Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 2008 Reading

1. THE SNAKE TATTOO by Linda Barnes. (audio) #2 Carlotta Carlyle mystery set in Boston in the 1980’s, which is when this book was written. Carlotta, an ex-cop PI who also is a part-time cabbie, works two cases in this book, one for her policeman friend Mooney, who is on suspension while he’s being investigated for an off-duty incident in which he beats up a guy in a bar that he swears had a knife, but no one else saw it, except a witness who disappeared. The other is the case of a teenage runaway, and Carlotta is hired by one of Valerie Hazlim’s friends. The cases intersect somewhat and are brought to an interesting, if somewhat predictable, resolution in both cases. I like Carlotta and her supporting cast of characters a lot, and I do enjoy the reader too—although my library doesn’t have the third one in the series in audio, so I’ll have to order a print copy instead. A fine way to open up the month of December! A.

2. STILL LIFE by Louise Penny. #1 Armand Gamache Canadian police procedural book set in Three Pines, Quebec, a small hole-in-the-wall village not far from Montreal. Gamache, chief homicide investigator for the Surete du Quebec, along with his team are called to Three Pines early Thanksgiving Sunday morning when the body of much-beloved Jane Neal, a retired schoolteacher and lifelong villager, is found dead. It appears as though it was an arrow that caused the fatal wound, and at first is thought to be the result of a hunting accident, but when no actual arrow is found, foul play is suspected. But who would want to kill Jane? Everyone loved the kindly woman! Of course there is a snake in the grass, and of course I did “know” (with my ‘that’s the killer!’ gut feeling when the baddie was introduced) who it was, but didn’t know why. However, that in no way diminished my enjoyment of this stellar book—a book that I had a very hard time believing was a first novel! I love Inspector Gamache already, although some parts of the book seemed a bit unrealistic. It seemed to me that he allowed way too much latitude to the suspects in that he trusted them with a lot of information and made a lot of his deductions based on information—which could have been false information—they gave him. And it just seemed odd to have very little police procedure detail or mention of any other case they might’ve still been working on. Murders must happen one at a time in Quebec? J Anyway, that aside, it was a wonderfully written book with a lot of things to make you think—about life, the universe and everything—and I’m happy to have the next one here waiting. A+

3. A HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS by M.C. Beaton. #16 Hamish MacBeth mystery set in fictional Lochdubh, Scotland. This was an ‘afterthought’ I think, since it was the second Hamish book published in 1999. It’s very short (I read it in about an hour and a half) and there’s no actual murder—it’s just a bit of a cozy look at Christmas in the Highlands with a little burglary and some “Bah Humbugs” to keep Hamish busy. Lots of village spirit and goodwill towards men and all that—a nice little “feel good” book but not really much of a mystery. Enjoyable! B+

4. THE BRIEF, WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Díaz (audio version) This is the story of an overweight, luckless young man named Oscar de León who grows up in New Jersey in the 1970’s and who was a nerd before being a nerd was cool. Oscar’s family roots are in the Dominican Republic and the de Leóns seem to have picked up a family curse, a particularly bad curse called a fukú, believed to have been placed on the family by none other than Rafael Trujilla, former dictator of the DR. Oscar, while born in the DR, moves with his mother and sister to America when Oscar is only a couple of years old, but the fukú seems to follow them. The book bounces back and forth in time, and is narrated primarily by Yunior, who was a friend of Oscar’s and a boyfriend of Oscar’s sister Lola for a brief time. While the story is primarily about Oscar, we also learn about his mother Bela, sister Lola, and his grandfather, a once-respected doctor who died in a Dominican prison just days before Trujillo’s assassination. We’re swept away to an entirely foreign and bewildering, yet fascinating, culture that I previously knew next to nothing about—the book even prompted me to do some research after I finished it. A powerful, harsh and often bitter treatise about a family affected for generations by the dictator Trujillo’s reign, how far-reaching and pervasive the evil was, its tentacles reaching out even today. It’s the story of a sad, scorned young man that most of us probably know someone similar to. Excellent narrator, though at one point I did seriously consider giving up on the book in audio form, because of the frequent and pervasive use of untranslated Spanish. Long phrases, words tossed in without explanation, probably lots of colloquialisms too, which at times pulled me out of the story. I decided to stick with it, though, and am glad I did. Most of what was said I was able to guess at, given the context, but if the book had one fault, that was it—at least in audio form. A very worthwhile listen, told in a powerful voice. Definitely not a cozy! A

5. THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga. This year’s Man Booker Prize winner, I received this from Amazon to review, although it ended up not being pre-release review as the publisher released the book early when it won the award. Very interesting story told in a week’s worth of letters written from an Indian entrepreneur (former servant/driver and now his own man and the proud owner of a taxi business and a chandelier in Bangalore) to the Premier of China, who is planning a visit to India, according to the news radio. Balram Halwai (aka The White Tiger) is a peasant from the Darkness, a rural area characterized by abject poverty, cruelty of the landlords and of people scrabbling for what they can get in any way they can get it. He doesn’t want the Chinese leader to be misled by the progressive, prosperous India that will undoubtedly be shown to him by the country’s leaders and tour guides, oh no! He wants him to know the REAL India, his own India, outsourcing capital of the world, and proceeds to tell him how he went from the Darkness to entrepreneurship in Bangalore with nothing but his own sweat and ingenuity, and he doesn’t leave out the part where he’s also a wanted criminal, nor does he deny his criminal deeds. His resourcefulness and humor come through loud and clear right along with his desperation. Adiga portrays Balram as a classically tragic figure, one you feel compassion for and yet one you despise at the same time. Hilariously funny at times, morally complicated and twisted, and an interesting picture of India from the inside. Highly recommended for those who like to go exploring culturally. A.

6. THE MUSKETEERS APPRENTICE by Sarah D’Almeida. #3 in the “Musketeers” historical mystery series featuring the main characters from Alexandre Dumas’ classic swashbuckling tale. I realized once I was several chapters into the book that I had read this out of sequence—having not read the second one yet. By then it was too late to stop. LOL In this episode, Porthos’ young apprentice dueler is killed, found in an alley incoherent and hallucinating and then has a seizure and dies in Porthos’ presence. Porthos believes he was poisoned and his Musketeer friends concur thinking belladonna is the likely culprit. When they find information about Porthos’ ancestry in his pockets—information that is supposedly unknown but that in reality is an open secret, they feel that the boy (he was only twelve!) was manipulated and used to get to Porthos, and the foursome sets out to figure out who would do such a thing—and of course their investigations are sure to rattle some highly-placed noble cages! But the first chore is to find out who the boy really was so his family can be notified of his demise, as he hadn’t given Porthos much in the way of clues and no one recognized the name given by the boy. I found this book somewhat tedious. The first in the series was unique and interesting, but this one…I don’t know. Maybe it was just too many “main characters”—there were all four musketeers in their ‘secret’ guises as well as their real identities to keep straight, and I kept getting them mixed up. There were also a lot of peripheral characters, servants, mistresses, etc. involved, and the author kept referring back to the first two books in the series with footnotes and details of other cases. The writing style also just didn’t flow easily and I found myself having to re-read a lot of passages. I’m re-thinking whether or not I want to continue on reading this series. C+

