Wednesday, May 22, 2013

April Books

A LESSON IN SECRETS/Jacqueline Winspear/B+
In the summer of 1932, Maisie accepts an undercover assignment from the British Secret Service at a college founded by those seeking peace. When the founder is murdered in his office, Maisie is not content to sit back and wait for results. Was he killed for his political positions, considering the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, or are there more personal motives at stake? Maisie is always a gentle, peaceful read even when the world is in chaos.

THE PRICE/Alexandra Sokoloff/A-
I loved Sokoloff's first novel, the ghost story The Harrowing, some years ago. But I was not ready to tackle her second novel until now. There aren't a lot of subject matters that I turn away from, but the story of a child dying from cancer and her parents' desperate (supernatural) attempts to save her life were too much for a mom who had just walked through a year of cancer treatment with my own son. Finally the time was right, and ironically we've since moved to Boston where the book is set. This is more a good/evil story than a ghost story, but Sokoloff nails the atmosphere inside hospitals, where one feels that the veil between worlds is sometimes perilously thin. Creepy.

BRAIN ON FIRE/Susannah Cahalan/A
A memoir of a lost month of madness. Cahalan was a journalist when she began to experience severe mood swings, hallucinations, and seizures that defied medical explanation. Her descent was startlingly swift and eventually landed her in a catatonic state in a NYC hospital. She pieces together her family's and her doctors' attempts to find a diagnosis and continues with the long months of rehabilitation both physically and socially. Frightening and beautiful at the same time, reinforcing the fact that what we know about our bodies and minds is so much smaller than what we don't know.

Richard of Nottingham is Constable of Leeds in 1732, and one summer morning he is summoned to the body of a young, beautiful woman who is at first unclaimed. Richard is thoughtful character, committed to his family and his city, and he dislikes the investigation that takes him into upper class society and their strained personal relationships. An easy, satisfying historical mystery.

Oh, how I adore John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe. The Human Division has just been published in hardback, but originally appeared this year as weekly digital stories, each one complete in its own right but all combining to paint the picture of a universe on the brink of war and so many groups working secretly that no one knows who is doing what or whom to trust. If you're a sci-fi fan, start with Old Man's War, read the sequels, and then dive into The Human Division.

A STUDY IN SHERLOCK/ed. Laurie R. King and Les Klinger/B+
A collection of stories by mystery writers influenced by the immortal Sherlock Holmes. From contemporary pastiches to historical reimaginings, it's a fun read. I've seen some pure Holmesian fans disappointed that it's not more specific to the Holmes canon, but I liked the cleverness of the different approaches.

GRAVE MERCY/Robin LaFevers/A
A wonderful historical YA novel with elements of fantasy. Ismae Rienne is rescued from a dismal home and brought to an unusual abbey on the coast of Brittany in the late 15th century. The sisters of this convent serve one of the old gods, Mortain, the God of Death, and each sister is trained as an assassin in Mortain's service. Ismae despises men, but she is forced to work closely with Gavriel Duval to protect Brittany's young duchess rom the French who would overrun her domain to the men who wish to marry her and make the duchy their own. Absolutely brilliant.

UNSPOKEN/Sarah Rees Brennan/A
I've followed Rees Brennan on Twitter for a long time and she's made me laugh in so many ways that I knew I would love Unspoken, the first in the Lynburn Legacy series. I saved it, though, until I felt I really needed it and that was the weekend of the Boston bombings and manhunt. I tore through it in one day, and did indeed laugh as well as cry. Kami Glass is 17 and determined to uncover the secrets of the Lynburn family who have just returned to the English town that was once their fiefdom. She also has a voice in her head, a boy named Jared who has been her friend all her life. What happens when Jared becomes flesh and bone, and someone wants to kill her?

Morton writes family epics, in which someone in the present usually is attempting to uncover secrets in the past, and The Secret Keeper is no different. At the age of 16, Laurel Nicholson witnessed a crime that she's never talked about to anyone. Now fifty years later, her mother is dying and Laurel finds that the past must be understood for everyone to be at peace in the present. The real strength of the novel is in the WWII storyline and the young women and men who are trying to hold on to each other and their futures through war and personal trauma.

DELIA'S SHADOW/Jamie Lee Moyer/A-
This is where I say "Neener, neener, neener"--because this book won't be released until September. I read an ARC thanks to my agent who also represents Moyer (actually, I snatched it out of the hands of my daughter when Tamar attempted to give it to her first.) Delia's Shadow is a ghost story and mystery and a historical, wrapped up with a gift for atmosphere and setting that I'm jealous of. Delia returns to San Francisco a decade after the Great Quake, pursued by a ghost who clearly wants something from her. Delia has always been able to see the dead, but this ghost is particularly powerful. When Delia meets a police detective hunting a killer who appears to have returned to the city after more than twenty years, Delia realizes her ghost may be the only thing that will keep them all alive. Put this on your list for the fall--I'll be sure to remind you!

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