Monday, December 31, 2007

The Weaver and the Factory Maid by Deborah Grabien

Folk musician Ringan Laine is given Lumbe's Cottage in Somerset in lieu of payment for work that he's done for Albert Wychsale. Soon after he moves in, he discovers that both the barn and house are haunted. With the help of girlfriend, Penny, and his fellow musicians in his group, Broomfield Hill, he attempts to uncover who the ghosts are and tries to get rid of them. This mystery is the first in a series that melds together folk ballads, ghosts, haunted houses, and murders that have happened in the past. I wrote about the newest book New-Slain Knight in November.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

It's 1931 and private detective Maisie Dobbs is hired to look into the life of Alfred Sandermere and the village of Heronsdene. Her client, James Compton, is interested in buying a brickworks and a large piece of land from Sandermere. But mysterious fires and vandalism has been happening with some regularity and Compton wants to make sure that it's a good investment. Maisie sends her assistant, Billy Beale, to do some investigating, since it's hop picking season in Kent and he's already there with his family. What Maisie and Billy find is the locals blaming the crimes on Londoners coming to pick hops and/or the gypsies that are in the area. The villagers also seem so unconcerned about the fires (i.e. not reporting them to the police) that Maisie knows there are secrets to uncover. The townspeople are also tight-lipped about a wartime Zeppelin raid. How are all these events connected? I really enjoy this mystery series and the insight it gives to the aftermath of World War I in England. In this book, there are already foreshadowings of what will be World War II. I hope Winspear writes this series long enough to explore that part of history, too. An Incomplete Revenge will be published in February.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly and her stepbrother, Tolliver, travel to the Ozarks upon being hired by Sybil Teague to find the body of Teenie Hopkins, her son's girlfriend. Sybil's son was murdered and she thinks that Teenie might be found somewhere near the crime scene (several years ago a lightning strike gave Harper the gift to sense where bodies are buried). Harper does end up finding Teenie. Then a woman who Harper and Tolliver have recently talked to is murdered, so Harper feels obligated to stay in the area. Unfortunately, some in the town are uncomfortable with Harper and her ability, especially the unknown killer. Will he or she be apprehended before Harper comes to harm? Grave Sight is the first book in the Harper Connelly mystery series. I blogged about the third book, An Ice Cold Grave in October.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hello, You by Rebecca Gregson

When Maggie's favorite sister, Diana, dies, Maggie begins to reflect upon her childhood. Of the five sisters, Maggie was always on the outside looking in. Diana's deathbed murmurings and a box of mementos left behind by their mother might be the key to Maggie putting her upbringing in the past. Maggie's son, Jamie, is a father at nineteen. He, his girlfriend, Jess, and their son, Ben live with Maggie. There are problems in Jamie's and Jess' relationship, stemming from Jess still wanting to live a single's life and from the couple not having a place of their own. Hello, You features a complicated family leading a complicated life and each member trying to find his or her place in it. For readers of Joanna Trollope.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance

Ali Reynolds comes home to Sedona, Arizona after losing her newscasting job in Los Angeles. While a teenager, she received a college scholarship from the wealthy Anna Lee Ashcroft. When Ashcroft's daughter, Arabella, asks Ali to tea, she doesn't think much of it. However, she gets a quick lesson on Arabella's family history when Arabella recounts the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepbrother years ago and her nephew Billy's threats to have her declared incompetent now. Ali is also in the process of helping her friend, Detective Dave Holman, deal with his runaway daughter, Crystal. It's enough that Ali has her hands full with both these domestic dramas. Add the disappearance of Ali's father's friend Kip and you have a world of secrets, lies, and murder. Hand of Evil is the third book in the Ali Reynolds series.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

They Did It with Love by Kate Morgenroth

After her father's death, Sofie and her husband, Dean, decide to move to Greenwich, Connecticut from Manhattan. Dean works long hours while Sofie occupies herself by joining a mystery book club lead by her neighbor, Priscilla. Other members of the group include Susan, Ashley, and Julia who are also childless and careerless. When one of the group members is found dead, Sofie decides to do some investigating of her own. Soon we see all the cracks in everyone's marriages and so-called friendships. Detectives Peters and Ackerman must wade through all the lies to find the truth in this very upscale community. But when they find the person they believe is the murderer, are they correct?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

Solana Rojas is only her newest alias, but she has reeked havoc in numerous senior citizen's lives. When Solana is hired as a caregiver for a neighbor of private detective Kinsey Millhone, the reader knows no good can come of it. Kinsey has checked out Solana's background, but because she's using a former co-worker's identity, everything checks out clean. The bulk of this mystery involves Kinsey's attempts to stop Solana's abuse of Gus, Kinsey's neighbor. Kinsey is also working on finding a witness to an accident and a few other small cases that usually make up the majority of the business for her detective practice. Fans of Grafton's long-running mystery series will enjoy the latest book.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Chillwater Cove by Thomas Lakeman

