Friday, October 12, 2007


1. THE DIVINE CIRCLE OF LADIES MAKING MISCHIEF by Dolores Stewart Riccio. Third in the “Circle” Cassandra Shipton series. I almost hesitate to call these mysteries, in much the way the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books aren’t true mysteries. They’re more stories with a mystery element to them. These stories feature five women with very different personalities and lives who are best friends and Wiccan coven members. When I need a dose of good-feeling and hominess, this series does the trick for me. The author is able to evoke sights, smells, and sounds that put you right in the moment, and most of her moments are pleasant and cozy and idyllic. I would probably eventually gag left to read only this type of book, but I do love this series for the warm fuzzy feeling as much as for the accurate portrayal of pagan belief and practice—or at least, a plausible portrayal, given that there are no hard and fast rules and pagan worship and lifestyle can be quite varied. Anyway, this was a lovely way to open October and I heartily enjoyed it! A+

2. KISSED A SAD GOODBYE by Deborah Crombie. Sixth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James British police procedural series. I absolutely love this series! The mysteries are interesting, the characters are fully-fleshed and very real, and the books are a nice blend of integrating the personal lives of the characters with a decent mystery. This one had its origins back in the Blitz of WWII and was set on the Isle of Dogs with a local businesswoman brutally murdered and laid out in Mudchute Park there. As the list of suspects grew and new clues were added via flashbacks into the past, the mystery became more mysterious and I truly had no idea who the murderer was until just before it was revealed. Always a nice surprise. I often will give some of my favorite series books an A simply for enjoyment, but this one deserved an A+ and gets it!

3. JAMAICA ME DEAD by Bob Morris. Second Zack Chasteen mystery in which Zack flies to Jamaica to help an old college teammate with security for a millionaire resort owner, only to have his friend blown up in one of the resort’s vans almost immediately after Zack’s arrival. Zack sets out to find who murdered his friend as well as who is continuing to harass the political candidate son of the man Monk was working for, eventually believing they are two separate entities. A light, relatively quick read with a humorous lean, though I have to admit that some of the humor seemed a bit “forced” in this one, and I figured out the mystery way ahead of time. I’ll read more, but it won’t be really high on my priority list. B-.

4. THE NOVICE by Trudi Canavan. Second in the Black Magician fantasy trilogy, in which Sonea, the young slum girl who was found to have magical talent, begins her formal training at the Magician Guild’s University. Under the sponsorship of Rothen, the magician who helped her get her magic under control, Sonea enters the summer class with eight other students, all of whom shun her because she is not “high born.” One boy in particular, Regin, who is a bully and leader of the group, seems to have it in for Sonea and makes her life a living hell, such that she is determined to test out of that class and advance to the next one. But when Regin follows her to the more advanced class a few days later, Sonea thinks her world has fallen apart—until the High Lord, Akkarin, decides that he will take over her guardianship from Rothen. Since Sonea witnessed the High Lord practicing black magic at the end of the last book, this terrifies her to no end, but she feels powerless to do anything as he is basically holding those she cares about hostage. The middle book of trilogies are usually the weakest and I think that’s probably the case here, too. It was a good read, just that nothing is really resolved, though it set up the final installment very well. B+

5. THUNDERBIRD FALLS by C.E. Murphy. Second in the Joanne Walker “Urban Shaman” paranormal series. I listened to the audio book version of this one, the second of my free downloads from that came with my MP3 player. At first I found the reader’s voice to be very annoying and contemplated stopping listening, but after awhile I got used to it, and the storyline became the focus rather than the voice. The story begins with Joanne discovering a young woman dead in the showers at the University where she is taking fencing lessons and continues with forays into the mystical world as Joanne acquires a teacher to help her get control of her Shamanic powers. The supporting cast were more fleshed out in this book and I felt like we were getting to know Joanne better, too (and I really like her!) although the frequent descriptions of the ‘spirit world’ got somewhat repetitive at times. I also find her relationships with the men in the book, particularly her boss and Gary, her elderly cab driver friend, a bit confusing. I will definitely continue to read on in this series, whether in printed form or another audio. B+

