Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education
This one was good. It's sort of a Harry Potter fanfic -- or anyway it feels like a Harry Potter fanfic -- but the worldbuilding is excellent, and our heroine, along with the other characters, is well-done.
We're in a school for wizards, with some differences: once you go in, at age 11, you don't come out until (if) you graduate. And more than half of each class does not graduate -- sometimes more than that -- because this school is evil and wants to kill wizards. Wizardlings, I guess. It's filled with various monsters (mals) that attack students four or five times a day, trying to eat them. Only the lucky, and those who get help, survive.
Our main character, El (short not for Ellen but for Galadriel), has no luck getting people to help her, because (she explains) no one likes her, no one wants her around, people would be happy to see her die. This isn't anything she's doing, apparently, though she is mordantly snarky. It's something about her aura.
All that changes when the hero of the school, Orion, rescues her from a mal. He hasn't rescued her for any particular reason -- just as her affinity is for being unlikeable, his is for slaughtering mals. And El doesn't need rescuing, since she's a powerful wizard in her own right. She tells him this, never fear. Her lack of gratitude intrigues him, apparently, and he begins hanging around with her.
Meanwhile, something is up at the school -- something worse that mals that try to eat people five times a day.
Lively, compelling prose, and a non-stop plot, this one is very satisfying. It's also set up for a sequel.
Tana French, The Searcher
Tana French's last book, The Witch Elm
, was not so good.
Her new one, though, is better.
Here in The Searcher we have a Chicago police officer, Cal Hooper, who quits his job after he and his partner nearly shoot an innocent man on the street, and after his wife leaves him. He comes to Ireland, where he is rebuilding an old house, fishing, and tentatively making friends with the locals. This is where the book opens.
A neighbor kid shows up to hang around and help him with the work, and eventually ask a favor: Will Cal find the kid's older brother, who has gone missing?
Filled with local color and great details about life in a small rural town, not to mention compelling characters, this one works well. The "mystery" at the center is maybe not as compelling as some of her earlier novels, but I really like the characters and the language here.
A few grim details, and violence against -- well, everyone. But if you like compelling mystery novels, this is a good one.
Jodi Picoult, The Book of Two Ways
A Jodi Picoult novel. They're like burgers from Five Guys, if you see what I mean. Satisfying, tasty, a bit above your average burger.
This one concerns a graduate student in Egyptology who left off working on her PhD to nurse her mother through her final illness, got pregnant, got married, and never went back to finish her disseratation.
Entering her forties, she has a mid-life crisis, and goes back to the site she was working on when she quit graduate school, and also the guy she was sleeping with at that point.
Will she return to her satisfying if bourgie life, or will she stay with the Egyptologist, do Egyptology, and be a scholar?
I like the kid in this. Neither of the guys are all that interesting or convincing, though, and I'm really bored of books in which characters have to decide to leave their marriages and sleep with some hot new whatever. Picoult, to her credit, puts some new twists in this stale plot, but even so.
The Egyptology stuff was fun.
Maggie O'Farrell, Hamnet
This is an historical novel, about the short life of William Shakespeare's son. The cause of Hamnet's death is, at least here, is the plague.
There's a lot about Anne Hathaway's life and some about Will's boyhood and youg adulthood. Not much about his time in London. I checked this one out of the library mostly because of the plague connection, but it was very readable. Recommended if you like historical fiction / the plague/ Shakespeare.
Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
I forget where I saw this recommended -- probably in the comments over at Jo Walton's column. It's the first in a series of mysteries featuring an eleven-year-old chemist named Flavia de Luce, living in post-war England. Flavia is a bit of a sociopath, and also excellent at deductive reasoning.
That's all my buttons pushed; no surprise I enjoyed this one. (Eleven-year-old sociopaths are my jam, as those who have read my second novel know.) There's a murder, which Flavia solves, but at least for me the pleasure comes from Flavia's voice and the 1950's setting.
There are ten more, so I've got plenty to read before I run dry. My favorite part of finding a new series!