Peggy Weaver was ten years old when her best friend Samantha was kidnapped while they were playing together. Although Samantha was returned, there are parts of the ordeal that she could never speak about. Now Peggy is an adult and an FBI agent. When she receives some graphic photos of Samantha related to the crime, she is thrown back into that traumatic childhood event. Peggy has always felt that she didn't do enough for Samantha, since the only thing she could remember was the model of the car. Samantha also gets the photographs, so Peggy travels home to Tennessee to try and figure out what's going on. Soon after she arrives, Samantha disappears. Along with her father, who's the chief of police, Peggy uses all of her efforts to bring Samantha home safely. Unfortunately, a lot of obstacles stand in her way--Samantha's husband and father-in-law, a belief by some that she's too close to the case to be a good investigator, and her own father, whom Peggy starts to believe may be doing something illegal. Chillwater Cove is a thriller with a sense of place of a small Tennessee town. It also features a tenacious female main character who's trying to put the ghosts of the past to rest. The main character in Lakeman's first novel The Shadow Catchers, Mike Yeager, is Peggy's partner and puts in a small appearance in the book.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

Barry Laverty has just graduated from medical school in the mid-1960's when he agrees to take a job in the small Northern Irish town of Ballybucklebo. He becomes the assistant to the colorful Doctor Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly. Doctor O'Reilly has been practicing medicine in Ballybucklebo for many years and knows all his patients and their quirks very well. Through Barry, the reader gets to know all the characters in the town--Mrs. Kinky Kincaid, Dr. Reilly's housekeeper, Councillor Bishop, the local bigwig with an evil streak, Maureen Galvin and Seamus, her layabout husband and many more. Perhaps Barry even has time to find love. The novel is the first in a series and has a lot of charm. It would appeal to people who enjoy James Herriot, Maeve Binchy, the Mobile Library mysteries by Ian Sansom and the television series Ballykissangel.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson

A wheelchair-bound woman is found dead by the seaside, while a murdered female college student is discovered in The Maze, an area in Eastvale, Yorkshire that becomes dicey at night. DCI Alan Banks heads the investigation into the case of the student, Hayley Daniels. His colleague, DI Annie Cabbot, on loan to another police force, looks into the other death, the mysterious female with no identification on her. Soon it becomes evident that Annie's case is related to one that she and Banks worked on several years ago. It also appears that the two recent murders might be connected. The detectives share information as they interview witnesses, trying to wrap up their inquiries before there's another death. Since In a Dry Season, Robinson has written books that are beyond the standard British police procedural—multi-layered, with lots of insight into the personal lives of the detectives. Friend of the Devil will be published in February.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pyres by Derek Nikitas

Fifteen-year-old goth girl Luc's life is changed the day she witnesses her father being shot to death at the mall before her eyes. Already on the outs with her mother, the event makes them grow even further apart. The cop investigating the case, Greta, takes a very personal interest in Luc and the murder because of her own past mistakes with her now-grown daughter. Also thrown into the mix is Tanya Yasbeck, nine months pregnant, with a criminal boyfriend and an unpromising future. Soon, the three women's lives intersect against a backdrop of intense, bloody violence. An interesting character study of three troubled protagonists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New-Slain Knight by Deborah Grabien

Couple Ringan and Penny are looking forward to spending a few weeks of quality time together. Unfortunately, Ringan is enlisted to watch his thirteen-year-old niece, Becca, a promising violinist. They decide to travel to Cornwall for a vacation, staying with Ringan's old friend, Gowan, who is a musician like Ringan. While there, both Penny and Becca start hearing voices and having visions of what looks to be a murder after hearing a folk song. In order for their lives to go back to normal, they must figure out exactly who is trying to communicate with them about deaths that happened centuries ago. New-Slain Knight is the fifth book in Grabien's Haunted Ballads series and reminded me of the ballad mysteries written by Sharyn McCrumb.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

Charlie Howard is a mystery writer living in Amsterdam who's also a successful thief. An American, Michael Park, contacts him and asks Charlie to steal two small monkey figures. Charlie is hesitant to take the job, but does complete the task. Park is then found nearly beaten to death and the police feel Charlie is the prime suspect. From that point, Charlie tries to find out the real story of the figures--why are they so valuable and why is everyone after them? Interspersed in the story are Charlie's witty conversations with his London literary agent, Victoria. My only problem with the book is that I figured out the secret of the figures way before Charlie--kind of surprising since he lives and writes about crime. I did enjoy the story though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Die With Me by Elena Forbes