6. DEATH OF A CHARMING MAN by M.C. Beaton. Tenth in the Hamish MacBeth cozy Scottish police mystery series. The premise of this one put me off just a little, as last month I read one of Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books which also dealt with a “beautiful man,” a stranger who came into a village and wreaked havoc, delighting in causing strife with his malicious and manipulative ways, hidden under a thin veneer of good looks and charm. So the story was kind of “old hat” in that regard. On a personal level, Hamish is dealing with conflict within his newly-formed engagement to Priscilla as well as trying to stay one step ahead of his bosses. He uses some accrued vacation time to investigate a death that had been deemed an accident in the tiny village of Drim, where Peter Hynd, the beautiful stranger, caused problems before disappearing into thin air. This was not one of my favorites in this series because of having just read another book with a similar storyline by the same author, and with Hamish feeling so lost and disconcerted, I didn’t get my usual warm fuzzies, either. Still, a decent entry in the series and one I’ll continue reading. B.

7. ONE HEX OF A WEDDING by Yasmine Galenorn. Fifth (and last, at least according to the author) in the “Chintz n China” cozy mystical mystery series featuring Emerald O’Brien, tarot reader and tea shop owner. Emerald and Joe’s wedding is approaching fast, and her family are in town for a celebratory bash a couple weeks before. Things turn ugly when Emerald’s ex, Roy, turns up, having been invited by their son Kip, ever the one to optimistically think that they could be friends again. Roy, drunk and belligerent, makes a mess of things by confronting Em and Joe, and when Joe turns up the next day with a bullet in his shoulder, Roy becomes the prime suspect in the attack in pretty much everyone’s mind. But when other mysterious things begin happening, Emerald is no longer so sure and hurries to solve the mystery before her wedding is a shambles. Enjoyable visit to Emerald’s world, and I am glad that things ended in the series on an “up” note. A.

8. THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD by Kevin Brockmeier. Audio download from the library. Post-apocalyptic/sci-fi book about a somewhat alternate world where the dead “live” after departing this mortal coil; they stay in “the city” as long as there is a person alive here on Earth who remembers them, but once anyone who knew or remembers them dies, they disappear from the city never to be seen again. When a viral plague sweeps across our world, killing everyone except for one woman, Laura Byrd, who survived only because she was on an expedition in Antarctica and was unexposed to it, the population in the city dwindles down to only those whom Laura has memories of (although not all of them know her)—not very many people in the grand scheme of things—although more than you might think! The story is told from the viewpoint of Laura back on ‘our’ world and several others of those who have died and “live” in the alternate world in the city—Laura’s parents, an old lover, a blind man she used to chat to on the street, one of the men who was with Laura’s expedition, etc. Once I started listening to this, it was very difficult to stop! It was a rather short book (only about 10 hours long, and yes, that was the unabridged version) though a very interesting one, too. Highly recommended as it combines several of my favorite types of books all into one—plague fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, fantasy and death fiction! A

9. POPE JOAN by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Historical fiction set in the 800’s A.D, dealing with the life of a girl with a thirst for knowledge and found the way to education blocked for a girl so she posed as a boy, became a monk and eventually was named Pope and served as such for two years before her death. This is the story of her journey from childhood to Popehood. It was a pretty good read, though I have to admit, a little too fraught with political wrangling and intrigue—and yes, although that’s probably the way it was, I didn’t find it as interesting as it might have been and often grew weary of the story, particularly in the middle with the Papal intrigue. It does sort of seem improbable that Joan could go all those years with no one discovering that she was indeed a woman, but given the clothing and the rules of the monks/priests in the Church in those days, I guess it’s possible. Perhaps I just expected too much from the book as it’s been highly touted by many. B.

10. CALL FOR THE DEAD by John le Carré. First in the George Smiley mystery/spy series. I first read these books when I was in my teens. This was an audio download from the library, and quite enjoyable! I didn’t remember much about the details of the book except about Smiley himself, so it was quite fresh and new and the reader was excellent. I think I’ll do the rest of this series via audio as well. A man that Smiley has recently interviewed commits suicide, despondent that he is under suspicion. Supposedly. A number of things don't add up, however, and Smiley makes a friend in the CID and together they begin investigating the case. Full of action, plenty of plot and intrigue, albeit admittedly a bit “dated” since the book was written in 1962—still a good story. A.

