31 December 2010

Forge; Laurie Halse Anderson

Forge (Seeds of America, #2)Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given that this is the second in a trilogy, the book doesn't really suffer from "middle child" syndrome: the backstory is filled in in drips and drabs (but you could get by without having read Chains) and the ending is semi-cliffhangery, so you could use your imagination to plot Isabel and Curzon's future without feeling compelled to buy Ashes.

The horrors of serving in, not fighting in, an army take up the majority of the book: the cold, hunger, lack of shelter and clothing, etc. that Curzon's company experiences is remarkably detailed. I was at BookFest this year where Ms. Anderson described, in somewhat painful detail, her research into bloody footprints and firecake, among other 'primary sources'. I think that it is this part that will attract the most readers, because the slavery story - while compelling - isn't really news.

That's not to diminish the betrayal Curzon feels when his former(? depending on your point of view) master grabs him, or the fury he has when it's clear that "freedom" they're fighting for is for whites, not everyone. That there was slavery in the North will surprise readers who think that states like Massachusetts and New York were always free states, and that slaves preferred to fight for the British (who promised their freedom) will also surprise readers.

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30 December 2010

The Young Italians; Amanda Prantera

The Young ItaliansThe Young Italians by Amanda Prantera
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite an Aga-saga, but close... Irene is a newly orphaned young woman heading to Italy to live with her only living relative, an aunt who is less than thrilled to play guardian. Aunt Florence's life is based on the intellectual/artistic discussion at her Wednesday salotta, at which Irene is a complete disappointment, so Florence finds a nice young man to amuse Irene. This man, Tommasso, and Irene hit it off, somewhat, and end up married - Irene rather passively leaves her aunt for her husband's large family.

Throughout the book, Irene's reactions are passive and even her "affair" is conducted in that manner (can you call it an affair if there's only one real moment of physical contact, and the rest is glances and occasional conversations and covert stalking?). All this is set against the backdrop of Mussolini's rise, and the family consensus is that he's a bit of a buffoon but not much worse; of course, they change their mind as Italy invades Ethiopia and cozies up to Hitler.

I never felt a real connection to Irene, probably because she is portrayed as something of an observer in her life - we never get close to any of the characters. I wished there'd been slightly more about the political changes, as this is a period about which we rarely hear.

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28 December 2010

Earth; Jon Stewart

Earth (the book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human RaceEarth (the book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Basically, this is review-proof: either you like the humor of the Daily Show crew, or you don't. I fall into the "mostly like, but sometimes they take the joke too far" category and this book is, for the most part, taking the joke just far enough.

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27 December 2010

Mudbound; Hillary Jordan

MudboundMudbound by Hillary Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was loaned this book as a follow-up to having read The Help (and after I'd recommended The Queen of Palmyra and Wench) and this is definitely a more memorable, more sickening book than the first. Told from six different points of view, some male, some female, some white, some black, but all genuine, this story of what life in the 40s in Mississippi was like.

Laura's life was one of gentle rearing - it's not clear that she has any real racial animosity, but there's a casual class/racist attitude in her - and her late (past-30!) marriage to Henry isn't one of love and passion but more of companionship. Or so she thinks until he moves her and their two daughters to a mudbound farm miles from "home": no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no telephone, and his racist, mean father living in a lean-to are all part of her new life. She becomes as friendly as one can with Florence, the black midwife whose husband sharecrops on the farm. There's also Hap, Florence's husband; Henry, madly in love with the land and filled with the certainty that because he's white and male, he's right; Ronsel, back from WWII, where even though he was a black soldier he wasn't somehow less than a man; and Jamie, Henry's younger brother, who would have done better to live an academic life but instead ends up a bomber in the War and struggling with the aftershocks of that horror. Their lives intertwine in such a way that you know that nothing good is going to happen, but the actual climax will take you by surprise.

As with the two books I'd recommended, I can see this book being recommended to others for many years; it's a story that many people would like to forget was a part of who we, as a country, were and should not be forgotten.

