Monday, July 9, 2007


1.BLEEDING HEARTS by Susan Wittig Albert. #14 in the China Bayles ‘herbal’ mystery series set in the hill country of Texas in fictional Pecan Springs. This book takes on the issue of the importance of high school football in Texas, where coaches and players are gods and reign supreme and anyone standing in their way are bugs to be squashed. When an official at the local school receives an anonymous tip that the current Pecan Springs coach has a ‘thing’ for teenage girls, she asks China to investigate on the sly and see if she can come up with any concrete evidence before the Golden Boy is accused openly—which could get very messy. China begins looking into things, and also discovers some disturbing information about her own past via some letters discovered when her father’s secretary passes on. An enjoyable visit to Pecan Springs with China, Ruby, McQuaid and the gang. A.

2. DEATH OF A COLONIAL by Bruce Alexander. #6 in the Sir John Fielding historical mystery series set around the Bow Street Court in late 1700’s London. Sir John is commissioned to investigate a claimant to the estate of a very wealthy nobleman—an estate that was left without heir because the previous owner was sent to the gallows by Sir John himself. It’s suspected that the claimant is a false one—a long lost brother who has not been seen nor heard from, having disappeared to the American Colonies eight years previous. Sir John and his sixteen-year-old assistant, Jeremy (from whose POV the stories are told) and the rest of the family are off to Bath to interview the mother of the supposed claimant and then things start to get interesting. This was a typically interesting, enjoyable visit back in time and with well-loved and well-fleshed characters. A.

3. IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN by Kage Baker. First in the fantasy/time travel/sci-fi series featuring The Company, this book tells the story of Botanist Mendoza, one of the immortals sent back in time to England during the reign of Bloody Mary. A nobleman in Kent has a small garden where he collects rare plants—plants which will eventually become extinct, and which The Company wishes Mendoza to collect samples from and replicate so that sometime in the future they can be reintroduced to nature. This is what The Company does. What they do not count on is nineteen-year-old Mendoza falling in love with the assistant at the gardens. This is her first “assignment” and while she’s been assured that it’s fine to have sex with mortals, getting really involved with them can be messy. Which it assuredly turns out to be in this case. This book smashes genre classification—it’s wonderful historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, time travel with a little romance, too—and the romance was well-done, else I’d not have tolerated it. LOL What a totally bizarre and interesting premise for a series! Well-written, interesting characters, an appealing writing style and very difficult to put down. Will definitely be looking for more in the series. A+

4. SHIP OF DESTINY by Robin Hobb. Third and final entry in the Liveship Traders trilogy, this book was somewhat painful to read on many levels, because I knew I’d be saying goodbye to these well-loved characters. I did like the way it ended, though, so I can’t complain, even though the ride there was sometimes heart-breaking and tumultuous. I can’t begin to explain all the different relationships, family and political ties and mystical creatures in this book so I won’t even try. Suffice it to say, if you liked the first two books, you’re gonna love this one! A+

5.THE HANGING VALLEY by Peter Robinson. #4 in the Chief Inspector Alan Banks series set in the Yorkshire Dales. When a hiker discovers a partially decomposed body in an idyllic little valley near a small village, the first task is to identify it. Once that’s done, trying to find a motive for the murder becomes Banks’ main concern, though it’s not easy wresting clues from the closed-mouth villagers. When the identity is discovered, Banks believes the death is related to a previously unsolved murder case that took place six years previously, before he arrived in Eastvale, and he sets out to tie everything together, even going so far as a trip out of the country to Toronto, Canada, to follow his nose. As usual, he first looks in the wrong direction, though I figured out the bad guy fairly early myself. I enjoyed this entry in the series much more than the last one. A.

