Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres
By Jane Smiley
Knopf, 1991. 371 pgs. Fiction

I had forgotten how depressing and tragic King Lear is until I read this retelling set on an Iowa farm. Larry Cook owns a thousand acres of farmland and farms it with his two son-in-laws. His oldest daughter, Ginny, prepares him breakfast each morning. Rose, the second daughter, is recovering from breast cancer. While at a barbecue, a drunken Larry proposes to retire and split the farm evenly between his three daughters. Caroline, the youngest daughter, realizes the folly of this plan and Ginny, the narrator, knows Larry is doing this in response to his jealousy over a neighbor farmer’s new tractor. However, Ginny, Rose, and their husbands agree to the plan, but Caroline rejects it, causing her father to reject her. This proposal and subsequent turnover has serious consequences for all involved.

For those who have read King Lear, they will recognize several scenes from the tragedy, including the storm, the Earl of Gloucester being blinded, and the older sisters’ adultery. Smiley has added her own tragedies specific to this novel, which highlight the contentious relationship between Ginny, Rose and their father. These new additions to the story pushed it over the edge for me, making my read laborious and a fight to finish it. I wish I had remembered what King Lear was like; I might have chosen to read another book instead.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris

The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris
By Chris Ewan
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2008. 280 pgs. Mystery

Charlie’s a thief. He’s also a writer. And since he writes about thieving…the two careers are symbiotic. But being the charming Robin Hood sort, he only steals from the wealthy. After fleeing Amsterdam from a sticky situation he finds himself in Paris. With a penchant for paintings, he’s always dreamed of getting his hands on one of the old masters. Fate steps in when he’s blackmailed into stealing a Picasso from the Pompidou. With a mismatch of entertaining bandits, the book is a fun read. Readers familiar with the famous city of lights will appreciate the scenery and especially the bookstore—a dead ringer for the famous Shakespear & Co. Don’t be surprised if the mystery seems highly reminiscent of the film, Ocean’s Twelve. And I’d watch the author closely whenever he visits the Tate.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2008. 270 pgs. Fiction

What austere, understated, heartbreakingly beautiful stories come from New England. Sarah Orne Jewett’s “Country of the Pointed Firs” springs to mind as does now Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteredge” which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature last week. Advanced as a “novel in stories,” the book is a series of narratives linked by the title character who sometimes is the protagonist and sometimes just passes through. Olive is a prickly person, opinionated and often brutally outspoken, and she gives her gentle, outgoing husband Henry a run for his money most of the time, but still he loves her as the reader will come to do. Olive, a retired high school math teacher, seems to have either inspired or terrorized her former students, and sometimes both. Her difficulty in showing her son how much she loved him becomes apparent in their strained relationships. But she sometimes shows great depths of insight and compassion which we see in her actions rather than her thoughts--in a word here, a gesture there, towards the characters through whose lives she moves. Continuing the New England theme, many of Strout’s characters, in Thoreau's perfect phrase, live lives of quiet desperation and yet this is a deeply affirming book after all, not to be missed.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire (originally published as Q&A)
By Vikas Swarup
Scribner, 2008. 313 pgs. Fiction

In this famous, debut novel that sparked the recent Oscar hit, the story of Ram Mohammad Thomas begins in a jail cell. And what crime did this uneducated, teenage orphan commit?--merely the unspeakable horror of being too smart. After answering every question correctly, he wins the billion dollar jackpot on Who Will Win a Billion?, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Because he's had no formal education Ram’s accused of cheating and thrust in jail. When an unknown lawyer jumps to his rescue she coerces him to tell her the truth.

His response is simple…Life Experience. Each chapter flashes back to a segment in Ram’s past—with the answer to the quiz show questions woven so skillfully into the dismal fabric of his life that the entire production seems a gift from the gods to make up for his miserable childhood.

