Friday, May 18, 2007


THE GAME OF KINGS/QUEEN'S PLAY by Dorothy Dunnett: The first two in the Lymond Chronicles, historical fiction at its adventurous, sword-fighting, politicking, religious squabbling, bawdy best. Francis Crawford of Lymond is the younger son of a noble Scots family. Five years ago, he was revealed as an English spy and banished from Scotland. Now he's come home. Is it to wreak havoc or redeem his name? It's not always easy to tell and Lymond is a very hard protagonist to pin down. The first book gave me fits getting used to the style and prose. But it wrapped up in a most satisfying way and the second book was just as good, when Lymond goes to France to help protect his 7-year-old queen, Mary, from assassination attempts. Set in the turbulent mid-1500s, these books are a marvelous treasure for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

CLOUD OF UNKNOWING by Thomas Cook: Another stunning novel by Cook. When his nephew drowns, David Sears watches his sister come undone by the tragedy. Diana helped care for their schizophrenic father when they were children and with her son's death her own mental stability is called into question. She's convinced her husband helped kill their son and becomes obsessed with researching ancient ritual killings. Gradually she begins to believe that the earth is a living entity who could tell her the truth about her son's death. When Diana begins to threaten his own family, David must decide what to do. A powerful examination of the power of blood and family myth--as well as the love of siblings for one another.

HOUSE ON THE STRAND by Daphne du Maurier: One of the few du Maurier books I missed as a teenager. Dick Young has been lent his friend's Cornwall house for free. All his friend, Magnus, asks of him is to participate in a little science experiment. But there's nothing little about it--when Dick drinks from the flask left him by Magnus, he's transported back in time to the same valley in the 14th century. The story alternates between the present and the past, with Dick growing increasingly addicted to the people whose stories he is watching in the past. A sudden death underlines the danger of mixing times, but Dick cannot stop until he knows the end of the story.

UNLESS by Carol Shields: A Pulitzer Prize winner, Shields' final novel before her death is about Reta Winters, a quite companion, mother, translator, and writer in Canada whose life is turned upside down when her oldest daughter, Norah, drops out of university to sit on a Toronto street corner with a sign that reads simply "Goodness." Reta looks to literature and her own writing to try and make sense of it all. Is Norah troubled by the silencing of women throughout history? Can one love both the world as a whole and the individuals in it? Is silence simply a choice that Norah is free to make? A quiet but intriguing novel. Not precisely my usual fare, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

THE ROBBER BRIDE by Margaret Atwood: Another fabulous Canadian woman author, Atwood delivers a book about three fascinating women who would never have been friends if not for the one thing they have in common--the destructive power of a woman called Zenia. She wrought disaster in each of their lives, one after the other, and then died. At her funeral, they rejoiced. But five years later, in a Toronto restaurant, Zenia comes back from the supposed dead. We get the story of each woman in turn, as Zenia trails poison through their lives, all the time wondering what she's up to now and who she plans to hurt next. Beautifully plotted, intricately written, dazzlingly characterized. Loved it.

DISSOLUTION by C.J. Sansom: First novel in a Tudor mystery series, featuring lawyer Matthew Shardlake who works for Lord Cromwell. One year after Anne Boleyn's execution, King Henry VIII has turned to threats veiled as persuasion to complete his dissolution of the Catholic monastaries in England. When a royal commissioner is found beheaded at Scarnsea Monastery, Matthew Shardlake is sent to discover the killer and complete the monastery's surrender to the crown. Shardlake uncovers evidence of sexual impropriety, embezzlement, and treason, but two more deaths lead him to believe there is more to Scarnsea than a simple religious motive. Anne's death on Tower Green casts a shadow even here, and Shardlake has to cope not only with murder but the destruction of his own beliefs.

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