1. RED LEAVES by Thomas H. Cook. Audio download. Stand-alone mystery, my first read (or listen) by this author. A small-town family is torn apart when a young girl disappears from her home, and the teenage son of the man telling the story is suspected in some foul play in the matter. During the course of these events, several other issues plaguing the man and his family—even his distant family, relating to his father’s previous business dealings and his mother’s death, his brother’s alcoholism, etc. are brought to light. While I loved the author’s way with words and the way he was able to depict raw emotion and flay the protagonist’s soul open to inspection, I can’t say I think much of his plotting, as he seemed to broadcast every plot twist long in advance and by mid-book I had a gut feeling for exactly how it would end, and I was right, which disappointed me very much. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say more. Excellent writing (and reading) aside, ultimately the book was just plain depressing and not much of a thriller or a mystery. There were also too many issues that were never firmly wrapped up, but left to the reader’s imagination to decide what had ‘really’ happened—which I don’t mind occasionally because my imagination is generally up to the task—but in this case, there were just TOO many things left that way…it felt as thought the author just couldn’t be bothered to wrap things up, or something. C.
2. SPANISH DAGGER by Susan Wittig Albert. Sixteenth (and most recent) entry in the China Bayles herbal mysteries—I’m now caught up until April when Nightshade is released. When China hosts a friend of Ruby’s to do a papermaking class, she and Carol go out to gather yucca leaves for the class, never suspecting that they will find a dead body among the plants near the railroad tracks! When China is at the scene of another dead body being found a couple of days later, an acquaintance of the first one, she’s thrust right into the midst of the case whether she wants to be or not. Meanwhile, Ruby is off to her mother’s to sort out her growing dementia problem, and McQuaid, China’s PI husband, is off to Houston to further investigate China’s father’s death, having been hired by China’s recently-discovered half-brother Miles, who suspects that Robert Bayles’ death by car crash sixteen years earlier was not an accident as had been presumed. Lots of difficult issues to deal with in this book, and definitely not your typical “light” cozy read, but I didn’t mind. I love these characters and it’s only natural that they would occasionally have difficult things to go through and was glad to share them. A.
3. PAST REASON HATED by Peter Robinson. Fifth entry in the Alan Banks police procedural series set in Yorkshire at Christmastime. How appropriate! LOL Called out a few days before Christmas to investigate a brutal stabbing death, we’re introduced more closely to recently-promoted Detective Constable Susan Gay, newest member of Eastvale’s CID. Caroline Hartley, the victim, is a bit of a mystery. Aside from her live-in partner, Veronica, no one knew her very well in Eastvale, having arrived just a few years ago from London. In fact, no one even realized she was a lesbian, as she was a very attractive woman prone to flirting with the men she encountered, mostly within her local dramatic society. Was her death the result of something from her troubled past, or a current problem? Well, I figured it out quite early on—the only reason Banks didn’t was because he didn’t have all the information, I’m sure. LOL I like this series quite a lot, though the constant, repetitive descriptions of Banks’ many cigarette lightings and pouring of and drinking of drinks (as well as those of the people he’s interviewing or his cronies) really wears thin after awhile. I seem to notice it more in some of the books than others, and it was at the forefront in this book once again, lowering my enjoying of the book just a titch. Maybe it’s just the fact that I figured things out so far in advance made me notice those details more in this one or something, I dunno…but it’s annoying as heck! We know Banks smokes and drinks—which is fine—but must we get detailed blow-by-blow descriptions whenever he lights up or has a pint?? B+
4. A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. (audio download) Wonderful reading (by Recorded Books, Inc—I’ve forgotten the reader’s name already!) of one of my favorite classic books, and certainly appropriate to the time of year! Highly recommend this if you’ve never had anyone read you this story! A+
5. THE HIGH LORD by Trudi Canavan. Third in the Black Magician fantasy trilogy, which wraps up and ties together all the bits and pieces from the two previous books. The High Lord Akkarin reveals to Sonea, his ward at the University, why he has been practicing the forbidden so-called “black” magic, and suddenly he doesn’t seem to be such an evil guy. Why all the deception? Why not just come clean to the Magician’s Guild? The reasons are many, and all of them make sense, once explained. Are the Ichari really planning an invasion against The Guild of Magicians? Excellent ending to the trilogy and with a finale that certainly leaves an opening for more books set in the realm of Kyralia—and I’ll definitely be reading the next set, The Traitor Spy Trilogy, as well as a planned prequel to this series when they are published beginning next year. A.
6. BANGKOK HAUNTS by John Burdett. Third (and most recent so far) in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series, set in Bangkok, Thailand. I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as I had the previous two books, which were superb in their cultural immersion as well as their quirky stories. This one involved a snuff film involving another of Sonchai’s former lovers, and a twisted tale of a mystery as to who was ultimately responsible. Not sure what jangled my nerves with this one; I think part of it was that at the end of the last book, there was a bit of a cliffhanger regarding Sonchai finally getting to meet his American father, but that didn’t happen in this book and the issue was only addressed very briefly in two or three lines. At any rate, while I enjoyed getting together again with the interesting characters, I find myself not singing this book’s praises as much—possibly just because the novelty of it has worn off some, and from previous books I rather know what to expect. B+
7. THE SOUVENIR: A DAUGHTER DISCOVERS HER FATHER’S WAR by Louise Steinman. (audio download) Story of a woman who, when both of her parents die within a short time of each other, comes into possession of an army footlocker full of letters that her father had written to her mother while he was in the army in the Pacific during WWII. Hundreds of letters! With these letters is a blood-stained Japanese “good luck” flag with an inscription she doesn’t understand. Slowly the story of her family unfolds as the author comes to know the man who was her father as she had never seen him before—before the war, before having the experiences that he did. Also told is the story of the author’s pursuit of the family of the young man to whom the flag belonged in Japan. Wonderfully done, difficult to stop listening to. I’m not a big WWII history fan, although my own father was there, albeit on the European front. I did have an uncle, one of my mother’s brothers, who was killed in the Pacific, so this certainly did have some family relevance to me even though I never met Uncle Cliff. Reading the description of this book made it sound like an interesting story—and something different than my usual fare, and indeed it was on both counts. Highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy memoirs. A.