It might seem too good to be true, but in this unique ‘rags to riches’ tale the story is both engrossing and repulsive as Swarup details the horrors found in the poverty stricken slums of Mumbai. Skillfully written, Vikas Swarup is the Indian reincarnation of Charles Dickens--with a bit more grit. Although a dark presentation, with the forces of Karma at work in Ram’s life, everyone--be it good or evil--gets what they deserve in the end. What a beautiful thought. Recommended if you can handle the unpleasant reality.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wabi: A Hero's Tale

Wabi: A Hero's Tale
By Joseph Bruchac
Dial Books, 2006. 198 pgs. Young Adult

Wabi was born as a great horned owl and from the very beginning he is different. He does not realize it at first, but soon discovers that he can understand other animals. Before he knows it, he has adopted a wolf pup that becomes his most loyal friend and he falls in love with a girl from the local human village.

This book is full of adventure, humor, romance, magic, monsters, Native American culture and a lot of other really wonderful things. You can't help loving Wabi and wanting to find out what will become of him in all of his adventures. I would feel confident recommending this book to just about anyone, from the young reluctant reader to the more mature reader looking for a quick enjoyable read.


The Diplomat's Wife

The Diplomat’s Wife
By Pam Jenoff
Mira, 2008. 360 pgs. Historical Fiction

Rescued from a Nazi concentration camp after months of torture and deprivation, Marta finds herself one of the few ‘lucky ones’ in the aftermath of World War II. With friends and family missing and dead she is unsure of what direction to take. But opportunities are presented which give her a chance for a new life and possibly a new love sparked with the chance meeting of a young American soldier.

I didn’t realize until halfway through this book that it was a sequel to Jenoff’s first novel “The Kommandant’s Girl”. Following the story was not a problem, Jenoff eventually fills in all the pieces to what occurred during the war, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first one. This book contains enjoyable historic writing with a plot that moves, though I felt the premise was a bit of a stretch from reality. I did enjoy reading more about the struggles faced by those trying to fight the spread of communism following World War II.


The Unforgiving Minute

The Unforgiving Minute: a Soldier’s Education
By Craig M. Mullaney
Penguin, 2009. 386 pgs. Biography

This is a powerful literary memoir from a young Afghanistan veteran. Craig Mullaney writes of his military education, through four years of West Point and the camps and retreats involved in becoming an Army Ranger. His two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar coincided with 9/11 and his approaching 5 years of military service immediately gained new aspects and potential consequences. His story builds to the ‘unforgiving minute’ when he finds himself leading his men through a brutal gunfight with Afghan insurgents.

Mullaney is a gifted writer and his story is presented with fascinating observation and insight. His writing style is honest and he skillfully leads the reader through his experiences. I was impressed with the level of sacrifice and dedication required of those who plan to lead our troops. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone especially any who would like a better understanding of modern soldiers.


Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon

Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon
By Nancy Atherton
Viking, 2009. 232 pgs. Mystery

Lori Shepherd and her fellow English villagers of Finch find their tranquil little hamlet overrun by a traveling Renaissance Festival this summer—otherwise known as King Wilfred’s Faire. Wary at first, the villagers soon become enamored of the medieval delights of jousting, feasting, and general merrymaking. They all submit their costuming requests of peasant, lord or knight to be made up and attend the Ren Fest with daily interest and attired just as the performers. However, it appears that someone has taken a disliking to good King Wilfred and the numerous accidents that befall his highness are too many to be deemed merely accidental. Someone’s head is going to roll and Lori fears it just might be the good king's. So with her magical journal and Aunt Dimity’s help, she sets out to find the rouge and begins her own joust with adventure.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
by Roddy Doyle
Penguin, 1993, 288 pgs, General Fiction

What begins as a rough and tumble look at a group of boy's lives in 1960's Ireland turns into a poignant story of a boy dealing with his parents impending separation. The author manages to capture all the excitement, frustration, pain, confusion and horror that is life for these boys. At first the writing style may turn you off, but persist, this is a story worth reading.


The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones
By Alice Sebold
Little, Brown, 2002. 328 pgs. Fiction

Looking down from heaven, 14-year-old Susie Salmon recounts her rape and murder and watches her family as they cope with their grief and "the lovely bones" growing around her absence.

This novel is both captivating and gut wrenching. I listened to the book on CD and I often didn’t want to get out of my car when I had reached my destination, because I was so involved in the book. It is not squeaky clean, however it is thought provoking and well written.


