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.