***** – highly recommended
**** – enjoyable, but a few flaws
*** – take it or leave it
** – not recommended
* – invest elsewhere
2014 – PRINT
*** The City of The Sun – Juliana Maio – “Cairo during the war was what Casablanca had been mythologized as in the eponymous Humphrey Bogart film–a romantic desert crossroads of the world, of spies and soldiers and cares and casbahs and women with pasts and men with futures . . .” (William Stadiem). So begins the epigram to Maio’s thriller, her first book. She picked this less well-trodden geography and a pivotal time–1941–as her setting. Rommel threatens the city from a rapidly diminishing distance and the Muslim Brotherhood and a group of dissident Egyptian Army officers threatens from within. With great potential for drama and the urgency of war, she places her two main characters, who are fairly well-rounded, and a second tier of less compelling actors. The writer relies too heavily on cliches–“happy as a clam” “looking resplendent and every inch a woman”–that made me wince, but the storytelling kept the pages turning.
***** The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt – The 1654 painting, The Goldfinch, animates the action of Donna Tartt’s third novel is receiving much-deserved attention. The story begins when twelve-year-old Theo is injured in a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum, and an elderly dying man orders him to pick the painting—which happens to be one of Theo’s mother’s favorites—out of the rubble. Stunned, confused, and pretty much ignored in the aftermath of the explosion, he stumbles home to show it to her. Yes, there is an over-long interlude in Las Vegas when Theo lives a feral existence with his father and delightfully reprobate Russian friend Boris, and yes, it ends with a rambling 20-page essay. Still, it’s a wonderful adventure story that at its heart is about how we decide what’s important in life, what’s real to us and worth saving, and what is simulacrum and worth saving anyway. In that essay was one of my favorite lines of the book, about how different people are strongly, inevitably drawn to certain things—“a city, a color, a time of day. The nail where your fate is liable to catch and snag.” Don’t let the length put you off–it’s a page-turner.
*** Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – 10 short stories, several with a winter/holiday theme. Some good writing, but no new ground.
*** The Dordogne Deception – Sherry Joyce – Very interesting to read the first mystery of a new author and see her struggle with the same kinds of issues that I do. How to plant clues, how to keep the plot moving logically and organically, creating 3-dimensional characters. She picked an interesting setting, and creates a believable sense of place. Some first-timer rough patches, but congratulations to her for finishing (how many novels languish, half-written, in the bottom drawers of people’s desks?) and getting into print!
On tap . . . The Goldfinch, George Washington’s Secret Six, Metaphors We Live By
2014 Audio (links are to audio versions)