3 Willows: the Sisterhood Grows

3 Willows: the Sisterhood Grows
By Ann Brashares
Delacorte Press, 2009. 318 pgs. Young Adult

Set in the same town as the original Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this is the story of Ama, Polly, and Jo who have been friends since their parents all forgot to pick them up on the first day of third grade. The girls who were given willow trees to plant and study in class that day are compared throughout the book to the nature of this tree.

Just like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the story takes place during the summer. The girls have slowly been drifting apart over the last year, and this summer Ama and Jo will be out of town. The story rotates among the girls and their experiences. Ama, a city-girl, is mistakenly sent to an outdoor adventure camp. Jo is staying the entire summer at her family’s beach house and gets a job at a local restaurant where she kisses a boy before she even learns his name. Polly joins a modeling camp after she discovers that her grandmother, who she has never met, was once a model.

The good and the bad is that this novel is pretty much an exact copy of the Traveling Pants series, sans pants. It’s good if you enjoyed reading the series and want to relive it. It’s bad if you were hoping for something new and fresh from Brashares.


The Bell at Sealey Head

The Bell at Sealey Head
By Patricia McKillip
Ace Books, 2008. 277 pgs. Fantasy.

For hundreds of years the inhabitants of Sealey Head, a small fishing village, have heard an unseen bell toll exactly at sun down. Most residents don’t really even hear it anymore, but a few people have always wondered why. Gwyneth Blair, a wealthy sea merchant’s daughter who loves to write stories about the bell, Judd Cauley, the son of the Sealey Head Inn owner and avid reader, Hester the local wood witch, and her daughter, Emma, a maid at the large manor known as Aislinn House.

It seems as though life at Sealey Head will continue as it always has, until a few things happen all at once. Lady Eglantyne of Aislinn House begins to die and her grand-niece, Miranda Beryl, is sent for and Ridley Dow, a scholar, comes to investigate the mysterious bell.

It is soon revealed that a parallel world exists in Aislinn House where doors open at random to this other world. It is up to the main characters to figure out what the tolling bell has to do with both worlds.

Overall this was a very enjoyable, quick read. I did feel a little confused by the ending. I think some of the magic stuff needed to be clarified. I also felt like there were some scenes missing from the book. The nature of the story forced the author to jump around a lot, but when the story would return to a certain scene or character, sometimes I felt like too much had been skipped over.


Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited
By Evelyn Waugh
Little Brown, 1945. 351 pgs. Fiction.

The story of Charles Ryder and his experiences with the Marchmain’s of Brideshead Castle, an upper class Roman Catholic family. Set in England between the two world wars, Charles first meets Sebastian Flyte, a younger son in the Marchmain family at Oxford University. Though they are from very different circles, Charles and Sebastian become close friends and have a grand time getting drunk every night. Sebastian takes Charles to Brideshead that summer where Charles meets the rest of the Marchmain family and observes the dynamics of a very devout matriarch with her children. Charles himself is agnostic and has a hard time understanding the torment the two middle children, Sebastian and Julia feel over the lives they want to live versus the guilt they feel from their religious upbringing.

As Charles grows up, his life drifts in and out of the world at Brideshead, but his desire to be a part of it never fades.

While reading this book I was torn about how I felt about it. I finally came to the conclusion that while I didn’t care for some of the storyline, I loved the depth and complexity of the characters and the subtlety of the writing. It is no wonder this book has stood the test of time.


Friday, April 17, 2009

The Winner Stands Alone

The Winner Stands Alone
By Paulo Coelho
HarperCollins, 2008. 343 pgs. Fiction

Once again Coelho affirms his place as master storyteller. In The Winner Stands Alone Igor is a Russian multi-millionaire who vows to convince his ex-wife, Ewa, that he will do anything to prove his love for her--and he does. The novel comprises a psychological exploration of three subjects: the mind and actions of a serial killer, the outward glitz and glamour of the film and fashion industries, and the true nature of love and evil. Extremely fast-paced and compelling, the entire story takes place within a 24 hour period, beginning at 3:17 am and closing at 1:55 am the following day. Set in Cannes during the world famous film festival, this work contains the excitement of a thriller with the literary depth Coelho is known for.

