Sunday, March 4, 2007

March 2007 Reading

1. A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R.R. Martin. #4 in the Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series. I had pre-ordered this book when it became available because this is without a doubt one of my very favorite fantasy series. Then I heard a lot of fans saying it wasn’t as good as the others because Martin “split” the book—this one and the next were originally intended to be one book but it was too cumbersome. So this book only deals with about half the characters. Some are ignored completely and others only briefly mentioned. I still loved the book, though I can’t wait to see what the other characters have been up to, and I’m mightily sick of Cersei Lannister! I love Martin’s writing style and his “world” and will likely pre-order A Dance With Dragons when it comes out too, but I don’t think I’ll be waiting as long to read it! A.

2. THE TIDAL POOLE by Karen Harper. #2 in the Elizabeth I historical mystery series, this one set during the days immediately after Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen of England. A young woman acquainted with some of Elizabeth’s friends is found murdered, with the deed apparently occurring during Her Majesty’s coronation parade. When beseeched to protect her foster son, who is being accused of the crime by Elizabeth’s cousin the Duchess of Suffolk, the queen gathers together her “privy council” and sets out to investigate the crime. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I admit that the idea of the Queen of England dressed in male servant’s clothes and sneaking around, breaking and entering with her cohorts in the dead of night is a bit silly. The author certainly has a vivid imagination—and as it’s fiction, I reckon she’s allowed. A.

3. S IS FOR SILENCE by Sue Grafton. #19 in the Kinsey Millhone mystery series set in 1980’s California. I keep waiting to get tired of this series, but so far it just hasn’t happened. There were a few books that were better than others, but this one I enjoyed as much as any of them. Kinsey is hired by a friend of a friend to attempt to locate her mother, who left without a trace when she was seven years old. Much speculation ensued in the small town where they lives—was Violet Sullivan murdered by her violent husband? Had she run away with a lover, never looking back even once at Daisy, her daughter and only child? Daisy needs some closure and hopes Kinsey can provide that. Kinsey doesn’t hold much hope in uncovering much in a 34-year-old case, but once she begins to interview people and ask questions, she finds all four tires slashed on her car and takes that as a hopeful sign that someone has something to hide. A.

4. KNIGHT LIFE by Peter David. Fantasy parody of the Arthurian myths/books in which King Arthur appears in modern-day New York in the guise of one Arthur Penn, and decides to run for mayor of the city. With his refreshing and bold new ideas, he quickly gains notoriety with the help (?) of Merlin, now in the form of an eight-year-old boy, Gwen DeVere, his secretary, and Percy Vale, his accountant as well as a host of other familiar characters. I thought the humor was a bit forced at times, but it was quite funny in other places. Full of puns and wordplay, but not as skillfully written as the author’s later fantasy parodies featuring Sir Apropos of Nothing, which I REALLY enjoyed. This one was good, but not great. B.

5. THE SNACK THIEF by Andrea Camilleri. #3 in the Salvo Montalbano Italian police procedural series. Once again Salvo manages to be offensive to almost everyone while investigating the murder of an elderly man in an elevator. When he learns it is (at least peripherally) related to an international case in which a man was shot on a fishing boat, he’s like a pit bull that won’t let go as he manipulates the stupid secret service and his superiors into dropping the answers he needs into his lap. Also with some serious personal conflicts and things to go through, Salvo spends time soul searching and consuming various gustatory delights along the way as well. Enjoyable as always—don’t know how such an ornery cuss manages to be so likable, but like him I do! A.

6. QUARANTINE by Jim Crace. This is one man’s version of Jesus’ forty days and forty nights (or his ‘quarantine’) in the desert. I expected to DNF this book and cull it from my TBR pile before I started it, but it was actually very interesting and difficult to put down. It’s told from not only the perspective of Jesus, but also at different times from the POV of several other interesting characters who are doing their own version of ‘quarantine’ in nearby caves. I’m not a Christian and don’t believe in “Jesus as the son of God” thing but I still found the whole story very interesting. Looking for more of Crace's work. A-.

7. A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION by David Liss. #2 in the Benjamin Weaver historical mystery series set in 1720’s London. Weaver is a Jewish thief-taker who is wrongly convicted of a murder and hauled off to Newgate prison. With the help of some unknown benefactor, he makes his escape and sets out to prove his innocence. What seems a simple plot to get him off the street ends up being a complicated political machination to the point where nothing is what it seems and there are multiple and varied possible explanations for every action. I really enjoyed this book. I liked the first in the series too, but found it sloggy and slow-going at times. This one moved at a much faster pace and held my interest all the way through. Looking forward to the next Weaver book in 2008 and will definitely be moving Liss’s other non-series books up the TBR stacks. A.

