TO THE POWER OF THREE by Laura Lippman: a new-to-me author of a contemporary mystery series. This is a stand-alone novel that was nominated for multiple awards last year. Three girls, best friends for years, are shot in the high school bathroom just weeks before graduation. One is killed, one (the apparent shooter) is in a coma, and one is the only witness to not just what happened but why. And she's not telling everything. A twisty novel that keeps the reader guessing and caring about all three girls right up to the truth of how a friendship ended in blood.
THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale: A sweet pre-teen fairy tale that I'd never read and thought I should. I liked it okay, but not well enough to be anxious to read her others. I'll put it on Emma's shelf for a few years in the future.
THE END by Lemony Snicket: the 13th entry in The Series of Unfortunate Events, a series we have devoured in our home. The Baudelaire orphans come more or less to the end of their adventures--although the last chapter does send them out into the world again and also leaves some questions frustratingly unanswered. But how can you not like a book that introduces a character named Ishmael in the following way: "Call me Ish," said Ishmael. I've loved this series for its use of language and humor, which continue strong in this final entry.
THE KINGDOM KEEPERS by Ridley Pearson: this was my month for YA books. Jacob asked me to read this one after he did, about mysterious goings-on in Florida's Magic Kingdom. From the Pirates of the Caribbean to Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, characters are coming to life and starting to affect the real world. A group of kids has to cross over at night to stop them. The real fun of the book is the things the kids get to do alone in the park at night--fight off maniacal puppets in It's a Small World, climb through the dark interior of Space Mountain, learn the tunnel system by which Disney World keeps garbage out of sight. Fun for pre-teens.
ALL MORTAL FLESH by Julia Spencer-Fleming: the fifth in the Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series. This is the one I've been waiting for. Episcopal priest Claire and Sheriff Russ are meant for each other--but he has a wife of twenty-five years whom he also loves. When Russ finally confesses his feelings for Claire, his wife Linda throws him out of the house. Shortly after, she's found battered to death in her kitchen. The ensuing investigation is a mess of secrets, personal loyalties, town gossip, and church discipline. Through it all are the real emotions and tangled hearts of two people who have tried to do the right thing. But the book comes back with twists at the end that change everything you think you know--twists that will throw this series in an unpredictable direction. I can't wait!
IT'S JUST ME, GRAMMA by James Roscoe Leard: a memoir of growing up on a small Mississippi farm in the 1920's. The author is my grandfather, though I've never met him. (His daughter, Sandi, was my birthmother.) I naturally loved the book for the personal history and family photos, but it is also a remarkably well-written account of farm life and he has a gift for making things visually clear. I now have a pretty good idea of how to catch fish and eels with a drag line and how to butcher a pig. My grandfather just turned 90 years old and is still writing. (He also has published a book about life as a Marine in WWII South Pacific, and several books of photography.)
THE ART OF THE NOVEL by Henry James: a book I took from Sandi's bookshelf as she lay dying. She wrote her doctorate on Henry James and did a lot of underlining and commenting in the margins of this book. It's a collection of prefaces that James wrote for the reprint of his most famous works. He covers everything from how specific stories came to him to the role of the artist in society to the importance of truth in storytelling. Like most of his work, the reader must pay close attention but it's well worth the effort for the wisdom of one of America's greatest novelists.
HERE BE DRAGONS by Sharon Kay Penman: this is a reprint first published in the 1980's, proving the enduring popularity of historical fiction. This is the first in a trilogy, opening in the late 12th-century and continuing through King John's reign in England and the succession of his young son. When John's illegitimate daughter, Joanna, marries the Welsh prince Llewellyn, she hopes it will be the means of preserving peace between the two men. But history knows better, and Joanna must choose between loyalty to her father and love for her husband. Penman is a brilliant historical novelist and I envy her work. Anyone who loves history, romance, intrigue, or human relationships would do well to read this book. I have the next two on my shelf and can't wait to begin.
WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER by Elizabeth George: in George's previous book in the Inspector Lynley series, a main character was shot and killed in what proved to be a random and unplanned crime. George has taken a detour from the series (Lynley doesn't appear at all in this book) and the title expresses it all--she goes back and tells the story of the 12-year-old boy who is eventually arrested for murder. Joel Campbell is the middle of three siblings with a disastrous past: their father was killed by the police, their mother is in a mental institution for the criminally insane, their indifferent grandmother has just left them literally sitting on a doorstep while she catches a plane for Jamaica. Dropped into the arms of an unprepared aunt, the Campbell children are mostly left to fend for themselves. From teenage Vanessa and her disastrous involvement with a street thug to 8-year-old Toby's damaged mental state, the story coalesces around Joel and his attempts to keep his family safe. But he's only 12 and his choices lead him inexorably to Lynley's front doorstep and a murder that will shake George's series to the ground. A hard book to read, but George managed to make me feel for every person in this book and regret the society that helps make criminals out of children.
THE GREAT INFLUENZA by John M. Barry: a book club selection (at my recommendation), this book chronicles the rise of scientific medicine in the early 20th-century and its greatest test--the influenza pandemic of 1918. In 24 weeks in the autumn of 1918, a virulent strain of influenza killed more people than AIDS has killed in 24 years. Estimates now range between 50-100 million people died as WWI was ending. The book is a treatise on how communities react under great stress, on the effects of a pandemic that will almost surely come again, and on the individual efforts of scientists to learn what they could in a race against time. Highly recommended.