This is my favorite of Coelho’s repertoire since The Alchemist and I couldn’t put it down until the wee hours of morning. Yet, his final analysis of love and nontraditional relationships was unsettling and though the action is riveting the conclusion is disheartening. Conservative readers be warned. Coelho decries the evil of Igor's twisted love, juxtaposing it against what he writes as a more pure and holy version of love--that found between a female, teenage model and her female photographer/agent.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


By Edith Pattou
Harcourt, Inc., 2003. 498 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

A gentle mapmaker from Njord falls in love with a superstitious woman who wants to have a child for all the compass points and Rose is born. Rose is the youngest of seven children, meant as a replacement for her dead older sister Elise. Elise was an almost perfect child, an east born. At the very beginning of the novel Rose’s father remembers “Ebba Rose was the name of our last-born child. Except it was a lie…” This lie forms the basis of the plot and through the unraveling of it Pattou emphasizes the need to know who you are and where you come from. The beautiful retelling of the Norwegian folktale, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, is a story about discovering true identity. All her young life Rose believes she is an east born, not a north born. Yet she is a wandering child – she will not stay still as a proper east born would. Once as a child she gets in trouble and is rescued by a great white bear. Only Rose and her dearest brother Neddy suspect the rescuer is more than an isbjorn, an ice bear. When Rose is a young woman the bear returns. In exchange for Rose he will help her family defy poverty and death. In return, Rose must unwittingly discover the true identity and destiny of the white bear.

The result is a rich epic fantasy. The multi-directional perspective and symmetry of the compass is mirrored in the multi-voiced narrative. The icy northern lands are a perfect setting for the hardships of Rose’s family and the intrigue of the romance between Rose and her bear. Rose is a lovely character who enchants everyone she comes into contact with – just as a fairy tale heroine should. And yet as Rose grows to understand her true identity and real opponent, she becomes a fierce force who will stop at nothing to reclaim her true love.


By Karen Robards
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009. 369 pgs. New Books - Fiction

Young rookie lawyer Jessica Ford will do anything for her powerful boss, John Davenport. Jessica wants to make senior partner in her Washington, D.C. law firm and eliminate the financial needs and stresses of her family. John Davenport happens to be the personal lawyer and close friend of beloved first lady Annette Cooper. One night Davenport calls Jessica and asks a costly personal favor. Jessica must meet the first lady privately and escort her safely back into the hands of her protective security force. She must do this with out public recognition and threat of a scandal. The first lady has fled the confines of the white house and no one knows exactly why. Before Jessica can figure out the secret she is involved in a crash in the get away car. Everyone in the car tragically and gruesomely dies, except Jessica. Jessica must figure out why the first lady was running from her own security detail. Jessica doesn’t know who to trust and must put together the pieces of the puzzle while she runs from danger.

This mystery novel from Karen Robards starts with a bang. The first half is full of excitement and tension as Jessica is developed as a tough and smart character. The reader can realistically believe Jessica has the potential to figure out the 21st century Watergate tangle. However, it seems as if the mystery novel has an identity crisis towards the middle and becomes a romance novel. Author Karen Robards quickly and awkwardly sets up a steamy romance between Jessica and another character – while she is on the run from unknown assailants who want her dead. The attempt by Robards to have the characters get to know one another makes the exciting plot lose tension and believability. The prose of the novel becomes almost laughable in Robards attempt to wrap up the political plot while maintaining the tone of a romance novel. The weak, illogical and implausible ending will probably leave readers highly unsatisfied. Pursuit could have been a tight Grisham-like thriller, but it’s not.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa
By R. A. Scotti Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 241 pages. Nonfiction.

On August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. The theft was not discovered until two days after she went missing and, as one might imagine, heads rolled. R. A. Scotti tells the story of the robbery and the return with the greatest wit, charm, and irony. Although the greatest criminologists of the time put their minds and talents to tracing the thieves, the picture remained missing for two years. In the meantime, the Mona Lisa's stock rose, with long lines of art-lovers waiting for a chance to see where the picture used to hang. Along the way, who knew that the police would arrest Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire as suspects? or that the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows because of a bad varnish job? Vanished Smile is a vastly entertaining text that reads like the finest of puzzle mysteries because it was the finest of puzzle mysteries, with a happy ending.