8. SHOOTING AT LOONS by Margaret Maron. #3 in the Judge Deborah Knott series, this one taking place on the Crystal Shore of North Carolina where Deborah has gone to sit in for a judge in another county while she spends time at her cousins’ seaside island cottage. Before she knows what’s going on, Judge Knott is standing over the dead body of a neighbor who’s been shot. Though determined not to get embroiled in the investigation, it isn’t long before Deborah is hearing far too much local gossip and finds her interest piqued. When she discovers a *second* body a few days later and uncovers some other illegal goings-on, she begins to wonder what information is connected to what, and which are red herrings. Enjoyable, light read though all the southern dialogue with the “ya’lling” and “Daddying” gets old after a bit. I still like this series, though! A-.

9. MOURN NOT YOUR DEAD by Deborah Crombie. #4 in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Scotland Yard police procedural. A commander in the police force who lives in a remote village is found with his head bashed in in his kitchen. Was the motive personal, professional, or purely a random act of violence brought about as part of an attempted burglary? Duncan and Gemma, both feeling decidedly awkward after their tumble in the sack at the end of the last book, set out to find the answers, and find much more than they’d bargained for. I really enjoy this series and marvel that I just discovered it last year. I did guess accurately at ‘whodunit’ very early in the game and even got the ‘whydunit’ right, but of course had no proof til closer to the end. But it really didn’t spoil the book for me at all and I don’t think the next in series will be on my TBR stacks for too long! Seems to get better with each book in the series. A+

10. THE BONE DOLL’S TWIN by Lynn Flewelling. #1 in the Tamir Trilogy fantasy series. Wow! What a gripping story! Young Tobin is a Prince of Skalar, a haunted and strange prince. Kept isolated by his father at their country keep, Tobin and their household are ‘haunted’ by a demon, who is actually Tobin’s twin who died at birth. His mother has been mad and unhinged since the night of his birth and his father often absent away fighting one war or another for his brother-in-law the King, so Tobin’s only friends are the household servants and Nari, his nurse. A strange and somewhat gruesome tale at times, the whole storyline fascinated me and the author’s writing style made the book VERY difficult to put down. It certainly read much ‘quicker’ than its 500+ pages would have you think. A+

11. GREYWALKER by Kat Richardson. First in the Greywalker paranormal mystery series featuring P.I. Harper Blaine, a young woman in Seattle who died briefly during a scuffle with an unruly client and woke up a new person. Or rather, one who can go into the Grey, that murky area between life and death where ghosts, vampires, and all manner of strange beings exist. Harper thinks at first that she’s having some lingering effects from her head injury or hallucinating, but when an open-minded doctor gives her the business card of a couple who deal in the paranormal, she seeks them out and begins to learn about her new ability—or is it a curse? Very intriguing storyline coupled with a comfortable, easy-to-read writing style made this book hard to put down. I like Harper, but I don’t feel like I really *know* her very well yet and am looking forward to seeing her character grow as the series progresses. The only detrimental thing I can say is that the frequently repeated descriptions of the foggy, swirling mists and Harper’s dizziness, nausea, pain, racing heart, etc. as she went ‘into’ the Grey got to be…well, repetitive, after awhile. Will definitely be reading more in this series, though—well done! A-

12. EVERYDAY MAGIC: SPELLS AND RITUALS FOR MODERN LIVING by Dorothy Morrison. I’ve actually been working my way through this one for a couple of months and finally finished it. I did find a few useful potions and herbal combinations and scribbled a few things into my journal, but parts of this book struck me as just sort of silly, especially some of the incantations where the author forced the lines to rhyme. I got the giggles a few times reading those! Mostly I write my own spells anyway for the little bit of ritual/spellwork I do and it’s more the “spirit” of the thing that counts, IMO, not making things rhyme! I’m keeping this on my bookshelf, but it probably won’t be one of those books I refer to regularly. B-

13. THE GUILT OF INNOCENTS by Candace Robb. Most recent (#9) in the Owen Archer historical mystery series set in 1300’s York, UK. When tensions mount between bargemen and students, accusations begin to fly when a barge man named Drogo is murdered. First the students are blamed, as it was known that Drogo took the scrip of a student, so it’s felt they were bent on revenge. Then a priest who runs a grammar school near the Abbey falls under suspicion. Owen is charged by the Archbishop to get to the bottom of the murder, which sends him off to the country in search of clues as winter approaches and his wife Lucie’s delivery date draws near. A second murder complicates the plot, but as Owen and his helpers investigate, it’s clear that the two are tied together. I just love this series, although I can’t really say it’s for the strong plotlines. The mystery was fairly obvious rather early on. I kept waiting for the author to spring a surprise on me, but it didn’t happen. The characters, the author’s writing style and the immersion into the time period are what keep me coming back to this series. This one did not disappoint. A.