7. CRONE’S MOON by M.R. Sellars. #5 in the Rowan Gant ‘paranormal’ mystery series featuring the Wiccan computer geek/sleuth and his friend Ben Storm, St. Louis policeman as well as Felicity O’Brien, Rowan’s wife. This book is pretty much the same plot from the previous four books re-hashed—a serial killer is loose, this one taking young, pretty women, torturing them and then in a little twist, beheading them. Rowan and Felicity become involved when Rowan and Ben, on their way to lunch, witness the abduction of one of the victims, who turns out to be none less than the mayor’s daughter. Actually Rowan had been involved earlier, when he woke up on the floor having had one of his seizures—he just didn’t realize at the time what it was about. Rowan and Felicity both end up channeling the victims and having their otherworldly seizures in this one, and once again are sometimes in grave mortal peril, with the clock ticking as the victims try to lead them to their resting place and/or where they’re being held. Ben and FBI agent Constance Mandalay again are bucking procedure, acting outside of the lead detective’s wishes by allowing Rowan and Felicity to assist them, and Lt. Albright, aka “Bible Barb” once again is riding their tails with scorn and derision. While being quite a seat-of-your-pants thriller, since I’ve already read the first few books in the series, I was pretty sure of what was going to happen and I was right. I do enjoy the Pagan aspects of the book and it’s refreshing to have openly Pagan protagonists, and as much as I’ve come to love Rowan and Felicity and Ben, I do wish the plot would vary a little from book to book and that they would find something different to occupy the pages. It’s also a very graphically violent book, and not for the faint of heart—and I’m not faint of heart, but again, it’s just a lot of ‘same old, same old’ from previous books. I understand the next three books are a trilogy within the series that feature Felicity more, so maybe something different will come of them. I’ve got them all here, so I will read them, but if it’s ‘more of the same’ I’ll most likely end up leaving a year or more between reading each book…had I read all these at one time, I’d have likely not continued what with the marked similarity between them all, which leads to predictability of the outcome. C+

8. THE TAIL OF THE TIP-OFF by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. (audio) #11 in the Mrs. Murphy mysteries, also featuring Mary Minor Harristeen, postmistress in Crozet, Virginia along with her super-intelligent tabby cat and other critters. It’s girl’s basketball season, and “Harry” and several of her friends are fans of the University of Virginia’s girls basketball team. When one of Crozet’s land developers/construction contractors ends up dead in the parking lot of The Clam (the basketball facility) it’s assumed it was a heart attack—that’s what it looked like! But it wouldn’t be a murder mystery without a murder, and the autopsy shows a small dart-like skin prick and some surprising toxicology results. H.H. Donaldson had been sitting right in front of Harry during the game, and was within sight of her during the walk to the parking lot as well—so Harry’s trying to piece things together and figure out who had the opportunity (and the motive!) to plan such a foul crime. Jealous wife? Jilted girlfriend? Someone dissatisfied with his business dealings? Before many clues are unearthed, a second murder—much more messy and obvious—complicates things. Enjoyable visit to Crozet as usual with interesting and decent (though certainly not quite what you’d call “cozy”) characters, a wonderful reader, and this one even had a bit of a twist to it that I didn’t see coming. I’m lining up the next audiobook in the series on my library list now. A.

9. WHACK-A-MOLE by Chris Grabenstein. #3 John Ceepak mystery set in Sea Haven, New Jersey, and told by Danny Boyle, Ceepak’s young partner on the Sea Haven police force. It’s summer, the height of tourist season and the beach is crowded with tourists, beachcombers and scantily clad young ladies. Danny Boyle is mourning the loss of his ex-girlfriend Katie, who packed up and headed to California, but enjoying his time as a full-time member of the police force. But when a sneaky old serial killer starts leaving his twenty-some-year-old “trophies” (ears and noses preserved in formaldehyde!) on the shelves of some local tourist attractions, things get interesting real fast. When a bulldozer preparing the grounds for the sand castle building contest digs up the burial grounds for some of the killer’s other trophies, the police chief, rather than contacting the FBI and forensics experts, tries to keep things as hush-hush as possible—you certainly don’t want the tourists to know there’s a religious nutter who takes a passage in the book of Ezekiel literally and slices off the ears and noses of promiscuous girls before hacking their heads off! As the chief points out, these crimes are all over 20 years old, so what’s the rush? But when the killer makes a comeback and begins to taunt Ceepak with clues and lets him know that he has a new victim in mind, things move a bit faster. I pegged the killer without difficulty but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. I’m a big fan of Danny, Ceepak, the rest of the crew and especially of Grabenstein’s easy reading style which is humorous but with a serious undertone. Great stuff! I especially like reading about the beach when it’s snowing and colder than heck! LOL A.

10. MASTER OF SOULS by Peter Tremayne. #16 in the Sister Fidelma historical mystery series set in 7th century Ireland. Fidelma and Eadulf have traveled to a small Abbey on the coast to investigate the brutal murder of the Abbess who was stabbed while on pilgrimage with some other nuns. The abbess’s body was left where it was, but the nuns have disappeared. Fidelma was summoned by the leader of the local Ui Fidgente clan, former enemies now at peace with Muman, the kingdom of which Fidelma’s brother is king. Upon arriving at the Abbey, they learn of another death, as one of the elderly venerable scholars who resides at the abbey was bludgeoned to death on the altar. Is there a connection between the two deaths? Of course there is! The struggle is to find it, and that’s no easy task when most of the people questioned by Fidelma and Eadulf are lying or at least not telling the whole truth. When they set out the follow the trail that the Abbess would have taken for the pilgrimage in hopes of finding the missing nuns as well as some clues, their lives are put into mortal danger as they unravel a complicated political plot that plays on old clan rivalries and demands a knowledge of the ancient Irish laws of succession and ancestry. Very enjoyable visit to ancient Ireland as usual—it’s been over a year since my last visit so I always cherish these books. I do have the next in series here—we’ll see how long I’ll be able to resist it. A.

11. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl (audio) Delightful telling of this childhood classic, read by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. It’s been many years since I read this book, and was surprised all over again how much the movies vary from the book. The newer version is closer, but still much is different. I really much prefer the book to either the Gene Wilder or the Johnny Depp movies, a magical tale of a poor, near-starving boy who manages to win a Golden Ticket for a tour of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when he finds a stray dollar in the snow and yields to temptation and buys himself two Wonka chocolate bars. Idle’s variable voices characterized the other nasty little children very well and he did an exemplary job with Charlie’s family and Wonka himself as well. A.

12. STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova. ARC for review. Story told from the point of view of Alice, a woman just celebrating her fiftieth birthday, a Harvard professor and researcher in the field of linguistics. Alice begins having memory lapses and word-finding difficulties that she first writes off to menopausal symptoms, but when she at one point finds herself on a jog a few blocks from home feeling totally lost, she schedules a checkup with her family doctor. With a referral to a neurologist in hand, after a barrage of tests, Alice finds herself with a tentative diagnosis of EOAD—Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, which applies to those under the age of sixty-five. Allowing this to sink in for a full ten days before sharing the news with her husband John, Alice does some research and is at first despondent. But share the news she does, and her husband, a research biologist, seems almost more devastated than Alice. Genetic testing confirms this diagnosis, and Alice must now share the news with her three children, knowing full well that they may have inherited this tendency as well. Alice’s mother was killed in a car crash at the age of forty-one and her father was an alcoholic who died at seventy, and she had attributed his confusion to alcoholic encephalopathy, so she isn’t really sure which parent she inherited the defective gene from. A real tear-jerker of a book, very thought provoking and heart-breaking in many ways. So much attention is focused on the caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s, and so little on the patients themselves, especially in the early stages of the disease when they know they’re confused and understand all too well what’s in store for them. Alice sets out to remedy that problem and forms a support group for other younger people like herself and tries to cope as best she can. Recommended highly for anyone who knows someone with this devastating disease—which is horrible at any age, but particularly for those it strikes in the prime of their lives. A.

