YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING/Joan Didion/A
I reviewed this when I read it the first time last year. I wasn't sure I could re-read it for book club (it deals with grief in the year after Didon's husband died and she dealt with the serious illness of her only child), but I did and I'm awfully glad. Everything she wrote resonated for me in a way it couldn't have before my son's cancer. I liked it the first time--I loved it the second time.
CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE/Jane Haddam/B+
In this newest Gregor Demarkian mystery, Gregor is only too glad to leave Philadelphia and the frenzy of wedding preparations for an investigation on a fictional resort island. Loosely based on communities like the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard, the island has been invaded by movie people and do-nothing celebrities for a film production. A true Nor'Easter blows through on New Year's Eve and a young man from the film crew is found dead in his truck. Filled with the wonderful characters that Haddam excels at, the book is a scathing look at celebrity culture and the people who feed on it. But her novel structure is sometimes so complicated that five minutes after finishing I'm not quite sure who the killer was or why. Still, I love Gregor and Bennis and will keep coming back for more.
JANE AND THE BARQUE OF FRAILTY/Stephanie Barron/A-
The newest Jane Austen mystery finds Jane staying in London with her brother, Henry, and his wife, Eliza, while she oversees the production of her first novel, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. When a young Russian woman is found dead on the doorstep of a leading politician, Jane and Eliza come under suspicion of murder. To clear their names, Jane must look into treason and the society of high-paid courtesans. The late Lord Harold helps Jane once more, providing clues in his papers that he entrusted to Jane. A satisfying look at the early 1800s.
CARELESS IN RED/Elizabeth George/A++
I had a serious case of nerves heading into this newest in the Inspector Lynley series. George set herself a monumental task when she killed of a critical character in the book before this and I knew she would have to write an absolutely astounding book to follow up. She did. The book opens with Lynley walking Cornwall trying to escape his grief. On the 45th day of his walk, he finds a body at the bottom of a cliff and thus is reluctantly is drawn into the world once more. George creates a mystery as compelling as Lynley's personal storyline and that's no mean feat. She opens a window into the Cornish surfing community and into the hearts of damaged families. All I can say is "Brava! You delivered."
THE FLY HAS A HUNDRED EYES/Aileen G. Barron/B-
Set in Palestine on the eve of WWII, Barron's book follows a female archaeologist whose name I can't remember. That will tell you most of what you need to know about this book--the setting was fabulous and the premise is intriguing (a British archaeologist is killed in the midst of terror attacks on Jerusalem and an artifact goes missing), but the characters were unfortunately forgettable. If you're interested in the time or place, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, I'd give it a miss.
THE SUBTLE KNIFE/Phillip Pullman/B
The second in The Golden Compass trilogy, it opens with a boy named Will in a world that's obviously meant to be ours. In trying to escape pursuit, he tumbles into a world haunted by Specters. It's here that we meet up with Lyra once more and she's nearly as engaging (but not quite.) Will and Lyra have to work together to find out about Dust, about Lord Asriel's plans, and about Will's missing father. They also have to retrieve the Subtle Knife, a weapon that can cut anything, including doorways into other worlds. Helped by the witches and the valiant Texan from the first book, Will and Lyra set out upon the journey that will end in the next book. (A word about the atheism--it's much more pronounced in this book and I imagine will continue stronger in the third. Clearly Pullman has no use for religion or God in any sense. That's his choice. As for me, I like Lyra and Will well enough to follow them to the end of their journey.)