Recently, I met best-selling author Brad Meltzer in a Chicago book store.  Naturally, I picked up an autographed copy of his newest novel, The Inner Circle.  (He had a large following — I had to wait in line a long time!)

The book revolves around Beecher White, a young archivist who loves his job at the National Archives.  When his childhood crush, Clementime, shows up seeking help in tracking down the father she never knew, he takes her on a private tour, and even shows her the secret vault used only by the  President.  Within moments ( is it by accident or plan?) they discover a priceless artifact hidden under the President’s chair.  Minutes later, the security guard who admitted them to the vault is found dead.  In hours,  Beecher is on the run, unsure who he can trust,  yet frantically trying to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers by successfully decoding concealed messages.

This is a fast-paced read and those interested in political conspiracies or action-packed thrillers will be entertained with all the unexpected twists and turns.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the ending, but then it made more sense when I read that  Meltzer has a sequel planned, using  Beecher again as the primary character.  He is a rather lovable archivist, after all.

For those who may be further intrigued by the mysteries of symbols and codes, check out the author’s show on the History Channel, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.

Looking for a good mystery?  We’ve got you covered!

Besides having one of the best website names ever, Stop, You’re Killing Me! is the best place to go if you’re a fan of mystery, crime, suspense, thriller and spy novels. Indexing the works of over 3.500 authors, you’ll find lists of books set in specific locations, during historical time periods, by diversity (for instance, Native Americans or Gypsies or Disabled detectives), by job title (such as wedding planners or pet sitters) and genres (vampires anyone?) New titles are listed each month, including new Large Print and new Audio Books. And there are extensive lists of mystery book award nominees and winners.

This site is fairly minimal – no fancy graphics or distracting ads. Titles are linked to amazon.com for further information (and where you can find a picture of the book cover), but this is mostly a presentation of lists, brief descriptions and links. It’s up to you to uncover your next favorite mystery – and with these tools, it should be an open and shut case!

Though the recent cold and snowy weather makes us all dream of warmer places, I still can’t stop reading more Scandinavian mysteries, where the cold climate plays a major role.   The Preacher is the second mystery novel by Swedish author Camilla Lackberg – if you have recently enjoyed other Scandinavian crime fiction you may want to add her to your list.  I blogged about her first novel, The Ice Princess, a few months ago and after I finished reading this book I couldn’t wait for the next book in the series to be translated into English.

In The Preacher, again we meet Erica and Patrik who are now expecting their first child.  As a detective in Fjallbacka, a tiny fishing village in southwest Sweden, Patrik has been thrown in to a new investigation – the murder of a young tourist from Germany.  With this new case, the 30 year old unsolved disappearance of  two young women is also thrust into the spotlight – the young tourist’s body is found with the remains of these two young women.

The case takes an unexpected turn when a young girl, Jenny Moeller whose appearance is nearly identical to the murdered tourist, is kidnapped and Patrik and his fellow detectives know that time is running out to try and save her.  With Jenny’s disappearance, clues come to light that  focus the investigation on a local and radical family, the Hult’s, whose public feud only complicates the case further.  The ending is completely unexpected and shocking – definitely well worth it!

January 4

Dinner for Schmucks –  Steve Carell, Paul Rudd

Tim is a guy on the verge of having it all. The only thing standing between him and total career success is finding the perfect guest to bring to his boss’ annual Dinner for Extraordinary People, an event where the winner of the evening brings the most eccentric character as his guest. Enter Barry, a guy with a passion for dressing mice up in tiny outfits to recreate great works of art. When the duo shows up to dine, the lunacy kicks into high gear.

Catfish– Henry Joost

In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel’s brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives. A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, Catfish is a riveting story of love, deception, and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.

Big Love – Season 4 – Bill Paxton, Jeanne Triplehorn

For years, Bill Henrickson wished for a world free from the corrupt ‘Prophet’ of Juniper Creek, Roman Grant. Now that Roman appears to be out of the picture, Bill and his family can breathe easily, or can they? Season 4 continues the Henricksons’ story, as Bill launches another business venture: a Mormon-friendly casino. At the same time, Bill eschews a chance to seize the Prophet mantle at Juniper Creek in favor of an even more high-profile calling: running for State Senate in Utah.

