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A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016)

Retired Chief Inspector Gamache becomes Commander of the Surete Academy in hopes of wiping out the last traces of corruption infecting the Sûreté du Québec. But his choice of professors seems ill advised with two who clearly had been involved in the wrongdoing. Also, the reader is greatly puzzled why Commander Gamache decides to admit a freshman, previously rejected for good reason, just because he recognizes her name.

As expected with Louise Penny’s mysteries, the interesting characters of Three Pines come into play, this time in regards to an old map found in the wall of the Bistro and as hosts to the unlikely freshman and three other cadets for whom Gamache has special interest following the violent death that befalls the Academy. A Great Reckoning brings out hope for redemption, forgiveness, and justice in answer to the misdeeds of the past.

Check out The New York Times list on the “latest and best in crime fiction,” which includes a nod to A Great Reckoning.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (2017)

In 1938, Marianne von Lingenfels makes a promise to watch over the families of German resistors. As the war comes to an end, she finds herself taking in Benita and her son, Martin, and Ania and her two sons, Anselm and Wolfgang, at the family's run-down castle. The three women struggle to survive on their own as they come to terms with the enormous toll the war has taken on them. Taking place over almost sixty years, the novel explores the lives of everyday Germans during the war, a view that hasn't really been explored at length in popular fiction.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is an absorbing read that would be great for discussion. For people who enjoyed Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and other female-centered World War II fiction.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (2013)

In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women's lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman's regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women's movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women's lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley (2015)

Political writer Christopher Buckley retreats to the 16th century for this hilarious story as he believed the U.S election of 2016 was sufficiently self-satirizing to demand his attention. In 1517, relic hunting was a good business for Dismas until he conspires with the artist Durer to produce a creditable shroud for sale to an affluent but corrupt noble. The noble was greatly displeased when the fraud was uncovered and Dismas escapes with his life only after agreeing to steal the true shroud for the noble. The reader then journeys with Dismas and Durer to Chambery in hopes of substituting a shroud of equal or better quality (according to Durer) for the true shroud. Many misadventures and missteps occur for the reader to enjoy until the pair of travelers are rewarded for their efforts. The reader should then read again the 2017 news report at the beginning of The Relic Master to see what the author is suggesting.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes (2016)

If you are missing your Downton Abbey fix, you will be pleased to find Julian Fellowes also has written this serialized novel (as well as two others Snobs and Past Imperfect) featuring the British aristocracy. Belgravia takes the reader from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball just before the battle of Waterloo (yes, the Duke of Wellington attends!) and well into the 19th century to follow the fate of young Charles Pope, conceived just before the ball. Questions of legitimacy are not easily resolved as Pope’s biological father is killed at Waterloo and his mother dies at his birth. Pastor Pope and his barren wife are delighted to adopt Charles and give him their name at the secret request of Pope’s maternal grandparents.

Thus the adventure and suspense begin to protect the name of Pope’s deceased mother and to find a suitable heir for the paternal grandparent’s good family name and estate. Complications arise from the maternal grandfather’s social ambitions, a daughter in law’s affair, and jealousies harbored by husbands and would-be heirs.

A Very Simple Crime by Grant Jerkins (2010)

This first novel from Grant Jerkins grabs you from the very first chapter: Rachel Lee, a mentally ill woman, is brutally murdered; Grant is her grieving husband; and Albert, their mentally handicapped son, has a history of violent outbursts. The police think it is a simple open-and-shut-case.

In A Very Simple Crime, however, things are not always as they appear. Leo Hewitt, a disgraced prosecutor, is determined to keep digging to find out what really happened. If you’re looking for a fun escape, try this great crime thriller.