13. THE REMORSEFUL DAY by Colin Dexter. Last book in the Inspector Morse series, and a re-read for me, though it’s been many years since I last read it. Sometimes scattered, as it gets told in bits and pieces from the points of view of several people, Chief Superintendant Strange asks Morse to look into a year-old death that stymied the police but which may now have some further clues forthcoming as a caller has rung up with some new information. Morse has been on holiday, attempting rather unsuccessfully to deal with his newly-diagnosed diabetes and high blood pressure, his drinking problem and his melancholia, but Strange wants resolution on this case and feels that only Morse can provide it—and also feels that the best way for Morse to deal with his health is to stay busy and keep his mind active. Morse sets Lewis some investigating to do, but Lewis finds at every turn that Morse has already been there and done the querying. Difficult mystery, twisty plot, and of course the end of Morse and the series. Profound and sad and yet in its own way a fitting end. You always hope that your literary heroes are immortal and in some way they are, I guess. *sniffle* A.

14. ON THE WRONG TRACK by Steve Hockensmith. #2 “Holmes on the Range” mystery set in the 1890’s western USA featuring Otto “Big Red” Amlingmeyer and his wanna-be Sherlock Holmes brother Gustav aka “Old Red.” In this episode, the brothers, cattle drovers cum detectives desperate for a job, are hired by the evil Southern Pacific Railroad as spies and private police to safeguard the passengers and freight aboard the Ogden to Oakland run that’s been previously victimized by a ruthless band of train robbers. What Otto doesn’t know is that Gustav has horrible ‘train sickness’ and the boys must work around that malady which isn’t made any easier when they spot someone’s head go bouncing down the tracks as Gustav is leaning over the railing emptying his stomach. When they try to figure out who killed the baggageman and why, they seem to be stymied at every turn by the railroad staff, especially once they find out that the brothers are spies hired by the railroad bosses. A batch of decidedly odd passengers that includes a legendary railroad detective, a Chinese doctor, a couple of caskets, a huge snake and a crate of bricks complicates the plot, as does Otto’s interest in a rather forward, independent young lady whom Gustav warns him not to trust. When the robber gang stops the train and hops on with nothing more than a message for the railroad bosses and don’t actually rob anything, the mystery becomes even more puzzling. Gustav has to try to keep his mind sharp even as he’s physically exhausted, hungry and dehydrated due to his motion sickness, and eventually is able to assimilate the clues and wrap his head around a solution. Which is more than I was able to do—my bad guy antennae must’ve been on vacation while reading this book, I guess. Enjoyable mystery with some slapstick and some subtle humor to lighten it up, packed with action and historical insights. I found this second entry in the series to be nothing short of delightful and was glad that it didn’t succumb to the sophomore slump. I’m looking forward to Black Dove, the third in the series—and I think this is one series I’ll most likely be trying to keep up with! A

15. HIGH COUNTRY FALL by Margaret Maron (audio book). #10 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in North Carolina. In this book, Deborah is once again off to some remote county to fill in for another judge. Set in the beautiful mountainous area, it’s easy to see why tourists flock there to see the autumn leaves bursting into color all over the hillsides. But nature’s beauty doesn’t offset the usual human vices—greed, lust, and other various forms of avarice that lead to murder. First the murder of a local doctor, which happens before Deborah’s arrival, and then the murder of a developer that Deborah met at a party the evening he died. And Deborah’s cousins, whom she’s staying with during her week there, know the young man accused of the doctor’s murder and implore Deborah to help them investigate to prove his innocence. Deborah uses her week away from Dwight (her fiancé) to think seriously about the wedding and whether it’s really a good idea or not, too. I also like the way the author is able to incorporate Deborah’s love life into the story without making the book into a typical romance novel, too. I very much enjoy this series and was shocked to see that I’ve only got four left to catch up to the current release. The reader, C.J. Critt, is excellent, so the audio versions are my preferred mode of reading for this series, but I’ve read several in print and enjoy those too. Won’t be too long before my next one, that I’m pretty sure of! A

16. THE SEA OF MONSTERS by Rick Riordan. #2 Percy Jackson and the Olympians YA fantasy series. (audiobook) On the last day of a very quiet school year, monsters infiltrate Percy’s dodge ball game and, rescued by his friend Anna Beth, he once again leaves school a suspect in blowing things up and causing mischief. But this year Percy’s been looking forward to summer when he’ll be able to go back to Camp Half-Blood with his friends and train more in the ways of the demi-gods—which he just found out last year he is. His father, Poisedon, has been very quiescent, which troubles Percy somewhat and he longs for a closer relationship with his dad—but how do you get close to a Greek god? Percy discovers that Camp Half-Blood is changing, with their magical pine tree failing and the borders allowing monsters in. However, he’s been having strange dreams about his friend Grover, a satyr, sewing his own wedding dress, and Percy just knows he’s in trouble. Percy and Anna Beth end up helping Clarice, one of their least favorite half-bloods from the previous year, on her quest to secure the Golden Fleece which will cure the magical pine tree that maintains the camp’s defenses—and also to hopefully rescue Grover at the same time. Tagging along is Percy’s newly-discovered younger half-brother Tyson, a Cyclops. This book certainly didn’t have a sophomore slump going—I really enjoy this series and the reader tells it in such a way that it’s hard to stop listening! Lots of interesting information about Greek mythology as well as a great story. A.

17. FULL DARK HOUSE by Christopher Fowler. #1 in the Bryant and May “Peculiar Crimes Unit” mysteries set partly in modern-day and partly in London during WWII. The book weaves back and forth in time from present-day, with an elderly John May attempting to solve the murder of his long-time partner at the Peculiar Crimes Unit, Arthur Bryant, back to the days of the Blitz in London when the two shared their first case. Bryant was blown up in the PCU’s offices with a bomb, and because of some clues he left behind, May believes the answer to his death lies with the first case they solved back in 1940, involving a series of grisly killings at the Palace theatre, which was putting on a salacious version of a Greek tragedy. The story sucked me in right from the beginning and the book was hard to put down and certainly read “faster” than its’ 400+ pages. My ‘bad guy’ antennae remain on vacation as I hadn’t a clue who the killer was until close to the time of the reveal, though the clues were there, delicately spread out throughout the book. Excellent opening to a new series for me, with interesting, diverse characters, historical realism and a well-told story to boot! A.

