Saturday, April 28, 2012

Just Jennifer

Never Tell by Alafair Burke (Harper, June 2012)

NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner J.J. Rogan are called to the Greenwich Village house of music producer Bill Whitmire when his sixteen-year-old daughter is found in her bathtub, wrists slit, bottle of wine and suicide note nearby. Ellie doesn’t understand why homicide detectives were called to the scene of an obvious suicide, but the Whitmire’s insist that Julia wouldn’t have killed herself and that her death be investigated as a homicide. At first glance, Julia seemed to be living a dream life, a townhouse in the Village where her parents were very rarely in residence, a place in one of the most prestigious Upper East Side schools and money for whatever she could want. As the detectives begin to look more closely at her life, they encounter prescription drug abuse, homeless teenagers and the anonymous blog of an abuse survivor on which threatening comments are being posted. The more Ellie and Rogan look, the more tangled the case grows and begins to involve more people than they realized, including an ex-con from upstate. Before long, Ellie is willing to admit that Julia may not have committed suicide after all and that something a long time in the making has occurred. There are many surprises in Never Tell and many threads that all connect in unexpected ways. Ellis and her boyfriend ADA Max also reach a pinnacle in their relationship from which there will be no turning back once a decision is reached. Alafair Burke never fails to write a suspenseful mystery with many twists and turns with characters to care about and a plot that constantly surprises.

New This Week...and Last

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas (St. Martin’s Press)
1856. Mormon converts Nannie, Louisa, Jessie, and Anne, all from the British Isles, travel in the Martin Handcart Company, making the 1,300-mile journey on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, while enduring unimaginable hardships. Each woman will test the boundaries of her faith and learn the true meaning of survival and friendship along the way.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton (Crown)
The school is on fire. Her children are inside. Grace runs toward the burning building, desperate to reach them.    In the aftermath of the devastating fire which tears her family apart, Grace embarks on a mission to find the person responsible and protect her children from further harm.  This fire was not an accident, and her daughter Jenny may still be in grave danger. Grace is the only one who can discover the culprit, and she will do whatever it takes to save her family and find out who committed the crime that rocked their lives.  While unearthing truths about her life that may help her find answers, Grace learns more about everyone around her -- and finds she has courage she never knew she possessed.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (Random House)
In this memoir, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Anna Quindlen writes about looking back and ahead—and celebrating it all—as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all the stuff in our closets, and more.

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books)
It's vampire politics as usual around the town of Bon Temps, but never before have they hit so close to Sookie's heart… Growing up with telepathic abilities, Sookie Stackhouse realized early on there were things she'd rather not know. And now that she's an adult, she also realizes that some things she knows about, she'd rather not see-like Eric Northman feeding off another woman. A younger one. There's a thing or two she'd like to say about that, but she has to keep quiet-Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It's the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric's front yard-especially the body of the woman whose blood he just drank. Now, it's up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl's fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who's set out to make Sookie's world come crashing down.

Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby: A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins (Putnam)
When fourteen-year-old Mattie Sullivan asks Spenser to look into her mother's murder, he's not completely convinced by her claim that the police investigation four years ago was botched. Mattie is gruff, street-smart, and wise beyond her years, left to care for her younger siblings and an alcoholic grandmother in a dilapidated apartment in South Boston.  But her need for closure and her determination to make things right hit Spenser where he lives- they're the very characteristics he abides by.  Mattie believes the man convicted of the crime is innocent and points Spenser to the Southie toughs who she saw carrying her mother away hours before her murder. Neither the Boston PD nor the neighborhood thugs are keen on his dredging up the past, but as Spenser becomes more involved in the case, he starts to realize that Mattie may be onto something. Spenser will need Hawk's help to find peace for Mattie -- a job that's more dangerous than he ever thought.

Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News by Dan Rather (Grand Central)
The noted broadcast journalist traces his career while reflecting on the historical events of his time, sharing new insights into such topics as the Abu Ghraib scandal, the George W. Bush Air National Guard controversy, and JFK's assassination.     

