TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH by Julia Spencer-Fleming: the fourth in the mystery series featuring Clare, an Anglican priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the married police chief she feels more than polite friendship for. Spencer-Fleming did something unique with this book--it takes place entirely within one day. An heiress has gone missing in the November woods. Hunters and search and rescue are on the lookout for her, while the foundation she has willed her family's land to is wondering if she'll return in time for the night's signing ceremony at the local resort. Spencer-Fleming deals with enviromentalism, logging, hunting, kidnapping, and corporate greed without going overboard on any one element or pushing a particular moral conclusion. Still, this was not my favorite of the series. I was a bit too aware of the artificial, which is to say fictional, structure of this mystery-in-a-day. But I like the characters and I'm eagerly awaiting the next in the series.
NEGOTIATING WITH THE DEAD by Margaret Atwood: the subtitle is "A writer on writing." I love Atwood's novels, particularly ALIAS GRACE and THE BLIND ASSASSIN, and I liked this book. Rather than a traditional how-to-write or this-is-how-I-write book, Atwood deals with rather more ephemeral questions about writers and art. Chapter headings include "Orientation: who do you think you are?", "Dedication: Apollo vs. Mammon, at whose altar should the writer worship?", and "Communion: the eternal triangle--the writer, the reader, and the book as go-between".
THE DARK BACKWARD by Julia Buckley: a contemporary mystery/thriller that opens with a compelling prologue in which police officer Lily Caldwell sees the face of her attempted killer during the few minutes that she is clinically dead. After losing her job and her husband over her stubborn refusal to drop it, Lily is threatened again when new evidence arises against the man she believes killed her partner and tried to kill her--the governor. I would have liked the setting to be more detailed and grounded, rather than just the generic "Capitol City", but Lily is a fiesty and memorable character against which some of the other characters, unfortunately, are not as fully realized.
AN APRIL SHROUD, A PINCH OF SNUFF, and A KILLING KINDNESS by Reginald Hill: three of the earlier entries in the Dalziel/Pascoe mystery series set in Yorkshire. Having come upon this series late in the game, I'm catching up a few at a time and thoroughly enjoying each outing of these memorable policemen. Hill writes wonderful characters and tricky plots and it's not knocking these books to say that he has gotten better and better over the years.
THE STRANGER HOUSE by Reginald Hill: a recent stand-alone from the Dalziel/Pascoe author, this book was utterly brilliant. The Stranger House in question is a guesthouse in Northern England which finds two determined researchers on its doorstep on the same weekend. Sam Flood is a take-no-prisoners mathematical genius from Australia who's trying to find out how her 13-year-old grandmother came to be pregnant years ago in this village and then shipped out to the nuns in Sydney. Miguel is a Spanish almost-monk who has just lost his calling to the priesthood and, while waiting to see what God wants him to do next, continues his research into the Elizabethan persecution of Continental priests. The plot is intricate, winding its way from past to present until Sam and Miguel find their stories are part of the same whole. Stunning, beautiful, absolutely recommended.
SONS OF DESTINY by Darren Shan: I've covered this pretty well in my entry on endings. Loved this YA series about a half-vampire boy and the vampire/vampaneze war waged on the edges of our own world, but hated the ending of the series. The author pulled the rug out in the last chapter of this book and ruined an otherwise great series for me.
THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS by Nancy Pickard: read this after numerous recommendations on DorothyL and I'll be forever grateful that I did. Seventeen years ago, in the midst of a Kansas blizzard, a young woman is found dead in the snow. Since then, the grave of the unidentified girl has become a place of pilgrimage for the ill and suffering. But who is she? What happened the night of her death? Why did 17-year-old Mitch Newquist leave home the next day? What secret are the town judge, sheriff, and doctor hiding? When Mitch returns home suddenly, long-silent questions are asked and long-hidden secrets are revealed, leading up to the truth about the Virgin of Small Plains. An absorbing book that I finished in almost one reading. Highly recommended.
NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG by Barbara Vine: I thought I'd read everything by Vine/Rendell, but found this little gem and devoured it whole. Behind his quiet, unremarkable life, Tim Cornish hides a dreadful secret: he killed a man. Or did he? As Tim writes out his confession, we begin to suspect that not everything is as it seems. A beautiful little novel with wonderful structure that will keep the reader guessing about the outcome until the very last page.
THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell: this may just take over POSSESSION as my favorite book of, well, ever. In the year 2019, a message in music is received from the Alpha Centauri system. Without fanfare or notice, the Jesuits send their own exploratory party: four priests, a doctor and her husband, an engineer, and a computer expert. In 2059, the sole survivor of the expedition has returned to earth accused of terrible crimes. A novel of friendship, love, exploration, wonder, fear, and faith--if you shrug aside this book because it's found in the science fiction section, you'll be missing out on a experience that cannot be duplicated. Read it!