The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine (2005)
The Minotaur is classic Barbara Vine – an enthralling gothic-creepy tale. It has a 1960s family living in an ancient house with mysterious rooms and neurotic relatives. Set in rural Essex, it is the story of the dysfunctional Cosway family, who are locked in a power struggle. The story is narrated by the young Swedish nurse hired to care for the only son, John who suffers from what we now know as autism. True to her style, Vine tells the story in flashback, which has a dramatic impact.

Preview the book before you visit the library and read a review at Mystery Ink.com.

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson (2008)
I was completely enthralled from the first page. Historical mystery based on historical fact. Two intertwining stories of Julia in modern-day Cornwall and Catherine in 17 century Cornwall mix together for an engaging story within a story. The detailed descriptions of the actualities of the Barbary Pirate slave trade and the exotic environment of Morocco then and now leap off the page, allowing you to feel as if you are there. Both women are connected by their gift of embroidery, which plays a key role.

Visit the author's website and find reviews at Amazon.com.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March by Geraldine Brooks (2004)
The father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was a chaplain with the Union troops during the first part of that book. This is his story, a committed abolitionist who joined the war effort as a moral cause.

Listen to an excerpt from the book, visit the author's website, and check out the reading guide.

Undertow by Sydney Bauer

Undertow by Sydney Bauer (2008)
From start to finish, Bauer hooks the reader with her compelling first novel of political intrigue. Characters, dialogue and plot meld together to produce such a fast pace that you’ll be breathless at the end.

Visit the author's website to learn more about the author and her other books.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008)
It’s a really touching story that makes you feel like you are in Sarajevo during the 1992 siege. You become very closely involved with four individuals and their high points and low points. Expected human nature is sometimes not there. At other times, individuals participate in unimaginable acts of kindness.

Listen to Joseph Planta's interview with the author and read more about the book at RandomHouse.ca.

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy (2001)
Slow, leisurely reading book for travelers. It's easy to pick up and put down due to being divided into 12 months of one year. Set in contemporary Ireland; the novel follows two people who begin a catering business. The story develops around the families and friends of Cathy and Tom.

Preview the book before you visit the library and read reviews of the book at Amazon.com.

Spotlight: Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine

Spotlight: Ruth Rendell and Barbara VineRuth Rendell, who also writes under the name Barbara Vine, is an English bestselling mystery and psychological crime writer. Her Ruth Rendell novels are about police detective Chief Inspector Wexford, guardian of fictional south of England town, Kingsmarkham or about individual psychological suspense thrillers, with no detective and no recurring characters. She specializes in examining the inner darkness of her characters, whether they are ordinary or alarmingly aberrant. Try Murder Being Once Done, a Chief Inspector Wexford title, for a taste of this fine series.

Writing as Barbara Vine, she crafts psychological crime novels (such as A Dark Adapted Eye) which explore the minds of people who commit murder, often through obsession or social inadequacy. The Vine books maintain the theme of relationships between families by delving back into the past, which set them apart from the Rendell work.

Under either name, her novels are complex in character development and precise in sense of place. Always suspenseful and viscerally compelling, I highly recommend them.

Check back next month to read Sally’s review of The Minotaur by Barbara Vine.

Angel’s Tip by Alafair Burke

Angel’s Tip by Alafair Burke (2008)
As a huge fan of James Lee Burke, I picked an Alafair Burke (his daughter) book more out of curiosity than anything. She has inherited her dad's gift for writing. Angel's Tip is a compelling mystery, with enough twists and turns to make it interesting, but not so many that the plot becomes unlikely. New York detective Ellie Hatcher is an interesting character, struggling with a painful family history and the old boys' club in the police department. Burke has written a strong woman character, who has grown and developed in just two books. She first appeared in Dead Connection.