See Me by Nicholas Sparks (2015)

As with all of Nicholas Sparks’ novels, a developing romance is central to the story. In See Me, an unlikely pair meet and are shepherded together by the sister and friends. The reader wonders how a traumatized and tattooed cage fighter (Colin) with a criminal past could hit it off with a young woman lawyer (Maria) fresh from the county prosecutor’s office. And also fresh is the senior partner in Maria’s new firm where she hopes to advance, maybe to partner. More amazing are the changes in Colin’s life: he is now studying hard with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. Yet persons from Maria’s past bring trauma and thirst for revenge to the story so the reader has an exciting ride as danger enfolds and challenges the characters.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry (2017)

For thirty-five years, Dan Chase has lived quietly in Vermont, raising a daughter and happily married until his wife died ten years ago. Chase has kept himself mentally and physically sharp waiting for the day when someone discovers who he really is and comes to kill him. That day is now. All those years ago, Chase delivered $20 million for the CIA to a man named Faris Hamzah, who was supposed to give the money to Libyan insurgents. Instead, Hamzah kept the money for himself. Chase stole it back, and when he tried to get in touch with his superiors, they cut him off completely. Chase had no choice but to disappear. Now on the run, trying to outwit and overpower those who are coming after him, it's a cat and mouse game to see who comes out on top. Thomas Perry’s The Old Man is an extremely satisfying fast-paced thriller perfect for a cold winter's day.

The Crossing by Michael Connelly (2015)

crossingMichael Connelly lets his two popular characters – Detective Harry Bosch and his half-brother Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) – cross paths and work together in The Crossing. Thus the reader is treated to the tactics and viewpoints of both defense and police as the investigation proceeds. But Harry is not at all comfortable working with the defense even though he has been forced into retirement by the police. He can’t help feeling like a traitor crossing over to the enemy and can only justify helping a defense lawyer by saying he is searching for the true killer. Other baffling crossings occur among the killers, victims, and the police who cross to the dark side.

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan (2013)

goldenboyHabo is an albino growing up in Tanzania. He is shunned by his community and even his own family, but the horrors do not begin until Habo and his family move from their rural village to Mwanza. He then finds he needs to stay on the run to avoid hunters who wish to kill him for a bounty because of his condition. The most unbelievable part of this story is that this barbarism exists in Tanzania today. In Golden Boy, Tara Sullivan allows readers to feel Habo's pain and go along on his quest for freedom from the superstitious cruelty of Tanzanian albino hunters.
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Cemetery Girl by David Bell (2011)

cemeterygirlTom and Abby Stuart had a wonderful life—until their 12-year-old daughter Caitlin disappeared without a trace. Four years later, the police find their daughter alive. She refuses to discuss anything that happened to her during the time she was gone. Of course, she is a stranger to her parents, who are hanging onto their marriage by a thread.

Cemetery Girl is a good psychological thriller, told from Caitlin’s father’s point of view. When the villain is finally revealed, he is especially repulsive. I will definitely try more novels by David Bell.

Spotlight: Rick Riordan

swordofsummerWhile author Rick Riordan’s focus is currently aimed at children/teenagers, that doesn’t mean they’re off limits for adults. If you’re a fan of action/adventure and different types of mythology, you’re in for a treat! The characters are well developed and have great senses of humor despite the trying circumstances.

If you love Greek or Roman mythology, start with the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (first book: The Lightning Thief). For Egyptian, give the Kane Chronicles a shot (first book: The Red Pyramid). Have a fix for Norse? Riordan has recently started on that with Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer!

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith (2012)

cloudsA short novel with a good ending but one that makes the reader wonder who actually stole the valuable painting from the wall of the Scottish country gentleman. Isabel is a philosopher and maybe an amateur detective with almost a compulsion to help others with their ethical and love life problems. She has lots of ideas and is always ready to listen attentively but with great care not to offend those seeking her help. At home she has little Charley, husband Jamie, and a sometimes troublesome housekeeper. With all this, it’s hard to see how she has time to edit the philosophy journal she owns or to help out at her niece’s restaurant. Isabel is a good friend to have as she seems to relish clouds passing by. If you enjoy The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, there is a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith featuring Isabel Dalhousie.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly (2016)

wrongsideAs a private investigator, Harry Bosch has been secretly hired by wealthy Whitney Vance to find out before he dies if he has an heir. While in college in 1950, Vance was told by his girlfriend that she was pregnant, but after telling his father about the situation, the girlfriend disappeared and Vance never saw her again. Vance would like his vast fortune to go to his descendants rather than have it in the hands of his company’s board of directors. Bosch is also part of the San Fernando Police Department reserve unit and is partnered with Bella Lourdes to try and discover a serial rapist in the area that they have nicknamed "Screen Cutter." With these two cases, the reader accompanies Bosch as he uses his investigative techniques to find the answers he needs. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a very satisfying entry in Michael Connelly’s long-running series.