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Just Jennifer

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (Harper, July 2012)

Four years ago, Catherine was a fun-loving, if somewhat excessive, single woman who enjoyed going out with her friends and hooking up from time to time. On Halloween, all that changed when she met a man with whom she started a relationship that would send her into a downward spiral, causing her to lose lifelong friends, making her fear for her life, always looking over her shoulder even after others told her she was safe. Catherine met Lee at a Halloween party and agreed to have dinner with him after running into him at the gym several days later. The two began an intense relationship, but as Catherine became uncomfortable with Lee’s secretiveness, he became more so and more overbearing of her, even striking her. The novel begins with Lee on trial for assaulting Catherine, and he attempts to turn the tables, citing her mental instability, something he used to drive her friends away from her. Two years after the trial, Catherine suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, checking locks and windows, behaving in a ritualistic manner that leaves little time for a normal life. A young man Stuart moves upstairs from Catherine and she slowly comes out of her shell as she begins to trust again, until she realizes that Lee has been released from prison and is stalking her, this time, she fears, to kill.

A taught, psychological thriller, Into the Darkest Corner effective shifts the narrative between the time when Catherine first met Lee and four years later as she is living her life with him in prison. Elizabeth Haynes not only delves into the relationship between men and women, but between women exploring what causes one to betray another and what it takes to restore that friendship. Catherine is an empathic character rather than a sympathetic as she tries to get her life back together and then realizes she, with the help of her friends, is strong enough to fight back.

Just Jennifer

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer (Harper Collins, April 2012)

Naomi grew up an only child born to older parents, an academic, somewhat eccentric father, and a sickly mother. She learned to make her own fun in the greater Boston area in such places as the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, where the president was born. Rose Kennedy restored the house in the late Sixties, after his assassination and where Naomi’s father, a great admirer of Mrs. Kennedy takes his daughter and his out of town business clients. From an early age, Naomi is obsessed with the human heart and its functions. She strikes up a friendship with the boy behind her house, but has her heartbroken when after his father dies he and his mother move away. Naomi enters Wellesley, her sights set on medical school, not forming close friendships until she joins the Shakespeare Society where she begins to form friendships, act in plays and becomes part of something, but to the detriment of her studies. At the same time, her mother’s health begins to decline and Naomi finally comes to realizes there is more to the human heart than what she finds in Gray’s Anatomy.

At times familiar, An Uncommon Education chronicles the life of a young girl growing into a young woman, feeling her way at first as she learns about herself and about her surroundings, making a place for herself. Set against the story of the Kennedy house, from where Naomi stole papers and pictures from Rosemary Kennedy, who underwent a lobotomy in an attempt to cure her, Naomi slowly evolves from a quiet, shy little girl with dreams into a grounded young woman who has balance in her life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

New This Week

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)

A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to-an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil-but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well. Told by three resonant and evocative characters-Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past- A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)

America has enemies--ruthless people that the police, the FBI, even the military can't stop. That's when the U.S. government calls on Will Robie, a stone cold hitman who never questions orders and always nails his target. But Will Robie may have just made the first--and last--mistake of his career . . . The Innocent It begins with a hit gone wrong. Robie is dispatched to eliminate a target unusually close to home in Washington, D.C. But something about this mission doesn't seem right to Robie, and he does the unthinkable. He refuses to kill. Now, Robie becomes a target himself and must escape from his own people. Fleeing the scene, Robie crosses paths with a wayward teenage girl, a fourteen-year-old runaway from a foster home. But she isn't an ordinary runaway-her parents were murdered, and her own life is in danger. Against all of his professional habits, Robie rescues her and finds he can't walk away. He needs to help her. Even worse, the more Robie learns about the girl, the more he's convinced she is at the center of a vast cover-up, one that may explain her parents' deaths and stretch to unimaginable levels of power. Now, Robie may have to step out of the shadows in order to save this girl's life . . . and perhaps his own.

What Doesn’t Kill You by Iris Johansen (St. Martin’s)

Catherine Ling is instructed by assassin and master poisoner Hu Chang before being recruited by the CIA and pitted against a rogue operative in a race to obtain a deadly poison.

The Witness by Nora Roberts (Putnam)

Having had a traumatic experience 12 years prior, Abigail Lowery lives in a remote area, holed up on a house with high-tech security measures, a fierce guard dog and a cache of weapons, but this only serves to further intrigue police chief Brooks Gleason, who aims to protect Abigail from what she fears.

