The Black Country by Alex Grecian
If you are a big fan of mysteries and you've read the first one in this wicked new Victorian-era series (The Yard), you're going to love the sequel. Actually, even if you didn't read the first one, you won't miss a beat - this one doesn't refer to the last one a bit - the only thing you'll miss is the continuing character development of these quirky, dedicated London policemen. In this book, Grecian brings his men of the London Murder Squad to a remote English coal mining town where an entire family has disappeared. As Inspector Day and his trusty sidekick Hammersmith search out answers, we are also pulled into a side story on a POW camp in the American Civil War (sounds odd, but Grecian makes it work), as well as reacquainting ourselves with the odd pair of the London coroner and her eerily quiet daughter. As his previous book, a bit gothic and creepy, great character development, and thoughtful mystery - this is one of my new favorite mystery series!
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
After reading The Aviator's Wife (see previous post) and thoroughly enjoying Benjamin's story-telling and research, a friend recommended this one. She was spot on - read it in just a couple of days. As most of you, I had obviously heard of P.T. Barnum, one of America's great showmen and PR men (also, according to the man himself, a 'humbug'). However, I always thought of Barnum along with the Ringling Brothers, as in the circus that came to town each year. Reading this richly fascinating story of Barnum's American Museum in New York City, his start with General Tom Thumb, and the collection of 'oddities' he put together makes for an intriguing story. The main character, 32 inch high Lavinia Bump, is a complex, occasionally dislikable, thoroughly rich lead, who tells her story quite honestly. Her relationship with her husband, as well as her even tinier sister (27"!) makes for a life both complicated and tragic. I learned about a piece of Americana I had never known before, and was thoroughly fascinated.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Here was another book I had heard quite a bit about a few months ago. Quite frankly, it didn't intrigue me all that much, as I'm not that into flowers (see my beach grasses and shrubs and you'll agree). However, it was on the cheap table at Village Books, so I jumped on it; I am glad I did. Yes, the plot line has to do with flowers, but it is so much more. Following the story of Victoria, a horribly abused and neglected foster child, we see her life unfold between today's world as she attempts to make her way as an 18-year-old homeless, jobless, goal-less young woman and the stories of her past and her life with Elizabeth, who teaches her the Victorian language of flowers. I continuously turned pages, wanting to see where life led this young woman, where her past had taken her, and what her future might hold. At times rather unrealistic to the true horrors of the foster care system and the devastation to a child's psyche, yet at other times it was painfully raw and hurtful. Diffenbaugh's first novel is powerful; I look forward to her next.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My political, feminist, liberal daughter had been telling me to read this book for the past year; she was right. I powered through this one in just one day - it reads fast, and you literally cannot put it down as you want to find out what freaky world these kids are living in. Ishiguro, the award-winning author of The Remains of the Day, leaves that locale of WWII and a stuffy English butler, and takes us to post WWII England and what has transpired since. We meet Kathy H. and Tommy D., along with their rather unpleasant friend, Ruth - all inhabitants of what we believe to be a 'typical' boarding school. As Kathy reminisces of days past, we start to slowly piece together this scientific creeper. I cannot tell you more without giving tidbits away; suffice it to say, it's a mind-bender. This would be a perfect book club book, as it brings up some pretty heavy philosophical questions about what we believe to be human, 'normal', acceptable, etc. Highly recommend!