14. EVAN’S GATE by Rhys Bowen. #8 in the Evan Evans cozy police procedural series set in the fictional Welsh town of Llanfair. Evan is now a plainclothes Detective Constable just out of training, and his first case involves a missing little girl. The child and her mother are visitors to the area and it is feared that she was abducted by her Russian father, who has been estranged from the mother. But when Evan is digging up the sewer and water lines at the country cottage he’s bought and finds the skeleton of a child, speculation runs rampant about the possibility of a serial killer. When it’s determined that the skeleton is probably that of a young girl that Evan played with as a child 25 years previous, and that her whole family is in the area for a relative’s 80th birthday party, Evan remembers that his old playmate looked very much like the missing girl and wonders if one of the family members is the culprit in both cases. Love this series also—I figured out the mystery way ahead on this one too, but enjoy the setting and the characters so much that it doesn’t really matter. Excellent as always, in fact, even better. A+

15. SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI by Naomi Hirahara. #1 Mas Arai series, featuring an older Japanese-American gardener in Southern California who is a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Mas’s past has always haunted him. He lives in a run-down old house, alone, his wife having died of stomach cancer a few years previously and his lone daughter living in New York. Mas mows lawns, trims hedges, plays cards and loves his old 1956 Ford pickup. When strangers come to town asking about Joji Haneda, an old friend of Mas’s from Hiroshima, he knows that the past is coming back to take vengeance. This will be a summer of bachi (karma) for him. When the grandson of an old friend shows up asking questions and then is arrested for murder, Mas does his best to free the young man though he wants to take the path he has always taken—the path of non-involvement. Very unique writing, dialogue…you felt immersed in the culture and yet at the same time struggled to understand just what was happening and why certain things were so relevant. I really liked this book and will be looking for the next in series. A.

16. MURDER…NOW AND THEN by Jill McGown. #6 Lloyd/Hill British police procedural mystery. I had a heck of a time getting into this book and very nearly didn’t finish it. I couldn’t believe it, as I’ve absolutely loved all the previous ones in the series, but this one felt terribly slow, draggy, and kept bopping back and forth between present time and 15 years previously—looking at crimes and murder cases during both time frames, obviously—and how the one from the past affected the present-day situation. It just was NOT interesting to me—aside from Lloyd and Hill, I couldn’t give a hill of beans about any of the main characters or their stupid lives, and wished they’d all be killed off! LOL I admit to skimming the last quarter of this book just to get it over with…I have not given a book this low of a grade in ages—I think it may be partially that I marked down just because I expected the usual stellar performance from McGown and didn’t get it! C-.

17. JAR CITY by Arnaldur Indridason. Icelandic police procedural featuring detective named Erlandur—that’s his first name, since most Icelanders go only by their first names, even in the phone book, apparently! An elderly man is found bludgeoned to death in his basement flat and that begins to unravel a whole parcel of strange facts that set Erlandur off on several different tangents. Apparently his detective’s nose is accurate though because his instincts prove right. A sad, heartbreaking tale set in a very interesting backdrop of Iceland, which I know next to nothing about before reading this book. Excellently written, difficult to put down, with a new character to love. I felt that Ernaldur was very well fleshed out, but I hope the author plumps up his co-workers and his family members more next time around. Looking for the next one! A.

18. THE WHITE MARE by Jules Watson. First in the Dalriada Trilogy, an epic historical saga that begins in the first century A.D. Scotland. This is the story of Rhiann, the Ban Cré of the Epiidi tribe, who dwell in the highlands of Alba, as Scotland was referred to then. It is also the story of Eremon, a Prince of Eire (Ireland) who washed up on the shores of Alba with a small band of his men after a battle with his own uncle for the right to the throne. Coincidentally, they arrive during the funeral of the Epiidi King, who is Rhiann’s uncle. Since the Epiidi are without an heir, it is now Rhiann’s job as last female survivor with royal blood to produce one. After Eremon spends some time with the Epiidi, the scheming leader of their Druid council names Eremon as their war chief and arranges a marriage between him and Rhiann and the saga begins. I really enjoyed the book despite it having definite “romantic” plot twists at times. It is set during the time of the Roman invasion of Scotland and apparently the next two books in the trilogy span a couple of centuries, so I’m looking forward to those as well. Watson knows how to tell a story, that’s for certain, and this one is staying on my Keeper shelf. A.

DNF: THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS by Jasper Fforde. #3 in the Thursday Next series, I tried several times to read this book and finally gave up. I did enjoy the others in the series but in small doses. The humor is very “busy” and intense and a little goes a long way. Since I’d already read the fourth in this series, I think that may have partly spoiled this book for me since I knew what eventually happened. But mostly, it just became too annoying.
DNF: THE ANTIPOPE by Robert Rankin. First in the Brentford Trilogy (which has something like 9 books in it now), I was very disappointed in this book. I’ve read some of Rankin’s newer books and really enjoyed them—found them howlingly funny, in fact. Reading this book was like dragging a dead body through sludge. It dragged and dragged, the humor was forced—in spite of that, I gave it about 75 pages and it just didn’t get better. Obviously Mr. Rankin has learned some things over the years since his more recent work is much, much better.