18.CURSE OF THE POGO STICK by Colin Cotterill. #5 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series (he’s the national coroner) set in 1970’s Laos. Dr. Siri is up north at a conference, dragged there unwillingly by his boss, Judge Haeng. On the way back, their convoy is hijacked by a band of Hmong rebels who recognize Yeh Ming, the spirit of the ages-old Hmong shaman who resides within Siri. They need him for the exorcism of the leader’s daughter. Meanwhile, Nurse Dtui and Mr. Geung get involved in their own intrigue with a terrorist they thwarted in a previous book who tries to blow them up with a bomb planted in a dead body. Dtui and her new husband, the policeman Phosy, and Dr. Siri’s fiancé Madame Daeng begin tracking this woman, known as The Lizard, down. As usual, a wonderful story filled with wry humor, cultural detail and of course social commentary, too. I found this one especially interesting as we have a rather large Hmong population here in the Minneapolis area so it was interesting to learn more about their culture and history. These books are never long enough to suit me and always leave me wanting more. A

19.DEATH TIDIES UP by Barbara Colley. #2 Charlotte LaRue mystery featuring the owner of her own cleaning business, Maid-For-A-Day, in New Orleans. Charlotte’s sixtieth birthday is fast approaching and she’s feeling a bit down in the dumps about it. Soon she is wrapped up in another murder mystery though, tied to one of her clients, and to Charlotte herself as one of her employees discovers a dead body in a Mardi Gras mask in the closet of a newly-renovated apartment building that Maid-For-A-Day has the contract to clean. The dead body turns out to be that of Drew Bergeron, whom everyone thought had died two years earlier, and Charlotte’s new tenant Louis Robicheaux and her niece Judith end up as lead detectives on the case again. I didn’t like this book as well as the first one—something was just ‘off’ about it, with Charlotte’s frequent worries about her aging, her health, and about her friends and family getting to be a bit annoying. I also wanted to wring her parakeet’s neck by the end of the book; it seems every time Charlotte walked in the door there was a description of Sweety’s welcoming antics. I like Charlotte in some ways, but she’s just way too nosy despite her frequently saying that she detests gossip and seems much too opinionated about her friends and family’s life choices for my taste. Everything was just a little too pat, too many coincidences, and the mystery in this one was not a strong one. I’ll probably read one more in the series but if it continues in the same vein and this wasn’t just a ‘sophomore slump’ I will likely not go on from there. B-

20. BOGUS TO BUBBLY: AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. Received this for review from Amazon Vine, though it was actually released about two months before I got it, and the book isn’t an ARC but a regular old copy. It’s a fairly quick, light read, a sort of journal from the author to explain where some of the ideas for the things in the Uglies series came from with maps, diagrams, descriptions, details about the different cliques, etc. An interesting ‘background’ book that offered some insights into things, into parallels between our present-day world and the world before the Rusties came along—which is a few hundred years into our future. Most of what was said as far as the social commentary involved I’d already inferred to some degree. I had to skip over some parts as there were spoilers about the one book in the series (Extras) that I haven’t read yet and I didn’t want to find out too much about what happened there, so I would recommend that others hold off on reading this until after you’ve completed reading the series. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the book is, to be honest…I mean, it was interesting to a degree, but certainly not necessary, though it was a fun, enjoyable read and I’m glad I didn’t actually pay money for it. I think if I had, I’d likely have been more disappointed as it was a pretty lightweight, bubbly book. LOL B


THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett. I didn’t expect to DNF this book—it’s the type of book that’s right up my alley and came highly recommended by several people whose taste in books is similar to mine. But I read over 300 pages of it (about a third of the whole book) and just couldn’t get interested, the characters all felt very shallow and the religious and political intrigue just left me cold. I wasn’t at all ‘sucked in’ to the story like I should have been, so decided to let it go rather than slogging through it grumpily.

THE CHRYSALIS by Heather Terrell. I read about 40 pages of this—it was supposed to be a thriller tying the past and present together, but what I read was pretty much poorly-written romance-cum mystery. The old “I hadn’t seen him since college but when I saw him I flushed,” and “the tingle where our hands touched,” and yadda yadda yadda. Tell me the story of how this painting came to be something your law firm is involved in litigation—I don’t care how much you like looking at your new client/old friend. Blech.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 2008 Reading

1. CATCH AS CAT CAN by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (Audio). #10 in the Mrs. Murphy mystery series set in Crozet, Virginia and featuring Mrs. Murphy (a tabby cat), Tucker (a Welsh Corgi) and Pewter (a fat gray cat) and their human, Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen, local postmistress. As usual, Harry becomes involved in a local murder investigation, the killing of one of the brothers who run the local auto salvage business. At first it looks accidental, but when two other dead bodies (obviously murdered) turn up and ties lead back to Roger, his body is exhumed and was found to be poisoned. What ties all three of them together? The answer was rather obvious to me, but my ‘bad guy’ antennae were twitching right from the very beginning—I just needed a couple of meaty clues to confirm my hunch. Mrs. Murphy and crew put Harry and the others on the right track in the end, of course. On a personal note, Harry is escorted to several local functions by an attractive and gentlemanly assistant ambassador from Uruguay, putting a fly in the ointment for Fair Haristeen, her ex-husband who is hoping to woo her back. Enjoyable light listen read by a wonderful reader. I’m catching up with the series rather quickly—only a half-dozen or so to go now! A.

2. AN EYE FOR MURDER by Libby Fischer Hellmann. First in the Ellie Foreman mystery series, and one of my TBR Challenge alternates, having sat on my bookshelf for at least a year and a half, probably longer, waiting patiently for me to get to it. Ellie Foreman is a documentary film producer in Chicago; she’s divorced, has an 11-year-old daughter and gets sucked into a decades-old mystery when her name and phone number turns up in the effects of a ninety-year-old man who died of an apparent heart attack in his rooming house. She has no idea who he was, but her father does, having known the man during and after the war—and all of that ties into a campaign video Ellie has been hired to produce for Marian Iverson, candidate for the Senate. This was a whirlwind ride, and to be honest, the whole story felt it a bit scattered. There were too many peripheral and historical characters mentioned and talked about, and none of them were very well developed such that I kept forgetting who was who and how they fit into the puzzle. This story had ties back to the Holocaust and I generally tend to find those types of stories interesting, but the coincidences that tied these diverse stories and people together were just a little too fantastical to be believed. I liked the author’s writing style, but the jury’s still out on Ellie—at times I really liked her, but often found her a little annoying for some reason. At any rate, while I enjoyed the book in parts, the whole together left me feeling a bit dissatisfied and not terribly eager to move along to the next in series. B-

3. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White (audiobook) Short, sweet and wonderful classic children’s book about life on a farm for 8-year-old Fern Arable and her barnyard friends Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider and others, that holds many fond memories for me, I enjoyed it though I was rather disappointed in the reader. He had a rather nasal twang to his voice which just didn’t seem right for the book, and the pacing was a little bit “off” I thought. He also didn’t do real well with the different voices. Also the sound quality wasn’t all that good—you don’t realize how much that can affect a reading until you listen to a less-than-stellar production. I’m sure there are better recordings of this out there, but this is the one my library had available for download. Loved the book, not so much the reader. Okay—I just looked up to see who the reader is, and it says, “Read by the author.” LOL!! Well, I think he should stick to writing! :D B

4. OXYGEN by Carol Cassella. Just received the book for review from Amazon Vine last month, but it’s actually been out since July. Fiction about an anesthesiologist whose life changes dramatically when an 8-year-old seemingly healthy girl dies while on the operating table in her care. This, of course, devastates Dr. Marie Heaton and shakes the very foundations of her belief in herself and her ability to do her job, and she begins to spiral downward into a depression. She obsesses over the case, working over and over in her mind and poring over records trying to determine what she might have done differently. She tries to imagine how the girl's mother is feeling and even goes so far as to follow her, trying to see how she is handling things, imagining all the different ways the woman must hate her. But it's also the story of a woman, not just a doctor. Marie's relationships with her family are interesting, in some ways wonderful and in others as dysfunctional as you can get. This case helps her to work through some of her own personal issues that are only brought to light with the strain of this case. I suspected something was rotten in Denmark with Jolene Jenson’s death fairly early on, and though I wasn't sure exactly what it was, or who was involved, I wasn't surprised at the outcome. The ending was a bit of a let-down for me, and fairly predictable, I have to say. If not for that, I would give it a full five stars--as it is, I'd give it four-and-a-half. I really enjoyed the author's writing style and thought that she captured the essence of the medical community very well, of the atmosphere in the surgical area--I say this both from the viewpoint of a patient who has had several surgeries as well as from the viewpoint of a nurse. This is not my "usual fare" when it comes to reading books, but it was an excellent change of pace and I do indeed feel richer for having read it. I'll be looking for more work from this author in the future! A-

