WHERE MEMORIES LIE/Deborah Crombie/A-
A Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery. Gemma is asked by an elderly neighbor to help her find out how a family treasure from Germany has ended up in a London auction house. Duncan is called into the case when a young woman from the auction house is murdered. With flashbacks to post-WWII London and the murder of a German-Jewish intellectual, this is one of the best of Crombie's novels.
TALE OF DESPEREAUX/Kate di Camillo/A-
A children's story about a mouse who wants to be a hero, a maid who wants to be a princess, a princess who misses her mother, a rat who hates the dark, and soup. What's not to like?
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES/Nathaniel Hawthorne/B
Not Hawthorne's best (I would reserve that honor for THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE), but after visiting the inspiration for the house in the title, I had to read it. A young woman from the country comes to visit relatives who have secluded themselves in a supposedly cursed house. Lots of spooky atmosphere and old crimes to be uncovered with a happier ending than Hawthorne often provides.
LOST NAMES/Richard Kim/A
Seven vignettes about the author's childhood in Japanese-occupied Korea. The title piece is a haunting account of the men of the town registering their new, required Japanese names and their subsequent trek to the town cemetery to apologize to their ancestors. I knew a little about the suppression of Korean language during the Japanese occupation, but this book brought home the full cost and humiliation. I cheered right along with the 13-year-old narrator when the Japanese surrendered and the Korean flag was brought out of hiding to be flown once more.
THE PROMISE/Chaim Potok/A
Sequel to THE CHOSEN that I read for book club last year, I enjoyed this one even more. Reuven is studying to become a rabbi while his friend Danny is working with mentally ill youth. Some wonderful themes here, wrapped in a heartbreaking story about an adolescent boy who becomes increasingly, dangerously ill and the extreme treatment that Danny uses to try and reach him.
THE GREAT DELUGE/Douglas Brinkley/B
An in-depth, almost hour-by-hour, account of Hurricane Katrina in the hours before and the week after it struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I was left with the burning belief that there was plenty of blame to go around as well as plenty of heroism. It took me a while to plow through it, but that says more about my ability to concentrate this year than the book itself.
I SHALL NOT WANT/Julia Spencer-Fleming/B+
Almost as eagerly anticipated as Elizabeth George's CARELESS IN RED, this book didn't work nearly so well for me as a follow-up to unexpected tragedy. The Reverend Claire Fergusson has joined the National Guard as a helicopter pilot in the wake of the death of Russ Van Alstyne's wife. They've managed to avoid each other for several months, but the death of an illegal immigrant throws them together in solving the crime. I think what I liked least about this book is that it covered an entire year--skipping over much of the grief and mourning so she could get them together at the end. Not my favorite of her books.
THE BELL JAR/Sylvia Plath/A-
Plath's famous fictional account of her own breakdown during her college years. Esther is living in New York for a month when life begins to close in on her. When she returns home, mental illness descends like a bell jar, allowing her to see the world, but not engage with it. She ends up in an upscale psychiatric hospital and gradually recovers enough to leave. Plath, of course, went on to marry English poet Ted Hughes, have two children, and finally killed herself in London after the bell jar suffocated her once more. A powerful book, especially for anyone who has suffered from mental illness or loves someone who has.
THE PURE IN HEART and THE RISK OF DARKNESS/Susan Hill/B
The next two Simon Serailler novels, set in a fictional English cathedral town. I loved the first one, which knocked me sideways and kept me breathless for days afterward. Of these two, I preferred the second one, which had some beautiful writing that spoke straight to me (about hospitals at night and the moments when a parent's life changes forever). But by the time I reached the third, I had to push to finish. These had less story and more character angst. Now I'm all about characters, but only when they have a story to do something in. And it's a bad sign when I detest the protagonist. By the end, I wanted to slap Simon Serailler and tell him to grow up and act his age and stop feeling sorry for himself for being so handsome and artistic and such a woman magnet. Yeah, life's hard. Move along.
THE BOOK THIEF/Marcus Zusak/A-
Ever read a book narrated by death? If not, this is the one to read. Liesl makes her first appearance as a 10-year-old girl who watches her brother die on a train. At his burial, she steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook. Sent to live with foster parents to protect her from the Nazis' persecution of her Communist parents, Liesl finds solace in books. There's a Jewish boxer who hids in her cellar, a German boy who the Nazis want to train, two foster parents who are loving in their own different ways, and a mayor's wife who has never recovered from the death of her son in WWI. This is a powerful book I would recommend to everyone.
My friend Becca has been telling me for months I would love this book. I did.
Okay, maybe I'll say a little more. Claire Randall is in the Highlands shortly after the end of WWII. Although she and Frank have been married eight years, the war kept them apart for most of that time. While Frank is busy with genealogical interests, Claire winds up on a hillside in a circle of standing stones . . . and suddenly Frank, and her world, are 200 hundred years in the future. Transported to 1743 Scotland, Claire is swept into a tangle of politics and border fights and trying to keep herself from being burned as a witch. When she meets Jamie Fraser, everything is turned upside down and Claire will have to choose between her past in the 1900s and a future with a man she never imagined. I've bought the second in the series and I'm beyond delighted that I have several more to go.