Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe by Nan and Ivan Lyons:I heard about the 1978 movie version first, which I inexplicably thought came out in 2012 or so; once I realized it would never show up in my Netflix queue I sought out the book. It is a great premise, and the motive for the killings is extremely clever, but that motive (and the killer's identity) is revealed very early on, sapping the narrative of any suspense. Moreover, the late 70s sexual and racial politics are dreadful.
The Countess by Lynsay Sands:Again the premise is what interested me -- Christiana is quite thrilled when her abusive husband dies, but then learns that the man she married was an imposter, determined to steal his twin brother's inheritance. That twin, long thought dead, comes back, and you can guess what happens next. It was a fun read despite some implausibilities, the most glaring of which is that not only was the marriage to the bad twin unconsummated, Christiana had no idea it was unconsummated. The insistence on heroines always being virgins (but never the heroes, of course) is especially ludicrous when said heroine is a widow. On the other hand, Sands gains points by poking fun at the idea of heroes whose cruelty is really a mask for the horrible pain they suffer, a mask only a sufficiently patient heroine can see through.
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling:My dear friend lent me this book, and I adored it. Windling takes the idea of fairies -- utterly inhuman creatures with their own rules and a world outside our own -- and sets it in the Sonora Desert amongst a tiny group of artists. The beauty of the land and the role of art in understanding the mythical world are wonderfully described.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher:A short, pithy academic satire told entirely through the letters of recommendation a beleaguered English professor writes over the course of a year. As you might expect, the letters reveal every hope, disappointment, petty thought, and passive-aggressive tendency the narrator has. But unlike many other satires I've read, this middle-aged, white, male academic is a genuinely decent human being who cares about his work, his students, his colleagues, and the state of humanities studies. The novel has a poignant end that hints at a cyclical structure, leaving us and the narrator with a glimmer of hope.