A Star for Mrs. Blake, April Smith
In the early 1930s, the U.S. government sent thousands of Gold Star Mothers, women whose sons were killed in World War I, to France to visit their sons’ graves. Smith’s novel follows five Gold Star Mothers to Paris and Verdun, on what is supposed to be an important journey for them all. I was frustrated by the slow start and a few odd plot points, and I wasn’t sure the trip changed anything for some of the women. But the setting was fascinating – a forgotten piece of history. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
The Triwizard Tournament is on at Hogwarts, and Harry might just be champion – if he survives the competition. Lots of wonderful magic here, and several new, important characters (Mad-Eye Moody, Fleur Delacour, Viktor Krum). The ending is both terrifying and sad, with shadows of what’s to come. But the book isn’t all darkness. It includes one of my favorite funny lines in the whole series: “Just then, Neville caused a slight diversion by turning into a large canary.”
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
The ending of this book breaks my heart right in half every time. But I love it – I love Dumbledore’s Army, the ongoing development of Harry’s story, the students’ (and teachers’) subversive campaign against that foul Professor Umbridge. We meet Tonks, whom I love, and we see more of Sirius, Lupin and the Weasleys, whom I adore. And the drumbeat starts at the end: Harry is now finally, fully aware of who he is and what he has to do.
Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen
I enjoyed Allen’s The Peach Keeper and loved her debut, Garden Spells. Her new novel takes us to a run-down but magical lake resort in Georgia, where Kate spent a wonderful summer when she was 12. Now Kate’s great-aunt Eby is planning to sell the resort, right as Kate (newly widowed) and her daughter, Devin, arrive for a visit. A story of love, loss and new beginnings, with a bit of magical realism (Allen’s signature). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 21).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
The copious “snogging” in this book makes me laugh, but the story grows steadily darker, as Harry learns more about the boy who became Voldemort and the cruel measures he took to protect himself from death. This is also, though he doesn’t know it, Harry’s last year at Hogwarts – just one of the reasons the ending makes me cry. So, so good.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
After a desperate escape from Privet Drive and a brief respite at The Burrow, Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run, hunting Horcruxes and trying to avoid capture by Death Eaters. This last book is fast-paced, heartbreaking and powerful, and the last few chapters answer so many questions (and make me weep for all kinds of reasons). A fantastic end to one of my very favorite series.
A Question of Honor, Charles Todd
World War I nurse Bess Crawford investigates another mystery, this one related to a murder case from her childhood in India. The mystery plot was compelling, but Bess’ constant back-and-forth movements from England to France didn’t seem to relate to the story. And she’s unbelievably dense regarding the man who loves her. Not my favorite in the series, but still interesting.
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