11. CAKES AND ALE FOR THE PAGAN SOUL edited by Patricia Telesco. Compilation of short essays, recipes, spells, reflections and informational blurbs from various Pagan elders and leaders about a variety of topics. Interesting to read the wide variety of experiences and lifestyles and beliefs encompassed in these pages! Just as with a symposium with different speakers, some of these blurbs and short essays were more interesting and compelling than others, but overall it was a good, diverse collection. I took a few notes from some and even re-read a few, and others skimmed over less attentively, and will be letting the book pass to someone else rather than keeping it as a reference—it’s really too scattered to use for that purpose. B+

12. DEATH AT BLENHEIM PALACE by Robin Paige. Eleventh in the historical Victorian/Edwardian mysteries featuring Lady Kathryn and Sir Charles Sheridan in early 1900’s England. Kathryn is an American from a poor family with an alter ego named Beryl Bardwell, who is a writer of “penny dreadful” novels. Charles is a Lord with a bent toward photography, forensics and all things scientific, and they have been married since book two and solving mysteries together for awhile now. This book finds them as guests of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, another American-and-English couple, with a couple of interesting disappearances from Blenheim Palace on their hands. This one wasn’t much of a mystery, like most cozies, and I did figure it out fairly early on, but it was good to revisit these characters and time period after quite a prolonged absence, and I enjoyed the story anyway. One thing I did find annoying in this book was that the author had portrayed Kathryn/Beryl almost as a dual personality with Beryl quoted as “thinking” certain thoughts inside Kathryn’s head, and Kathryn sometimes answering her verbally! It was rather unsettling at times, and a bit too weird for the character. There’s only one of these left in the series—the author has called at least a temporary halt to the series as she concentrates on her other series (“Robin Paige” is actually a writing team with the books co-written by Susan Wittig Albert and her husband Bill.) B+

13. DIGGING JAMES DEAN by Robert Eversz. Fourth in the Nina Zero series. Nina is a paparazzi working and living in LA, a tough ex-con with a toothless rottweiler and a crazy cast of friends and acquaintances. When Nina’s sister—whom she hasn’t seen since she was six years old, twenty-four years ago—turns up in town and ends up dead a couple of days later, Nina feels a long-buried obligation to find her killer, even though her sister turned out to be nothing but a con woman—especially because Nina believes that she herself was the intended victim! Who is going around digging up celebrities’ bones?? First James Dean back in Indiana, then Rudy Valentino at a cemetery in LA. And what on earth do the graverobbers want with these bones? Is it a cult of Satanists hell-bent on some strange ritual? Or a group of freaky UFO worshipers who are trying to clone famous people? Or something else? I love this series and really hope Eversz carries on with it—for now, there’s only one left! Waaaah! A.

14. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Audio download from the library. I’m not sure if I read this when I was a kid or not—I must’ve. But man…I must have lost my taste for “classic” language as there was just sooooo much in this to annoy the heck out of me! The one thing that sticks in my mind is that they don’t seem to have invented the phrase “we left (place)…” instead the author said, “we QUITTED (London)” or “we QUITTED the house” or whatever. Once or twice was no big deal, but after dozens of times, it started to get really distracting and pulled me right out of the story. The second thing I noticed is that it wasn’t really scary. It’s not really a horror story so much as a treatise on man’s tendency to judge each other based on looks—how we create our own monsters by the way we treat others, that the monster Frankenstein created was reviled because of how he looked, that he originally had a peaceful, inquisitive mind. The reader had a rather strange voice and the modification he used for the monster’s speech was just weird—sort of like I had to keep listening, slightly repulsed, but too fascinated to shut the darned thing off. LOL Okay, I loved the old B & W Frankenstein movie and this book I just didn’t care for all that much, “classic” or no. It was actually sort of…boring, despite my agreement with the author’s premise that we place way too much emphasis on appearances. C.

