CYBELE'S SECRET/Juliet Marillier/A-
It's not secret to anyone who knows me that I love Marillier's hsitorical fantasies. This is a sequel to WILDWOOD DANCING, a YA novel set in eastern Europe in about the 16th-century. In this outing, Paula, the middle daughter, travels with her father to Constantinople to trade and in search of a possibly mythical artifact. But the artifact proves to be all too real, as does the danger surrounding it. Of course there's a handsome man (two actually) and Paula has to learn to use both her cleverness and her courage to follow the clues being laid for her by those of the otherworld. Full of strong characters, compelling action, and wonderful setting and detail.
FINAL EXAM/Pauline Chen/B+
Chen is a liver transplant surgeon who was troubled by the difficulties the medical field had in dealing with terminal patients. This book is a collection of essays about the topic--from how it's taught (or not taught) in medical schools to dealing with individual patients and making realistic recommendations for their care. I read this for obvious reasons and found it moving and a decent insight into the doctors and nurses we've spent so much time with this year.
SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS/Marisha Pessl/A+
This is possibly my favorite book of this year. Marketed as a YA novel (presumably because of the 17-year-old protagonist), it's a wickedly clever, deadly funny, and brilliantly and unexpectedly plotted. Pessl obviously wallows in language, but she doesn't let that come at the expense of plot. Blue van Meer has spent her childhood, since her mother's death, moving around the country with her professor father. They've landed in North Carolina for her senior year of high school, a private school where Blue meets Hannah, the charismatic and mysterious Film teacher, and somehow winds up running with the cool kids. But when a man drowns in Hannah's pool during a costume party, things take a turn for the dramatic worse. Blue is an absolutely and utterly engaging narrator and when I finished the book, I thought, "Man! I've got to read that straight over again now that I know what's really going on!"
THE SONNET LOVER/Carol Goodman/A
Another wonderful Goodman romantic/literary suspense novel. This one is set in Italy, where Renaissance poetry teacher Rose Asher retreats after the apparent suicide of her favorite student. There are rumors that the student had stolen sonnet manuscripts from the Italian villa that hosts the college's study abroad program. But that's not her only concern--twenty years ago, Rose fled the same villa at the end of a painful affair. Now she's face to face with her lover, his wife, and their son and she's beginning to suspect that her student's death wasn't suicide. Throw in a possible identification of Shakespeare's famous "Dark Lady" and you have all the elements for a fabulous read.
THE SISTERS MORTLAND/Sally Beauman/B
I loved the first part of this book, and then it went a little flat later on. The opening is set in 1960s England in a country house that is falling down and houses three sisters--beautiful Julia, clever Finn, and odd little Maisie. Maisie narrates the first part, giving us a 13-year-old's view of her sisters and the men around them. Then we jump to 1990, when an art exhibition displays a now-famous portrait of the three sisters. It's a slow unraveling of the disasters and accidents that happened at the end of Maisie's summer account and how those disasters are only now playing out to their end. It was worth the 5 dollars I paid for it on clearance, but not more.
THE BLADE ITSELF/Marcus Sakey/A-
Danny and his best friend Evan were once partners in crime in Chicago. But when Evan wound up in prison for attempted murder, Danny went straight. Seven years later, he's shocked to find Evan out of prison. And Evan wants something from him--something Danny is afraid not to give. As the saying goes--"The more you have, the more you have to lose." A hardboiled novel, not my usual fare, but this is eloquently written and the characters are unique. But I thought Sakey's strongest element was his creation of setting and atmosphere. I felt like I was right in downtown Chicago, at night, in the dark, with winter looming and danger in every shadow.
And I re-read several of The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnet (you can find my reviews of these historical novels somewhere last year)
THE GAME OF KINGS
THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS
PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE
And I still loved them every bit as much as the first time :)