Only a little late this month :)
DARK FIRE/CJ Sansom/B
2nd in the Matthew Shardlake series set in Tudor England. Lawyer Shardlake is drawn back into the world of conspiracy when his old employer, Cromwell, needs help finding some missing Greek fire (also known as Dark fire). Able to burn ships on the water, it would be a formidable weapon for whomever ends up with it. Shardlake agrees to help, but in the midst of tracking down a killer trying to sell Greek fire to the highest bidder, he also has to find evidence to clear a young woman of murder. Good period atmosphere and an introduction of a new sidekick for Shardlake, but the whole was less than the sum of its parts. I don't know why.
A FATAL GRACE and THE CRUELEST MONTH/Louise Penny/A+
I read Penny's debut novel in January, introducing Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete. The next two in the series see Gamache returning to the small town of Three Pines--the first time to connect the murder of a highly unpleasant woman and the overlooked death of a homeless woman shortly before; the second time to deal with a death during a seance. This is my favorite new author/series since discovering Reginald Hill and the Dalziel/Pascoe books. My only complaint is that I came into this series too early--there aren't any more books yet! The greatest strength is Gamache himself, a man of principle and great kindness who is paying for a choice he made against the wishes of his colleagues. That choice and its consequences run through all three books like a thread, culminating in a wonderful sub-plot in THE CRUELEST MONTH. If you like Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford or P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh, treat yourself to Armand Gamache.
I'm not much for serial killer novels, but I heard Michelle at LCC and picked up her first novel recently. In the old tunnels beneath a New England college, there's more going on than lovers' trysts. When the daughter of a mafia boss is murdered, FBI agent Kelly Jones returns to her alma mater to track down the killer. A great thriller that I raced through in two days--I would have graded it higher if there had been more about Kelly herself. Especially given that she was back on her own college campus, I wanted some connection there. But a good snowy day read.
ISABELLA MOON/Laura Benedict/A-
Okay, you all know I was anxious to read this even before I met Laura at LCC. I delayed beginning it until I knew I had a couple days in a row to devote to reading. And I needed them. Isabella Moon disappeared from her small Kentucky town two years ago. Now Kate Russell claims that she knows where Isabella's body is buried--because Isabella's ghost has shown her. The sheriff doesn't know what to make of Kate, and he's worried about the sudden death of a high school athlete and the murder of one of Kate's friends. And Kate has her own secrets--ones that won't stay hidden much longer. Benedict does a masterful job of plotting, no mean feat in a novel this complex. I loved the multiple POVs, the flashbacks into Kate's past, and the sheriff. My favorite parts of the novel were the appearances of Isabella and others to Kate. It's the one element that I wish had been, I don't know, explored more. In any case, Benedict weaves all the storylines into a strong conclusion and her pacing was dead on. And I absolutely loved the ending. For me, the last couple chapters put this book from a good one to a great one.
THE LOST CONTINENT/Bill Bryson/A
Travelling through small-town America.
Writing about it.
Enough said :)
A reprint of a 1960s mid-grade ghost story. Set in early 20th-century New England, orphaned Emily spends the summer with her young aunt and her grandmother in a rambling house where her Aunt Jane died years before as a child. Soon Emily is being haunted by the ruthless Jane, and those who love her have to save her. I put it aside for my 9-year-old daughter to read--it's just the right level of scariness for her. Not quite enough for me.
JULIE AND JULIA/Julie Powell/A-
Nearly-30-year-old Julie Powell decides to cook every recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". In one year. Her blog about the experience turned into newpaper, magazine, and television interviews, and then a book deal. I put the minus sign because of her too-often-for-me swearing, but this is a funny book about something that I will personally never do but loved reading about. Cooking eggs in gelatin? Using an axe to split open a cow's thigh bone and get out the marrow? Deboning a duck without losing the essential shape? The chapters on Julie's exploits are interspersed with peeks at Julia Child's life before she decided to take up cooking in France. Made me want to buy "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" even if I never cook anything from it.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN/Lisa See/B+
A book club selection; I liked it better than I expected to. And more than THE GOOD EARTH which was our last book set in China. In 19th-century China, Lily is bound to Snow Flower as lifelong friends at the age of 6. This relationship--more important in its rituals and meanings than anything except marriage--changes the course of both their lives. Using nu shu (a form of writing developed by women for private communication), Lily and Snow Flower stay connected even as their lives diverge. The descriptions of foot binding are both graphic and sad, and I'm awfully glad I never had to serve in my in-laws' home as a servant to prove my worth. The book didn't go as deeply as I would have liked into Lily's emotions, particularly when a misunderstanding leads to a rupture between her and Snow Flower. But still a book I would recommend.