January 11

Piranha – Jerry O’Connell, Elisabeth Shue

A group of strangers on Lake Victoria must band together to survive after a sudden underwater tremor sets free prehistoric man-eating fish

January 18

Justified – Season 1 – Timothy Olyphant

Due to his old-school style, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is reassigned from Miami to his childhood home in the poor, rural coal-mining towns in Eastern Kentucky. Lawman Givens is a tough, soft-spoken gentleman who never gives an inch. Contained are thirteen episodes, such as: Fire in the Hole; Riverbrook; Fixer; Long in the Tooth; and more.

January 25

The Girl that Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Swedish) – Noomi Rapace

The final installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Lisbeth Salander is fighting for her life in more ways than one. In an intensive care unit and charged with three murders, she will have to not only prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce the same corruptgovernment institutions that nearly destroyed her life. Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now, Lisbeth Salander is fighting back.

Secretariat –  Diane Lane, John Malkovich

Behind every legend lies an impossible dream. Witness the spectacular journey of an incredible horse named Secretariat and the moving story of his unlikely owner, a housewife who risked everything to make him a champion.

More personal Best Books from our Blogging Librarians!

Lexie loved Graceling by Kristin Cashore : “This is a fantasy novel about a world where some people are gifted with a “grace”, an extreme skill. It tells the story of Katsa, a girl who has been graced with killing, and her unlikely friendship with a young prince. When the two discover a disturbing secret about a nearby ruler, they must work together to bring peace to their land. It has action, drama, romance and an interesting and well-developed new world.”

Michelle’s favorites were some of the hottest books of the year : “My favorite book(s) that I read this year are actually two books that have to be read together, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by the late Stieg Larsson. The second and final installment of the Millennium Trilogy are a tour de force that pack a powerful punch of intrigue, scandal, corruption and mystery in present day Sweden. The first tow films with English subtitle are now available at the library with the final film’s release in the United States coming in January. There is even an English version that will be released sometime near the end of the next year!”  Michelle blogged more about “Fire” here and about “Hornet’s Nest” here.

I feel a little bit silly now realizing that Alias:  Season One began airing almost ten years ago, and yet I am only now getting into this awesome series.  It stars Jennifer Garner as Sidney Bristow, a grad student who is part of what she thinks is a covert branch of the CIA called SD-6.  After getting engaged, she decides she has to come clean to her fiance about being a spy.  Unfortunately, since her status has now been compromised, the head of SD-6 orders that Sidney’s fiance must be killed.  This is when Sidney learns the horrible truth about SD-6:  they’re not really part of the CIA.  Rather, they’re part of an organization that the real CIA has been fighting for years.  At the end of the pilot episode, Sidney goes to CIA headquarters and offers to be a double agent and help them bring down SD-6 once and for all.

So far I’ve only gotten through season one, but I’m definitely interested in seeing more (I just checked out Alias: Season Two and I’m dying to go home and watch it!).  It’s hard to not keep watching, especially since almost every episode ends with a cliffhanger!  One of the things I have found most interesting about the series is the relationship between Sidney and her father, Jack Bristow.  After finding out that her father has also been working for SD-6 for years, she is surprised once again to find out that he’s also a double agent for the CIA.  The two have never had a close relationship, so through their double agent work, they’re getting to know each other once again.  It’s a really interesting dynamic and I’m enjoying watching it develop.  The cast is great and gels together well, and the series is well-written and has a lot of exciting action sequences.  I highly recommend it, especially if you like other J.J. Abrams series such as Lost or other dramas where women kick butt, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

December 4th

Twilight Saga – Eclipse – Robert Pattinson, Kristin Stewart, Taylor Lauber

It all begins with a choice. In the third chapter of Stephenie Meyer’s phenomenal Twilight series, Bella Swan is surrounded by danger as Seattle is hit by a string of murders and an evil vampire continues her quest for revenge. In the midst of it all, Bella is forced to choose between her love, Edward Cullen, and her friend, Jacob Black, knowing that her decision may ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf.

December 7th

Shrek Forever After – Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz

Longing for the days when he was a ‘real ogre,’ Shrek signs a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to get his roar back, but turns his world upside down in the process. Donkey suddenly can’t remember his best friend, Fiona is now a tough warrior princess, and Puss in Boots is one fat cat! Together, they have just 24 hours to reverse the contract and restore happily forever after.

