Wednesday, May 26, 2010

April Books

CHILD 44/Tom Rob Smith/A+
In the Soviet Union of the 1950s, Stalin's secret police is both feared and rewarded. Leo Demidov, a war hero, is a true believer in the ideals of his government. . . until the day he faces a family whose child has been killed and Leo realizes the truth of that death is being covered up. Now Leo is forced to choose between facts and lies, between his family and a serial killer hunting Soviet children. And the truth will shake him more than he can guess. Not only a brilliant mystery with powerful and complex characters, but a chilling portrait of life under Stalin. It can be gruesome, so be warned, but I highly recommend this first in a series. (The second in the series is the first book I've downloaded to my new Kindle--review coming soon. Or not.)

CHINA LAKE/Meg Gardiner/B+
Evan Delaney is caring for her young nephew when the boy's mother returns suddenly to Santa Barbara as part of a creepy and possibly apocalyptic cult called The Remnant. Now she wants her son--or is it The Remnant who wants him? Whatever, Evan's fighter pilot brother, Brian, isn't about to let his ex-wife get her hands on their son. When the cult leader is found murdered and Brian is arrested, Evan has to do more than protect her nephew. She has to prove her brother's innocence, stop The Remnant from releasing a biological weapon, and find out who's kidnapped her boyfriend. Gardiner knows how to write thrillers and this one kept me turning the pages quickly.

Lawyer Matthew Shardlake is back, this time facing off against a killer who seems to be acting out the book of Revelations. In the midst of a London torn by religious dissent, Matthew also tries to help a young man who has been confined in Bedlam. If he's mad, he'll be locked away forever. If he's not, he might be killed for heresy. Matthew is a sympathetic, intelligent, and honorable man in a government that doesn't always reward such qualities. I love Sansom's Tudor series and hope it continues past the reign of Henry VIII, who is rapidly approaching his death in this novel.

A RIVER IN THE SKY/Elizabeth Peters/A-
The newest in the Amelia Peabody Emerson Egyptology series, this one goes back to fill in one of the time gaps in the earlier books. Shortly before WWI, the Emersons take a job for British Intelligence in Israel trying to track down a possible German spy. Emerson agrees to the job because it means he can protect an archaeological site from an amateur and Amelia agrees to get her closer to son Ramses who's excavating in Samaria. But then Ramses goes missing and the race is on to find out what the Germans want--and who they're willing to kill to get it. There is no possible way I could not love a Peabody book . . . but it didn't have quite enough Ramses for me, hence the minus sign.

I LIE FOR A LIVING/Peter Earnest/B
I picked this in Washington D.C. in the gift shop of the International Spy Museum. It's a collection of famous and infamous spie through history. I like the overviews of the forty or so spies, but thought them a little short for my tastes. But there is a wide swath of espionage here--from Elizabeth Tudor's spymaster, Walshingham, to Nathan Hale and Mata Hari and Aldrich Ames. Some of the best stories, though, are the ones I'd never heard of--let's face it, the most successful spies are the ones who stay anonymous.

Grace Divine is the daughter of a perfect pastoral family (always feeling inferior to her older brother, Jude) when Daniel Kalbi, Jude's former best friend and Grace's childhood crush, returns after a mysterious years'-long absence. Grace can't help falling in love with him, but nor can she help questioning what happened the night Daniel disappeared--the same night that Jude was violently attacked. I wasn't so keen on the paranormal aspects, and I did anticipate the twist, but there is a strong element of forgiveness and sacrifice that I found appealing. I'll surely read the next in the series when it's released in December. (Disclaimer: I took a novel-writing class with Bree in 2007 and I actually recognized a scene in the book that she read in that class.)

After reading about the Green River Killer, I followed up with Rule's first and most famous true-crime book, about a man who was her friend for years before she found out he was also a serial killer: Ted Bundy. This book is brilliant and unique and incredibly disturbing. But it also leads to questions worth asking about evil and personality disorders and responsibility. Mostly, I was left feeling profoundly sad for the women and girls killed by Bundy.

HEART'S BLOOD/Juliet Marillier/A
I adore Marillier, by far my favorite fantasy writer because her fantasies are always firmly rooted in a specific historical time and place. In this case it's Connacht, Ireland as the Normans are starting to sweep through in the 12th century. Connacht remains free, but perhaps not for long. Caitrin is fleeing an abusive relationship when she ends up at Whistling Tor, hired as a scribe by a reclusive chieftain named Anluan. He sets her looking through family records and Caitrin soon finds herself caught up in a story of dark magic, hundred-year curses, and a group of friends who are not what they appear to be. No one does eerie settings, complicated characters, and true love better than Marillier. I really want to be her when I grow up :)

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