Browse the book online and visit the author's blog.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)
At the end of WWII, writer Juliet Ashton has just published a collection of the humorous columns she wrote about London during the war. Now she is at loose ends trying to find her next project. Through a happy accident, a used book with her name in it lands on the Channel Island of Guernsey and into the hands of Dawsey Adams. Through letters to Dawsey and others on Guernsey, Juliet learns about what occupation under the Germans was like and finds the inspiration for her next book.

The story is told entirely in letters between Juliet and her many friends and is very charming. Some might feel it is a bit too charming and even sentimental, but anyone willing to enter into the time and place of the book and who enjoys quirky eccentrics will find a satisfying read. The book is reminiscent of Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road for its depiction of England right after WWII and its discussion of literature through letters from Hanff and the friends she made at a bookshop in England. For another story of the Channel Islands under German occupation, see the British miniseries Island at War.
Visit the book's website and read reviews of the book at Amazon.com.

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve (2004)
This story is told by 12-year-old Nicky Dillon, who lives in a small New Hampshire town with her father Robert. One afternoon, while walking in the snowy woods, Nicky and her father discover an abandoned newborn. As the story unfolds, we see how this discovery hugely impacts their lives. The author delves into the relationship between Nicky and her father and how they are each coping with their tragic pasts. This one is so impossible to put down!

Read about the author and her other books at BookBrowse and preview the book before you come to the library.
Tags:

Orbit by John J. Nance

Orbit by John J. Nance (2006)
A private space company sends lottery winners into orbit around the earth. Through a freak accident, Kip is stranded alone, stuck orbiting the earth. He starts journaling his life on the computer, but little does he know everyone on Earth is able to read his journal.

Preview this book before you visit the library and check out the author's website.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier (2008)
Raimund Gregorius teaches classical languages at a Swiss college. After a chance encounter with a mysterious Portuguese woman and the discovery of an extraordinary book by Amadeu de Prado,  he begins to question his life. Carrying with him the book by Prado, he takes the night train to Lisbon in the hope that he will begin to comprehend the author’s life. Prado turns out to be a doctor whose practice and principles led him into confrontation with Salazar’s dictatorship, and a man whose intelligence and magnetism left a mark on everyone who met him. Gregorius becomes obsessed by what he reads and his investigations lead him all over the city of Lisbon, as he speaks to those who were a part of Prado's life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges.

It may take a while to get involved with the story, but once there it is easy to be drawn into the events that unfolded. It is worth the effort as you begin to appreciate the thoughts that are being expressed by both Gregorious and Prado. For those who want a good, intelligent read that’s an excellent analysis of character and poses some fascinating questions about life and love, you won’t go wrong with Night Train to Lisbon.
Read the reviews at Amazon.com.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (2007)
In a literal way, the title of this book refers to the dye that carpet makers make from the petals of flowers. In another more poetic way, our heroine does give her life’s blood to learn the secret of carpet making in 17th century Persia. Eventually her talented persistence permits her a spiritual rebirth and a decent life. The journey from abject poverty and helplessness to self-respect is a beautifully conceived and artfully written story. I recommend this book for its absorbing content and rich character development.

Find a reading guide, author information and reviews at Book Browse. Go to the book's website for additional interviews, reviews and related links.

The Used World by Haven Kimmel

The Used World by Haven Kimmel (2007)
Contemporary setting in small town about three women and the relationships in their lives. Fast, easy read with twists and an interesting way of life in small town USA today. The story has an interesting ending and all is well. The author's use of descriptions in her story makes for good reading flow. A person should read this book 30 years from now to know the terminology and setting of life in the beginning of the 21st century.

Read reviews at Amazon.com and visit the author's website.

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh (2008)
This story of pain, beauty, sickness and health, love and betrayal revolves around the McKotch family, a flawed but very real New England family dealing with the realities of life. The characters are so well developed in this book you can feel their pain and hope they make it even when you can barely stand the choices they make. The family dynamics are palpable and "the condition" of being human draws you in. This would be a good book discussion choice. The author, Jennifer Haigh, is an exceptional writer and I have enjoyed her previous two books (Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers) and would recommend them too.

Browse the book before you visit the library and read the New York Times review.