CHALK GIRL/Carol O'Connell/B-
A little girl appears in Central Park, looking like a porcelain fairy, except for the blood on her shoulders. She tells police it fell from the sky while she was looking for her uncle who turned into a tree. And then police find a man's body in a tree . . . Kathy Mallory is a detective, unstable and difficult, but she recognizes a kindred spirit in this child and throws herself into solving a case that goes back years to another damaged child and the truth of his death. I have loved O'Connell's standalone novels, but am less enthused with Mallory as a series character.
The conclusion of the popular YA series (FALLEN), this novel had some wonderful set-piece action scenes but many of the denouement points I had long seen coming so they fell a little flat for me. But my overriding complaint was--not the ending, exactly--but that the choice Luce makes at the end is made apparently in an emotional vacuum, with no acknowledgment of the price she and others in her life will pay. I'm afraid that left me with a sense of dissatisfaction.
SHE WOLVES: THE WOMEN WHO RULED ENGLAND BEFORE ELIZABETH/Helen Castor/A-
Castor writes a wonderfully readable narrative history of some significant royal women in English history in the centuries before the great Elizabeth I. There's Maud, the 12th-century heir to her father's English throne who spent twenty years fighting her cousin, Stephen, for a crown the men were not prepared to grant her. There's Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou who--with varying success--manipulated weak husbands/kings in the name of protecting their sons' rights. And there's Mary Tudor, the first of Henry VIII's daughters to rule and the first Queen of England in her own right. A fascinating account for anyone interested in English history and the lives of women.
ELEGY FOR EDDIE/Jacqueline Winspear/B
Maisie Dobbs grew up among the costermongers in London, so she cannot resist the request to investigate the death of Eddie, a gentle man with intellectual disabilities but a magical gift with horses. This most recent in the mystery series also shows Maisie's doubts in her new relationship and the looming shadows being cast from Germany where Hitler has just been elected. At times these novels are almost too gentle for me--I wouldn't mind a bit more depth in Maisie's emotions and a bit less of her intellect getting in the way.
THE EXPATS/Chris Pavone/B+
How well do we keep our own secrets? And how well do we know the secrets of those we're closest to? Kate Moore has never told her husband that she works for the CIA, and when he's offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg she jumps at the opportunity to leave that world behind and be a full-time mom abroad. But boredom soon gives way to wariness when her husband begins acting strangely and a new American couple moves into their small expat community and shows an unusual interest in their lives. Kate must use all her skills and contacts to discover the truth and protect her family.
MAKING STORY: 21 WRITERS ON PLOT/ed. by Tim Hallinan/A-
Exactly what the title says--twenty-one writers of crime fiction each share an essay about how they plot. Whether outliner or pantser (seat-of-the-pants writing), these writers had encouraging insights about their process that helped me breathe easier about my own haphazard, constantly evolving attempts to figure out how to plot my stories. Highly recommended for writers and anyone interested in what goes into making stories.
THE LAST COLONY/John Scalzi/A-
The third in the sci-fi series that began with OLD MAN'S WAR and continued in GHOST BRIGADES. In this entry, John Perry and Jane Sagan, retired from their military service, are asked to govern a new colony world. Of course it's not that simple. John and Jane begin to discover that the government has not shared all their information, and that the world they've landed on may not be the one they thought they were going to. How will they protect their settlers when they don't even know precisely how they're threatened? Well, naturally, being who they are they'll figure out a way--and it will be unexpected and brilliant. I highly recommend this series
THE COMPLAINTS/Ian Rankin/B
Malcolm Fox works in Complaints, the police department that investigates other cops. He's got a father in a care home, a sister in an abusive relationship, and little in the way of personal enjoyment. When he's asked to investigate a fellow cop on charges of child pornography, Malcolm finds himself actually liking the cop. And then his sister's abusive partner is murdered and Malcolm discovers what it's like to be the officer investigated. I want to love Rankin's books--I really do. But there's just something vaguely and pervasively depressing that wrings out any pleasure for me.
YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR LAPTOP INTO A COFFEE SHOP/John Scalzi/B+
A collection of Scalzi's essays--many published first on his popular blog THE WHATEVER--about the writing life. He's funny and biting and not terribly worried about offending people, so naturally these are great essays :) He has opinions on everything from creativity to crafting financial independence as a writer. You won't get hand-holding or touchy-feely advice here, but I at least came away somewhat cheered by his practical, sardonic point of view.