6. SWEET SILVER BLUES by Glen Cook. First in the Garrett Files series, which is a genre-bending series featuring a hard-boiled PI in a fantasy world with gnomes, elves, dwarves and other strange cross-breeds. Garrett is a human. He is awakened early one morning by a family of short people whose brother/son was an old army buddy of Garrett’s. They ask him to look into his death—well, not so much his death, which seems to have been an accident, but to find out why he left everything—which is a questionably obtained horde of silver they found hidden in the basement—to a woman they don’t know. The law stipulates that she be contacted to see if she is able to or wants to claim the estate. This woman just happens to be an old love of Garrett’s, so naturally he’s intrigued and sets out to look into it. The woman lives in a war-torn region and is apparently married to someone else and finding her proves most difficult and dangerous. Interesting premise, interesting characters, and mostly enjoyable though I found it a little heavy on the violence and beer swilling and a little light on character development and details. Given that this is the first one, written a number of years ago, I’m willing to continue reading at least another book or two and see if things get better. B-

7. DON’T LOOK BACK by Karin Fossum. First in the Inspector Seijer series set in Norway. Actually, it’s the second in series, but the first one hasn’t been translated to the English yet. The book opens with a scene featuring a six-year-old girl getting into a van with a strange man. You’re thinking—oh no! A serial killer after kids. But a few pages later, the girl is safely home, and Inspector Seijer is investigating the death of a fifteen-year-old in the same village, found peacefully dead on the shore of a small lake. Full of unexpected twists and turns, the only thing predictable about this Scandinavian police procedural is the taciturn nature of the main character. Do Scandinavians have any personality aside from stodgy, quiet and prone to melancholia? Don’t get me wrong—I actually enjoyed this book a lot! I just felt that somehow the real “feelings” of Konrad Seijer didn’t come through very well on the page. We were told how he was feeling, but it didn’t ‘show’ if you know what I mean. I did figure the mystery out ahead of the reveal, despite a couple of tricky red herrings. I’ve got the next in series by this author on my TBR and will definitely read more, but not when I’m looking for a light, lively read. B+

8. THE WHEELMAN by Duane Swierczynski. Hard-boiled mystery type book about a bank robbery and how Murphy’s Law gets its claws into the whole operation and not only rips it to shreds but gives it a few twists, too. Focuses primarily on the story of Lennon, the wheelman (getaway driver) for a bank job done in downtown Philadelphia. The heist was well-planned and the parties were professionals, so what went wrong? Obviously, someone sold them out. At least one someone, if not more. Fast-paced, violent, with just enough sick and twisted humor to appeal to those who enjoy sick and twisted (like me), the book was hard to put down. Several of the plot twists I didn’t see coming, but I did anticipate some of them. Will definitely be reading more by this author! A.

9. CHAINS OF FOLLY by Roberta Gellis. Fourth (and so far, last) of the Magdalene la Batarde historical mystery series set in medieval England and featuring a whorehouse mistress as the main character. When a whore is found dead and propped up in the Bishop of Winchester’s dining chair, the bishop sets Sir Bellamy to finding who wished to besmirch his character and why. Set with the backdrop of the recent ascendancy of King Stephen (the bishop’s brother) to the throne of England, political plots abound. Bell seeks Magdalene’s help and both of them remain somewhat tortured trying to sort out the nature of their relationship and their feelings for one another. But they manage to set this aside and work to solve the bishop’s mystery. Enjoyable trek back in time, though the mystery was quite easily solvable. B+

10. THE MAGICKAL LIFE: A WICCAN PRIESTESS SHARES HER SECRETS by Vivianne Crowley. An interesting book that touched on many different areas of magickal practice without going terribly in depth into any of them. I can’t say that I learned any big, deep ‘secrets’ or read much that I hadn’t read or heard elsewhere before, but it is a good reference book with some simple rituals outlined, recipes for various incenses and oils, correspondences, etc. Also gave much practical advice for living. I liked the author’s writing style and her practical approach to life and magick. This one will stay on my reference shelf. A.