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26 December 2010

A Long Walk to Water; Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know this book has already been talked about as an award winner, and rightly so. Ms. Park's description of the walk of the Lost Boys and the determination of one, Salva Dut, to do something to help his country is stripped down so younger readers can get a feel for the horror and the hope, without the gory details. Combining his story with that of Nya's constant struggle to get enough water (let alone good, clear, uncontaminated water) will, I hope, raise awareness that Africa is a continent in need of help for the simple, basic things we Americans take for granted.

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Alexander Hamilton; Jean Fritz

Alexander Hamilton: The OutsiderAlexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can easily see this becoming the "go to" biography on Hamilton for younger readers - the narrative flow will help them get through some of the more confusing parts (Hamilton's ideas about a federal bank, for example, or his activities during the Revolutionary War). Occasionally the jumps make the chronology a little confusing, or information is left out (eg, was Hamilton accepted to the College of New Jersey?) but that's a rare occurrence. There were times when I wished for more detail, for example what happened to Aaron Burr after the duel, but for the most part this introduction to Hamilton's life is filled with the depth of information that will satisfy readers and encourage some of them to go further. The notes at the end were very welcome, as was the bibliography.

ARC provided by publisher.

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Close to Famous; Joan Bauer

Close to Famous
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This belongs in the "girl with a problem and a talent somewhat overcomes the problem and gets the guy" genre, with the romance being very light (not even a kiss). Foster's got two problems (three if you count her father being dead): her mother's former boyfriend was/is abusive, and Foster can't read. She can, however, bake incredible muffins and cupcakes.

After running away from Huck, Foster and her mother end up in Culpepper WV, where the town is slowly dying after the one business closed down and the new prison didn't hire as many locals as promised. The kindness of strangers helps them find a home and a job, while Foster wows Angry Wade with her cupcakes. Soon enough there are friends, and Foster is finally tackling learning to read with their help.

The plot is slight, and the genre is one that makes me wonder if the author didn't choose an issue (abuse and literacy) upon which to hang a story, rather than the other way 'round. When the book is published, I hope that some of the cupcake and muffin recipes are included!

ARC provided by publisher.

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No Passengers Beyond This Point; Gennifer Choldenko

No Passengers Beyond This PointNo Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story about the Thompkins siblings (Finn, India and Mouse) has the same energy as the Al Capone books, and the same flair for dialog, but the plot is - I think - too confusing for readers. We start with the usual sibling squabbling, interrupted by Mom informing the trio that they've lost their house and that while she finishes the school year in California (where they live, and where she teaches), they will be moving to Colorado to live with their Uncle Red. Needless to say, they're not happy about this news.

The move will be happening the next day, and the kids will fly to Denver, where Uncle Red will meet them, or send a driver to get them to his home. The usual TSA stuff happens, and then we're on board the flight, which sets down somewhere that doesn't quite feel like Denver... it doesn't quite feel like anywhere they've ever experienced or heard about. Since the book is told in alternating chapters by all three, you get to hear how Mouse, Finn and India react to this change in their situation. I won't go further except to say that their reactions surprised me, until I figured out the plot twist (which, as I thought about it, was obvious in retrospect).

ARC provided by publisher.

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24 December 2010

A Severed Wasp; Madeleine L'Engle

A Severed Wasp (Vigneras, #2) A Severed Wasp (Vigneras, #2) by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowing next to nothing about classical piano, I spent time while reading resolving to correct this and to find copies of some of the pieces mentioned. (Obviously, the compositions by Tom and Justin won't be found, but Bach and Scarlatti will be.)

Katherine is still the relatively contained, reactive person we met in A Small Rain, 50 years older and presumably wiser. She's retired to New York, widowed, and looking forward to a peaceful life. Of course you know that that's simply not going to happen, but her reserve does prevent her from doing more than getting snitty with others when she wants them to go away (although she does come to love Emily, and tolerate Dorcas, among others). The "mystery" of who (or what) is causing the panic and fear in Cathedral Close is less of an ecclesiastic mystery than it is a way to move the plot forward and keep Katherine interacting with the residents.