When a teenage girl falls to her death at a church, it first seems like suicide. But then a witness comes forward to say that she saw the girl with a man right before her death. When the toxicology results show that she had drugs in her system, a murder inquiry is launched with DI Mark Tartaglia leading the investigation, along with his female subordinate, DS Sam Donovan. Soon the team finds that someone named “Tom” has been killing depressed young women around London. With few clues to go on, Tartaglia needs to take his investigation “outside the box.” Die With Me is the start of a new mystery series and is similar to the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James books by Deborah Crombie.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

It's the last night of service at a Red Lobster in Connecticut. The restaurant will be closing for good tomorrow. In Last Night at the Lobster, we see the evening through the eyes of Manny DeLeon, the manager for the past ten years. He struggles to hold things together when staff doesn't show up and the winter weather turns particularly nasty. Manny also thinks a lot about Jacquie, a waitress that he had an affair with and his girlfriend, Deena, who's expecting his child. Try as he may, the night may not be as memorable as he had hoped. I really liked this short novel, which finds a good story in an otherwise mundane situation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Third Degree by Greg Iles

Laurel Shields life hasn't been the same since she and Danny McDavitt ended their affair weeks ago. Laurel finds herself pregnant, not knowing if the father is Danny or her husband, Warren. One morning, Warren finds a letter, evidence of Laurel's affair. He goes completely crazy, barricading himself in their home with her. Warren insists that Laurel must tell him the name of her lover. Laurel resists, not wanting any harm to come to Danny. It's obvious that Warren has gone off the deep end--is he upset only about the affair or also some fraud problems with his medical practice? Soon, it becomes a hostage situation with their two children involved. Will the police be able to bring the episode to a peaceful end? Third Degree was not up to the level of most of Iles' other thrillers. The characters of Laurel and Danny aren't all that likable (the descriptions of their love for each other was corny) and there's not enough going on in the plot to sustain a 400 page book. For a great page turner by Iles, try 24 Hours or Dead Sleep.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Last Rituals: an Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is made a financial offer she can't refuse--investigating the death of German university student Harald Guntlieb. Harald's parents believe that the man police have in custody for his murder is innocent and they want Thora to find the real killer. Thora is joined on her search by one of the Guntlieb family employees, Matthew Reich, and she finds that working with him can be exasperating. They find that Harald was part of a group of students who were interested in Iceland's history of witch hunts and the torture that surrounded them. In fact, Harald was the ringleader of the group and had many odd body piercings himself. Is Harald's death connected with the research he was doing or did one of his friends take their group's activities too far? As a divorced mother of two children, Thora makes an interesting protagonist . The book also has touches of humor despite its occasionally gruesome subject matter. A read-alike for this new mystery series would be the Irene Huss books by Helene Tursten set in Sweden.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Redemption by Lee Jackson

Ben Trinity ends up in Redemption, Montana after hitchhiking during a snowstorm. It's a few years in the future and Trinity has been accused of being a terrorist but never tried. He's part of a program that closely monitors suspects, using microchips implanted in their palms. Trinity gets a job at an area diner and befriends a local family, but most of the small town is suspicious of him, especially when they learn about the charges against him and his possible hand in a terrorist act in California. What is the story of Trinity's past--is he innocent or has his life been ruined so badly that he's beyond caring? Redemption is a thriller with an original premise and I found the setting interesting. Trinity has much in common with Lee Child's series character Jack Reacher and the time period of the near future was reminiscent of Kevin Guilfoile's Cast of Shadows.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Spider Trap by Barry Maitland

In London's West Indian community, two teenage girls are shot to death and DS Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock are assigned the case. Soon after, a boy discovers three skeletons close to the murder scene and it appears that the same gun was used in both crimes. Interestingly enough, the bones turn out to be more than twenty years old. Brock wonders if the deaths are the work of an old enemy, Spider Roach, whom he has been trying to put behind bars for years. With Kathy and Brock working hard to put the pieces together, more and more people become entangled in the web. In Spider Trap, Maitland delves into the politics and culture of Jamaican immigrants, just as he has examined subjects as diverse as the theater in All My Enemies and life inside a shopping mall in Silvermeadow (these are my two favorites). The Brock and Kolla mysteries are similar to Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Something in the Blood by J.G.Goodhind

