Thursday, April 25, 2013

he's GONE: a novel by Deb Caletti

Book description:
The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.
As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations—he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed—Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can—and cannot—remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth—about herself, her husband, and their lives together.

When I picked up this book, I thought it was going to be a mystery/thriller about the search for a missing husband.  Instead, this is really a book about the complexities of love and marriage and relationships and family.  The fact that Dani's husband is missing is the central element of the plot, but the meat of the story is Dani's exploration of their life together to try to unearth clues about his disappearance.  The book is well-written and in places a moving read, though there were also moments where I found Dani's passivity rather irritating.  Nevertheless, this novel was a great read, one I would not hesitate to recommend.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book description:
As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.

This book was just strange for me.  I read and was caught by haunting quality of the prose, but somehow kept expecting more in terms of the actual action.  The story was sad and disturbing and yet the characters just seemed quietly accepting throughout.  When the book ended, I felt like it was just a quiet sigh of resignation- and somehow, I kept expecting there to be some actual action or condemnation or something.  I don't know- I didn't really enjoy the book, but I can't stop thinking about elements of it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

His Majesty's Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal

Book description:
World War II has finally come home to Britain, but it takes more than nightly air raids to rattle intrepid spy and expert code breaker Maggie Hope. After serving as a secret agent to protect Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, Maggie is now an elite member of the Special Operations Executive—a black ops organization designed to aid the British effort abroad—and her first assignment sends her straight into Nazi-controlled Berlin, the very heart of the German war machine. Relying on her quick wit and keen instincts, Maggie infiltrates the highest level of Berlin society, gathering information to pass on to London headquarters. But the secrets she unveils will expose a darker, more dangerous side of the war—and of her own past.

This is the third installment in the Maggie Hope series, and I suspect will be the last I read. Though this book is nowhere near as derivative as the 2nd, there were moments at the end where I was once again pulled into the TV series Alias. This book is certainly darker than the first two, but is also less realistic which is saying a lot. Too many coincidences for my taste undermine what could have been a decent WWII thriller. After a strong opening, this series has settled into a formulaic treatment which robs it of the spontenaiety and quirkiness which made it so enjoyable in the beginning. Recommending this series to fans of Maisie Dobbs does them a grave diservice as Maggie has none of the depth of character and intelligence that make Maisie and her stories so compelling.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Book description:
Ruth Galloway is shocked when she learns that her old university friend Dan Golding has died tragically in a house fire. But the death takes on a sinister cast when Ruth receives a letter from Dan written just before he died.

The letter tells of a great archaeological discovery, but Dan also says that he is scared for his life. Was Dan’s death linked to his find? The only clue is his mention of the Raven King, an ancient name for King Arthur.

Then Ruth is invited to examine the bones Dan found. Ruth travels to Lancashire–the hometown of DCI Nelson–with both her eighteen-month-old daughter, Kate, and her druid friend, Cathbad, in tow. She discovers a campus living in fear of a sinister right-wing group called the White Hand. She also finds that the bones revealed a shocking fact about King Arthur–and they’ve mysteriously vanished. When Nelson, visiting his mother in Blackpool, learns about the case, he is drawn into the investigation, especially when Ruth and his beloved Kate seem to be in danger. Who is willing to kill to keep the bones a secret?

This fifth installment in the Ruth Galloway series is an enjoyable read, if not as strong as those that came before. As Ruth finds herself pulled into the mysterious death of a colleague and the possible discovery of King Arthur's bones, she is also trying to navigate the complicated waters of her relationship with DC Nelson and his family. 

The mystery here isn't as compelling as those in earlier novels, a weakness that isn't offset by the side of the story that focuses on Galloway's complicated personal life. Frankly, I find that side of this particular series less interesting and though I like Ruth as an investigator, I often find her rather annoying as a character. I've never been particularly fond of Nelson either so when the mystery doesn't carry the story, I confess I am much less engaged.

A solid addition to the series but not a good starting point for any newcomer who will quickly be lost in the complicated backstory.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Proof of Guilt: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd

Book description:
London, summer 1920. An unidentified body appears to have been run down by a motorcar and Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. While the signs point to murder, vital questions remain: Who is the victim? And where, exactly, was he killed?
One small clue leads Rutledge to a firm built by two families, famous for producing and selling the world's best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise, is missing. But is he the dead man? And does either his fiancĂ©e or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance—or possible death? What about his sister? Or the London office clerk? Is Matthew Traynor, French's cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved?

The experienced Rutledge knows that suspicion and circumstantial evidence are not proof of guilt, and he's going to keep digging for answers. But that perseverance will pit him against his supervisor, the new acting chief superintendent. When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the French family's past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn't vital. He's determined to place the blame on one of French's women despite Rutledge's objections. Alone in a no-man's-land rife with mystery and danger, Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

This latest installment of in the Ian Rutledge series is a decent (if sometimes confusing) addition to the canon. The mystery here is very complicated with a large cast of characters pas and present who can turn into a confusing sea of people- a family tree or some kind of character list like Agatha Christie often featured would certainly help keep it all straight. Despite the overly complex cast of characters/motivation for murder, the book offers some lovely insights into the developing (and maybe healing?) mind of the sadly tortured Ian Rutledge. The glimpses of post-WWI English life always help to strengthen these novels, and have given me a much deeper appreciation for the complexities of that unique time period. For those familiar with Rutledge and his problems, this should be an enjoyable offering, but I would certainly not recommend this book as an introduction to the character or series!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Book description:
For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.
Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

This fictional look at the personal life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a wonderful read that captured my interest from page one. Watching as Anne (a shy and sheltered girl) fell in love with one of the most famous men of her time (and ours) was delightful, even though there were clear signs of trouble on the horizon. The account of the kidnapping and death of her baby son was harrowing, as was the slow decline of her relationship with Charles. From beginning to end, this book gives life to a story that many of us know only for its headlines. It is is moving and troubling and ultimately rewarding- an excellent read that I highly recommend.

As always, Melanie Benjamin does an great job of placing her characters firmly in history, and of making their words sound true to their circumstances (even though they are of course fictional). I enjoyed the Aviator's Wife immensely, and also recommend Alice I Have Been for a similarly strong and emotional tale.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Book description:
The year is 1933. Maisie Dobbs is contacted by an Indian gentleman who has come to England in the hopes of finding out who killed his sister two months ago. Scotland Yard failed to make any arrest in the case, and there is reason to believe they failed to conduct a thorough investigation. The case becomes even more challenging when another Indian woman is murdered just hours before a scheduled interview. Meanwhile, unfinished business from a previous case becomes a distraction, as does a new development in Maisie's personal life.

In this 11th installment of the Maisie Dobbs series, Maisie is reflecting on a growing desire to travel the world while investigating the death of a young Indian immigrant. As Maisie searches for the killer, she gradually uncovers the strange sad world of immigrants of color in 1930s London. The mystery here is nuanced and enjoyable, and I was kept guessing until the end.

As always, it is delightful to track Maisie as she develops into a confident, independent young woman. Her care and concern for those in her life (in both personal and professional relationships) always draws me to her as a reader. I also love the way this series reveals the unique world of England between WWI and WWII. All in all, an excellent addition to a wonderful series- but start with #1 and not #11!