Moving between her current life and her memories of her former life in Europe, as a Nazi prisoner, as a wife and mother and international pianist, and of the choices she's made, Katherine's story made me envy the peace of mind she's found. As I suspected, the dialog here is far better than the dialog in the first book, although at times it still sounds a little stilted (as does Katherine's inner monologue). I also don't remember NYC being as scary a place in the early mid-80s as this book would have it.

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21 December 2010

The Small Rain; Madeleine L'Engle

The Small Rain (Vigneras, #1)The Small Rain by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Never having read any of Ms. L'Engle's adult fiction, I wasn't sure what to expect - now I'm eager to read the sequel.

Katherine is a funny child - not comfortable around other children, a little stiff and distant around adults - whose family is in disarray. Her father, a composer, is too scattered to care for her and her mother has been away for a few years following a serious car accident (it's never clear if this was drunk driving or a suicide attempt or simply an accident), so Katherine is staying with Aunt Manya, an actress. We start with 10-year-old Katherine backstage waiting to go in in Manya's current production on the day before she is reunited with Julie, her mother.

Julie's pianist career is over, thanks to the accident, and her beauty has been dimmed due to scarring, but to Katherine she's as wonderful as ever. She continues to keep Katherine out of school (although had she stayed with Manya, she'd have gone to Professional Children's School!!) and it isn't until four years later, when Julie dies, that Katherine is sent to a regular school, this time a boarding school in Switzerland.

There she continues her solitary ways until she meets her piano teacher (and first love) Justin and until an old acquaintance from New York, Sarah, enrolls. There's young love, a "no passionate friendships" moment, and throughout all this, Katherine is relatively removed from what's really going on in her world. This distance continues through the book (including her engagement to Peter) although she does tend to cling to those she met when she was young.

The plot and pacing of the book are wonderful, but the dialog is so stilted that at times it's a little comical. However, this was a first novel and you can see promise for the future (or am I saying this because I know her YA books and love them already?).

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America's Hidden History; Kenneth C. Davis

America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a NationAmerica's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation by Kenneth C. Davis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At first I thought this look into America's history would interest readers who weren't particularly interested in the usual stories, but the chapters in this book are so jumbled that I'm not sure they will make sense to students.

Each chapter starts with a timeline, then proceeds to some "unknown" (or, more accurately, little taught) event - for example, a massacre of French troops that a very young George Washington was involved with - and then moves all over the map to talk about other, more commonly known events. Despite the fixed timeline, we get the preceding and anteceding events in what reads like a history teacher's rambling. So in the Washington chapter, we learn about his grandparents and his inauguration as well as this episode, but not in a chronological fashion. To make matters more confusing, other events are dragged in when they could have been in their own chapters (eg, Anne Hutchinson features heavily in a chapter on Hannah Emerson Dustin).

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20 December 2010

365 Thank Yous; John Kralik

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik

My rating: 3 of 5 stars< This is one of those "how I changed my life" books - and the way in which Kralik did it makes this a perfect holiday read. After coming close to hitting rock bottom (there's no report of suicide attempts, which to me would be absolute bottom) he decides to play a version of Pollyanna's "glad game" and write thank-you notes to people, one a day.

Thank-you notes are one of those gracious acts we've gotten away from (I'm including thank-you e-mails in this, too) and I'm not sure why. There are times when I do write to someone's superior praising exceptional service, but it's rare that I thank the folks in the trenches in a meaningful way. Ditto friends when all they've done is be a friend. So this book reminds me to take up pen and paper and do so in the future.

Where the book lost me was the sometimes jumbled chronology and the stiffness of the earlier notes (I'm really hoping that he didn't actually address the notes to his children as "son" or "daughter" but used their names instead!). That and getting the Pollyanna story wrong: her parents were missionaries sent out of the country, not to some small town "out West". Ok, that's a pedantic grumble but still...

Overall, though, I'm grateful to have read the book in time to think about saying thanks to people during this holiday season.

ARC provided by publisher.

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The Winter Ghosts; Kate Mosse

The Winter GhostsThe Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not being a huge fan of the whole bloodline conspiracy genre, I was pleased that The Winter Ghosts doesn't touch on that. Instead, this story of loss and coming to grips with one's personal grief is solely about ghosts. Freddie's brother George is killed during World War I, part of the dead generation. As the second son, Freddie feels his loss greatly and on the day he turns 21 has a breakdown.

