1. MURDER GETS A LIFE by Anne George. #5 in the “Southern Sisters” mystery series set in Birmingham, AL. Enjoyable read as always—Sister discovers she has a new daughter-in-law, a Barbie doll lookalike who married her son Ray, a dive boat owner and captain in Bora Bora. When a man no one claims to know is stabbed in the chest in their trailer with Sunshine’s grandma’s hog-butchering knife and Sunshine disappears, Sister and Mouse fear the worst and start poking around looking for clues, and of course end up in a heap o’ trouble as usual. I love this author’s voice and have people who remind me exactly of Sister and Mouse that I know. Always a pleasant visit. A.
2. FROZEN by Richard Burke. Mystery/thriller about a man and his best friend, Verity, with whom he’s been in love (unrequited) for years. The story goes back and forth from their childhood and young adulthood to the present time where Verity has fallen from a cliff and crushed her skull—an apparent attempted suicide—and is now in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery, according to the medical staff. Harry can’t believe that Verity would kill herself and is determined to root out the truth. While the story is a compelling one, I figured out the solution to the mystery very early on—although that seems to happen about 90% of the time these days so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I ultimately found Harry’s character to be quite depressing. I kept wanting to slap him upside the head; I guess I just found it hard to empathize with anyone whose self-esteem is low enough to put up with the stuff that Harry put up with over the years from his so-called ‘friends.’ The writing style was smooth and easy to read, and the author’s way of putting you right in the midst of the scene with vivid descriptions really captured and kept my attention—I now want to find that hornbeam tree and live in a treehouse there! I’ll definitely read more from this author. B+
3. DEATH OF RILEY by Rhys Bowen. #2 in the Molly Murphy historical series set in early 1900’s New York and featuring a recent Irish immigrant to the city. Molly can’t go back to Ireland because of a crime committed there, and she strives now to be a private investigator in her new country, which was an unheard of occupation for a woman at the time. A week after she finally convinces Paddy Riley to hire her as an assistant—more like cleaning woman and errand runner, really—he is murdered in his office and Molly surprises the killer. She makes up her mind to avenge Paddy’s death and find his murderer, and it’s not long before she’s embroiled with a whole host of people who may have had motive to wish him silent and learning her new profession the hard way—by making a lot of mistakes! Interesting characters and an easy-reading writing style made this book difficult to put down. A-
4. THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3 by Colin Dexter. #7 Inspector Morse mystery. Morse and Lewis must figure out first, who the dead man in Annexe 3 at the Haworth Hotel is, and then why he was killed and of course by whom. Registered as Mr. & Mrs. Ballard at the hotel for their New Year’s bash, the dead man is dressed up as a Rastafarian, complete with dreadlocks and black stage paint, and his wife who has now disappeared, was dressed in a yashmak so no one got a look at her face. As the clues begin to pile up and bits of the mystery begin to unravel, Morse and Lewis take several detours until they head down the right path to solving the crime. Enjoyable as always! A.
5. MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs. #1 Mercy Thompson paranormal mystery. Mercy is an auto mechanic running her own repair shop for foreign cars in Richland, WA. She’s also a ‘walker’ (short for ‘skinwalker’) who can shapeshift into a coyote, and as far as she knows, she’s the only one of her kind in the area. She exists in a world where werewolves, vampires, fae and humans more or less co-exist, though not easily, and not totally openly. Not yet, anyway. When a new werewolf shows up at her garage looking lost and hungry and asking for work, Mercy (short for Mercedes) agrees and decides to keep an eye on “Mac,” since she knows that he is not one of the local pack—her neighbor Adam is the local Alpha and she knows their scent. Little does she know that this frightened young man/werewolf will lead her into a dangerous intrigue involving pack business, deadly politics, and a trip to Montana to the town where she was raised. Excellent first book in series with a pleasant, likable (yet not sappy) main character, an interesting premise for the paranormal world, and a very easy-reading writing style. Got the next one lined up already! A.
6. TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein. #1 John Ceepak police procedural set in a resort town in New Jersey. Although the books are listed as “Ceepak” series, the story is actually told from the POV of Ceepak’s young partner, Danny Boyle. Ceepak is a veteran of Iraqi Freedom, where he was an MP and given his first civilian cop job by his old military friend the chief of police. He doesn’t know the area—but Danny, who grew up in the town, does. Ceepak is a by-the-book kind of guy, or as Danny says, “by The Code.” Squeaky clean, obsessed with forensic detail and meticulously thorough, Ceepak seems almost innocent in some ways. One summer day, Ceepak and Danny start the day with their breakfast interrupted by a screaming, blood-covered twelve-year-old girl who manages to shriek out that her father was shot on the Tilt-a-Whirl over at the seaside park by a crazy looking man. While I did figure this mystery out almost from the get-go, it didn’t matter much—the ride was worth it! Great story, excellent, easy-going writing style and interesting characters that I feel like I’m already getting to know. A+
7. AGATHA RAISIN AND THE LOVE FROM HELL by M.C. Beaton. #11 in this cozy British “village” mystery featuring the curmudgeonly, incorrigible Agatha Raisin. In this book, Agatha and her beloved James settle down to married life, but they’re finding it not so smooth going after they return from their honeymoon. When James forbids Agatha to take the temporary PR job she’s accepted promoting a new line of boots for a local company, it’s the last straw and she moves back full-time to her cottage next door and throws herself into her job. Meanwhile, James is seen out and about with Melissa Shepperd, a woman that he had ‘relations’ with before marrying Agatha. When Melissa turns up dead and James goes missing, he becomes the first suspect in her death. When days and then weeks go by with no word from James, Agatha and her friend Sir Charles set out to find the killer. Enjoyable, typical book in the series, a light and predictable read. A-
8. A MASTERLY MURDER by Susanna Gregory. #6 in the Matthew Bartholomew medieval mystery series set in Cambridge, UK. The Master of Michaelhouse, Kenyngham, decides to resign and throws the entire College into an uproar. When a very unpleasant and control-mad Runham is made Master, the college is steeped in depression. He sacks the servants, doesn’t pay bills to the grocers, drives away several Fellows, refuses to pay for wood to heat the halls and then suddenly comes up with money to do a major building project. Where is the money coming from? And why is Runham trying to get rid of all the Michaelhouse fellows? It’s no wonder he ends up dead—the problem is finding someone who does NOT have a motive! Matthew and Brother Michael set out to find not only Runham’s killer, but also the murderer of three (or is it four?) other dead fellows from other colleges. One killer? Or more? Enjoyable medieval jaunt as usual, though the streets and hallowed halls of post-plague Cambridge. A.
9. DESERT WIVES by Betty Webb. #2 Lena Jones mystery set in Arizona, this one featuring a plot revolving around polygamist conclaves in Utah. Lena is hired by a woman to rescue her 13-year-old daughter, who is to be married off to a 68-year-old man in one such conclave. When she stumbles upon the murdered body of the man in question (who also happens to be the group’s leader) Lena knows they’re headed for trouble—and sure enough, the girl’s mother is arrested for the murder. This is a book about a real problem that almost made me physically sick to read. While polygamy has officially been banned and outlawed, it still takes place and scores of women and girls lead lives of virtual slavery. The mystery was almost secondary for me to the educational aspects of the book—Ms. Webb apparently researched this fairly extensively, so while it IS fiction, it’s based on reality. I strongly urge everyone to read this—it’s a real eye-opener. And gut-wrencher. A.
10. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory. Historical fiction centering around and told from the POV of Mary Boleyn, younger sister of Queen Anne Boleyn, and King Henry’s mistress before he even looked at Anne. I enjoyed this book for the most part, but I have to say that the endless court intrigues and continual backstabbing and plotting got a little old after awhile. The story is told from the time Mary is just a 13-year-old bride to the time of Queen Anne’s beheading, so that’s a lot of plotting! LOL I imagine that’s how it was, or similar to it, but it’s not a life I would have enjoyed being a part of very much, rich and opulent surroundings or no. I would’ve been happier with more about Mary’s quiet life in the country. Still, a good read with a lot of interesting details and ideas about ‘how it might have been.’ A-.
11. CAT’S EYE by Margaret Atwood. Told from the POV of a middle-aged Canadian painter as she waffles back and forth in time, digging up memories from her childhood and young adulthood in Toronto to ‘now,’ when she has returned to the city for a showing of her paintings at a local gallery. A poignant and sometimes painful book about childhood and about life; about living and loving and loss, and how it’s possible indeed to miss what never was. Atwood has a magical way with words and despite the childhood part of the book being set in post-WWII Canada, I could easily relate to much of what she described. Excellent read, highly recommended. A+
12. THE MAN WHO SMILED by Henning Mankell. #5 in series order of the Swedish police detective series featuring Kurt Wallander and his cronies at the Ystad police department. The book opens with Wallander having been on medical leave from the police force for many months, having gone through a serious depression after shooting a man in the previous book. He’s gone on some drunken toots and is resting at a beach resort in Denmark when he’s approached by a lawyer friend who wants him to investigate his elderly father’s death. It was a road accident and was ruled as such but the son doesn’t believe it. Wallander has already decided to retire permanently when the son ends up murdered—shot to death in his office late at night. It’s enough to spur Kurt back into action and it’s not long before he’s back in old form. I didn’t care for this book as much as I have some of the others in series—it seems to me that Wallander got away with an awful lot of sloppy police work in this one. Still, it was hard to put down and I definitely will read more in the series. B+.
13. PRAIRIE GOTHIC by J.M. Hayes. #2 in the Mad Dog & Englishman police mystery series set in small-town Kansas. Sheriff English has two dead bodies to deal with at the Sunshine Rest Home one cold winter morning—the first, a resident of the home who was dying of cancer, is missing. The second is a recently-born dead infant being toted around by one of the Alzheimer’s patients in place of her usual “baby doll.” Where did she get it, and to whom does it belong? Add the worst blizzard in a decade to the mix, and now the Sheriff has REAL problems! This book almost reads like a Guy Ritchie movie—a series of vignettes with different characters, quite violent yet funny as hell, all unknowingly connected, and all hurtling towards each other for one big messy climactic scene. I feel that Hayes is a much-overlooked author, and I enjoyed this book even more than I did the first one…the whole thing was quite fantastical…and yet, you can see it happening because you know people as stupid as some of the baddies. It won’t be too long til I head on back to Buffalo Springs for another visit. The only thing I find annoying about this series of books is the total lack of chapters…sections are delineated with spaces between paragraphs or little icons…but that’s minor. A+.
DNF: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White. Fantasy Arthurian classic that I'd been looking forward to reading. Unfortunately, I could not get interested in it, though I did get to about page 150 before I gave up. I tried for a week to get into it, but found myself always looking for something else to read, or stopping after reading a chapter at a time, relieved to break from it. For me, these are all signs that, for whatever reason, a book is just not going to do “do” it for me, so classic or not, I finally gave up and put it aside. I kept waiting for the ‘magic’ to happen and it just never did.
DNF: GHOSTS IN THE SNOW by Tamara Siler Jones. This is a sort of historical fantasy cum forensic paranormal mystery, but unfortunately it’s also got a lot of “romancey” elements to it which caused me to DNF it. It has a very interesting premise (an investigator in a medieval-like castle setting who can see ghosts and who uses primitive forensic techniques to solve crimes) but the (IMO anyway) badly done romance bits (rapidly beating hearts, blushes, stirring groins, etc) drove me away.