5. FINAL ACCOUNT by Peter Robinson. #7 in the Chief Inspector Alan Banks British police series set in the Yorkshire Dales. When mild-mannered, boring, middle-aged accountant Keith Rothwell is found shot to death point blank with a shotgun in his garage, Chief Inspector Banks is called out in the wee hours of the morning to investigate. It has all the earmarks of a mob execution, and when the team begins to dig into the man’s business affairs, they do find that he had a neat little money laundering business on the side. What they don’t count on finding is that the man also had a secret personal side, occasionally posing as the relaxed and much more hip Robert Calvert, complete with a flat in Leeds, a girlfriend, and a bent for discos and gambling. Add to this mix a money-grubbing, cold wife, a son with a secret and ties through his money-laundering business to a rising despot in a small Caribbean country, and the suspects seem to stack up like cordwood. Banks and team have their jobs cut out for them, and even when the crime is seemingly solved, Banks rests uneasily until the real solution is found. I had a bit of an inkling about the plot twist early on, but wasn’t sure just how it would pan out. Enjoyable read in an increasingly enjoyable series. A.

6. THE STORY OF DOCTOR DOOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting. (audio) This is the first installment in the classic set of children’s stories, this one first published in 1920 and touted as “the children’s stories for children who don’t mind big words.” LOL I don’t know that I’d ever read this before—I have seen a couple of animations of it, the recollections I have of them not really matching the book very well. This was a delightful story, read by a wonderful reader who sounded a lot like Dame Judi Dench, but wasn’t, her name being Nadia May. It was surprisingly fresh and not at all dated, and tells the story of how Dr. Doolittle went from being a people doctor to learning all the various animal languages and thus became an animal doctor, went to darkest Africa to save the monkeys who had become gravely ill, outwitted a tribal king set on keeping him imprisoned, and met up with the infamous Pushmi-pullyu which no one had ever seen before. His menagerie of animals was great, and the reader did a good job of making each of them distinct so you knew who was speaking. There are many other Dr. Doolittle stories that follow this one (which I hadn’t realized before) and I’ll have to see if the library has any others on audio download. A

7. SKY COYOTE by Kage Baker. #2 in The Company fantasy series. Botanist Mendoza fades a little to the background in this story that features mainly Joseph, the old immortal who recruited her for The Company, which is a conglomerate from the twenty-fourth century that creates immortals and time-travels them backwards in history. They aren’t allowed to affect *recorded* history, but unrecorded history they can have a field day with—and they do! Joseph is an old immortal, having been essentially a cave man’s son whose clan was all slaughtered by another clan. He was rescued and turned immortal and has had numerous ‘assignments’ which generally mean a few decades or centuries spent here or there. In this episode, he (and Mendoza and a large support crew) are sent to 1700’s California to a small village of the Chumash tribe, where their assignment is to move the entire village and surrounding area to a Company-managed spot in space for study and preservation. Joseph is given special implants (tail, teeth, fur) and is sent to earth as Sky Coyote, the long-absent God of the Chumash, to effect their cooperation with this transfer. What ensues is a rather hilarious tale of how man has always been man and the more humans change, the more they stay the same. Very enjoyable trek back (and forward) in time—this one was much more humorous than I remember the first book being, but there are important messages underlying the humor too. First rate fiction! A.

8. THE DIFFICULT SAINT by Sharan Newman. #6 in the Catherine LeVendeur historical mystery series set in medieval France. It’s the early spring of 1146 and Catherine’s sister Agnes is off to Germany to meet and wed her betrothed husband. It should be a time of family joy, but Agnes has refused to see or speak to Catherine and her father Hubert since she learned that Hubert is a Jew by birth, so none of the family is invited to the wedding. When word arrives that Agnes is accused of murdering her husband of three weeks, Hubert, Catherine and her Scottish husband Edgar and their children trek to Agnes’s side to help solve the murder, for they know she would not do such a thing. But who else had opportunity to poison him, when they ate from the same plate and cup of the same foods? Catherine and company have got their work cut out for them this time, especially since Agnes still insists that she doesn’t want their help nor does she want anything to do with them. This all transpires while there is growing hatred for the Jews, being stirred up by a fanatical monk named Radulf, who despite warnings from the Bishop to cease and desist, continues to rant and preach against them, inciting small riots and violence wherever he goes. Great entry in an enjoyable series, although with the many personal crises happening throughout the book for Catherine and her family, there wasn’t always much to be happy about. B+

9. SLOW DOLLAR by Margaret Maron. (audio book) #9 in the Judge Deborah Knott series set in Colleton County, North Carolina. In this book, the carnival comes to town for the Harvest Festival, and a young carney is found murdered in one of the game stalls (by Deborah, no less!) with his mouth stuffed full of bloody quarters. Things get really complicated when Deborah finds out that the young man was actually her great-nephew, his mother being the illegitimate (and until now, missing) daughter of Deborah’s older brother Andrew. Tally Hartley (once known as Olivia Knott) is part-owner of the carnival and while she recognizes that her son wasn’t a saint, she can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill him so violently. When another of the carnies ends up dead, things really heat up. As does Deborah’s personal life, in the form of a marriage proposal! Great light listening for a weekend when I had a lot of busy work to do and a bit of a migraine—so I didn’t have to think much, which was good. That said, I did still have an inkling about the baddie and picked up on a couple of big clues that cemented my gut feeling, too. I love this series! A.

10. THE DEATH OF FAITH by Donna Leon. #6 in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series set in Venice, Italy. In this book, Brunetti’s superior, Vice-Questore Patta is on vacation, and all is quiet in Venice. So when a young woman arrives at his office to relay her suspicions about a series of deaths in the nursing home where she’s worked, Guido alleviates his boredom by deciding to do a cursory investigation. The young woman, he finally realizes, is—or was—the same young nun who cared for his mother at her nursing home but left abruptly about a year previous. Suor Immacolata is now known as Maria Testa and works as a laundress, but her conscience drove her to report that the five people who died might have been coerced into leaving part of their estate to the religious Order overseeing their care. She is suspicious primarily of one priest and believes there is a conspiracy afoot. Guido investigates but is unable to come up with any solid proof, and is just about to dismiss the entire case when Maria herself is run down while riding her bicycle from work. It appears to be a deliberate assault, and as she lies in a coma with a serious head injury, investigative efforts are redoubled. When Patta returns, Guido finds himself up against a brick wall that may involve the powerful organization Opus Dei. I love this series for the evocative way the author brings you right to Venice—the sights, sounds, smells, and oh my—the tastes! Guido and his family and his co-workers are all well-fleshed out, endearing characters that I enjoy coming to visit again and again. Although there are some similarities, the way police matters are handled there are generally quite different than what you would see in a typical American police procedural book, and this aspect is very interesting to me. Another great entry in a very enjoyable series so far. A.

