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August 20, 2009 Edition

It will Come to Me, by Emily Fox Gordon


This academic comedy of manners shows the hand of an author intimately familiar with the eccentricities of professors and their institutions, and yet still loves the people they are. Ben Blau is the stolid head of the Philosophy department, there only because no one else wants to be. His wife, Ruth, is a writer paralyzed by her own early success, and they both are puzzled and scarred by their relationship with the now-adult son they adore. Their world is stagnant but not unpleasant, the edges blurred by a bit too much alcohol sometimes, until new faculty arrives to shake things up a bit. The new university president is a PR shill with a full repertoire of sound bites and feel-good phrases who, nevertheless, has the clout to make things happen to and around Ben. And the universityís new writer-in-residence, with her easy fame as a new-age memoirist, is insult and motivation to Ruth. Watching these two central characters change through a variety of pokes and prods is both amusing and satisfying.

Safer, by Sean Doolittle


From academic comedy to academic horror: when college professors Paul and Sara move from Boston to the small town of Clark Falls to teach at the university, they find a great house in the perfect neighborhood and settle right in. They meet the neighbors, learn to play golf, and join the Neighborhood Watch, which is headed by ex-police officer Roger Mallory. But when Paul runs afoul of Roger and his tactics for keeping the neighborhood a safe place, things go downhill fast, and Paul doesnít have a leg to stand on. The cops are in Rogerís corner, the neighbors are under his thumb, and thanks to some legalese in their lease, even the surveillance cameras hidden throughout Sara and Paulís property are perfectly legal. Twisted and unsettling.

Wings of Wrath, by C.S. Friedman


This is the second book (after ďFeast of SoulsĒ) of a trilogy set in a gray world where the price of magic is human life force, be it the userís own or that of a substitute. In the first book, Kamala became the first female Magister, those with the somewhat vampiric will and ability to wield spells without killing themselves. And as this book opens, she is one of the first to see a dragon-like creature, a Souleater, thought to have been banished from human lands a thousand years ago. But now the barrier that keeps them exiled is weakening and Kamala finds herself blackmailed into going north to search for any information that may be of use against these beings set on destroying humanity. Friedmanís strengths are her characters and settings, and she handles both deftly in this middle book that nevertheless is a great stand-alone read.

Death Was in the Picture, by Linda L. Richards


Set in Depression-era Hollywood, this mystery temporarily turns Girl Friday Kitty Pangborn against her own boss, private detective Dexter Theroux. Theroux has a new client, Laird Wyndham, a hunky leading man of dubious morals who is seeking to prove his innocence in the murder of a young actress. What frosts Kitty is that Theroux is running a double game: heís already got a client who has hired Theroux to tail Wyndham! Richards brings the Thirties to life, with food shortages and reversals of fortune against which the glitter of Hollywood shows all the brighter.

The Spy Game, by Georgina Harding


Atmospheric, meditative, and moody, this is the story of Anna and her older brother, Peter, who refuse to believe that their mother has really died in a car accident. And these particular two children have good reason to doubt: it is the heart of the Cold War and their mother, a German born in Russia, is an outsider in England. Given that their father, a British Lieutenant Colonel, will hardly speak of her, and that Russian and German spies are being exposed in the news, is it any surprise that these two grieving children would seize on the idea that their mother is an East German spy, recalled to the Soviets. Peter and Annaís obsession turns to paranoia as they investigate their neighbors, study the newspapers, and keep journals of everything they remember about their mother. Intertwined with the childrenís attempts to find patterns in their motherís life are Annaís adult journeys to Germany and Russia to find answers.

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