Monday, April 13, 2009


By D.M. Cornish
Putman’s Sons, 2008. 715 pgs. Young Adult

Rossamund is having a hard time adjusting to Lamplighter life being small. But when Threnody, a lahzarine wit, joins the force, the only girl ever to do so, he finds a friend. While the Lamplighter-Marshal is off on assignment, the Master-of-Clerks assign Rossamund and Threnody to an outpost to the most dangerous region along the Half-Continents highway to keep Rossamund from revealing the secrets he has stumbled across while exploring the Imperial Fortress.

The action picks up in this second installment of the Monster Blood Tattoo series and it doesn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, book three will not be released until May 2010.


Death of a Dustman

Death of a Dustman
By M. C. Beaton
Mysterious Press, 2001. 215 pgs. Mystery

Freda Fleming, a Strathbane council member, decides the best way to get noticed in the media is to make an example of Lochdubh as a “green village.” She appoints the local dustman (garbage man) Fergus Macleod to be the environmental officer. The problem is everyone in town dislikes him because of his nasty habit of going through the village garbage looking for blackmail material. It does not surprise anyone that after a few weeks on the job he is found dead in a garbage can. Now it is up to Hamish MacBeth to find the murderer among so many suspects.

Another enjoyable cozy read in the Hamish Macbeth series. I recommend listening to the audio book to hear the Scottish brogue.



By Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 325 pgs. Fiction

Thirty-eight-year-old Glory is home in the small town of Gilead, caring for her dying father. When Jack, the family’s prodigal son, also returns home, he and Glory develop a cautious friendship colored by Jack’s troubled past and the years he’s spent in prison and as a vagrant, never comfortable with his own family. Although Jack seems to be doing well, returned letters from a woman he loves sends him on a bender, and Glory is forced to deal with the consequences.

Marilynne Robinson writes exceptional prose. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Home’s companion novel Gilead and both are beautiful. However, they are both also very slow-moving novels. The relationships, motives, and characters of Jack, Glory, and their father are carefully examined, giving readers plenty to discuss about family and the concept of home, but little occurs in the story outside of conversation and contemplation.


The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days
By Ann Howard Creel
Viking, 2001. 274 pgs. Fiction

Toward the end of WWII, Olivia Dunne leaves her graduate studies and travel plans to marry a farmer in rural Colorado, a man she meets the day of their arranged marriage. Lonely and unable to help on the farm, Olivia befriends two Japanese-American sisters who live at a nearby internment camp, but while she welcomes the friendship of the sisters, Olivia resists developing a relationship with her new husband, viewing the marriage only as a solution to a problem.

This is a lovely, well-written story that focuses on the character development and relationship between Olivia and her husband Ray. While there is little action, the story still moves along quickly and enjoyably. My only complaint is that one plot element, Olivia’s unwitting involvement in a crime, occurs so close to the end of the novel that its resolution feels rushed. Otherwise, it is a delightful book.


If I Stay

If I Stay
By Gayle Forman
Dutton Books, 2009. 199 pgs. Young Adult

While driving with her family, Mia’s car is struck by another vehicle and her parents are killed on impact. Mia is severely injured and she watches from outside herself as she is transported to the hospital and her family members and friends gather to visit her in the ICU. As Mia learns about her injuries and considers what her life will be like if she lives, she realizes that the decision whether or not to continue her life is left to her to choose.

This is a thoughtful tearjerker that guides the reader back and forth between Mia’s current condition and her life and decisions prior to the accident. If I Stay has received great professional reviews and will be enjoyed by older teens and adults.


Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Authors Famous and Obscure

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Authors Famous and Obscure
Edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith
Harper Perennial, 2008. 227 pgs. Nonfiction

Just like the title says, Not Quite What I Was Planning is a collection of six-word memoirs collected by Smith magazine from a variety of writers, including Dave Eggers, Stephen Colbert, Nora Ephron, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Two examples I enjoyed from the book are

WASP wants
to be soul
-Scott Pratt


Put whole self in, shook about.
-Melissa Delzio

Entries vary in quality, but the collection as whole is an interesting and very quick read. The Library also owns Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road
By Melina Marchetta
HarperTeen, 2008. 419 pgs. Young Adult

Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven years old and since then has been somewhat looked after by Hannah, the adult in charge of her dorm at the Jellicoe School. Hannah knows more about Taylor’s past than Taylor knows, but Hannah won’t tell Taylor anything. This really bothers Taylor, but it really worries her that she will never know when Hannah disappears one day. Taylor’s lack of knowledge becomes more of a burden when she is chosen to lead the territory wars against the Townies and the Cadets. Taylor becomes even more concerned when she learns that Jonah Griggs will be leading the Cadets in the wars this year, for Taylor and Jonah share a haunted past event. Interspersed with Taylors’s story is the story of five teens twenty years earlier who met after a tragic accident on the Jellicoe Road. The two stories eventually come together in an interesting manner.