Hannah “Honey” Driver runs a hotel in Bath, England. She is roped into being the liaison between the Bath Hotels Association and the police with the promise of more bookings coming her way. When an American tourist who was staying at a local bed and breakfast disappears, Honey has her first case. It seems that the tourist was using a fake name and also left behind his passport and luggage. Honey tries to figure out why Elmer Maxted, the American, was in Bath in the first place. At the same time, she is fending off suitors her mother has lined up for her, making sure her 18-year-old daughter, Lindsey, stays out of trouble and discovering her attraction to two men—Detective Sergeant Steve Doherty and bookseller John Rees. The book reminded me of Ann Purser's Lois Meade and Veronica Heley's Ellie Quicke, both British cozy mysteries series featuring female main characters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Tessa is sixteen and has leukemia. She's been given a few months to live and decides to make a list of ten things she wants to do before she dies. Have sex, learn to drive, say yes to everything for a day are some must-do's. Tessa lives with her father (who attempts to keep her alive with alternative medicine) and her younger brother, Cal. Her mother left the family a few years ago and is distant with Tessa, never telling her that she loves her and not really knowing a lot about Tessa's condition. The rest of Tessa's support system is her reckless best friend, Zoey, and the new boy next door, Adam, who has suffered a loss of his own. The reader follows Tessa on her journey to really live before losing her life. Before I Die is a memorable young adult novel full of sorrow, humor, and love. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton

It's October and Agatha Raisin longs for some excitement in her life. Her detective agency has been taking on the usual cases of lost pets and cheating spouses. She decides to start planning a spectacular Christmas party and to invite her ex-husband, James Lacey. Agatha then hires teenager Toni Gilmour as a new detective in her firm and gets a letter from senior citizen Phyllis Tamworthy saying that someone in her family is trying to kill her. She takes Mrs Tamworthy's case herself, traveling to the village of Lower Tapor (which Mrs Tamworthy owns, in addition to a large manor house). When she's poisoned by hemlock in her salad, there are loads of suspects ranging from her children (whom she was cutting out of her will) to the villagers (who feared for their livelihoods if Mrs Tamworthy went through with her plans to build a technical college on her land). Agatha is determined to find the murderer even though the police tell her to butt out, as usual. The Agatha Raisin books are still one of my favorite mystery series. I always look forward to the new one.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Memory Game by Nicci French

Architect Jane Martello is working on an addition to her soon-to-be ex-husband's family home when a skeleton is unearthed. The bones turn out to be from her missing sister-in-law and childhood friend, Natalie, who disappeared in her teens, twenty-five years ago. Finally knowing Natalie's whereabouts after all this time has uncovered all sorts of feelings in Jane. She decides to start seeing a therapist. In sessions, Alex Dermot-Brown takes Jane back to that summer of 1969 and Jane wonders if she is suppressing facts about Natalie's death. She also does some investigating on her own interviewing various family members. Will Jane find Natalie's murderer or is her doctor helping implant false memories in her brain? The Memory Game is Nicci French's first novel, finally published in the United States after many of her other books. French's later novels usually feature a woman in jeopardy and are suspenseful. This book is more of a straightforward mystery focusing on who killed Natalie. I did enjoy it and kept turning the pages.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly and her stepbrother, Tolliver, are called to Doraville, North Carolina so Harper can locate the bodies of six teenage boys who have disappeared over the last five years. After being struck by lightning as a teen, Harper has been able to locate corpses and give the cause of death. Harper has made a career of her skill, and she and Tolliver travel around the country to her jobs. In Doraville, Harper finds the boys easily, but is unsettled because she's never found so many bodies at once. It also means that there is a gruesome serial killer running around the small town. Unfortunately, she and Tolliver can't go home because the police insist that she must stick around to help with the investigation. Will Harper and the authorities be able to capture the killer before anyone else comes to harm? An Ice Cold Grave is the third book in the Harper Connelly series. The book had a nice combination of an interesting main character with a past coupled with a mystery that you want solved. For cozy mysteries readers who don't mind some sex and depictions of violence.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Midnight Rambler by James Swain

Jack Carpenter, an ex-cop estranged from his wife, makes a meager living helping find missing children in south Florida. Carpenter used to be the chief investigator of the Broward County Missing Persons Unit until he beat up a serial killer named Simon Skell aka the “Midnight Rambler.” Now it looks like Skell will be released from prison because the police have found the body of one of Skell's alleged victims in someone else's backyard. Carpenter is livid because he knows Skell is guilty and wonders what he can do with limited funds and resources. He dedicates himself to finding out the truth and keeping Skell behind bars because he knows he won't be able live with himself if he doesn't. Swain, the author of the Tony Valentine series, writes a page turner similar to Michael Connelly and David Rosenfelt's Play Dead. I'd love to see Jack Carpenter make another appearance.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

Ruth Ramsey is a sex education teacher at a high school and causes controversy during one of her classes by stating that some people enjoy oral sex. Ruth’s actions lead the administration to order her to teach an abstinence-based curriculum. She is uncomfortable with this, but continues teaching. Tim Mason is a born-again Christian who coaches Ruth’s daughter’s soccer team. Ruth’s and Tim’s worlds and views collide at a game and they find themselves as opponents, yet oddly intrigued by each other. The novel explores their beliefs, lives and discontents. Little Children, Perrotta’s last book, was one of my favorites the year it was published. The Abstinence Teacher has much in common with it, but I enjoyed Little Children more because it offered fuller descriptions of numerous characters, while this book offer only two (Ruth and Tim).

