1. DEATH OF A TRAVELLING MAN by M.C. Beaton. #9 in the Hamish MacBeth cozy Scottish police procedural series in which a pair of “travelers” show up in an old converted bus in Lochdubh and Hamish immediately senses something amiss. Ruggedly handsome Sean and his scrawny girlfriend Cheryl seem to have brought nothing but ill will with them, though there’s nothing specific that Hamish can arrest them for, nor even hassle them about. None of the villagers will have anything bad to say about the pair—until Sean ends up with his head bashed in in the bus. And Hamish has enough on his plate, as he’s been promoted to Sergeant and how has a PC, Willie, who stays at the police station with him. Willie is a cleaning fanatic and is driving Hamish mad! Enjoyable read and as always a visit with Hamish is sure to put a smile on my face. A.
2. DEATH OF A MUSKATEER by Sarah D’Almeida. First in a historical mystery series featuring the musketeers, loosely based on the characters from Alexander Dumas’ book set in seventeeth-century France. When the three inseparable Musketeers and D’Artagnan stumble upon the body of a dead woman who greatly resembles the Queen dressed in Musketeer costume, they undertake to solve her murder and find themselves embroiled in a scurrilous political plot possibly involving some of the most powerful men in the country. I really enjoyed this book, although admittedly I don’t recall much in the way of details about Dumas’ original work so don’t really know how many liberties the author took with her story. I enjoyed it for what it was—a rollicking historical mystery, and didn’t figure out the mystery til close to the end. Looking for more! A.
3. A HARVEST OF BONES by Yasmine Galenorn. #4 in the Chintz n China cozy mystical mystery series featuring Emerald O’Brien, a tarot reader and tea shop owner. This is one of those series that I was dubious about when I started reading them but have enjoyed each successive book more and am glad I took a chance on the first one. When Joe buys the lot next to Emerald’s house and they begin clearing away decades’ worth of brambles and undergrowth, they discover the foundation of an old house. Emerald immediately gets some bad vibes coming from the place and when their cat Samantha disappears, she wonders just what they’ve unearthed. Research reveals that the house burned down fifty years before but no one died in the incident—so where is the malevolent spirit coming from? Em is once again embroiled in a battle of not only bad spirits, but some not-too-nice living and breathing humans too. Enjoyable! A.
4. THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch. First in the Gentlemen Bastards fantasy series. It’s a bit like a swashbuckling pirate tale set in a unique and interesting fantasy world, and the story hooked me in right from the get-go. This is the story of Locke Lamora, an orphan boy who learned to survive on the mean streets of Camorra, was then trained as a thief by the Thiefmaker, sold to Father Chains and trained even further—Locke is now a member of the Gentlemen Bastards, an elite group of thieves who do their dirty deeds on a much larger scale. Ever plotting and scheming to achieve the big score, it’s the game that keeps the Bastards going—the money they steal is secondary. At what point will Locke and his pals be in over their heads? I really, REALLY enjoyed this book! There is quite a lot of graphic violence and cussing, just as a warning for those who don’t care for that sort of thing. The characters all felt very real to me, and had me rooting for them right from the beginning. Where’s the next one? This one stays on my Keeper shelf! A+
5. DRESSED FOR DEATH by Donna Leon. Third in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Italian police procedural series. When a man dressed in women’s clothing is found in an area frequented by prostitutes in a smaller city near Venice, Guido is sent to investigate due to a staffing shortage in that district. With his vacation just on the horizon, Guido ends up having to send Paola and the children off to the mountains without him, while he slogs away in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Venice summer hunting for clues. As usual, some influential people end up mixed up in the mess that becomes the investigation and Guido has to tread on a few toes along the path to the solution. I really enjoy everything about this series—the author’s writing style, the atmosphere she paints, and her characters, too. Excellent! A.
6. THE CURSE OF THE PHAROAHS by Elizabeth Peters (audio book). Second in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series, I decided to give this a try by listening to it rather than reading, as I really didn’t care for the first one that I read and someone in some group suggested I try listening to it. At first, it went well—this is actually the first audio book I’ve ever listened to, and I’d been concerned about not being able to concentrate on either the book or whatever else I was doing, but that part was fine. After the first half of the book (about 5 hours of listening time,) I found myself just as annoyed with the overbearing, pompous Peabody’s character and her frequent descriptions of her darling Emerson’s superb physique (not to mention his snarling, nasty disposition!) as I had been when I read the other book…I did finish it as I wanted to see if I’d guessed correctly as to who was the bad guy (I was) but the last couple of hours were almost torture. I couldn’t even skim to the end! LOL So while I definitely will try more audio books in future, it will NOT be of this series. I’m done with it! C.