I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t race through it. I thought it was well-written and I enjoyed how the two stories were so intertwined. I did become a bit overwhelmed at times by all the angst Taylor has and the events she experiences. This is probably for older teen readers; there is some bad language peppered throughout and younger teens might not identify with the adult characters.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Great Train Robbery

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY: Michael Crichton: Knopf: Fiction: 266 pgs

While at a dinner party Edward Pierce over hears a banker describe how their money transfers to the Crimean War could not be stolen because of the high security of their safes involving four separate keys. For Pierce, that was just announcing a challenge to rob a moving train of 12,000 pounds in gold.

A slow start with lots of historical detail, but the masterminding of the plan reminds me of The Sting and in the end a good read. The only problem I had was that Crichton would interrupt the story and go into Victorian history and lose his momentum that he just built up. I recommend it more for historical fans than adventure readers.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Omnivore's Dilemma

OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA: A NATURAL HISTORY OF FOUR MEALS: Penguin Press, 2006: Nonfiction: 450 pgs.
As omnivores, we humans can eat a wide range of food. As members of our modern society, our choices seem more extensive than ever. One trip to the grocery store and you are faced with aisles of options. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan attempts to follow four meals from the farms where they are planted or raised to the table where they are consumed. Each meal is the product of a different type of agricultural process from highly manufactured fast food, to organic foods, to a meal he hunted and gathered on his own.

I enjoyed the premise of this book along with the parts which were essentially science writing describing farming theory and practice. However, the rest of the book seemed to me rambling justifications from a city boy that likes meat too much to be a vegetarian, but can not seem to handle the thought that his food once had a face. Maybe I should blame my childhood spent on a cattle feed lot, but I thought he came off as a bit of a sissy.


Dead until Dark

DEAD UNTIL DARK: Charlaine Harris: Ace Books, 2001: Mystery: 260 pgs.

This is the first of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries which inspired the HBO series “True Blood”. Sookie is a telepathic waitress doing her best survive despite her supernatural “handicap”. Then enters Sookie’s new neighbor, vampire Bill, followed promptly by a number of local murders. Each victim has several troubling similarities to Sookie and she quickly begins to fear that her life is in grave danger.

If you are looking for a quick, fun mystery, with or without supernatural aspects, you may really enjoy Harris’s series. She provides a good mystery, an entertaining story, and leaves you looking forward to the next volume. Definitely not a clean read, the offensive language was minimal, but the sex and violence could be objectionable to some.


Test of Wills

TEST OF WILLS: Charles Todd: St. Martin’s Press, 1996: Mystery: 282 pgs.

Inspector Ian Rutludge returned from the Great War a shell of the man he once was. Haunted by the voice of a dead man, Ian is determined to return to the real world and his position with Scotland Yard. His first case takes him into the English countryside to solve the brutal murder of a local land owner and war hero.

This is a very thoughtful and intriguing mystery taking place during an era of rapid change when the world was healing from wounds caused by a new kind of warfare. But beyond the larger historical context, this is a terrific murder mystery filled with intriguing suspects whose deceptions and motives provide plot twists and surprises up to the very last page.


The Long Fall

THE LONG FALL: Walter Mosley: New York: Riverhead, 2009: 305 pages. Fiction.