Friday, October 5, 2007

Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch

I don't usually read non-fiction, but was intrigued by Service Included because I've eaten at Per Se's sister restaurant, French Laundry. Phoebe decides to get a job as a waiter at Per Se which is opening up in New York City. Chef Thomas Keller is known as one of the best American chefs and French Laundry is considered by some to be the finest restaurant in the U.S. Per Se promises to be just as good and so the reader is taken along on Phoebe's journey--being trained in the art of great service to customers (dance lessons and all) and learning about fine food and wine. The author also dishes on customers and their habits (without naming names, unfortunately) and her attempts at love. For foodies and people who liked Kitchen Confidental and Wife of the Chef by Courtney Febbroriello.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Voices by Arnaldur Indridason

It’s Christmastime in Reykjavik when Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called to a hotel with news that their Santa has been murdered. The Santa, Gudlaugur Egilsson, was also a doorman at the hotel and lived in the basement. Erlendur then discovers that Gudlaugur was a child star who had a beautiful voice and produced two albums. Since then, he’s lead an isolated life estranged from his family and without any friends. Who would want him dead? Erlendur and his colleagues, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg, investigate the hotel staff, guests, and people from Gudlaugur’s past in order to find the killer. Erlendur, meanwhile, is distracted by worrying about his daughter, Eva Lind, who is still fighting drug addiction, and his own ghosts about his brother’s disappearance when he was a child. Voices is a solid addition to this mystery series which is as good as Henning Mankell’s or Helene Tursten’s (two other Nordic authors I really enjoy).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Little Face by Sophie Hannah

Alice Fancourt is a new mom. She leaves her daughter alone with her husband, David, for the first time and when she returns home is stunned to discover that their baby has been switched with another. David doesn't agree. Is Alice suffering from a severe case of postpartum depression or lack of sleep? Or is something more sinister going on? Alice and David live with David's mother, Vivienne, who can be extremely controlling. Also, David's first wife, Laura, was murdered outside the family home, the Elms. The police don't really believe that a crime has been committed. Alice does have detective Simon Waterhouse on her side, but is his interest in Alice only job-related? Then, a week later, Alice and the baby go missing. Little Face is like Philippa Gregory's The Little House, a memorable psychological novel from ten years ago.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Unspoken by Mari Jungstedt

Alcoholic Henry Dahlstrom is found murdered in the basement of his apartment building. As a starting point in their investigation, Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and his colleagues in Gotland, Sweden focus on Dahlstrom's friends and the large amount of money he had won recently on the horses. Then it appears that the murder might be connected with the disappearance of 14 year-old Fanny Jansson. Interspersed with the account of the police investigation is the story of Stockholm reporter Johan Berg, who has arranged to be on assignment in Gotland in order to see Emma Winarve, with whom he fell in love in the first book in the series, Unseen. Jungstedt's mysteries are for readers who enjoy Ake Edwardson and Helene Tursten.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Norris Marshall is training to be a doctor in 1830's Boston. He has resorted to helping steal bodies from local graveyards (most go to the medical school) to help pay for his education. Then a nurse is murdered on hospital grounds and he is the prime suspect. Norris' story is paired with that of Julia Hamill, who has just bought a home in present-era suburban Boston. She finds a skeleton in her backyard which is determined to be from before 1840. Julia's research into the bones leads the reader into Norris' tale. We also meet his medical colleagues (including Oliver Wendell Holmes) and a poor woman named Rose, who, along with Holmes, tried to help Norris solve the nurse's murder (and others). Gerritsen spares none of the gruesome details of life for the poor in Boston or the deaths that resulted from misguided medical care (surgeons did not wash their hands). While part of the story is set in contemporary times, most of the book is historical, which might disappoint some fans of Gerritsen's novels.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Songs Without Words by Ann Packer

