Monday, June 4, 2007


1. A BLUSH WITH DEATH by India Ink. #2 in the Persia Vanderbilt “Bath and Body” cozy mysteries set on an island in Puget Sound. Persia and her aunt Florence have suddenly been having fierce competition from Bebe’s Botique, as the ruthless owner, Bebe Wilcox, sets out to close down Venus Envy and make a real name for herself in the scent and cosmetic business. She’ll stop at nothing, pulling all sorts of dirty tricks and starting false, malicious rumors about Persia and Florence’s shop and products. When someone sprays insecticide all over their organic rose gardens, Persia and Florence stage a falling out so that Persia can accept a job offer she’s received from Bebe to infiltrate their company and find evidence about the dirty dealings. When one of Bebe’s top sales associates ends up dead, they wonder about how sensible their plan is. Still, with Persia on the suspect list, they know they need some evidence to save their struggling company, so they follow through with the plan. This was an okay, light read…I didn’t like it as well as the first one and judging from the ending of this book, the next one will be taking a turn for the romancey side. Ugh! Some of what took place just seemed a bit too fantastical and unrealistic and there seemed to be more focus on clothes, makeup, etc. in this one—which I suppose is only natural given the subject matter! But I think I may just stop here in the series and save myself some future agony. LOL B-.

2. IN THE COMPANY OF CHEERFUL LADIES by Alexander McCall Smith. #6 in the very cozy “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series set in Botswana, Africa. Though this series is definitely not heavy on the ‘mystery’ I love it, and each visit to Precious Ramotswe’s world always leaves me feeling refreshed and hopeful. In this episode, there are issues with an intruder hiding under Mma Ramotswe’s bed, one of the apprentices at Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s garage quitting and getting involved with a rich older woman, Mma Ramotswe’s first husband Note, a cruel and abusive jazz musician who has been away in Johannesburg, making a return visit to Gabarone, and Mma Makutsi taking dancing lessons. Enjoyable as always and hard to put down once you start one. A.

3. A DARK NIGHT HIDDEN by Alys Clare. #6 in the Hawkenlye Abbey historical mystery series set in 1190’s Kent, England. Features Abbess Helewise of the aforementioned Abbey, as well as Sir Josse d’Acquin, knight and retainer to King Richard, who in this book has just been captured and imprisoned. When a woman who is near death is brought to the Abbey’s infirmary as a result of wounds inflicted during a flogging and branding, and the new, fanatical stand-in priest for the Abbey is found with his neck broken, Josse and Helewise both struggle with questions of loyalty to church, country and self, especially when it’s learned that the injured woman is a Cathar, a member of a heretical sect, who was punished by the aforementioned priest before he died. As usual, a great visit to 12th century England and a good look into some of the issues at hand during that time. A.

4. THE BRIGHT SILVER STAR by David Handler. #3 in the Berger and Mitry mystery series featuring pudgy Jewish movie reviewer Mitch Berger and his girlfriend, black and bodacious cop and artist Desiree Mitry. Des and Mitch have settled into their relationship and Des is getting used to being a small-town resident trooper rather than a homicide detective. But murder visits Dorset again when Tito, the famous movie star son-in-law of one of the town’s founding fathers, is found dead at the base of a waterfall in a nearby state park. At first thought to be a suicide, it’s obvious from the crime scene that things just don’t add up. Tito had plenty of enemies, including many jealous husbands and boyfriends, and even Mitch makes a passing visit to the suspect list because Tito publicly attacked him after Mitch panned his latest film. So who dunnit? I actually didn’t guess til the end—there were plenty of plausible red herrings, but it wasn’t until a second killing that I began to lean towards one particular character and was right. I have enjoyed each entry in the series more than the last one. I get a kick out of this quirky couple and like both of them, and secondary characters also seem to be well-fleshed. A.