Ten years later, the grief hasn't lifted although Freddie seems to be able to deal with it a little better. Both parents are now dead and he's decided to take a trip through the Continent. A storm hits as he's heading towards some friends, his car crashes (deus ex machina, anyone?) and he is stranded in a tiny town, Nulle, on the eve of their great fĂȘte. He's also getting sick, so what happens next could be illness or visitation or... you figure it out.

At the fĂȘte he meets Fabrissa, a lovely girl with whom he strikes up a friendship and to whom he tells his tale of woe. In return, she tells him of the town's massacre, being walled up into a cave by the invading army; Freddie takes this to be the Germans, despite there being no German activity in that region. A feverish night or so later, he and two mechanics go to rescue his car - he also intends to search for the mountainside tomb. Of course he finds it, and the truth about Fabrissa's death sinks in: she was killed as part of the Cathar repression (Mosse's passion).

The pacing and the mixture of past and present work well, as does the message of overcoming grief by doing something to honor your dead. What didn't work, and what dropped this from a 4 to a 3, was her comparison of this to Masada. There's simply no comparison between a town being walled up into a cave and left to die and a group actively committing suicide rather than surrender. None.

ARC provided by publisher.

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19 December 2010

Reckless; Cornelia Funke

Reckless (Reckless Series, #1)Reckless by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Once upon a time" is a truly magical way to start a book, isn't it? Once again, Ms. Funke explores the world just beyond our own: in the Inkspell series, it was through the pages of a book into a world we'd never seen before, but here it's through a mirror into a world that we've caught glimpses of in other stories. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Hansel & Gretel and many more are suggested here, not quite named outright. Even the names of our two brothers, Jacob and Will, are familiar.

Perhaps because she's German, the book is Grimmishly dark (just think about the ending to Grimm's Cinderella story, not the lighter Perrault, or worse yet, the Disney, ending). It's not nightmare-dark, just shivvery dark and YA readers like that sort of read. There's Rapunzel hair and Lark Water and shape-shifting and the Goyl (a race of stonemen) and love and jealousy and a quest - all adding up to the nearly perfect read. If you've read a great number of fantasy books, you'll end up trying to match the various things in those books with things in this book and I'm not sure that one truly can (didn't stop me from trying, even when I knew it wasn't a match!).

So, the quibbles? It's another series starter. Enough already. Also, there are some pacing issues, with scenes sometimes rushing by. Of course, as with any book in translation, that might not be the case in the original. I wish I could give this a 4.5, because it's better than a 4 but doesn't quite reach a 5.

Copy provided by publisher.

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The Book of Tomorrow; Ceclia Ahern

The Book of TomorrowThe Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gothic genre is perfect for YAs ready to move beyond conventional romance or horror-lite; this book is a good example of what I mean. Tamara is, well, rich and spoiled is putting it mildly: there's the mansion, the villa, the chalet, minimal parental supervision blah blah blah. Dad, unfortunately, has lost all the money and decides to take the easy way out (Tamara finds the body).

All this leads Tamara and her mother, nearly catatonic with grief, to a remote village in the middle Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle. They live in the guardhouse of a ruined castle, where Arthur takes care of the grounds. Tamara's bratty behavior is understandable, given that she's grieving and she's been removed from her usual surroundings, although the joy she takes in being a mean girl feels wrong. Her aunt Rosaleen is a cleaning, cooking machine but also a control freak, not wanting Tamara to go anywhere or do anything; uncle Arthur is a laconic gardener. Mom, catatonic before, is now sleeping nearly all the time.

Into all this comes the bookmobile, where Tamara finds Marcus (the driver) and strikes up a friendship, and a strange padlocked book. Sister Ignatius, a nun living with three others in the castle grounds, adds to the mystery by insisting that Tamara is a year older than she is and dropping a few cryptic clues into the conversation. Who lives across the road - is it really Rosaleen's invalid mother? What happened to the castle? Why won't anyone get a real doctor in to take care of Mom? All these questions plague Tamara.