Liz and Sarabeth, now in their 40's, have been friends since childhood. They became very close after Sarabeth's mother committed suicide when they were sixteen and Sarabeth moved in with Liz's family. Liz lives near San Francisco with her husband, Brody, and two children, Lauren and Joe. Sarabeth never married and works staging people's houses for sale and designing lampshades. Then Lauren has some deep personal problems, sending Liz's and Sarabeth's friendship into rocky waters, forcing them to question the nature and meaning of their bond. The novel explores how Liz, Sarabeth, Brody, and Lauren are affected by Lauren's actions (through their respective points of view). Songs Without Words reminded me of the writing of Jodi Picoult and Dani Shapiro, although more leisurely-paced and literary.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Cynthia Bigge was fourteen when she woke up one morning to find that her entire family-father, mother, and brother- had vanished. It’s now almost twenty-five years later and she’s married to high school teacher Terry Archer, and has a daughter, Grace. She still suffers from the scars of being left behind and the unanswered questions that remain. When Cynthia receives a couple of phone calls about her family, she hires a private detective. Soon, Cynthia, Terry, and Grace are plunged into danger in their search for the truth. No Time for Goodbye is a page turner that is similar to Harlan Coben’s recent novels, Jeff Abbott's Fear and Panic, and Jonnie Jacobs' largely unknown excellent thriller, The Only Suspect.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Godmother by Carrie Adams

Tessa King is the godmother to four of her friend’s children and is wondering if she’ll ever find Mr. Right. While in between jobs, she thinks about her future, especially since she’s been in love with her friend, Ben, for twenty years, but he’s married to someone else. At the same time, Tessa tries to be there for her friends: Francesca and Nick (who are having trouble with her teenage godson, Caspar), Claudia and Al (who have been trying to have a baby for many years), Helen (who has twin baby boys and an awful husband) and lastly, Billy (who is trying to make ends meet and has a sickly child, Cora, another of Tessa’s godchildren). Through her friends’ happiness and tragedies, Tessa finds the strength to do what’s right for herself and possibly be content. The Godmother is not chick-lit; it fits more in with the novels of Joanna Trollope.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Family Acts by Louise Shaffer

Katie Harder is a writer in New York for a soap opera on which her late mother, Rosalind, made her career. In Los Angeles, Randa Jennings lives with her eleven-year-old daughter, Susie, and is a manager for various actors. These two women’s lives intersect in the small southern town of Massonville Georgia when they inherit a theater called the Venable Opera House. The theater is in great disrepair and the women are not even sure why they are the ones being given the building. Katie and Randa both were raised by single parents and had no other family, so it’s entirely possible that they are somehow related. The novel traces the history of the theater to its beginnings in the late 1800’s up until the 1970’s when it closed. The flashbacks are interspersed with Katie's and Randa's story of trying to find out the mysteries behind the theater and whether they should keep it. Shaffer’s novel makes for an enjoyable and easy read.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline

Thirty-three year old Angela Russo is an event planner at a contemporary art museum in New York. Her life is at a crossroads—she’s bored with her job and doesn’t have a boyfriend. In essence, her life lacks passion. Angela has always had fond thoughts of Maine even though she’s never been there, so when she meets a guy online from Maine she decides to relocate. Mount Desert Island, Maine is a quiet place in the off-season and not exactly what she expected, but slowly she finds her niche—making friends, getting a job, and maybe finding love. Angela uses the skills her Italian grandmother taught her—creating delicious food as a road to happiness. Christina Baker Kline is one of my favorite authors. It’s been far too long since her last novel (1999). Her descriptions of cooking and island life along with the memorable characters make this novel one of the best books about women’s lives that I’ve read all year.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Frozen Tracks by Ake Edwardson

Someone is attacking male college students in Gothenburg, Sweden. Detective Chief Inspector Erik Winter and his colleagues are on the case trying to find a connection between the victims. Then it appears that young children are being taken from their preschools for a short time without anyone noticing that they've gone missing. It isn't until the kids are home that they mention it to their parents. Now, DCI Winter has two weird sets of crimes to solve. Could they be in some way related? Although Frozen Tracks is very leisurely paced, I enjoyed the story and catching up with the detectives in this third entry in the series. An aside: the book is actually not the third book in the series, just the third to be published in English. Shame again on a publisher for doing this to a foreign author--the book refers to events than have happened in an untranslated book.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Susan Ward, a newspaper reporter, figures she’s in for the scoop of her life when she assigned to profile Archie Sheridan, the head of a new serial killer task force. Archie, who has been on leave, was kidnapped, tortured, and near death when he was released by Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer, two years ago. Lowell then went to prison for her crimes. Archie is now a shell of a man, hooked on pills, separated from his family, and still abnormally attached to Gretchen, whom he visits in prison. The new serial killer, dubbed the After School Strangler, has been kidnapping and murdering high school girls. Archie and the rest of the task force work to find the killer before he takes another life. All the while, Archie is haunted by his ordeal with Gretchen, which is recounted in graphic detail. Meanwhile, Susan becomes involved in ways she could not have possibly anticipated. Heartsick is a page turner that is reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs and James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels because of the cat-and-mouse interplay between Archie and Gretchen and the depictions of violence.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