5. WICKED: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST by Gregory Maguire. Fairy tale retelling, interesting reading and silly at times, but like the other Maguire book I’ve read before (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister) I found it to be a bit slow and draggy in spots, and my attention wandered. Definitely not as good as all the hype had me hoping for. Still, I found the speculation as to the origins of Glinda and Elphaba (and her dead sister and the ruby—actually silver—slippers) from L. Frank Baum’s tale quite interesting and amusing, as were the political machinations that got the Wizard where was. Maguire certainly has an imagination! I’d like to see the Broadway production of this, though—I bet that would be something! B-.

6. DEATH OF A GLUTTON by M.C. Beaton. #8 Hamish MacBeth cozy police series set in Lochdubh, Scotland. When the hotel run by Colonel Halburton-Smythe hosts a singles-looking-for-marriage group, things turn sour for Maria, the head of the group, when her mostly-silent partner Peta shows up. Peta is a glutton, eats huge amounts of food with loud slurping noises and puts everyone in the group off. When she turns up near the old gravel pit, dead with an apple stuffed in her mouth like a suckling pig, the problem becomes narrowing the suspect list down. Hamish, as usual, manages that feat and outshines his bosses who all want the ‘quick fix’ solution. Not quite as enjoyable as recent books in this series have been. B-

7. DREAMING OF THE BONES by Deborah Crombie. #5 Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Scotland Yard mystery. When Duncan receives a call from his ex-wife Victoria, whom he hasn’t seen in over ten years, he wonders what’s up. Vic is a Cambridge University professor and is also writing a biography of a semi-famous Cambridge poet, Lydia, who committed suicide five years previously. After examining Lydia’s papers, Vic begins to wonder if her death was indeed a suicide and has decided to contact Duncan to get his opinion and to see if he can gain access to the police reports from the time of her death. When Vic herself ends up dead a short time later, Duncan’s uneasy feeling about the earlier case are solidified and he vows to stop at nothing to find Vic’s killer, too—and Gemma steps in to assist. I can’t believe how much I’ve come to enjoy this series. Very rarely do I finish a book in a series and want to move immediately to the next one to see what happens next, but I do feel that way with this series. I generally hold myself back though—heaven forbid I make it through them all too quickly and then have to WAIT for the next one! LOL A+

8. THRONE OF JADE by Naomi Novik. #2 in the Temeraire fantasy series, which is sort of alternative history, too—set during the Napoleonic wars with the added feature of having dragons exist—as weapons of war! I have to say I didn’t like this book as well as the first in series—I suspect because I am not real big on naval battles/naval war history, and this book took place almost exclusively on a dragon transport ship as Laurence and Temeraire are being escorted back to China. Since Temeraire is a Chinese Celestial dragon, the Chinese Emperor has demanded his return to the native country and Laurence accompanies her, certain that he will be forcibly parted from his partner at voyage’s end. I still enjoyed the book—it’s rare that a book with dragons doesn’t enthrall me—and will definitely read the next in series…it’s just that the descriptions of the ship and all that sailor/naval stuff left me a bit cold. B+

9. VITAL LIES by Ellen Hart. Second in the Jane Lawless series. Jane is a restaurant owner and a lesbian, living in Minneapolis. When she’s invited to spend the Christmas holiday at an old Victorian inn owned by an old friend in a small town in the country, she’s looking forward to getting away from the hustle and bustle for a few days. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen! Someone wants the inn’s owner to sell up, and is playing malicious pranks to drive the customers away. When one of these leads to a death, Jane knows it’s gotten serious and does her best to find who is harassing her friend Leigh. I enjoyed this book more than the first one as the characters become more fleshed out, and I didn’t guess the bad guy either, though I did figure out some of the mini-mysteries that were embedded in the storyline. Excellent stuff, will be looking for more! A.

10. MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH by Ariana Franklin. I believe this is the first in a new series of historical mysteries featuring Adelia, a female physician trained at Salerno, where such things as autopsies and female doctors were allowed. She is sent by the King of Sicily to investigate the serial murders of several children in Cambridge UK in the year 1137 along with two companions—Simon, an expert investigator, and Mansur, a large Arab man who poses as the doctor (with Adelia as his assistant—which would have been acceptable in England at that time.) Henry II has also commissioned one of his tax collectors to find the murderer before the English people rise up and demand that all Jews be expelled from England, as they are presently being blamed for the deaths. King Henry needs the Jews’ income on his tax rolls and thus can’t let that happen. Adelia uses crude forensic techniques to discover clues and soon the suspect list is narrowed down. What she doesn’t count on is being attracted to one of her suspects—she, avowed to celibacy, sworn to be a doctor first and foremost above all. While the mystery itself wasn’t too hard to figure out, certain aspects of it were surprising. I really enjoyed this book, which is set my favorite time period, and I already feel like I know many of the characters—Adelia as well as the peripheral characters—and do hope it becomes a series! A.

11. CUT by Patricia McCormick. A slim little volume told from the POV of Callie, a teenage girl who’s been sent to Sea Pines, a mental health treatment facility because she cuts herself. At first, Callie doesn’t speak at all, to anyone, and the narrative describes flashbacks from her life ‘outside’ and descriptions of the facility and other guests there. It then moves into the part where she begins to ask for help and works things through with her psychiatrist and the staff. Having worked in an inpatient mental health unit, I have to say her observations are so spot-on that it’s easy to see that the author spent three years researching the book. Of course, I’ve never seen the inside of such a facility as a patient, so it would be interesting to know how it passes muster from THAT perspective. Still, this is an excellent book, although to say I “enjoyed” it would be not exactly accurate—it’s not a book meant for enjoying, really. A.

12. PEONY IN LOVE by Lisa See. ARC of a soon-to-be released book, a historical fiction book cum ghost story set just after the fall of the Ming Dynasty in China. It’s the story of Peony, a teenage girl who is obsessed by a book that was made into an opera called The Peony Pavilion that was popular at the time in China. The book/opera is the story of a star-crossed young couple where the young girl dies and visits her love in a dream and he eventually brings her back to life from her ghost world. Peony becomes lovesick when she meets a young man the night of her sixteenth birthday when her father hosts a production of the opera at their home. Although she is betrothed to another, she schemes ways to get out of that arranged marriage and marry her mystery poet. She stops eating and literally becomes deathly ill, thinking that if she dies, her beloved, like the character in the opera, will bring her back to life and they’ll live happily ever after. I really wasn’t sure I’d like this book—it’s not “my kind” of book. I love historical fiction, but I’m not much into chick lit, love stories/romance and all that, but this book was much more than that. It was an excellent STORY, and it had elements from many different genres—paranormal, historical, fantasy, women’s literature, etc. but most of all the author’s captivating writing style kept me reading til the end. I enjoyed the foray into the beliefs about death/ancestors/afterlife from that time period in China—something I’d not read much about before.The ending, by the way, I thought a bit sappy and I was disappointed with it, but overall I’d say it’s another great book for this author. I give it an A-/B+ depending on my mood.

13. GOURDFELLAS by Maggie Bruce. Second in the Lili Marino, freelance PR writer and gourd artist cozy mystery. Set in upstate NY, where Lili has moved to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. She’s beginning to settle in to her new life there when a woman is found murdered a short distance from her cottage—and worse yet, the killer has stashed the rifle in Lili’s attic—until it falls onto her kitchen floor. The murdered woman was outspoken about her feelings about the hotly debated casino and she had a powerful personality and the organization skills to put together a strong campaign. Did someone on the opposing side silence her? Or was this personal? I figured out most of the mystery rather early on—the clues were just way too obvious—and like many cozy mystery heroines, Lili seems to have a smorgasbord of men to choose from and can’t make up her mind. *SIGH* Still, I rather enjoyed this, though not as much as I’d anticipated I would. I do give it a solid B, though. We’ll see how the next one plays out.

