Friday, March 16, 2012

February Books

Both an homage to George R.R. Martin's GAME OF THRONES series and a critical look at the delays between the fourth and fifth books in the series. My least favorite parts were the asides about Martin's apparently large ego and involvement in things other than writing; the best parts were the chapter-by-chapter comments as Verhoeve re-reads the first book in the series for the tenth time. I'm pretty sure that reading this at all proves that I'm truly a geek, but then who didn't know that already?

Memoir of moving from Manhattan to a Virginia farm. McCorkindale's husband and two sons might enjoy trading in taxis for cows, but she's not so sure she can survive without a Starbucks or a Saks within a hundred-miles radius. Very funny--and as close as I wish to come to farm life myself.

OUR TURN TO EAT/Michaela Wrong/B-
Kenya had long been seen as a model of African stability when Kibaki was elected president in 2003. Just two years later, Kibaki's own anti-corruption chief, John Githongo, was on the run with compelling proof of his government's continued fraud and large-scale plundering of the economy. At times a bit dense, this book is most powerful in deciphering the roots of tribalism and colonialism that contribute to today's corruption and, having been to Kenya in 2005 and 2006, I felt some connection to the wrongs done to a long-suffering populace.

BELIEVING THE LIE/Elizabeth George/A
Apparently some fans of George's Inspector Lynley series are ready to give up as her books become denser and focus as much on the continuing characters as on each book's separate mystery. I am not one of those fans. Indeed, I enjoy the deep intertwining of lives throughout the series, as well as the care with which she crafts new characters and conflicts for each book. In this one, Lynley is sent privately to investigate the accidental drowning death of a rich man's nephew. The rich man in question is afraid that his son, a recovering addict, might actually be the killer. But there's so much more going on--from the dead man's desperately troubled teen son to the secretive wife of the prodigal addict. Apparently I like twisted and complicated, so I say to George, "Bring it on!"

Michael Flint is reluctant to leave Oxford when his American friends ask him to check out a Shropshire house that they have just inherited. But the house exerts a strange pull on him, and as he oversees restoration he can't help but be drawn to its dark past. Unfortunately, the darkness isn't confined to the past and when it draws in the young daughter of a local antiques dealer, Flint is desperate to find the answers that will lay the ghosts to rest. Suitably gothic and wonderful rainy-day reading.

The same author as above, this story also has a dark house with a past. Journalist Harry FitzGlen isn't interested in interviewing photographer Simone Marriott until he discovers that she was born a conjoined twin and her sister vanished from public report years before. A hundred years earlier, another set of conjoined twins are born to an unhappy Victorian society wife. And then there's the novel Harry discovers that might have clues about both sets of twin girls as well as Mortmain House, a former poor house that is hiding more than ghosts within its walls.

A DUTY TO THE DEAD/Charles Todd/B-
Nurse Bess Crawford is injured when her WWI hospital ship hits a mine. Returned to England to convalesce, she visits the family of a soldier who died in her care and asked her to deliver a message to his brother. Bess can't leave the cryptic message alone, not when she realizes the family has an older half-brother who's been in a mad house for years after killing a housemaid when he was a boy. When he escapes from the mad house and asks for Bess's help, how far will her sense of duty and loyalty take her to discover what really happened? I'm afraid when I get beyond Todd's Inspector Rutledge series, the writing falls flat enough that I can't quite enjoy myself. A decent enough story, just not up to Rutledge-quality.

When historian Daniel Kind retreats to the Lake District with his new girlfriend, he's after more than just renovating a house. The house in question was once the home of a local man who was accused of a dreadful murder and was himself killed by the elements. The locals consider it case closed--but Daniel's father was the lead detective and as Daniel tries to sort out his feelings for his dead father, he can't help but ask questions about the case. Hannah Scarlett, once his father's partner, now heads the cold case division and she and Daniel find that old tensions can easily spark into new violence. Great setting and fairly interesting characters. I'll continue with the series.

BAG OF BONES/Stephen King/B+
A classic ghost story set in the Maine woods. Novelist Mike Noonan has been suffering crippling writer's block since the death of his wife four years before. Out of old manuscripts to send off to his agent, he retreats to his country house, Sara Laughs, in order to seek inspiration. But what he finds is a young widow and her daughter in the midst of a hopeless custody case, a vindictive and dying computer tycoon, and a house haunted by more than one presence. King excels at spooky, and there was plenty of that with the refrigerator magnet letters spelling out messages and the sounds of screaming that echo through the house. One to tackle on a long and lazy day, when the nights won't be too dark and lonely.

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