He Who Fears the Wolf by Karin Fossum

Widow Halldis Horn is murdered outside her home. The only witness is a twelve-year-old boy named Kannick who lives at a facility for boys with behavioral problems. Kannick sees escaped mental patient Errki Johrma near Halldis' house, so Errki becomes the main suspect. Meanwhile, Inspector Konrad Sejer is upset with himself for not trusting his instincts about a bank robbery that he thought was about to happen. The robber has taken a hostage and disappeared. Soon, the two cases intersect and Sejer, with his assistant Jacob Skarre, is coming up with more questions than answers about who is responsible. Fossum writes another interesting police procedural. She spends as much time on the different characters (Errki, Kannick, the bank robber) and their motivations as with Sejer and Skarre and their investigation. This is the second book in the Sejer/Skarre series. I wrote about The Indian Bride last month.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Family History by Dani Shapiro

What happens to a family, especially the mother, when the dreams for a child are shattered? In Family History, Rachel Jensen's world is falling apart. She is separated from her husband, Ned, a teacher and painter. Her teenage daughter, Kate, is at a school for troubled teens in New Hampshire. In addition, her two-year-old son, Josh, seems developmentally behind other children his age, maybe because of an accident Kate had with him when he was younger. All the family's problems seem to have started a few years ago when Kate began acting strangely and Rachel was pregnant with Josh. Through flashbacks, the reader discovers what's happened with the Jensen family to cause a once-happy family to flounder. Shapiro writes a compelling story similar to Jodi Picoult and Ayelet Waldman's two novels.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Twenty-three year old Zhuang or "Z" has come to London for a year to learn English so she can assist her parents with their shoe manufacturing business in rural China. The novel follows Z through that time as she tries to master English, learns to become an individual in a society that offers much more freedom than China and, most importantly, falls in love with a fortysomething Englishman. Her intimate relationship with the unnamed man forms the bulk of the story. The reader sees Z's life through her own eyes--her vocabulary and language skills improve as the book progresses. At times, the novel is heartbreaking (the boyfriend doesn't love Z as much as she loves him) yet humorous (for example, Z's descriptions of british food and customs) and memorable for the depiction of a woman coming into her own.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and a Daughter by Alice Kuipers

Claire, 15, and her mother, an obstetrician, both lead busy lives. Their main communication is through notes on their refrigerator which are detailed in the novel. At first, they write about everyday things—grocery lists, chores, getting together for meals. Then, a crisis arises and the reader is let into the more private thoughts and emotions between these two people. Though slight in form, Life on the Refrigerator Door packs a punch and won’t be easily forgotten.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon

Helen is almost forty and has been having an affair with Matthew for four years. She realizes that she needs to make some changes in her life: get a new job and a new boyfriend. Of course, this is just the moment that Matthew announces that he's left his family for her. What can Helen do except let him move in? Helen (under another identity) then befriends Matthew's wife Sophie and comes up with the perfect plan to get them back together so she'll be off the hook. However, things get complicated when Helen falls for Matthew's son, Leo and her friendship with Sophie is real. Getting Rid of Matthew is a humorous, frothy story with a main character that could be Bridget Jones' older sis.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Starburst by Robin Pilcher

The annual Edinburgh International Festival is the backdrop for the latest novel from the author Robin Pilcher, son of Rosamunde Pilcher. In Starburst, the reader is introduced to a wide array of characters whose lives will intersect over the course of the book. There's french violin sensation Angelique Pascal, who's dealing with an overzealous manager. Tess Goodwin works for the festival and is recently married. Roger Dent owns the Exploding Sky Company, which is orchestrating the closing fireworks. Rene Brownlow is a mother and comedian from Yorkshire who is performing for the first time at the Fringe Festival. Leonard Hartson has come out of retirement to film a Japanese dance company. Thomas "T.K." Keene is a former thief and addict. Last of all, Jamie Stratton is renting out rooms in his house for the fest. Pilcher treats us to a mix of stories with characters of different ages and walks of life. Most of the people become friends and support each other in times of need. Enjoyable, although the large cast makes it feel more diffuse than his previous novels. For readers of Rosamunde Pilcher, Maeve Binchy, and Jojo Moyes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Claire Waverly owns a catering company and has the special gift of using flowers in her recipes to affect the eater in different ways. When, after a ten-year absence, her younger sister, Sydney, comes home to Bascome, North Carolina with her five year old daughter, Bay, it unearths memories of their childhood. The sisters, with a six year age difference between them, haven't always gotten along, especially after their mother left them in Bascome with their grandmother when they were young. Claire is quiet and distant, which proves a challenge when new neighbor, Tyler, tells her he's attracted to her and she realizes she feels the same way. Sydney, meanwhile, has fled an abusive relationship, and is trying to get back on her feet. Garden Spells is a promising debut full of offbeat characters, like the sisters' distant cousin, Evanelle, who gives things to people before they need them (not knowing why) and the apple tree in the family's backyard that throws apples at passers-by. The book is similar to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic. I'm very interested in seeing what type of book the author writes next.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Justice Denied by J.A. Jance