The gothic elements are really kept as a light touch, and the ending feels a little rushed given the earlier pace. Still, this will appeal to romance/suspense lovers.

ARC provided by publisher.

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The Mother Tongue; Bill Bryson

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That WayThe Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Usually I'd be going on about the Brysonian humor in the book, but unlike many of his works, The Mother Tongue isn't written for humor. Instead, it's an etymologists' delight: how English has evolved over the centuries. He explains the difference between a pidgin and a creole language, how (and why) colonel kept its 'r', and why British pub names are so odd, among many other fascinating tidbits. I even learned that there's a name for my not-quite-voyeuristic/Peeping-Thomasina behavior when walking down Brooklyn streets: crytoscopophilia.

The parenthetical citations are a little annoying (they're not in current MLA format, but then, the book was written a few years ago), and he repeats the whole "number of words the Eskimo have for snow" thing (semi-debunked by Language Log). But those are minor quibbles - if you love words or know someone that does, buy this book.

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13 December 2010

We the Children; Andrew Clements

We the Children (Keepers of the School, #1)We the Children by Andrew Clements
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This start to the "Keepers of the School" series ends a little abruptly, but not in the cliff-hanger style that is required. Benjamin is a student at the Oakes School, due to be torn down to make way for an amusement park at the end of the year. One day, late for class, he comes across the old, creepy, injured janitor and helps him - this help turns into a passing of the mantle of Keeping the School (there's a coin and an obscure rhyme involved). Benjamin enlists the help of Jill, and starts to solve the rhyme's meaning.

Where I got lost was not in the information about yachting and racing, but in the fact that the end ends a little with a whimper, not the "stay tuned" bang that series books of this nature need to keep readers looking for the next installment. However, this is Andrews Clements and he has quite the following already, so perhaps the ending isn't the drawback I think it is.



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The Wasp Factory; Iain Banks

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I go on about how wonderful Iain Banks' fiction is, and this, his first novel is as wonderful as his later works. Shorter than the other books I've read, The Wasp Factory also ups the creep factor; it's a little like We Have Always Lived in the Castle with a budding Hannibal Lector as hero.

Frank lives on a remote Scottish island, "hidden" from the real world by his father, who managed to forget to register him legally, so Frank has never been to school and has no National Registry number. That doesn't mean that Frank is stupid, just that his childhood schooling has focused on other things, like the exact length of items on the island. As a result he's also learned some odd crafts, like bomb building and making wasp-prison candles... and then there was his pre-teen "phase" where he killed two cousins and a younger brother. On the other hand, Frank is normal compared to his insane brother Eric, who set dogs on fire and fed maggots and worms to children. Eric's in an asylum, while Frank is free to go to the local bar on Saturday nights and get drunk with his friend, the dwarf Jamie.

All this starts falling apart when Eric escapes from the asylum and starts heading home, calling Frank from the road and being both menacing and increasingly deranged. Then there's the killer buck rabbit, the fire predicted by the wasp factory, his father's locked study and, well, dealing with the long-term effects of his childhood "accident". The richness with which Frank's world is drawn leaves the reader feeling let down when the ending arrives - it feels abrupt, with too many questions left unanswered.

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12 December 2010

Await Your Reply; Dan Chaon

Await Your ReplyAwait Your Reply by Dan Chaon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As with Kate Atkinson's mysteries, there are several stories going on here that eventually intertwine; unfortunately by halfway through the book I got the sense of how they would do so and the surprise (or shock?) of the reveal was lost. Because this is told through three sets of eyes (Rudy, Miles and Lucy), the other characters are understandably little flat. However, I never got the sense that we really got a good grasp of these three either.

All three are 'lost souls' in many ways: Miles thanks to his mentally ill(?) brother Hayden's disappearance, Lucy due to her parents' death, and Rudy because of his "parents" lies. Their roads toward a normal life take an incredibly wrong turn, yet one senses that they find this better than What Was... until the end, at least, for Rudy and Lucy. The end of Miles' story is not quite clear, which is a little unsatisfying.