11. THE WYNDHAM CASE by Jill Paton Walsh. First in a British mystery series featuring Imogen Quy, the college nurse for St. Agatha’s college at Cambridge. This was a new-to-me author, and despite finding the main character a bit stodgy and the writing style a bit formal and stuffy, I actually devoured this book in one evening. Well-plotted, wonderful descriptions, and over the course of the book I did warm up to the main character eventually. When one of the students is found dead inside the locked Wyndham Library at the college, speculation begins as to whether he was murdered or it was an accident. Aside from his head injury, which appears to have happened in a fall, there was no initial evidence of foul play. But how did he get into the library in the first place? The students are being decidedly uncooperative with the police, and Imogen’s friend, DS Mike Parsons, asks her to see if she can influence them to be more forthcoming with information. I actually did figure the mystery out fairly early, but I wasn’t sure enough of my deduction and wanted to read to the end to find out. Definitely want to read more! A.

12. THE NIGHTINGALE GALLERY by Paul Harding. First of the Brother Athelstan medieval mysteries. Athelstan is a Dominican friar set to assist Sir John, the corpulent coroner of London; this is more or less a punishment for him due to a disgrace from his past. Regardless of what name he writes under, or what series I’ve tried, I have been finding P.C. Doherty/Paul Harding’s historical mysteries a bit slow-going. While I like the premise for his characters, I find them not very well developed. But think it’s something about his writing style that puts me off more than anything. I can’t even say what it is—but it’s—well, I guess it’s boring, because I find my mind wandering when I try to read his books. They’re always slim little volumes and yet it takes me ages to get through them because I’m forever having to re-read parts. This one was no exception. I do like the grittiness of his books, the realistic descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of medieval London, but I do believe I’m going to set anything by Mr. Doherty/Harding aside for the time being as this has been a universal reaction to his books regardless of what series it’s in, and this is the fourth series of his that I’ve tried. I did finish this, but it took awhile and when I was done, I felt like my time could have been better spent elsewhere. C.

13. AGATHA RAISIN AND THE DAY THE FLOODS CAME by M.C. Beaton. Twelfth in the series set in the village of Carsely in the Cotswolds and featuring amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin. In this book, Agatha takes an extended holiday to Robinson Crusoe Island and begins to work through her disappointment over her failed marriage. When she returns to the village, rain and flooding await, and when Agatha sees the body of a young girl she’d encountered at her beauty parlor a few days previously floating down the bloated river, she has a new mystery to occupy her time. As usual, she runs afoul of the police, who admonish her to leave the detecting to the professionals. A new neighbor moves into James’ old cottage next door, and he’s a detective fiction writer. Agatha staunchly makes up her mind to be totally uninterested romantically, but accepts his friendly offer to help her investigate. A typical enjoyable light read in this series, and I did not guess the killer until close to the end which was a nice surprise. A-.

14. EXODUS FROM OBESITY by Paula F. Peck. Book detailing the author’s journey before and after gastric bypass surgery with tips and hints for each stage of the journey from pre-op to years post-op. I was not very impressed with the book, to be honest. The author’s writing style is rather boring, and much of the advice in it is very basic and in some cases even condescending. I also felt that some of it was not very good advice, based on what I’ve learned from years of my own research and experience. She makes a lot of assumptions that everyone who is morbidly obese and/or has the surgery does so for similar reasons and has the same problems. I guess I just could not relate to much of her own personal story and felt that it was too simplistic to be very beneficial. Perhaps if I had read it pre-op instead of eight months after my own surgery I might have felt differently, but for someone who’s already gone through most of the process, much of the advice and observations just didn’t ring true. C.