J.P. Beaumont has his hands full in the latest mystery in this long running series (this is book 18). Beaumont, an ex-Seattle police detective, works for the Washington State’s attorney general Special Homicide Investigation Team (SHIT). He’s been combing through old missing person files, specifically the disappearance 25 years ago of Tony Cosgrove. Then Ross Connors, the attorney general, asks him to unofficially look into the murder of LaShawn Tompkins. Tompkins was wrongfully imprisoned for rape and murder and released based on DNA evidence recently. Meanwhile, Beaumont’s colleague and girlfriend, Mel Soames is investigating whether someone is killing registered sex offenders. Soon, Beaumont and Mel are working the three cases together and it seems that there might be some connections. Justice Denied is similar to the rest of the Beaumont series—interesting characters and story—but has too many subplots. I will still keep reading the series, however.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank is a novel based on the tragic love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In 1903, prairie architect Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for Mamah and her husband, Edwin, in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. A few years later, Mamah and Frank begin their affair and run off to Europe together, leaving their families behind. Mamah, a feminist who is fluent in five languages, must find a new life for herself because her decision to love Frank against all of society's conventions means a complete break from her old one. The novel was fascinating because it provides an intimate, more human view of Wright that has been overshadowed by his mythical personality. I also liked it for the portrayal of a woman who gave up so much for the sake of her intellectual and emotional journey.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Perry Crandall is mentally challenged, lives with his Gram, and works at Holsted's Marine Supply in Everett, Washington. People close to him consider him lucky, especially when he wins twelve million dollars in the lottery. Soon, his relatives who usually want nothing to do with him--his mother and two older brothers, John and David--start coming around because they want his money. It is up to Perry's friends, Keith (a Vietnam vet and Perry's best friend), Gary (Perry's boss at Holsted's) and Cherry (a cashier at the local mini-mart and object of Perry's affections) to be there for him. Lottery is the story of Perry's journey through life after becoming rich and how his life changes in unimaginable ways. Perry and the rest of the characters in the novel are quirky and memorable. The book reminded me of Ron McLarty's The Memory of Running and a bit of Jim Kokoris' The Rich Part of Life, one of my favorite novels, which is also about a lottery winner.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum

Gunder Jomann is a man who keeps to himself in the small town of Elvestad, Norway. One day he gets the idea to travel to India and come home with a bride. Gunder arrives back in Elvestad with his bride to join him later. Unfortunately, the day he's supposed to meet Poona at the airport, his sister, Marie, is in a terrible car accident. Gunder rushes to Marie's bedside. However, on her way to Elvestad, Poona is brutally murdered. Who would want Poona dead? Several people in town seem to be keeping secrets about that fateful night. Will Inspector Konrad Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skarre be able to break through and find the killer? This is Fossum's fourth police procedural featuring Sejer and Skarre. I read the first book in the series, Don't Look Back when it came out in 2003 and thought it was ok. The Indian Bride was much better and I look forward to going back and reading books two and three.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell

Twentysomething sisters Ismay and Heather Sealand live in the bottom flat of their childhood home, while their ill mother and aunt live on the top floor. When they were teenagers, their stepfather, Guy, drowned in the family's bathtub. Ismay has always felt that Heather killed him to protect Ismay from his advances. Ismay has never confronted Heather about her belief but grows concerned when Heather has her first serious adult relationship with Edmund. Should she warn Edmund about her suspicions? Meanwhile, Edmund has his own family issues--mainly, his clingy hypochondriac mother, Irene, who doesn't like Heather. Also featured in the book are sister and brother Marion and Fowler Melville. Marion looks for older people to exploit, hoping that they'll leave her money in their wills. Fowler spends his time living on the streets. Slowly, the Melville siblings' lives intersect with the Sealand clan's to form a story of psychological suspense. I loved The Water's Lovely and could not put it down. While it's not fast-paced, Rendell creates such interesting characters and situations that you don't want to stop reading. You want to find out where the story is going to go. As good as her recent books, Thirteen Steps Down and A Sight for Sore Eyes, despite a few coincidences in the story.