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09 December 2010

Wither; Lauren DeStefano

Wither (Chemical Garden, #1)Wither by Lauren DeStefano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A semi-mash-up of dystopian books like The Children of Man and The Handmaid's Tale as well as The Hunger Games and Matched with a hint of "Big Love", Wither takes place in a proximate future when we've cured cancer (among other things) but it's cost us our longevity. Men die at 25, women at 20, but that's newer generations. First generations, however, have normal lifelines, provide they aren't killed by other means.

Rhine's parents, scientists, were killed in an accident so now she and her twin brother Rowan are hiding in and protecting their family home, but one day Rhine is kidnapped and brought with a number of other women elsewhere. There's a culling and she and two others end up in a mansion, replacement/successor wives for Lady Rose, who has reached 20 and is now dying. Their husband, Linden, is a rather ineffectual boy, under his doctor/scientist father Vaughn's thumb, in addition to just being 20 with all the maturity that brings. Held captive in Florida, Rhine plots and plans to get home - or at least away - as she tries to care for her sister wives and falls in love with Gabriel, one of the house servants.

The Hunger Games tie-in comes from the stated fact that there was some sort of war and everything except North America has been destroyed. Not just bombed, but missing. Think "Waterworld" with one continent. District 13, anyone? And, of course, this is the first in a trilogy, so the plot stretches a bit at times so as to fill space until the next installment.

ARC provided by publisher.

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07 December 2010

The Shadows in the Street; Susan Hill

Shadows in the Street (Simon Serrailler 5)Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a PD James read-alike, Susan Hill's Simon Serrallier series might fit the bill. Adam Dalgliesh is a poet with a deeply private streak, Serrallier is an artist with a deeply private streak. The books are dark procedurals with many well-drawn characters, with Hill's Lafferton providing the same rich lode for stories as London does for James. The biggest difference is that we do get glimpses of Serrallier's personal life, meeting his mother, father, stepmother, triplet sister and her family, throughout the course of the series.

As a cathedral town, Lafferton would appear to be peaceful but there is a red light district; the girls there mostly know each other and (to some extent) look after each other. Loopy Les brings hot drinks and sandwiches some nights, Damien and the Baptists have a van that does the same on other nights. In other town news, there's a new Dean bent on dragging the congregation from the 1622 service to "happy-clappy" modern services, and his wife is making friends and influencing people all over. Thank God for Miles Hurley, the Dean's best friend and second-in-command, who helps smooth over Ruth's excesses (in this case, her decision to form the Magdalene Refuge, for "those poor girls, who, like Mary...."). There's also the murder of two of the prostitutes and attempted murder of a third.

Simon's in Taransay, a very remote Scottish island, recovering from his last case. Returning to Lafferton, he also has to deal with his sister's ongoing grief over her husband's death and reaching a place of emotional ease with his new stepmother and his father's remarriage. But wait! There's more... Sounds complicated? The author is more than capable of handling all this, and more.

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03 December 2010

The Anatomy of Ghosts; Andrew Taylor

The Anatomy of GhostsThe Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This historical mystery is, like most of the genre, not particularly gory or dark, although the goings-on of the Holy Ghost Club do take a rather sinister, creepy turn. Set mostly in 18th century Cambridge (UK, not US), in a college, the story of a young man's madness and the question of whether or not he did, indeed, see a ghost one evening in the college grounds is one of the more interesting examples of the genre I've read.

There are several different levels of mystery here, some of which are resolved and some of which are presumed solved but perhaps weren't: what killed Tabitha? who killed Sylvia? did Soresby steal the book? did Frank see Sylvia's ghost? etc.. I liked the fact that for some, there appears to be a solution or explanation but it's not absolutely clear and there could, possibly, be another answer. The bigger question, to me, is whether or not there will be a second book (my hope is not, simply because this is so intricate that in the rush to publish a series something good might be lost).

The author has done a lot of research into the era that you can almost smell Tom Turdman coming. This isn't a cleaned-up peek at the past, nor is it set in the upper-class world where things always look and feel relatively comfortable. Only the speech is modern (not anachronistically so), but writing in an "accent" would distract from the narrative flow.

ARC provided by publisher.

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