Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe returns in the latest entry in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In the book, Mma Ramotswe is hired to find out why patients are dying in a particular hospital bed at the same time of day. Her assistant, Mma Makutsi, newly engaged, is having growing pains in her job and has an assignment locating the culprit for a client's missing office supplies. Even Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, gets in on the sleuthing taking his first case. Throughout the mystery, McCall Smith creates a wonderful sense of place for Botswana and endearing characters. A solid addition to the long-running series.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Deadly Appraisal by Jane K. Cleland

Josie Prescott is stunned when Maisy Gaylor drops dead at the Portmouth (NH) Women's Guild's Gala that she is hosting at her auction house. It turns out that Maisy was poisoned and that Josie may have been the intended target. The policeman on the case, Detective Rowcliff, is rude to Josie and she realizes that she must do her own investigating when headlines like "Prescott Involved in Second Murder" start appearing in the newspaper. She has her hands full finding antiques to buy, working with her employees, clearing her name, and insuring her own safety. I throughly enjoyed the first book in the series, Consigned to Death and was really looking forward to reading this one. Unfortunately, I guessed who the murderer was very early, which hardly ever happens for me. I hope the next book in the series offers a more complex puzzle.

The Woods by Harlan Coben

Camille Copeland sneaked into the woods at summer camp with three friends. Two were later discovered dead. Camille and the other friend were never found. Now twenty years later, Paul Copeland, her brother, is questioned by the police as part of another murder investigation. Paul realizes that the dead man might be Camille's friend from that night. Does that mean that she was alive all these years and, if so, where has she been? Paul's past is dredged up, especially his guilt for the fact that he was supposed to be on night watch duty at the camp but was romancing his girlfriend instead. Paul realizes that he must find out the truth about what happened. Harlan Coben's latest book is a page turner but is not as suspenseful as his other recent novels. Even so, Coben fans will enjoy it.

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily Ashton has recently come out of mourning for her husband, Philip. She becomes intrigued by the recent thefts of some of Marie Antoinette's possessions. When one of the theft victims is poisoned, Emily decides to search for the killer. Her investigation sets tongues in London wagging. Emily is very independent--with her disdain for the season's parties and her love of books and learning Greek. She is also wooed by a mysterious admirer, much to the concern of her possible love interest Colin Hargreaves, who works undercover for Buckingham Palace. Will Emily find the murderer or will her reputation be tarnished forever? A Poisoned Season is the second book in the Emily Ashton series and is as enjoyable as the first. The author combines a great deal of period detail with an interesting (although sometimes too modern) main character and a compelling mystery.

Friday, April 20, 2007

No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year by Virginia Ironside

Marie is about to turn 60 and decides to start keeping a diary. She believes that she should start taking advantage of all the perks of old age (free rides on the Tube, for example) and not try to be young. In this funny novel, the reader follows Marie over eighteen months of her life while she gets comfortable with having lots of free time, becoming a grandma, the aches of getting older, and a possible romance. No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club reminded me of an older version of Bridget Jones's Diary. It was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan

Kerrie-Ann lives with her drug addict mother in a housing estate in Nottingham, England. By 10, she's a drug courier for Uncle Frank, her mom's boyfriend. Basically motherless, Kerrie-Ann struggles to grow up in an awful environment while taking care of her younger brother. Her only real friend is Mark, another young runner, but drugs take their toll on both him and Kerrie-Ann. At times, she dreams of a different life. When she was young, she learned all about entomology from a neighbor and thinks about going to the Amazon. Will Kerrie-Ann be able to escape or be destroyed? While the subject matter of the novel is bleak, Kerrie-Ann is an interesting character and hard to forget.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Black & White by Dani Shapiro

Clara lives with her husband Jonathan and daughter Sam in Maine. Fourteen years ago, she ran away from her family in New York City, sick of her life as the model in her mother's photographs. These provocative photos, taken of Clara from ages three to fourteen, made Ruth extremely famous. For Clara, they are reminder of a childhood that she wants to forget. But now Ruth is dying of cancer and Clara's sister Robin calls to ask her to come to New York. Clara goes, but seeing Ruth again dredges up memories of her youth. Clara's worldview is also complicated by the fact that Sam looks just like her when she was young. Black and White is a thought-provoking story in which the worlds of art, exploitation, and families collide. I only wish that Ruth's character was explored with more depth. If you like Amanda Eyre Ward or Jodi Picoult, give it a try.

The Lavender Hour by Anne LeClaire

Jessie moves to Cape Cod when she is let go from her job teaching art. She decides to volunteer with a local hospice program after she hears in a lecture that "we learn how to live from the dying." She's also motivated by her bout with cancer a few years before. Her first client is Luke, a fisherman. Jessie becomes attached to his mother, Nona, and slowly to Luke. She soon realizes she is falling for him. But when he asks her to help him die with dignity, what will she do? Jessie is a flawed character (she breaks some hospice rules and doesn't reveal that she had cancer herself), but LeClaire creates a story with well-drawn characters, one that makes for engaging reading.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Rennie Stroud is 13 when Tallgrass, a Japanese internment camp, is built next to her family's farm during World War II. The small town of Ellis, Colorado is upended with people taking sides either for or against the camp and the individuals inside. Then a local girl is murdered and tensions heat up even more. Rennie's father, Loyal, opposes the camp. He hires Japanese men and women to help harvest the family's beet fields and help in their home. Rennie's coming of age, shaped by her family's convictions and the events of the time, makes for an interesting story. I've always loved Sandra Dallas' historical novels. In fact, they are some of the only historical fiction that I consistently read. The first 40 pages of the book were a little slow, but once you get into the story, it will be hard to put it down.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

True Colours by Sue Haasler

Beth Jackson lives with her teenage son, Danny, and her father, Bill in Last Reach, northern England. Her husband, Martin, died three years ago at sea and now the family is faced with having nowhere to live because their home, situated near a lighthouse, is close to falling into the water. Help comes in the form of former television personality turned politician Gareth Dakers. He offers the family a place to stay in London, mainly because he's trying to drum up voter support in Northlands (where Beth lives). Will London be the right setting for Beth to start anew and maybe find love? Also, is Gareth serious about helping the people of the north or is it all just a power trip? Sue Haasler has written a novel very similar to both Rosamunde and Robin Pilcher. True Colours has not been published in the U.S., but should be available through interlibrary loan at your library.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Glass Devil by Helene Tursten

Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues in Goteborg, Sweden are investigating the deaths of Jacob Schyttelius and his parents--Sten (a pastor) and Elsa. They were murdered in their respective houses a few hours apart. Satanic symbols are also found at both crime scenes. The only surviving member of the family, daughter Rebecka, lives in London and works as a computer consultant. Irene first believes that family might have been killed because they were trying to find some satanists who burned down a local church. Irene then goes to London to interview Rebecka, who is in bad psychological shape. Rebecka can hardly communicate with her, but Irene feels that she holds the key to her family's fate. Will she be able to break through? I enjoy this mystery series because I like the main character Irene, who was a judo champion in her youth and lives with her chef husband and twin 18-year-old daughters. I also appreciate Tursten's descriptions of the internal workings of a police department and its officers. To me, this series is more like English police procedurals than any other Scandinavian mystery series I read.