Laura Lippman, Lauren Oliver, Lloyd Alexander + more

Oh, I have had so many disappointments lately when trying to read Important Books by Important Authors that I needed to spend my spring break immersed in good genre. And even though not every book I read was entirely successful, my plan worked–consider my palate cleansed and my love for reading restored.

The best of them was Hush Hush by Laura Lippman. It’s “A Tess Monaghan Novel” which should put me off, because I generally do not like series fiction with a recurring character. For example, I adore Ruth Rendell but only her standalones. The Inspector Wexford books make me crazy. Same with Agatha Christie–no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple for me. I like my mystery/thrillers to be self-contained stories. However, because Laura Lippman sets her books in Baltimore, where I was born and raised hon, I can get over it and usually enjoy her books as stories and not just for the charm of reading about Charm City, Jewel of the East. This one was no exception, featuring a woman who killed one of her children and was found mentally ill, but seems sharp as a tack–and then someone else turns up dead. Good psychological complexity among the characters, and the whodunit wasn’t easy to figure out at all.

I shouldn’t really say it was the best, though, because of how thoroughly my older daughter and I enjoyed reading Lloyd Alexander’s second Prydain book out loud. The Black Cauldron picks up right after The Book of Three, but thankfully Alexander knows better than to bog the opening chapter down in exposition. Instead, he reunites all our old friends from book one and sets them out on a dangerous quest to destroy the Black Cauldron, a magical device through which the evil king Arawn turns dead bodies into unkillable zombie warriors. It’s a straight up adventure that never stops moving, thanks to Alexander’s keen sense of plotting and suspense.

Lauren Oliver is another one with a knack for plotting and suspense, but I’m starting to experience some diminishing returns with her books. Panic was such a great read that now my expectations are really high, but Vanishing Girls didn’t live up. It was still a solid read, but felt a little sketched-in in some places, not quite as fully executed as it could have been. I saw the ending coming, which is always disappointing, but I don’t think she could have ended it any other way.

As for endings, I didn’t see the ending of Jane Shemilt’s The Daughter coming, but that’s because it was so out there that I was disappointed. The book has an interesting structure. We’re with Jen, a mom whose daughter disappeared a year ago, as she tries to move forward with her life. She flashes back to the events surrounding the disappearance as she prepares for her other 2 children to spend the holidays with her, and it ends up feeling like a mystery within a mystery. Both stories have a solid arc to them and come to a logical (if not believable) resolution. I had trouble connecting with Jen because of her tendency to overlook her children’s issues in favor of keeping things light and cheerful. Even though the story didn’t condone her attitude, it was still hard to read.

Lastly, I’m embarrassed to write that I checked out Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar from the library and it was as dumb as you’d think it would be. College freshman doing dumb stuff with each other and it was all so phoned in and trite and implausible so of course I kept reading. About halfway through I was skimming like whoa so I can’t say I gave it my full attention, but honestly it didn’t deserve it. It was so dumb and easy to read that I didn’t even have to quit because I got through it so quickly.

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