Unnatural Acts by Stuart Woods (Putnam)

Stuart Woods is in top form…and so is his perennially popular hero, Stone Barrington! When a hedge fund billionaire hires Stone Barrington to talk some sense into his wayward son, it seems like an easy enough job; no one knows the hidden sins and temptations of the ultra-wealthy better than Stone. But as Stone and his erstwhile protégé, Herbie Fisher, probe deeper into the case-and an old one comes back to haunt him---he realizes that even he may have underestimated just how far some people will go to cover up their crimes…and plan new ones. From Manhattan's mahogany-paneled law offices to its modern penthouse lofts and dimly lit nightclubs, the trail of entrapment and murder leads to a shocking act that no one could ever have anticipated.

Just Jennifer

Waterline by Ross Raisin (Harper Perennial, April, 2012)

Mick Little has felt loss for most of his adult life. Moving from Glasgow, after the shipping yards all but disappeared to Australia, he and his family move round Australia until finally, tired and broken, Mick and the wife he adores, Cathy, return home where Cathy succumbs to cancer brought about by the asbestos carried by Mick throughout his working life. Most everyone, including Mick, blames him for Cathy death: his in-laws insist on providing their daughter with a funeral of their making, his son Craig is outwardly hostile, only his son Robbie tries to stand by his father, but even that is not enough to help a grieving, love lost man. Readers will feel helpless as they watch Mick slowly lose himself first in drink and then on the streets of London, trying to work through his grief, but only finding more. Mick is mired in the present, with no past to fondly recall nor has any future to look forward to, yet somehow through it all, Mick maintains a sense of dignity even as he spirals toward self-destruction. When it seems that all hope is lost, a tiny spark is lit and slowly glimmers, giving light to Mick’s present and possibly his future.

Told in the Scottish vernacular, often hard to understand, Waterline tells the story of common men and women who want simple things in life yet spend their entire lives searching for that one thing that constantly eludes them, often not realizing what it was until it is too late and gone. Often reaching the bottom is the only way we can begin to realize we are drowning and look for a way out. Ross Raisin writes with uncanny insight into human nature and makes Mick’s story everyone’s story, his failures ours and his triumphs ours, giving hope where there is none. A thoughtful and absorbing story whose characters will stay with you long past the last page.

Just Jennifer

Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler by Jessica Speart (William Morrow, April 2012)

Butterflies have fascinated and delighted human beings for centuries. Whether in the garden, in the butterfly house of a museum or garden, or as a collection of unique specimens, each colorful wing and their ability to fly for hundreds of miles year after year continues to fascinate, and even become an obsession for many; unknown to many is the fact that a black market exists for the rarest, most sought after of butterflies that rivals the black market for items and animals, such as elephant ivory, that we think of when we think of animals and black market trading. One such man, Kojima, had eluded authorities for many years. U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents had attempted to apprehend him for many years and when Jessica Speart attempted to become close with Kojima in hopes he would reveal his secrets for her book, he turned the tables on her, unwittingly making her a co-conspirator in his operation.

In Winged Obsession, Jessica Speart uncovers the multi-million dollar a year business of butterfly smuggling, neatly juxtaposing the cut-throat nature of the black market with the delicacy and fragility of these lovely insects. Speart works with Wildlife Agent Ed Newcomer to track Kojima down and they find him slipping out of their reach, as hard to capture as these ephemeral creatures, become part of his web without realizing what is happening. Readers who enjoy stories of nature adventures, such as the adventures of orchid hunters, will enjoy this book which reads much like a well-written work of thriller fiction.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Just Jennifer

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (Viking, June 2012)

It is 1663 and the island of Manhattan is the colony of New Amsterdam. Dutch merchants are trading across the Atlantic Ocean and orphans are being transported from Holland by the smarmy Orphanmaster Aet Visser to work in the new country. Now orphans are going missing and are being murdered. Twenty-two-year old merchant and herself an orphan, Blandine von Couvering and a British spy Edward Drummond separately begin looking into these disappearance, but Blandine doesn’t trust Edward, looking to the African American giant Antony for guidance in this new wilderness as she tries to save the children and find a serial killer. Fears of an Algonquin trapper cursed by a demon who turns people into cannibals run rampant and heighten terror as the settlers in this wild country try to make a new life, and much money, for themselves. Blandine is a very modern character, emancipated at fifteen, a gunsmith, trader, child rights advocate and civil rights advocate, a worthy match for Edward with whom she finds herself falling in love as he accepts her for what she is and admires her strengths and convictions. Vivid characters and careful detail to everyday life in this new country bring to New Amsterdam to life for modern readers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just Jennifer

