Monday, July 5, 2010

June Books

Leo Demidov returns in this second in a series about the 1950s Soviet Union. Demidov leads a murder investigation unit in Moscow when Kruschev's 'secret speech' denouncing Stalin is delivered. Now those who worked for Stalin's security agencies are being killed one by one--and Leo is next on the list. A wide-ranging story that goes from Moscow to Siberian gulags to the Hungarian revolt, it's also a personal story about families and what we'll do to save them. Wonderful--and I even enjoyed reading it on my new Kindle.

Goodman is on solid ground here: a remote New York state boarding school, a widow whose relationship with her teen daughter is unraveling, a mysterious death and a long-buried history that doesn't want to stay buried. Fairy tales are important to this piece--especially changeling fairy tales--and so is the concept of women artists and how they do (or even if they can) mix family and work. I recommend all of Goodman's books for lovers of Gothic, creepy and emotionally resounding stories.

Exactly what it's title claims--Agatha Christie's life story in her own words. From her late-Victorian childhood in a large country house through her first marriage in WWI and her second marriage to an archaeologist, Christie writes with humor and the fine storytelling skills that made her one of the most famous writers of all time. Definitely recommended for fans.

What if a 40-something childless man finds out he has a daughter? And what if that daughter is wanted for murder? James thinks he's shut out the tragic events of his teen affair with a friend's mother, but when the dying woman begs him to help the daughter he didn't know he had, James is drawn into both a present trouble and past history. Not Taylor's best work--and I did not like the ending--but as the biological daughter of a father who has never deigned to communicate with me, there were some interesting insights. Still, if you're going to read Taylor, read The Roth Trilogy instead, one of my favorite mystery trilogies ever.

A wonderful non-fiction book by the Top Chef judge who recounts his journey to find "the perfect meal" somewhere in the world. Travelling from Las Vegas to Tokyo, Dubai to Paris, Rayner is extremely funny and blunt about his meals, good and bad. I don't know why I like food writing so much when I refuse to take cooking seriously, but there you go. Rayner's book was wonderful.

Gun crimes aren't common in rural England, but the cathedral town of Lafferton is under siege by a sniper. Simon Serailler is tasked with the investigation, but there's precious little evidence and no apparent motive. I'd almost sworn off the Serailler novels after the last one, but this one was more satisfying story-wise (except for one plot thread that didn't bear any relation to the rest of the story.) I still find Serailler far and away the least sympathetic of any character in the novel, which is a problem being he's the protagonist, but Hill uses enough other viewpoints to make me glad that I at least checked this book out of the library.

DEAD OF WINTER/Rennie Airth/A-
Now this is the way to write a mystery I love: evocative setting, complex characters, great story, and a thriller ending. In 1944 London, a Polish landgirl is murdered in a random act of violence. Or was it random? John Madden, who employed the girl, is a former Scotland Yard detective and he begins to tie together threads of a more complicated death. Madden is a wonderful character, but I didn't feel cheated when switching to other POVs because Airth has a plethora of wonderful characters. Start with the first Madden book: RIVER OF DARKNESS.

AWAKENING/S.J. Bolton/A Clara Benning is a reclusive wildlife veterinarian who chose her profession and her cottage to keep out of the way of people. But she can't avoid involvement when her village is targeted by someone with a long-held grudge and access to lots of snakes. There's a high creepiness factor in the snakes alone, but Bolton is also a master at writing suspenseful scenes. I loved everything about this story--but I wouldn't read it at night. And I definitely checked my beds for crawling things before getting in.

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