14. BURNING GARBO by Robert Eversz. #3 in the Nina Zero series, featuring ex-con and celebrity photographer Nina Zero, who lives in LA. While Nina is perched on a hill overlooking a reclusive celebrity’s home hoping for a chance at a photo, a man blunders past her and when he sees here there, attempts to kill her. When she comes to, moments later, a fire is raging down the hillside and has quickly engulfed the movie star’s home in an inferno that no one could survive. Because of Nina’s record and her being at the scene, a desperate arson investigator attempts to pin the blame for the fire on Nina and she begins her own investigation to clear her name of not only arson, but murder. Are the charred remains found inside those of Angela Doubleday? Another complication—a large Rottweiler with no teeth who comes bounding out of the smoke and ashes attaches himself to Nina and she very reluctantly takes him home and feeds him. Something about the pooch tugs at Nina’s heartstrings like no sad human story could. I like Nina a lot and like these books, too. Nina is not always an easy person to like and her life is so full of crap that it’s hard to say I “enjoyed” the book, because I’d be a sadist if I did. LOL But I find the writing style hard to put down and do find Nina a very viable and believable character. A.

15. ANTIDOTE FOR AVARICE by Caroline Roe. #3 in the Isaac of Girona historical mystery series set in 1534 Spain and featuring a blind Jewish physician and his family. In this book, Isaac has been ordered to accompany the Bishop to Tarragona, where he is attending a Council of Bishops. Since Judith (Isaac’s wife) has a sister in Tarragona that she wishes to visit, she and Raquel (Isaac’s daughter and assistant) also accompany the retinue. Much adventure awaits them on the trip, including the discovery of a badly beaten and tortured young man along the roadside, news of a murdered Friar, and the party themselves being set upon by bandits. Steeped in political and religious intrigue and plots, I found that aspect of the book rather wearying at times and couldn’t quite remember who was whom and what position they took on this or that issue. Despite that, I did figure out the mystery ahead of time. But I enjoy Isaac and his family and household and this book was a good entry in the series. B.

16. WYRD SISTERS by Terry Pratchett. Sixth (in publication order) of the Discworld books, this introduces The Witches—Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick—who happen to be my favorite characters. I read this a few years ago, but it was wonderful to be back in Lancre getting to know the three gals and their distinct and unique personalities all over again. When the king of Lancre is murdered, the new king starts doing things that just goes against the grain of the land. Finally, Granny Weatherwax and has enough and decides to very subtly (ha!) go against the age old policy of witches not interfering in politics and help to put the rightful heir to the throne where he belongs. Trouble is, he’s only a toddler! What to do, what do to? Much hilarity ensues as well as plenty of semi-buried dry English humor. An all-time favorite of mine. A+

17. THE BLACK VIOLIN by Maxence Fermine. Novella set in 1797 in Paris and Venice set in the backdrop of Napoleon’s war. A young man, Johannes, a violinist who was a child prodigy, becomes lost in the shuffle as he matures and leads a life of despondency and mere existence. When he is drafted into Napoleon’s army and injured, he is sent to Venice to shuffle papers and is billeted with an older man, Erasmus, who Johannes later finds out is a violin maker. This book tells each of their stories and also the story of Erasmus’ black violin, his masterpiece. A short but interesting story with an ending that I could live with though I suspect many will not like! A.

DNF: YEAR ZERO by Jeff Long. Plague fiction/post-apocalyptic thriller that wasn’t so thrilling. Character development was awful, and he kept bouncing back and forth between several groups of characters and times, and you felt like you only were seeing cardboard cutouts of people. Things were either explained not enough or in painful detail. The dialogue read like something out of a B movie. While the premise was fascinating, the writing style and characters just didn’t capture my interest, and I gave it more than double my usual 50-page rule.

DNF: TOUCH THE DARK by Karen Chance. First paranormal romance featuring Cassie someone or other…I can’t remember her last name. She can foretell the future, anyway. This book sported atrocious grammar and word usage and poor proofreading that really dragged me out of the story. (Example just in the first few pages: wondering how someone would “fair” as opposed to the correct “fare” and a typo that named a trash-carrying barge as a “garbage scowl.” If it weren’t so annoying it would be funny! That said, the story itself was boring, so it wouldn’t have taken much to distract me from it. The writing style was very blah and I could not get “into” the storyline nor bring myself to care at all about the main character after about 45 pages so I gave it up. NEXT!