The Body in the Boudoir by Katherine Hall Page (William Morrow, May 2012)

Faith Sibley Fairchild has been a favorite amateur sleuth of many for more than twenty mysteries (including short stories). Now she and her husband, the Reverend Tom Fairchild are celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Italy. While the couple is flying over the Atlantic, Tom takes the opportunity to catch up on his sleep, Faith to reflect on how the pair met, their whirlwind courtship, and how they almost didn’t make it down the aisle when someone tried to kill her, more than once. Faith was a caterer in Manhattan in the early nineties and the daughter of a minister. She and her sister Hope swore they would never marry a man of the cloth, so when Faith falls in love at first sight with a guest at the wedding she is catering she is shocked to learn he was the presider at the ceremony and the pastor of a small church in Aleford, Massachusetts. Now Faith will be leaving everything she loves in the city to step into a bucolic life she cannot even begin to imagine. The wedding will be at her uncle’s Long Island estate, The Cliffs, but months before the wedding, the longtime housekeeper is murdered in her aunt’s bedroom and then Faith narrowly escapes death as a parapet falls from the roof, something she letter learns was not an accident. When she is almost pushed in the path of an oncoming subway, she knows someone has their sights set on her, but why, Faith cannot imagine.

As always, Katherine Hall Page writes the perfect modern day traditional cozy. This peek into Faith and Tom’s pasts and how they came to be part of the patchwork that is Aleford provides even more depth to their stories. A surprising culprit makes this a bittersweet tale and the mysterious life of a young woman working in Faith’s Manhattan catering firm gives more credibility to Faith’s curiosity and willingness to go out of her way to help her friends and family. Here’s to twenty more years for Tom and Faith and twenty more (at least) Faith Fairchild mysteries.

Just Jennifer

Dead Level by Sarah Graves (Bantam, May 2012)

Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree has learned a lot about home renovation since she left her high-powered job on Wall Street and bought an 1823 Federal-style house in Eastport, Maine. In the time that has past, she has worked on restoring her house, seen her son through rehab and into adulthood, made peace with her estranged father and witnessed his remarriage, remarried herself, cared for her ex-husband while he was dying from a brain tumor, and made a new life for herself and her new husband Wade. She also solved a few murders since coming to Maine and one of the men her testimony help convict, Dewey Hooper, has escaped from prison and is hiding in the woods in Maine. He spies Jake and her best friend Ellie at Wade’s camp in the woods where Jake has gone to fix the porch on a bet that she can restore it in less than a week’s time. Hooper sees the women and decides this is the perfect opportunity to seek revenge on Jake and realizes no one will be any the wiser. A heavy rain storm floods the roads to the cottage making Jake and Ellie sitting ducks. As always, Dead Level provides a great mystery complete with home improvement tips from Jake. Jake and her son are working through their grief and closing out another link to their lives in Manhattan. A clever mystery helps keep the plot moving forward, though readers of the series will have a slight edge over those just discovering Jake, the book can be read as a stand-alone but they will find themselves quickly reaching for the pervious mysteries in the series.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

New This Week

The Cove by Ron Rash (Ecco)

Deep in the rugged Appalachians of North Carolina lies the cove, a dark, forbidding place where spirits and fetches wander, and even the light fears to travel. Or so the townsfolk of Mars Hill believe–just as they know that Laurel Shelton, the lonely young woman who lives within its shadows, is a witch. Alone except for her brother, Hank, newly returned from the trenches of France, she aches for her life to begin. Then it happens–a stranger appears, carrying nothing but a beautiful silver flute and a note explaining that his name is Walter, he is mute, and is bound for New York. Laurel finds him in the woods, nearly stung to death by yellow jackets, and nurses him back to health. As the days pass, Walter slips easily into life in the cove and into Laurel's heart, bringing her the only real happiness she has ever known.

The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe (Hyperion)

An historical novel set in Boston in 1915, where a young woman stands on the cusp of a new century, torn between loss and love, driven to seek answers in the depths of a crystal ball.  Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium. But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium’s scrying glass.