11. JOSS WHEDON: THE GENIUS BEHIND BUFFY by Candace Havens. Biography of the innovative creator of the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer TV series as well as several other acclaimed works including Angel and the short-lived Firefly series, all of which I greatly enjoyed. Interesting read, though unfortunately it wasn’t really very in-depth and mostly seemed like a fan’s praisebook more than anything. The book seemed to be more about the whole Buffy series than about Joss himself and only alluded to his actual history, motivations and glossed over the real “biographical” details as well. It was also painfully out of date, written when Buffy was still in season seven production and nothing was known of its’ impending cancellation. While I did glean some interesting information that I didn’t know about Joss (for example, his birth name was actually Joe, and he later changed it legally to Joss), to call this a biography is a real misnomer. It was a quick, easy read and did help me to understand some of the things that happened in Buffy—why they happened as they did—but that’s really about it. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone looking for real information or insight into the man himself. C.

12. THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova. This is one of my TBR Challenge books, and I was determined to finish it this year—so I did. I don’t know why I put it off so long—it was a great story. The tale goes bouncing back and forth through time via various letters, historical documents and narratives by Elena and her father as they pursue the Dracula legend—and the man himself! Her father, a man haunted by the death of her mother when she was a baby, struggles to maintain his job as a diplomat and still spend time with and see to Elena’s needs, and Elena is a shy, scholarly teenage girl who seems decidedly out of place in the hip and happening 1970’s. The story of their search, of her father’s emerging story from the night he finds an ancient book with a woodcut diagram of a dragon named Drakulya among his schoolbooks takes us across the Balkans, to Istanbul, from Oxford to Paris, from the 1930’s to the 1970’s and back into the 1400’s, and the book was engrossing and interesting. While it did seem to bog down in some spots mid-book, the author used those revolving venues and times to switch things up often enough to keep it moving, liberally peppering ends of chapters with mini-cliffhangers. Once I actually started reading it, it went by very quickly and I have to say I enjoyed it very much! A.

13. A KILLING CURE by Ellen Hart #4 in the Jane Lawless mystery series set in Minneapolis. Jane’s life seems to be on an even keel at last—her restaurant is doing well, there’s a new love interest in the form of Dottie, a city councilwoman, and no one she knows has died lately. But then her father, a defense attorney, receives a fake pipe bomb threat, which everyone believes is related to his new client, Emery Gower, who has been charged with the murder of the head of a local women’s club. Jane decides to look into things at the club (which, coincidentally, her best friend Cordelia has recently joined) on her own, but is surprised when, a few days later, after the supposed accidental death of another member of their board of directors, one of the club’s directors approaches her and asks her to secretly investigate *that* death. The red herrings fly fast and furiously in this book, and I pretty much fell for one of them throughout most of the book, thinking I’d solved the case when indeed I hadn’t. The characters are interesting, though perhaps just a tad bit clichéd, and I do really like Jane. I enjoyed the book, but there’s something slightly “off” about the writing style—perhaps it’s that the dialogue seems a tad bit forced, but I’m not sure if that’s it, or if it’s just the whole package. A good read, but not a great one, despite being surprised at the outcome. I’ll continue to read the series—Hart’s right on with her portrayal of the local Twin Cities settings and the main character feels like an old friend after a few books. B.

14. THE SMELL OF THE NIGHT by Andrea Camilleri. #6 in the Inspector Montalbano Italian mystery series. Montalbano, the grumpy old cur, picks up the stalled investigation of the disappearance of a local financial wizard a month previously when an octogenarian (who’d been in hospital until the day before and hadn’t heard that the man made off with his money) waving a gun invades his still-open office and threatens to shoot Emanuele Gargano’s faithful secretary if someone doesn’t refund his money. Montalbano’s sergeant is on ‘wedding holiday’ so he has another officer dig through Mimi’s notes to find out information about disappearing man, who swindled people out of billions of lire. There are two schools of thought regarding Gargano’s disappearance—one is that he’s living it up on a beach somewhere, another that he double-crossed someone with Mafia connections and is sleeping with the fishes. Montalbano is not sure either camp is correct, but leans towards the beach theory until he does some further digging. Montalbano’s personal life also takes on a reflective note with Mimi’s wedding coming up so soon, and although he manages to make his way through many delicious meals, he seems to be a little down in the dumps and his usual wry humor doesn’t always rescue him from his unpleasant thoughts. His beloved Saracen olive tree has been chopped down by developers and he and Livia are having problems too. Still, as always, a delightful visit to Sicily. A

15. A MIND TO MURDER by P.D. James. #2 Inspector Adam Dalgliesh British police procedural. It struck me while reading this book that, despite its having been published 45 years ago, the book didn’t seem “dated” as some older books can. The focus was the mystery, the plot, the who-dunnit-and-why, and not really on the characters. And while there was much detail about the psychiatric clinic where this took place, it seemed done in a….I don’t know, timeless manner, so that the lack of computers, a theft of £15 being a huge deal, the somewhat stereotypical female roles, etc. didn’t really matter. This book was at least partly told from Dalgliesh’s point of view though, so I do feel like I’m getting to know him better, but his supporting cast is still mostly a blur and the focus, as I said, was plot. And the mystery stumped me—this one involved the murder of the administrative officer of a private psychiatric clinic—pretty much a classic locked door crime, with a narrow time frame of about forty minutes when the murder could have been done, and several suspects with motive but only a few with opportunity. Once again, I fell victim to a red herring that led me on a merry chase until the very end and my usual ‘bad guy’ instincts suspected everyone at one time or another! LOL Very, very enjoyable and another series that I think I will be reading quite a lot of in the coming months. I believe I have read a few of them, but it’s been at least twenty-five years since then so I doubt I’ll remember which ones. A+

16. THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan (audio book) #1 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians YA fantasy series. Percy Jackson is a twelve-year-old problem child. Diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and who knows what else, he’s been in and out of several boarding schools in his young life and has just been told he’s “not invited back” to his most recent school, Yancy Academy, after a disastrous field trip which Percy and everyone else around him remembers differently. Percy finds himself oddly sad about not going back to this school, because he actually made a friend and one of his teachers is nice and encourages him. At the end of the school year, Percy goes home to see his much-beloved mother and his nasty stepfather and he and his mother head for the beach for a week’s vacation while “Smelly Gabe” stays behind to play poker with his buddies. In a series of startling events, in which his mother is apparently killed, Percy learns that he is a demi-god—a child of a god and a human. His newfound friend Grover is actually a satyr assigned to protect him, and his nice teacher (who had been confined to a wheelchair in the earthly world) is Chiron, leader of the centaurs, and that all the legends of Greek mythology are actually real. Soon he ends up at Camp Half-Blood with other half-blood children of gods and goddesses (where he learns that his father is none other than Poseidon, and that being diagnosed with ADHD and being a ‘problem’ in the ‘real world’ is a common thing for demi-gods) and is sent on a quest to redeem himself, having been accused by Zeus of stealing his infamous lightning bolt. Excellent story, wonderful characterizations, and mythology that was actually accurate! Interesting blend of modern world and the mythological Greek world, too. The reader was also great, able to do many different voices and bring out the cynical pre-adolescent voice of the previously much-maligned and disappointed Percy himself. Plenty of humor, too. Definitely going to continue on with more in this series! A

CR: PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett and downloaded THE SNAKE TATTOO by Linda Barnes in audio.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

OCTOBER 2008 Reading List

1. THE GRIM REAPER by Bernard Knight. #6 book in the Crowner John medieval mystery series, set in 1195 Exeter, UK. The king’s judges are coming to town for the Eyre and Assizes to handle judgments on all the various civil and criminal cases that had been building up since their last visit. Just in time for the festivities, Crowner John has a serial murderer on his hands—someone who is killing people deemed to have sinned against God by the murderer, and worse yet, he suspects that the killer is a priest or cleric, as there is a written note next to the bodies with a quotation from the Vulgate with regard to each person’s particular sin. (The Vulgate was what the Bible of the time was called.) So few people outside the clergy could read and write—and even fewer would know the Bible well enough to quote it—not even many parish priests, so that narrowed down the suspects even more. Crowner John is dismayed when his clerk, Thomas, who is himself a defrocked priest, is put under suspicion by his brother in law the Sheriff, and aside from his goal of solving the crimes before the judges arrive, the grumpy coroner hopes he can clear Thomas’s name as well. Very engaging mystery—I hadn’t guessed who the killer was til the end of the book, though I probably *should* have, because I smacked my head with a “Doh!” when I realized the clues were there for me to find. Interesting trek back to medieval times with the Crowner and his cronies. His extreme grumpiness wasn’t quite so prevalent in this book, or at least I didn’t notice it so much which made it more enjoyable too. A.