Inception – Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt

Dom Cobb is the best there is at extraction: stealing valuable secrets inside the subconscious during the mind’s vulnerable dream state. His skill has made him a coveted player in industrial espionage, but also has made him a fugitive and cost him dearly. Now he may get a second chance if he can do the impossible: inception, planting an idea rather than stealing one. If they succeed, Cobb and his team could pull off the perfect crime.

December 14th

The Other Guys – Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell

When two mismatched NYPD detectives stumble into a seemingly dull case that no other detective wants to bother with, it turns out to be New York City’s biggest crime. The two seize the opportunity to step up like the city’s top cops, whom they idolize. But do these two guys have the right stuff?

Despicable Me – Steve Carell, Jason Segel

Gru delights in all things wicked. Surrounded by an army of tireless, little yellow minions, and armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential dad.

December 17th

The Town – Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall

Doug MacRay is leader of a Boston bank robber gang but not cut from the same cloth as his fellow thieves. When Doug falls into a passionate romance with the bank manager briefly taken hostage in their last heist, he wants out of this life and out of the town. As the Feds close in and the crew questions his loyalty, he has one of two choices: betray his friends or lose the woman he loves.

December 21st

Salt – Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber

As a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt swore an oath to duty, honor, and country. Her loyalty will be tested when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy. Salt goes on the run, using all her skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture. Her efforts to prove her innocence only serve to cast doubt on her motives, as the hunt to uncover the truth behind her identity continues.

If you’ve caught the recent series on PBS, you may want to go back to the first dvd series of Wallander. Kenneth Branagh inhabits the morose Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander. He feels the pain and suffering of the world to the extent that it interferes with his relationships with his daughter, father and ex-wife. Always close to burnout, Kurt repeatedly puts his job before whatever is left of his home life, and they are very much aware of that.

The tv series is based on the Henning Mankell mysteries set  near Ystad in Southern Sweden. The tones are bleached out; the Swedish countryside comes off as pale and tired – as if all  vibrant hues  have been drained out out of the world. It sounds incredibly depressing but there’s something about  Wallander’s character and Branagh’s portrayal of him that makes this very complex man impossible not to watch and root for.  Optimism and hope seem misguided if not futile, but Wallander keeps hanging in there.

Those looking for nonstop spectacular violence and pounding background music will be disappointed but if you enjoy complex characters, intricate plots and incredible acting, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re looking for a thriller that’s engaging and scenic, The Ghost Writer fits the bill. Both Martha’s Vineyard (actually Germany) and a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor are easy on the eyes. The windswept beaches and desolate rainstorms are forbidding yet stunningly beautiful.

Ewan McGregor plays a professional ghostwriter who is hired to finish the memoirs of  Adam Lang, a Tony Blair-like ex-prime minister. The book takes on more importance when Lang is accused of war crimes, and it becomes apparent that the job of ghostwriter may be a highly risky occupation.

Directed by Roman Polanski and based on The Ghost by Robert Harris, the movie is intelligent and full of twists and turns right up until the last moment.

This is not the type of book I would typically choose.  Turns out, I couldn’t put it down.

When I go on vacation, I often look for books that take place in the same locale.  Since I was heading out on a vacation to Maine, this one fit the bill.  Granted,  it had also received several excellent reviews, so I wasn’t just going by the title or the picture on the cover, though I’ve  selected books that way a time or too, as well.  Popular authors such as Nelson DeMillie, Tess Gerritsen, John Lescroart and C.J. Box were all singing the praises of this debut novelist, whose day job just happens to be editing Down East: The Magazine of Maine.  Plus, the book also landed on Booklist’s best crime novels of 2010 list.

The Poacher’s Son opens with Mike Bowditch, a game warden in Maine, receiving an alarming message on his answering machine from his estranged father, Jack, whom he hasn’t seen in two years.  The next day, Mike discovers that his father is the prime suspect in the murders of a beloved cop and a lumber executive.  Though Mike knows his alcoholic father makes his living poaching illegal game, he cannot bring himself to believe that the man is capable of murder.

What distinguishes this book from more plot-based suspense thrillers is the realistic no-one-is-perfect characterizations.  Also, the author seems to have a natural knack for pulling the reader into the setting, be it the rocky coasts or the forested wilderness that makes up much of Maine.

No, I won’t tell you the ending.  But I will recommend that you read this book and that you keep a lookout for the series of other Mike Bowditch mysteries to come.