Monday, September 3, 2012

Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman

Book description:

When Ruth returns home to the South for the summer after her freshman year at college, a near tragedy pushes her to uncover family truths and take a good look at the woman she wants to become. 

Growing up in Alabama, all Ruth Wasserman wanted was to be a blond Baptist cheerleader. But as a curly-haired Jew with a rampant sweet tooth and a smart mouth, this was an impossible dream. Not helping the situation was her older brother, David—a soccer star whose good looks, smarts, and popularity reigned at school and at home. College provided an escape route and Ruth took it. 

Now home for the summer, she's back life-guarding and coaching alongside David, and although the job is the same, nothing else is. She's a prisoner of her low self-esteem and unhealthy relationship with food, David is closed off and distant in a way he's never been before, and their parents are struggling with the reality of an empty nest. When a near drowning happens on their watch, a storm of repercussions forces Ruth and David to confront long-ignored truths about their town, their family, and themselves.

This coming of age story is a wonderful read, one that will resonate with anyone who survived the tumultuous transition from teenager to adult.  Both Ruth and her brother struggle with parental expectations and the desire for control over their lives.  They, and their parents, are shaken out of their complacency by a near-tragedy that could have had much worse implications than it did.  Ruth is a well-developed and vulnerable character, one battling with an eating disorder and trying desperately to reconnect with the brother who has always eclipsed her.

Once I started reading, I didn't put this book down until I was finished.  Well-written and well-imagined, this story and the voice rang true from start to finish.  I was genuinely engaged with Ruth as she attempted to navigate the treacherous waters of her first summer home from college- balancing friends, family, and food in desperate attempt to keep it all together.  There are no big revelations here, no life changing message- just a well-crafted coming of age tale that I would recommend to any reader.

5 stars.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Book description:
When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea. 

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice. 

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.

This excellent mystery is the beginning of a new series featuring Ruth Galloway, an incredibly complicated yet ultimately engaging character.  Though elements of the story, especially Ruth's actions in the final scenes on the saltmarsh, are frustratingly absurd, overall this thriller kept me on the edge of my seat.  The writing is strong and the characters appropriately flawed- I always enjoy protagonists who display human foibles.

Like the Shetland Island series by Ann Cleeves, this book features a strong stark setting that acts as a character in its own right.  The saltmarsh here is central to the story, as is its dark history.  Griffiths does an exceptional job setting her scene which helps anchor this story.  The pacing is strong and the plot complicated but not absurdly so- in all, this was an excellent read.  I'm anxiously awaiting the next installment...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Book Description:
In this second thriller of the Shetland Island series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez, the launch of an exhibition at The Herring House art gallery is disturbed by a stranger who bursts into tears, then claims not to remember who he is or where he comes from. The next day he’s found dead. Set in midsummer, the book captures the unsettling nature of a landscape where the sun never quite sets and where people are not as they first seem.

I read Raven Black last year though I don't think I ever reviewed it.  I love mysteries, especially ones set in the UK, and so I was delighted to find this series.  The mystery here was intriguing and I admit I was guessing until the end- a sure sign of a successful thriller in my opinion.  It is hard to share too many details of the story without spoiling it, but the writing and characters are excellent and truly make the novel.

What I like best about Cleeves' work is that the Shetland Islands play such a crucial role as a character, and also help to create the feeling of a locked room mystery because the list of characters and settings is so short and outsiders are so unlikely to wander into the story.  Jimmy Perez is a truly interesting character, one with the kind of backstory that pulls the reader into his viewpoint.  His relationship with the islands and their residents, as well as with the crime scene experts who come in from outside, is deftly drawn and highlights the insular nature of the entire community.

I highly recommend this series; I'm about to read the third and hope there are more to come!