7. THE JOYS OF ENGRISH by Steve Caires. Actually more of a picture book of t-shirts, signs, etc. in Japan with mutilated English phrases. Fans of the website “Engrish.com” will love this, as I did. You can’t help but laugh! The only downfall is that the book is too darned short! B+
8. BANGKOK TATTOO by John Burdett. Second in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep police series set in Bangkok, Thailand. Very rough and gritty look at the sleazier side of Bangkok. Sonchai, aside from being a policeman, is also one of the major interest-holders in a whorehouse called The Old Man’s Club and an avid Buddhist. The son of the whoremistress at the Club and an unknown American GI, Sonchai’s view of Western Civilization and Christianity can be quite scathing at times—although, to be honest, most of the time I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with him. Flag-waving, church-going patriots are most likely not going to be fans of this book. LOL Anyway, the mystery begins when one of the Club’s girls, Chanya, runs into the bar of the club covered in blood and stoned out of her mind. What Sonchai finds when he goes back to her customer’s hotel room is a dead American, gutted stem to stern with his penis whacked off and sitting on the bediside table. Later it’s discovered that he’s a CIA operative. Oh-oh. Yeah. LOL Great book—not for the faint of heart, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next one—when Sonchai most probably gets to meet his now-located American father. A+
9. UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. First of a teen fantasy trilogy sent in a future world where everyone is given an operation and turned pretty at the age of sixteen. Since we humans apparently hadn’t learned our lesson and our civilization as we know it crumbled because of wars started based on differences between us, the powers that be have decided that everyone should be alike. The operation, based on years of scientific research, gives everyone a perfect, symmetrical face, shiny white teeth, sparkling eyes and a toned, trim body. Gone are the little (and big!) imperfections and variations that make us unique. Of course, there are always going to be rebels out there, and Tally Youngblood meets one of them, a girl named Shay who shares her birthday. As they get to become friends, Tally, who is very much looking forward to turning from an Ugly (read: normal) into a Pretty, soon realizes that Shay isn’t so excited about the operation. When she runs away a week before their birthday, Tally is worried about her—but not worried enough to jeopardize her own operation. Excellent start to a series that I’m very much looking forward to continuing; fiction with a bit of a conscience that gives all of us—teens and adults—something to think about. A+
10. POISON STUDY by Maria V. Snyder. First of a fantasy series featuring Yelena, a young woman convicted of murdering the son of a nobleman. Yelena is given a reprieve—a choice—to be hanged, or to be trained as the Commander’s (the country’s leader) food taster. While admitting her guilt in the murder, Yelena wants to live and grasps at the chance. Trained in the art of poisoning and foot tasting by Yalek, the right-hand man of the Commander, Yelena is given a deadly poison called My Love which, if she survives, requires a daily dose of antidote to fend of a slow, painful, two-day death. She survives and goes on to complete her training and is introduced to a world of political intrigue, petty jealousies and soon learns that it’s best not to trust anyone. Another excellent first in series with an somewhat unique premise, a well-fleshed and interesting main character with diverse supporting cast; and another series I am looking forward to continuing on. A+
11. SET IN DARKNESS by Ian Rankin. Twelfth in the Inspector Rebus series set in Edinburgh, Scotland. When a body is found stuffed in the fireplace of a building being renovated to accommodate the new Scottish Parliament, Rebus and Derek Linford, a snotty up-and-comer from Fettes station, are assigned to the case as they were on a liason committee that was touring on site when the body was found. The body has apparently been there for approximately 20 years or so, but when a much fresher body turns up, Rebus tries to connect the cases by heading off on his usual wild goose chase while Linford chooses more conventional solutions as he looks to ride the promotion train. Meanwhile, Siobahn deals with the suicide of a homeless man who surprisingly turns out to have a bank account with a large sum of money in it. Quite enjoyable, back on track after the last book in the series which I felt wasn’t up to par. I have to admit I was cheesed off by the ending though—not going to say anything as it would be a big spoiler. B+
12. FACE DOWN BELOW THE BANQUETING HOUSE by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Eighth in the Lady Susanna Appleteon historical mystery series, featuring noblewoman and herbalist set in Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth is traveling around Kent, and wherever she goes, she will appropriate the homes of her subjects to house her and her staff. She sends an ‘advance team’ to scout out which homes are suitable and make necessary changes. When Brian Tymberly and his servant Carter come to Leigh Abbey and come to the conclusion that “it will do” for a visit from Her Majesty, Lady Susanna reluctantly cooperates with the necessary adjustments. When a banqueting house is built in a large, beautiful oak tree on the property, she inwardly cringes, but when the body of Carter is found beneath it, her sleuthing instincts take over. Murder? Accident? There’s no way to tell for sure, though as information comes to light that Tymberly and Carter are blackmailers, just about everyone at Leigh Abbey and in the village seems to have a motive for getting rid of the nasty man. Enjoyable entry in the series, and as always, a light and fluffy visit to Elizabethan England. A-
13. IDENTICAL STRANGERS: A MEMOIR OF TWINS SEPARATED AND REUNITED by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein. ARC for review. At age 35, one of these identical twins learns for the first time that she has a twin sister. Adopted out as an infant, she has never been very interested in finding out about her birth mother or biological family, but once she knows she has a twin sister out there, things change and she sets out to find her. And find her she does! The twins find out that they started out as part of an identical twin study on nature vs. nurture that was sanctioned by the adoption agency their parents dealt with. And neither set of parents were told that the girl they adopted was a twin! Heart-wrenching at times, full of love and hope at others, the book goes back and forth between the points of view of each of the sisters as they travel along their journey of getting to know a sister neither knew she had. Although the writing is a bit amateurish at times, this is a compelling story, worth reading whether you have an interest in adoption, twins or none of the above. B.
