It feels like a while since I've posted a reading list. I've been doing a lot of manuscript work lately, which cuts into my pleasure reading, and I've also read a few things lately that disappointed me. But here are five books worth your attention.
1. Markus Zusak, THE BOOK THIEF. I am not sure why I missed this book when it came out a few years ago, but I'm glad that my sister Peggy's book club finally gave me the impetus to read it. Death narrates the story of Liesl, a foster child growing up in a town on the outskirts of Munich during the Second World War. Liesl catches Death's attention not only for surviving her first encounter with him, but for stealing a book from the scene, and Death watches as her passion for books gets her through the horror of war. It's a simple enough book to be marketed to young adults, but it's complex and powerful enough to be a permanent classic, for all ages. I've already given one copy of this book away, and will give away many more.
2. Donna Ball, AT HOME ON LADYBUG FARM. The ladies introduced in A YEAR ON LADYBUG FARM return in this charming sequel, in which they figure out how to put their Shenandoah Valley farm on a paying basis. Not much happens, but it's all engaging. I read so much crime fiction that sometimes it's good to remember the pleasure of reading a nice book about nice people.
3. Tod Goldberg, BURN NOTICE: THE FIX. The last tie-in novel I read was The Partridge Family 4: The Ghost of Graveyard Hill. But Tod's a friend, and I got this book in my registration bag for Left Coast Crime, and I love "Burn Notice." If you're a fan of the show, you'll like this book. Goldberg nails the characters — a veteran spy who's been "burned," tossed out of the service for unknown reason; his wacky mother; his former colleague, an aging frat boy; and his former-and-possibly-future girlfriend, an international assassin. If Plot A comes together a little too coincidentally with Plot B, were you expecting gritty realism?
4. Susan Rebecca White, DOWN SOUTH. A sweet, sharply insightful first novel that gets the modern South dead on (and reminded me of why I left). It's an episodic family drama that covers twenty years in the life of three Southern women — Louise, a wealthy Atlanta housewife; her artistic and emotional daughter Caroline; and Missy, the daughter of Louise's housekeeper. If it has a flaw, I felt it pulled its punches. Its characters deal with almost every conflict imaginable, from infidelity to teen pregnancy to secret homosexuality, but the wounds aren't mortal and the anger and sorrow don't feel permanent. Another reason to prefer fiction to reality . . .
5. Jesse Kellerman, THE EXECUTOR. This gripping psychological thriller is ambitious indeed, a parable about free will that not only explains but illustrates some heavy philosophical ideas. Perpetual graduate student Joseph Geist answers a cryptic ad for a "Conversationalist," and seems to have his entire life solved for him. His patron, an elderly woman named Alma Spielmann (not a coincidence that the name means "game player"), offers him everything he needs and wants — and sets up a situation that plunges Joseph into a nightmare he could not have imagined. This book asks some big questions, and trusts the reader enough not to answer them all.