the lives and feelings of her three protagonists in the present. All adds up to an insightful and multi-faceted character study.

Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders (2007). When I was a child, I read a lot of Gyles Brandreth’s books of obscure facts and puzzles (his Word Box was very nearly one of my choices for Simon’s My Life in Books feature). Now Brandreth has written a series of murder mysteries starring Oscar Wilde as the detective; this (my reading group’s latest choice) is the first, and sees Wilde’s journalist friend Robert Sherard as narrator, and Arthur Conan Doyle in a supporting role. Brandreth’s novel is quite the romp, with Wilde becoming a Sherlock Holmes figure; but it feels too much as though the cards of the mystery are being stacked up to be revealed at the ed, making the journey that bit less involving.