Walter Mosley leaves Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones behind, but not his hardboiled approach, in his new book, The Long Fall, and introduces a New York detective named Leonid McGill. McGill, a fifty-three year old former boxer, still works out on the heavy bag and is struggling as the story begins to become a different person from the one he has been: a man who would bring anyone down if the money were right, even railroading the “innocent” into jail if that’s what his clients want. But a tragic encounter with one of his victim’s children makes him decide to start anew. Easier decided than done, as it turns out, because former clients still want what he used to do, and it takes all of Leonid’s considerable intellect and toughness to stay on track. Right off the bat, McGill is hired to find four men, a third-party employer supposedly trying to find some childhood friends. One is dead, two are in jail, and the third has made a name for himself in the business world. After he has discovered and delivered the whereabouts of each man to his employer's operative, he is appalled to hear that all have been killed in brutal fashion. The rest of the story details his trying to make things right, following the trail of carnage back to its source. Walter Mosley writes like a house afire, and the great pleasure of reading this book is not just the puzzle, but the characterizations, the setting, and the absolutely spot-on dialogue. “The Long Fall” requires a breathless reading to discover what will happen next, but one also wants it not to end. First in a series, The Long Fall makes us anxious for the next installment.


I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spahetti

I LOVED, I LOST, I MADE SPAGHETTI: Giulia Melucci: Grand Central Publ.: Nonfiction: 288 pgs.

Giulia Melucci cooks for the men she dates—the good-natured alcoholic, the perfect commitment-phobe, the aging Vespa owner, the free-loading Scottish author—and she cooks for herself when the relationships inevitably end. Melucci shares relationship tales and the recipes that accompanied her romantic ups and downs, ending her memoir with some delicious meals but, still, no man.

The recipes look wonderful and Melucci’s anecdotes are compelling but be prepared for a number of drug references and cringe-worthy moments.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Black Powder War

BLACK POWDER WAR: Naomi Novik: Del Rey: Fantasy: 2006: 365 pgs.

After an exciting adventure in China during which Will Laurence is made a prince so that he can remain companion to Temeraire, a Celestial dragon, Laurence and his men receive urgent orders from Britain to leave at once for the Turkey where they are to collect three dragon eggs, including a rare Kazilik or fire breathing dragon.

Laurence hires the messenger, Tharkay, a man of British/Himalayan descent to guide them overland to Turkey. Along the way they encounter a group of raucous feral dragons who agree to follow Temeraire to Turkey where he has recklessly promised them all the cows they could possibly eat and shiny gold and silver riches.

What the group doesn’t realize at first is that Lien, a white Celestial dragon, who blames Temeraire and Laurence for the death of her master has followed them to exact her vengeance.

This is the third book in the Termeraire saga after His Majesty’s Dragon and Throne of Jade. Each book is just as enjoyable as the last. I highly recommend reading this series for the characters and the adventure.


City of Glass

CITY OF GLASS: Cassandra Clare: Margaret K. McElderry Books: 2009: Young Adult: 541 pgs.

In this third and final volume in the Mortal Instruments series, Clary’s mother has been in a coma since she was rescued (in book one) from Valentine, Clary and Jace’s nemesis and father. Clary has learned that her mother drank a potion that put her in a catatonic state to keep her from revealing any secrets to Valentine. To reverse the potion Clary must travel to Iridis, the fabled land of the Shadowhunters, to find the Warlock who created the potion.

While Clary and Jace struggle with their un-sibling-like love towards each other, they learn more about their special powers and history of their family, but as Valentine gathers his demon forces to attack Alicante city and destroy all Shadowhunters forever, will they be able to harness these new powers in time?

I enjoyed this book much more than the second book in the series. It is fast-paced and finally answers all the questions with a satisfactory ending.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009


STARCLIMBER: Kenneth Oppel: Eos: Young Adult: 390 pgs.

Matt Cruse reaches for the stars in this latest offering from Oppel featuring Matt and Kate de Vries. The latest craze in exploration and travel is space; the French are building the Celestial Tower which they hope will take them to space. Matt is working on this project when he is approached by Mr. Lunardi, the airship magnate, and the Canadian Minister of Air, who have worked together to build a spaceship and are looking for men to train and become the first astralnauts. Matt spends two weeks in the grueling training and earns a spot after one of the first-named astralnauts breaks his leg. Kate is also offered a spot on the ship to look for life in outer-space. The two, along with three other crew members, Kate’s nemesis Sir Hugh, and photographer/journalist Miss Karr, embark into space aboard the Starclimber where (of course) adventure awaits. The romance between Matt and Kate continues to play out, with a few twists. Oppel really knows how to write a compelling adventure story with great characters.