2. GRAVE SURPRISE by Charlaine Harris (audiobook) #2 Harper Connelly paranormal mystery series, in which Harper and Tolliver are off to Memphis, TN to do a ‘cemetery reading’ for a college professor who teaches a paranormal studies class. The records of who is in the cemetery have just been discovered and have been kept locked and sealed, so Dr. Clyde Nunley, this professor, believes that he can disprove Harper’s gift of finding dead bodies and their causes of death. O Ye of little faith! LOL Harper is on a roll, having correctly “guessed” several names and causes of death when she is stunned to discover a grave with two bodies—and one of them belongs to a young girl named Tabitha that she had been hired to find (unsuccessfully) some eighteen months previously in Nashville. The police are called and of course the forensic evidence bears Harper’s revelation out, but she and Tolliver are stunned to find that Joel and Diane Morgenstern, Tabitha’s parents, now live in Memphis and they begin to wonder if the parents had something to do with her death—something they had no inkling of when they worked with them previously. Of course there are any number of other possible suspects and when Dr. Nunley’s body ends up in that same grave a couple of nights later, Harper and Tolliver are obliged to stick around until the case is solved. Enjoayble “listen” with a great reader, and a good story as well. We learn more about Harper and Tolliver’s past which makes their present actions and attitudes easier to understand as well. Once again, I have put the next in series on my “library listen” list and will likely get to that within the next couple of months. A

3. ICE HUNTER by Joseph Heywood. #1 in the Woods Cop mysteries featuring conservation officer Grady Service on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Someone is starting small fires in the Mosquito Tract area of Service’s patrol region—a largely uninhabited wilderness area near and dear to his heart, as it was to his father before him. Anyone attacking “the Skeet” is going to have a fight on their hands, and Grady pulls out all the stops to find out what’s going on—while learning quite a few things that even he didn’t know about the area. I figured out a lot of things early on—not that I’m a genius or anything—part of it is given away by the title and the cover photo. LOL The story ended up being fairly predictable, with both the mystery of the fires as well as the dead body found at one scene, a relative of the notorious poacher Limpy Allardyce, who is the patriarch of a thoroughly despicable family residing in Grady’s area. There were no surprises with Grady’s personal life either. Grady Service pretty much eats, breathes and sleeps his job, living in a ramshackle hut with his cat, and working far more hours than he bills the state for. This is one of those series that came up from Amazon’s recommendations because I rated Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series so highly. Well, Grady Service is no Walt Longmire and Joseph Heywood’s writing style didn’t capture me like Craig Johnson’s did. The dialogue seemed to be somewhat stilted and unrealistic at times and by the time I was two-thirds done with the book, I just wanted to be finished with it. And I did finish this book, but I’m not terribly eager to read the next one, and am, in fact, a bit disappointed that I recently spent a PBS credit for it. I’m thinking I may well just re-list it. This book is by no means horrible, but I’ve got no time for mediocre these days. C.

4. A TROUBLE OF FOOLS by Linda Barnes. (audiobook) #1 Carlotta Carlyle mystery, featuring a thirty-something ex-cop-turned PI in Boston, MA. This book was written over 20 years ago, which I didn’t realize until after I’d checked SYKM for the publication date—I did so because there was mention of someone having one of ‘those new-fangled answering machines.’ LOL In most ways, though, it was not dated like that and was an interesting story. Carlotta is contacted by a sixty-something woman who wants her to look for her missing younger brother. He hasn’t been seen for almost two weeks, and Eugene is the only family that Margaret Devens has left, so she’s distraught—but for some reason, doesn’t want the police involved. She and her brother lived together in the family’s old Victorian house in a suburb of Boston. Margaret is a rather reserved, refined appearing woman, but her brother Gene was a cab driver with a bit of a drinking problem and a set of rowdy friends who liked to while away their time toasting ‘the Mother country,’ which in this case is Ireland. After investigating briefly, Carlotta discovers that Eugene’s disappearance may be connected somehow to the IRA, which would explain his sister’s reluctance to involve the cops. When Margaret is brutally attacked in her home by two thugs who also ransacked the place, obviously looking for something, Carlotta is obliged to step up the investigation. She cajoles the owners of the Green & White cab company, where she had worked at one time while attending college, and where Gene was also employed, into hiring her to work nights so she could get closer to the situation. A solid first entry in the series made even better by the reader, one of my favorite female storytellers, C.J. Critt—oddly enough, I’d never heard of author Linda Barnes before stumbling upon this book listed in my library’s downloadable books catalog—though there’s at least a dozen books in the series and it’s still going strong. I have the second one on my library ‘listen’ list already and am looking forward to it. There is a romancey component to this—it remains to be seen whether or not it starts getting in the way of the mystery. B+

5. THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS by Jeanne DuPrau (audiobook) #2 in the Ember fantasy series. The people of the underground city of Ember—well, four hundred and seventeen of them, anyway—have managed to escape the underground city following Lina and Doon’s directions and have emerged aboveground. Having believed that Ember was the center of the universe, they are totally aghast at seeing sunlight, blue sky, green grass, and chickens, among other things. When they trek along until they come to the settlement of Sparks, they are at first welcomed by this small community of survivors—survivors of the disaster that, centuries ago, caused Ember to become a necessity. Up above, technology has devolved. There is no electricity, trucks are pulled by oxen, gasoline having long ago ceased to exist, and cities are dead—bombed out, scorched remnants of a bygone age. Lina and Doon and their families must now work hard to help the Sparks townspeople so that they can produce enough food to feed them all before winter. After the novelty wears off, the differences between the two groups come to the fore and tempers begin to flare, with Lina and Doon making decisions that eventually impact their new community greatly. Another great entry in the series, I really look forward to the next, The Prophet of Yonwood. The reader (Wendy Dillon) is excellent and the story is full of adventure and wisdom. A little “younger” story than I would usually read, but still very well done and very enjoyable. I sure wish there had been more stuff of this calibre around for young readers when I was a kid! A.

6. STORM TRACK by Margaret Maron. #7 Judge Deborah Knott series set in Colleton County, North Carolina. As several tropical storms and hurricanes make their way inland off the North Carolina coast, things heat up in Colleton County when the promiscuous wife of one of the rising stars in a local law firm is found strangled in a sleazy motel room with her own sexy black stocking. Preliminary investigations reveal that there are several people with good motives to kill Lynn Bullock—including, as usual, at least one of Deborah’s extensive web of relatives. Deborah learns some troubling facts about people she thought she knew well, makes some unexpected friends, and generally pokes her nose in where it shouldn’t be—but as usual, helps steer the local law to the right solution. Enjoyable read as always, and as an added bonus I didn’t figure out the baddie til close to the end of the book. These seem to get better with each successive book. A.

