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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I'm not a great reader of the classics (a shock to all of you, I'm sure). I love books, and I love to read, but I very rarely pick up any of the classics. I'm not entirely sure why this is; I don't find the language completely inaccessible, but something about books written more than fifty or sixty years ago makes me bite my nails and walk right past that section of Barnes & Noble so I can get to the modern fiction.

There are a few exceptions, of course: Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the occasional Hemingway. (Don't judge me.) I was pressured recently into reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, however, a book which falls into none of the aforementioned categories. I have fond memories of reading Pride & Prejudice in high school, but Austen is most certainly not the gothic novelist Brontë is (or indeed, any of the Brontës are), and I worried I wouldn't be able to fall into the prose.

I, predictably, was wrong.

Jane Eyre is the story of an orphaned girl who, through no control of her own, is led from a childhood of abuse and modesty to become a governess at the enormous, and mysterious, Thornfield Hall. Jane finds her new employment agreeable, the child there incredibly French but fond, and the arrangements acceptable.

Until her moody master, Mr. Rochester, arrives. Until strange things start happening about the house. And until Jane herself grows from the schoolgirl-turned-governess into a young woman with impossible desires and strong opinions and discovers not everything she knows about Thornfield or her master is as it seems.

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Every Boy's Got One by Meg Cabot

One of the things that made me fall in love with Meg Cabot, even enough to try her again after suffering through Size 12 is Not Fat, is the overwhelming charm of the formula that she has perfected. Cabot's one-offs, unique in their composition and far better than her series stories, uses mixed media to push the narration along. Journals, e-mails, IMs, receipts, forms, menus, agendas: you name it, they pop up somewhere in the book. Events are seen through the tinted lenses of one character, then another, and then a third, muddled and confusing and very much like walking into someone else's grand drama without having the background story. This, for me, has always been half the fun of Cabot's writing.

Every Boy's Got One is another of these tales in which Jane Harris, a professional comic strip artist, accompanies her best friend Holly on her elopement. Holly and her intended, Mark, need two witnesses to come with them to Italy and watch them wed, and while Holly brings Jane, Mark brings his best friend, jet-setting journalist Cal. Jane and Cal are immediately at one another's throats as the trip ebbs and flows from a triumphant success to an utter disaster and back again. Most of the action happens either in Jane's travel diary or through e-mails between characters, but not without the required quota of Three's Company style miscommunications and hijinks.

Cabot's writing, for me, has always been charming, but in this case, I'm afraid it fell a bit flat.

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This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

The thing about anything Marian Keyes writes is that I can take a few weeks off her style, but in the end, I still devour her next book like I have never read before. This was the case with This Charming Man, a book I started late last week and finished today.

This Charming Man takes a page from her other multiple point-of-view stories and tells of the engagement of popular politician Paddy de Courcy through the eyes of four women: Lola, his girlfriend who only finds out they've broken up on the day the news of him marrying another woman is announced; Grace, a features journalist hot on the trail of the engagement story; Marnie, a childhood friend and Grace's twin sister; and Alicia, his fiancee. It sounds like a chick-lit mainstay, with a coming marriage, spurned lovers, old friends, and a vote of no confidence calling for a general election that will rocket de Courcy to the head of Ireland's government.

But there are darker things afoot -- scandals, accusations, news stories that could break careers, burned-out cars, and bottles of vodka -- that make the book more than a story about a charming man.

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Heat Wave by Richard Castle

I'm not actually who to credit as the author of this book, mostly due to the fact that the author, Richard Castle, is not a real person at all. Instead, he is a brilliant character played by Nathan Fillion from ABC's hit show Castle. In this dramedy, bestselling author Richard Castle follows Kate Beckett in her job as a police detective in order to research an idea for a new book. The book he writes – and indeed, the book ghostwritten and published as a tie-in to the show – is called Heat Wave and is loosely based on his experiences with Detective Beckett.

In Heat Wave, journalist Jameson Rook is shadowing detective Nikki Heat to research a magazine article he is writing on the true lives of detectives. (Sound familiar?) When a real-estate investment mogul is thrown off his balcony during one of the hottest weeks New York City has ever seen, Rook and his detective friends must investigate who killed this member of the rich-and-powerful. But the plot thickens when it's discovered his marriage was on the rocks, his business was floundering, there were hookers, bookies, mistresses, and others in search of his money, and that the Russian mob might have been behind his death. Crackling along with the weather, though, is the sexual tension between Rook and Heat.

I wanted this book to be as clever, light-hearted, and well put-together as the television show. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down.

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The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman

When I read The Lake of Dead Languages a few years ago, I was absolutely enchanted by it. After reading it over three days' time, I lent it to my mother, I recommended it to friends, and I sung its praises to all who would listen. I also bought a few more of Goodman's books, ready to dive into the atmospheric settings and pseudo-thriller plotlines.

The Drowning Tree called to me this past week, so I pulled it off the shelf. The plot description promises all the things that The Lake of Dead Languages does: Juno, a stained glass artist and restoration expert, attends her Penrose College reunion to hear her best friend give a speech on a famous stained glass window their alma mater is about to restore. Days later, Juno's friend is found dead on the abandoned Penrose estate.