15. THE GOOD FAIRIES OF NEW YORK by Martin Millar. Fantasy tale about fairies—beginning with two exiled Scottish fairies, Heather and Morag—who make their way to New York. Eventually the book encompasses the stories of several fairy clans both across the pond and in NY itself, with bits on the Isle of Skye to Cornwall to Ireland and different neighborhoods of New York. Some interesting humans pepper the story as well—Kerry, a young hippie-ish woman with severe Crohn’s disease and a colostomy whom Morag befriends; Dinnie, an overweight, bigoted layabout whom Heather takes on as an improvement project since, like herself, he is a MacKintosh; and Magenta, a thirty-something mentally ill bag lady who has delusions that she is the captain of a mighty Greek army. Witty, funny and yet poignant with interesting characters and an interesting ‘world,’ I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It’s written in an easy reading style and sometimes the humor sneaks up on you and makes you laugh out loud. A.

16. THE TROUBLE WITH WITCHES by Shirley Damsgaard. Third in the Ophelia and Abby series featuring Ophelia, a small-town librarian and witch/psychic and her grandmother, Abby, also a witch. This book moves from their home in Iowa to a secluded lake in Minnesota where O & A have gone to investigate the disappearance of the daughter of a friend of reporter Rick Delaney at his request. She was last known to be associated with a group of people doing psychic investigations and Abby’s intuition tells her that she and Ophelia need to be there. Staying in a cabin on the lake where PSI, the group involved, lives, Abby and Ophelia begin to pick up some strange vibes from the moment they arrive, as well as a host of interesting characters. I did pinpoint the bad guy very early on (maybe I’m psychic? LOL) but still enjoyed the story and have enjoyed getting to know the recurring characters better with each book. The next one definitely looks interesting, which you’ll understand when you get to the ending of this one—bit of a surprise, that! A.

17. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling. Seventh and final HP book, ended the series well, I thought. Not much to be said without giving away spoilers, so I won’t say anything except well done! A+.

18. THE WENCH IS DEAD by Colin Dexter. Eighth in the Chief Inspector Morse series set in Oxford, UK. This one has Morse laid up in hospital with a bleeding ulcer as he reads a mystery given to him by the wife of a ward-mate who has died. Not having any real mysteries to ponder, Morse attempts to solve the mystery in the book, a hundred and twenty year old case centering around the Oxford canal, certain that the judge and jury acted too hastily and wrongly in convicting several members of a crew on a river boat of murdering one of their female passengers. Enjoyable read, as are all the Morse books; liking them just as much this time around as I make my way through a re-read of the series. A.

19. THE BROTHERS OF GLASTONBURY by Kate Sedley. #7 in the Roger the Chapman medieval mystery series, this one set in and around Glastonbury. Roger is asked by the Duke of Clarence to escort a young girl—the daughter of one of his knights—to the home of her betrothed in Glastonbury when her fiancĂ©e doesn’t show up to escort her as planned. Upon arriving at the family home, it’s discovered that the betrothed, Peter Gildersleeve, has disappeared—vanished, quite literally, into thin air. With the household in an uproar, Roger has one of his dreams/visions that entice him into staying and trying to solve the mystery of Peter’s disappearance. When his brother Mark also vanishes a few days later, Roger steps his efforts into high gear and of course later solves the case. One of my very favorite series, though the mysteries are usually fairly easy to figure out. The period detail and Roger’s “voice” make this series special for me. A.

20. DEATH ON WASHINGTON SQUARE by Victoria Thompson. #4 in the “gaslight” mystery series set in early 1900’s New York and featuring Sarah Brandt, a young widow and midwife. In this book, Sarah’s friend and neighbor Mrs. Ellsworth’s son Nelson is accused of murdering a young woman. Sarah and Detective Sergeant Malloy work to prove that he didn’t, and as they investigate, bits of interesting information about the woman come to light. As with many cozier mysteries, the actual mystery isn’t too hard to figure out here; the strength of the series is in the characters and the period descriptions. Enjoyable, light read as the others have been. A.



DEATH BY MISADVENTURE by Kerry Greenwood (yawn)

MOO by Jane Smiley (yawn)

CANDLEMASS ROAD by George MacDonald Fraser (what? yawn)

PATTERNMASTER by Octavia Butler (again, yawn)