The Calling by Kelley Armstrong (Harper)

Maya and her friends--all of whom have supernatural powers--have been kidnapped after fleeing from a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set, and after a terrifying helicopter crash they find themselves pursued by evil-doers in the Vancouver Islandwilderness.

Come Home by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s Press)

Rebalancing her life and career after a painful divorce, pediatrician Jill learns that her ex has died from an alleged overdose that her former stepdaughter believes was actually murder, a situation that forces Jill to choose between her duty to past circumstances and her future happiness.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Just Jennifer

This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking ed. John Brockman (Harper Perennial, April 2012)

Publisher of the online science blog Edge,org, John Brockman, posed the following question to some of modern times’ most influential thinkers: What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit? He then compiled each of the short answers from all disciplines from psychology to sociology to economics to physics to philosophy and even music to help us think about how we think, store information and retrieve it and how we can use simple theorems that we use in other facets of our lives to improve cognitive function. Gary Marcus, a professor at NYU posits that the reason humans are poor information retrievers is that we never learned what computer programs learned long ago: how to map the information we are storing to make it easy to locate upon demand. Psychologist Adam Alter concludes that humans do not pay enough attention to certain cues, color, weather conditions and symbols that lodge just in our sub-consciousness and effect the way we think and behave; a more conscious approach to these three factors, Alter believes, will help shape our mental lives. This collection of short essays, two to five pages most, can be picked up, skimmed or read at random. A thorough index is also interesting to peruse until a subject that peeks interest is found. The most frustrating thing: recalling an essay or an idea you want to refer back to and not being able to locate where it is in the collection (see Marcus’s essay for help with this).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just Jennifer

More Like Her by Liza Palmer (William Morrow, March 2012)

The flirty cover of this novel belies the more serious themes that Liza Palmer tackles in her fourth novel. Private school speech pathologist Frances Reid has just broken up with her boyfriend of two years, who is also a teacher at the Pasadena school, and next to the new headmaster Emma Dunham feels like an awkward school girl rather than a thirty-something accomplished teacher who is up for department head. BFFs Lisa and Jill also seem to have it together, Jill is married to a great guy and Lisa seems comfortable in social settings, meeting Grady, who is working on the school with Sam, an architect from Tennessee who has been flirting with Fran, but in her current state she is unable to gage how much or to even reciprocate to test the waters. When Emma’s seemingly perfect life with perfect husband Jamie unravels before the staff and faculty, Fran realizes that things aren’t always as people present themselves in public and no one really knows what someone else is like, even if they are living with them. As Fran and her friends face the tragedy they have been a part of, they each take stock of their lives and their relationships, especially Fran who realizes she may not be as bad off as she thinks she is. More Like Her provides a more substantial chick-lit story than first expected with characters who are both sympathetic and likable.

Just Jennifer

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin, June 2012)

Everyone has a different definition of wonderful. To some, it may just be being satisfied with everyday life, having a loving family, a comfortable life and enough money to feel safe. Others spend their whole lives looking for wonderful and never find it. Some find it in a single moment, some in sleeping in a truck bed under and above some old quilts, some look to Hollywood and the glamorous stars to find it. In Robert Goolrick’s second novel (after A Reliable Wife) Charlie Beale arrives in Brownsburg, Virginia, just after the second World War with only two suitcases, one containing his worldly possessions, including a set of butcher’s knives and the other filled with cash. Strangers are rare in this small town and the locals view Charlie with caution and skepticism. Local butcher Will Haislett agrees to give Charlie a try as an assistant; Will’s wife Alma thinks Charlie’s a good, lonely man who needs a fresh start and their five year old son Sam worships Charlie, Beebo as he calls him, from the moment he sets eyes on him. Slowly and quietly, Charlie begins to work his way into the community, but when he meets Sylvan Glass, the young wife of the richest man in town, many years her elder, he feels a passion he never knew possible and sets in motion a string of events that will change Brownsburg for everyone, but especially for Sam who will live in this town his birth long after everyone else is gone. Sam tells the story in retrospect, reflecting on how events change over the years, how what we remember becomes inaccurate, or events are recalled based on stories we’ve heard others tell or on a feeling we have when the details escape us. With careful, quiet prose, a story unfolds and quickly rises to a feverous pitch, sneaking up, almost without warning. A haunting tale where the aftermath is in the telling as a young boy tries to make sense of what others want to forget. A beautifully written novel that is hard to put down, even after it is long over.