What first looks like a suicide suddenly pulls in a variety of characters -- college president Gavin Penrose (notice the last name?), Juno's estranged ex-husband, a handsome detective, and two sisters who are more than 50 years dead -- to answer the question: who killed Christine Webb?

And why does Juno think it has something to do with the window they're working on?

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The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

After Sushi for Beginners, I decided to take a break from Marian Keyes; after Size 12 is Not Fat, I was close to swearing off so-called "chick lit" forever. Literature for women can so often walk the line not only of being frivolous, but being offensive to strong, independent women even though it's meant to be reassuring and inspiring.

One of my friends at work, however, broke her foot a few months ago and has been reading a good deal, and after she read Rachel's Holiday, she wanted to spend more time with Keyes' books. Surprisingly, I found I missed them and pulled oneo f the three I own but have not read off my shelf: The Other Side of the Story.

Like with Sushi for Beginners, there are three major players in The Other Side of the Story: Gemma, an event planner whose life changes for the worse when her father walks out on her mother after thirty-five years of marriage; Jojo, a literary agent having a less-than-intelligent affair with one of the partners at her firm; and Lily, a young mother who finds her one-off fluke of a novel is becoming a sleeper hit. They are drawn together by history and professions, their stories overlapping roughly halfway through the book.

And as their stories overlap, you really do find out that there are two sides to every tale.

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The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie

I'm not entirely sure why I am on such a Christie-kick, but when I saw an Agatha Christie I didn't already know in the bookstore, I was compelled to snatch it (and Death on the Nile, which was sitting next to it on the shelf) up.  Knowing as I went in that it was either a Poirot nor a Marple (though the latter was a reason for celebration), I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.

The story is simple enough: Michael Starkwedder, after driving his car into a ditch during a storm, comes upon a darkened manor house. He knocks on the door and lets himself in, only to find the most garish of scenes: the crippled master of the house dead and his wife holding the gun! Quick on his feet and enamored by Laura Warwick's tragic story, he offers to help her cover up the murder.

But the house is full of characters -- the late husband's valet, Laura's mentally disabled brother-in-law, the dead man's mother, a doting nurse -- and, it turns out, framing someone for murder is not as easy as you'd think.

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I think I've mentioned before my fondness for locked room mysteries. There's something inherently addictive about a one among us mystery, where the murderer was there all along. I will contest until I die that Agatha Christie is the master of this; And Then There Were None is, in my mind, the greatest locked room mystery ever written.
 
Murder on the Orient Express is lauded as one of her best, and I admit now that I have gotten to be twenty-six years old before ever reading it. I suppose I can blame sloth, or maybe just my fondness for her other tales, but they're sad excuses. Hercule Poirot would be shamed by my laziness.
 
On the Orient Express, a train traveling from Stamboul to Calias, a man is murdered. But since the train is trapped in a snowbank, and cannot go anywhere, there's absolutely no way a stranger could've come on board. The question becomes, then: who among them killed Rachett? The owner of the handkerchief that was dropped at the scene? Or maybe the man who left his pipe cleaner behind? What about the man in Mrs. Hubbard's compartment, the found button that no one lost, or the woman in the silk kimono?
 
The answer is surprising.
 
I don't ordinarily look up information about the author when I read books, but I knew The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was called something else in its original Swedish, so I did some light research. Interesting facts: Steig Larsson and his partner of something like twenty years never married because, to marry, they'd have to make their address public and his position as a journalist made him feel as though a public address was a security issue. All three of his books were published posthumously. He actually wrote as a hobby and, a few months before his death, started the publishing process on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is three stories in one. It's the story of Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who is disgraced and discredited when a story he thinks is legitimate lands him a libel conviction; of Lisbeth Salander, a private investigator with a security firm who is curiously thorough and altogether curious; and of Harriet Vanger, a girl who disappeared thirty-odd years ago under strange circumstances and whose disappearance and death is still a mystery today.

When Vanger's great-uncle, Henrik, hires Mikael to find out who in the once-powerful Vanger family killed her and spirited the body away, Mikael assumes what he's being hired to do is lay low for a year and recuperate from his fall from grace. Little does Mikael realize that the great unsolved mystery is solvable, and so intricately woven into the family's dysfunction that to find a killer, he'll have to reveal skeletons better left in closets.

And work with a strange girl with a lot of black clothes.

And maybe find the answer to just how he got caught up for libel and save the magazine he co-founded. Well, maybe.

The original name of the book, by the way? Men Who Hate Women.

I actually prefer that title.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I often buy books for my students or the school's silent-reading library without having read them mselves. The reasons are simple: there is not enough time in the day to read every book they want to! That's the excuse I have for not reading The Book Thief sooner; even though friends and students recommended it to me, I didn't have enough time to read it.

The story, like so many others, is set in Nazi Germany and is the story of a teenage girl named Lisel coming to grips with the death, destruction, and descrimination within her country at that time. The twist to The Book Thief is that the narrator is Death, replaying the events of Lisel's life as he sees them. Everything, from the relationship with her foster parents and her neighbors, to the Jew hidden in her basement, is told through the eyes of Death.

It doesn't help that Lisel is not only a Jew-hider, but a book thief, and one who questions the political shifts around her.

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