15. NO REST FOR THE DOVE by Margaret Miles. Third in the Charlotte Willette “Bracebridge” mysteries set in the times just before the Revolutionary War in small-town Massachusetts. When a houseguest of Richard Longfellow, Charlotte’s neighbor, arrives from Italy, before the man is around for 24 hours, a dead body, also a foreigner, is found on the side of the road. The houseguest is an opera singer, a castrato, and thus is suspect on many levels by the villagers and even to some degree by Richard and Charlotte. When a shocking secret is discovered, they wonder how much they can trust him about everything else that’s happened—and does this make him capable of murder? The secret certainly gives him a strong motive for having killed the strange man—or does it? Enjoyable foray into the eighteenth-century Colonies. Even though it was sweltering August in the book, for some reason I always get a “Sleepy Hollow” autumn-ish feeling when I read this series—I’m forever picturing shocks of harvested cornstalks and pumpkins! LOL A.

16. A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry. This is one of my "TBR Challenge" reads, a book that's been on my shelf for over a year waiting patiently for me to get to it. It took me over two weeks to finish this book, and I read and listened to several others at the same time. Not because it was bad—it was a very good, and very interesting story set in 1970’s India, telling the story of four people—a young widow, a college student and two tailors—who ended up housed together for a time during the Emergency times when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was imposing her will on the country, and I did learn a lot about the political turmoil that was rampant in India at that time—something I knew nothing about before. The book did go slowly at times, but it’s very deep and rich and immersed you fully into the culture of India, both in the city and in the countryside where the caste system was still being clung to much more rigidly. A story of heartbreak and despair, yet balanced with moments of love and hope. A lot of people probably didn’t like the ending, but I thought it suitable. So despite the length of time it took me to read this book, it was only because it is a book to be slowly digested, not gulped. A.

17. DEATH OF A NAG by M.C. Beaton. I couldn’t find this eleventh book in the Hamish MacBeth series anywhere in print (except for a couple way-too-expensive used copies) so decided to download the audio version free from the library. The author’s voice was kind of annoying but it was a short book and I got used to it after awhile. I found with this book that I did not figure out the murderer early on as I often do with these MacBeth books—perhaps since I was listening and not *seeing the words* I lost some advantage there? I don’t know, but doing an audiobook did end up being a nice change and let me catch up by an additional book in the series without the side effect of being “too much Hamish” so soon after having read the previous book. Hamish is off to a small town boarding house for a holiday to recover from his broken engagement to Priscilla and the scorn of the Lochdubh villagers. Of course he ends up involved in a murder case when one of the boarding house guests, an obnoxious man that Hamish himself punched out the day before, ends up dead. And I learned how to pronounce "Lochdubh" as well. LOL In the end, I did enjoy the story although a beloved member of the usual cast of characters dies in the book. A-.

18. DEATH OF A HOLLOW MAN by Caroline Graham. Second Inspector Barnaby mystery, and very much a pleasure to read, with interesting, well-fleshed characters and a tightly woven mystery that I did not figure out until the end. In the local amateur theatre production, in which Barnaby’s wife Joyce has a small part, the obnoxious leading man does himself in with a straight razor that was supposed to be well-coated with tape to blunt it. Who had motive? Almost everyone in the company. Opportunity? Only a few people—and none of those had a very strong motive. Unless there’s a motive that no one suspects—but what? It takes a few offhand comments to jar Barnaby’s memory and then the puzzle pieces start falling together. Graham makes this ‘composite’ type book—where the story switches point of view many times between most of the characters—work well. I’ve read some books done in this style that I didn’t care for. It was refreshing to read a British police procedural where the police detective and all his nasty habits and personal problems was not the prime focus of the book—the mystery was. While Barnaby is a nice, stable character, we don’t know a whole lot about him just yet—but it’s okay. It’s not because he’s shallow, it’s just that the actual story, the suspects and the mystery take the forefront. We get heady glimpses into all their lives, Barnaby’s included. I liked this, a lot! A.

· Passage by Connie Willis. An interesting premise for a story, but though I gave it 175 pages, it felt like the story was going nowhere, getting bogged down in endless piddly details that I found very tedious to slog through. So I quit.
· The Fire in the Flint by Candace Robb. Quite a disappointment, as I love her Owen Archer series, and thought the first book in this series (Margaret Kerr) was okay. I read almost 100 pages and found myself bored and that I didn’t give a hoot about the protagonist. I even set it aside for a few days and gave it another try to no avail—I just could not get interested.
· Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. No one warned me it was romance! LOL Plus, all that lace, silk and powdered hair in 18th century France…yeck!