8. YULE: A CELEBRATION OF LIGHT AND WARMTH by Dorothy Morrison. Interesting book that looks at the origins of the Yule celebration (as well as other ‘winter holiday’ celebrations,) different cultural variations over the years and the meanings behind the rituals, origins of some of our modern-day practices. Also has sections for rituals, recipes, potions, decorations, etc. and another chapter on how to make your own Yule celebration uniquely yours, gives ideas on how to start new traditions of your own, etc. Although a lot of this is “nothing new,” to me, I did glean some interesting information and quite enjoyed the book; will be keeping it on my reference shelf and will have to plan to dig it out again next year, probably in November, to allow for a bit more planning time for some of the neat ideas included. B.
9. THE DIVINE CIRCLE OF LADIES COURTING TROUBLE by Dolores Stewart Riccio. Fourth (and so far, last) in the “Circle” mysteries, featuring five Wiccan coven-mates in Plymouth, MA who always seem to get tangled up in various nefarious plots and crimes happening around town. The main character is Cassandra Shipton, a herbalist and small businesswoman who sells herbs, potions, lotions and the like. Recently married to Joe, her Greenpeace-employed, globe-trotting Greek, Cass tries to settle in to her new routine, but someone in Plymouth is using hemlock to poison the chocolate-lovers of the town! The poisoner strikes a church ladies meeting, the taping of a cable network food show and even a Thanksgiving dinner being held for the homeless! Who is behind it? And is it just a mad poisoner, or is there an actual intended victim? Cass gets flashes of an answer, but only small clues at a time, and by the time she gets all the answers, it’s nearly too late! I do hope the author continues this series—this is the last one for now, but I hope it’s not too long before Cass, Phillipa, Heather, Fiona and Deirdre and their families and friends are back making more magic for us again! A+
10. DEATH OF A MACHO MAN by M.C. Beaton. Twelfth in the Hamish Macbeth Scottish police procedural series set in the fictional Highland village of Lochdubh. A newcomer to the village, Randy Duggan, a loud and swaggering braggart, is murdered in his home, but as usual, there is no end of suspects as he was not a well-liked man. Hamish is even briefly suspect as he was to fight Randy publicly and was much relieved at not having to do so. When another newcomer, the writer of romance novels, is also killed, it’s believed she knew something about Randy or saw something she shouldn’t have and had to be removed. But are the two cases related? These are getting just a little too formulaic for me, and while I enjoy them for the most part, I think between these and the Raisin books I’ve been reading one M.C. Beaton book per month for over a year now…bit of an overload, perhaps …and I will likely ring in 2008 Beaton-free, at least for the first month. B-.
11. ZERO TO THE BONE by Robert Eversz. Fifth (and final) book in the Nina Zero noir mystery series set in LA, in which Nina is finally able to confront some of the demons from her past—her abusive father, complacent mother, and reasons for her toughness and survival through her time in the California prison system. It all begins when a woman Nina photographed for some pictures for her first artistic gallery showing is killed in a snuff film and a copy of the tape is sent to Nina at Scandal Times. (This seems to be the month for snuff films for some reason!) Was it an accident or was Christine’s death deliberate? Nina must then also deal with her teenaged niece Cassie, who knew Christine, as they attempt to navigate the path of grief, both of them tough and hardened beyond their years. This book was hard to read, knowing it was the last one, but I did like how Eversz chose to end the series. That’s all I’m going to say. Very well done—well, I hesitate to say enjoyable, because it’s hard to read through pages filled with so much pain, but Nina is a toughie and her pragmatism and realism is something I admire greatly. The book is definitely well-crafted and Nina has to be one of my favorite mystery characters ever. Although I know that Eversz had planned a beginning and an end to this series—something I admire him for, disappointing though it may be as a fan—I do hope we will be hearing more from him in the future. A+
12. THE TWYLIGHT TOWER by Karen Harper. Third in the Elizabeth I historical mystery series featuring The Queen herself and her entourage of fellow sleuths. In this book, they set out to solve the death of the Queen’s luteist, Geoffrey, while good queen Bess is preoccupied with the attentions of her Master of Horse, Robert Dudley rather than attending closely to matters of state. This book really took a nose dive in the quality and enjoyment department since the last one. Much more political intrigue and romance than mystery, and it just seemed a real departure from the entire tone and characterization of Elizabeth I from the previous two books. I plan to read at least one more—I actually have the next several in line here on my TBR—and if the next one hasn’t improved any, I’ll be stopping the series. I think it’s a pretty tough job trying to feature a prominent historical figure whose exploits have been pretty well documented like Elizabeth I’s have, and in this book, that comes crashing home with a loud bang, though the author did seem to pull it off fairly well in the first two. Even the secondary characters seemed “off” and not themselves as they were portrayed previously. Perhaps this was just a quickly cranked out entry in the series that didn’t have as much thought put into it as the first two, I don’t know. C.