14. MURDER SHOOTS THE BULL by Anne George. Sixth “Southern Sisters” cozy mystery set in Birmingham, Alabama and featuring two sixty-something sisters, Patricia Anne (Mouse) and Mary Alice (Sister.) This book sees Patricia Anne’s neighbor and good friend Mitzi pulled into a murder investigation when her husband Arthur is accused of killing his first wife, Sophie. Sophie had recently returned to town and had some chronic medical problems. She had changed her will to name Arthur executor just two days before she was poisoned—while eating lunch with him. Sister and Mouse just happened to be in the Hunan Hut at the same time and are drawn into the whole mystery as usual. Enjoyable visit to Birmingham as usual, and it saddens me to know the series only has two more books to go. A.
15. THE NICHOLAS FEAST by Pat McIntosh. Second in the Gil Cunningham historical mystery series set in 15th century Glasgow, Scotland. When a student at Glasgow University ends up murdered during the Nicholas Feast celebration, the Dean asks Gil to investigate—and since the boy was a Montgomery, a family at odds with the Cunninghams, it promises to be an interesting task, even though William was a bastard child. When it’s learned he had a penchant for extortion, the suspect list grows longer and longer and includes most of the faculty, fellow students and even the servants. However, when Gil realizes that those with the strongest motive had no opportunity, and those with opportunity no motive, he knows that someone’s lying and sets out to find the culprit with the help of his betrothed, Alys, and his future father-in-law, Peter Mason. A couple of finely placed red herrings had me fooled for most of the book, and I enjoyed the setting and the main characters were interesting and well-fleshed, too. Well done and looking for the next in series. A.
16. AROMATHERAPY FOR WOMEN by Maggie Tisserand. An older book with simple recipes for various things, focusing mainly on “women’s complaints” and gives information about how to do different aromatic baths, massage oils, and gives good, basic information about the properties of various essential oils—which ones are energizing, which are relaxing, etc. I found the way the book was laid out handy and easy to use—it was easy for me to skim/skip chapters relating to things I wasn’t interested in such as labor and delivery, post-partum recipes and the use of essential oils with young children, for example. This one will stay on my reference shelf and I’d recommend it as a quick, basic guide. B+
17. SHADOWS AT THE FAIR by Lea Wait. First in the Maggie Summers “antique print” cozy mystery series set on the east coast. Maggie is a college professor but also has an antique prints business called Shadows on the side. She does the antique show circuit, mostly during the summer months, and this story takes place at one such show. When one of her fellow dealers ends up murdered and her good friend Gussie’s nephew Ben, who has Down’s Syndrome, is accused of the crime, Maggie knows she needs to look more deeply at the situation than the police seem to be doing and sets out to ask a few questions of her own to clear Ben’s name. I figured out the bad guy way ahead of time and after a few clues were dropped, even figured out the motive well before the end of the book, too. This was an okay first entry in a series. I liked Maggie well enough, though I felt she rather two-dimensional. The dialogue was kind of stilted and didn’t seem very realistic, and the whole package just didn’t “jive” very well—something was “off.” I did enjoy learning about antique prints and the whole “antiques fair circuit” but it really wasn’t enough to maintain my interest; I highly doubt I’ll continue reading more in the series. C+
18. GOBLIN QUEST by Jim C. Hines. First in a series featuring Jig the Goblin, one of “the other guys” in most fantasy novels. Scrawny, nearsighted and cowardly, Jig is content to do muck duty, never really aspiring to go on adventures and be a hero. However, he is thrust into that role when Porak, leader of a pack of swaggering goblin bullies, makes Jig go on patrol and do the work while he and his cronies sit and gamble. When Jig encounters a couple of humans, a dwarf and and elf, he runs back to tell the others, but no one believes him and the rest all end up slaughtered. Jig then ends up as the unwilling guide for the ‘foreigners’ through the tunnels of his underground world on an expedition to find the Rod of Creation, which is guarded by a Necromancer and a ferocious dragon. Along the way, many of Jig’s preconceived notions about other races fall by the wayside, and the others learn that not everything you hear about Goblins is true, either. Great light fantasy read with a wonderful main character and good supporting cast. Easy-to-read writing style, plenty of humor (some subtle and some not-so-subtle!) and an overall excellent read. Will be getting to the next in series sooner rather than later, methinks! A.
DNF: THE LAST CATO by Matilde Ascensi, TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay, IN THE HAND OF DANTE by Nick Tosches, and THE TREASURE OF MONT SEGUR: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS by Sophie Burnham and CANDLEMASS ROAD by George MacDonald Fraser. Was just not able to get interested in any of them...the situation, the main character, or the author's writing style just couldn't get me to care enough to carry on beyond my 50-page rule.