7. MAID FOR MURDER by Barbara Colley. #1 Charlotte LaRue “squeaky clean” mystery, about the owner/operator of a maid service in New Orleans, LA. Yep, another cozy! LOL I figured I’d be weeding this one out, but I actually ended up enjoying it. A typical light, quick cozy read. The descriptions of New Orleans were wonderful, the main character is practical and likable and there’s none of that romance-disguised-as-mystery, though there is a bit of ‘male interest’ towards the end of the book. Charlotte is a fifty-nine-year-old single woman, comfortable with herself and what she does for a living with a set of supporting characters around her that sound interesting, too. The mystery in this book centers around the murdered husband of one of her wealthy clients—oddly enough, the woman’s father was murdered in almost the same way many years before. Jeanne, the widow, is of course the police’s prime suspect at first, though Charlotte just can’t believe she’d actually have done it—but to listen to the ramblings of Jeanne’s mother, who is growing a bit senile, she probably had good reason to commit murder! There are plenty of other suspects, though, and Charlotte eventually figures it out—being a maid, you sometimes see things that other folks overlook. It would have been better of course if she’d reported those things to her niece Judith, who’s one of the homicide detectives assigned to the case, but then what kind of a cozy mystery would it be if the police actually solved the crime!?? LOL It will be interesting to read further in the series and see how or even if the author handles post-Katrina New Orleans. A few minor annoyances, but overall a good first entry in series. B+

8. ONCE WERE COPS by Ken Bruen. ARC for review. Written in the same spare, sparse, harsh prose that Bruen uses for his Jack Taylor series, Once Were Cops is primarily the story of two cops—Michael O’Shea, a serial killer doing double duty as a new cop who blackmailed his way to New York as a policeman on an exchange program from Galway, and Kebar, whom “Shea” is paired with, a rough cop-on-the-take whose one soft spot is his mentally retarded sister who lives in a group home. He panders to the mob to get extra money to keep Lucia in a good home. Both men are violent, living lives outside the law and basically do what they want. While this book is written in similar style to the Jack Taylor series, there is a huge difference. This book really had no soul; it was just nasty and violent and depressing without having the emotional connection, the poetic side to the staccato, bleak prose that Bruen infuses into the story of Jack Taylor. I really didn’t care for this book at all. I was unable to connect with the characters in any way. I can’t say I really hated them, certainly didn’t like them—I just didn’t care one way or another what happened to them. It seemed to be just one violent episode after another. If there was supposed to be some sort of message or moral or whatever, I didn’t see it. And the one thing that might have salvaged the book to make it a worthwhile read—a quirky plot twist at the end of the book—I anticipated well in advance. I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book, but all it did for me was to cause him to fall down off the pedestal he’d been firmly ensconced on previous to my reading this story. There was one good thing about this book: it was short. D+

9. TIL THE COWS COME HOME by Judy Clemens. #1 Stella Crown mystery, Stella, a young woman fast approaching thirty, runs the family dairy farm now, both her parents having died, with the help of long-time farmhand Howie and a host of interesting neighbors and friends. When someone starts sabotaging her farm with various ‘accidents’ that really aren’t, Stella, Howie and a few close friends attempt to investigate and get to the bottom of things. It’s hard enough running a small family farm and trying to fend off the banks and creditors and the big development companies without added problems. And when several area children become violently ill with some new strain of flu—and a couple of them die—Stella begins wondering if the sabotage on her farm and this mystery flu are related. While I did figure out much of the ‘mystery’ ahead of time, I still enjoyed this book a lot. Having grown up on a farm, (a dairy farm even, for awhile when I was really young) Stella’s story caused me to feel a bit like it was old home week and even brought on a brief wave of homesickness, too. Until I remembered how much work living on a farm is! I like Stella, too—she’s an infinitely practical young woman with a bit of a wild streak (she’s tattooed and her alternate form of transportation is a Harley she revamped herself) and yet a very caring, community-oriented person, too. I could see her and I getting along just fine, and my intention is to get to know her a lot better by reading on in the series. A fine beginning! A.

10. THE LEMUR by Benjamin Black. Stand-alone mystery/thriller about a former journalist who is asked by his father-in-law to write his biography for him. Bill Mulholland is a powerful man, head of a multi-national media corporation and ex-CIA operative—so John Glass knows that there will be some things in Mulholland’s background difficult to track down. He hires Dylan Riley, an internet hacker/researcher to do some digging for him, and after a brief phone call in which Riley intimates that he found something ‘really big’ and in essence tries to blackmail Glass, Riley is found by his girlfriend, murdered, with some of his laptop computers missing. Glass is hauled in by the police as his phone number was on Riley’s outgoing calls, and then he begins wondering just what it is that Riley had found and whether or not his father-in-law was involved. I received this book a month or so ago from LT early reviewers, which is weird as it’s NOT an ARC and has been out for several months. It’s a fancy looking little book, very slim, 130 pages that was only about a two-hour read, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have bothered finishing it. Very melancholy, a rather plodding writing style, and not very interesting. The characters were all rather blah—cardboard-like and stereotypical, and I found the “mystery” to be quite uninteresting. I found myself hoping that the author would put all the characters together in a locked room and blow them up or something. I was rather in a state of disbelief at seeing the $13.00 price on the inner flap, too. I’d never have paid it! This was my first book by this author—and probably my last if this is any indication of his work. Some might like it, but I didn’t. D+.

11. CHARM CITY by Laura Lippman. (audio book) #2 Tess Monaghan mystery set in Baltimore. It’s been years since I read the first in this series and that was in print, so I’d forgotten the basic bits about Tess’s life—that she’s twenty-nine years old, an ex-newspaper reporter turned PI, that she’s a fitness buff who rows in the summer and does other training in the winter, that she works primarily for a lawyer, and that she lives above her aunt’s bookstore. In this book, two mysteries cross paths—one dealing with her Uncle Spike, beaten unconscious and leaving Tess with a totally fugly Greyhound dog to care for, the other a side job undertaken for Baltimore’s lone newspaper. Recommended by a couple of her friends, the board at the Beacon-Light hires Tess to find out who got into the system’s computers and printed a story that was meant to be kept back for a few days pending further investigation. The story could have catastrophic results for Baltimore, as it casts a dark shadow over Wink Wynkowski’s past—and Wink is Baltimore’s last great hope to get an NBA franchise to town. Things turn ugly when Wink is found dead of an apparent suicide and various factions at the newspaper attempt to thwart Tess’s investigation at every turn. Of course, more dead bodies turn up as well—it did bug me a little bit that Tess couldn’t figure out the killer ahead of time, as the clues were all there. Of course, I had a ‘gut feeling’ early on about it, and was on the lookout for confirmation, but still. There were a few red herrings, but they were kinda obvious. The reader for this book was great, the story interesting, and the characters believable and likable. I remembered what it was about Tess from the first book that bugged me—the long, drawn-out descriptions of her workouts/rowing, with sweat and heavy breathing—but that wasn’t nearly such an issue in this book. I am adding this series back to my active list, whether I decide to listen to it, or find the next in print. A.

12. #12 Inspector Morse British mystery, once again centering around Oxford, specifically Lonsdale College where a new Master is about to be elected. Webs of deceit, lust, adultery and worse come to the fore as a young physiotherapist is murdered in nearby Bloxham Drive. It’s discovered that she was having an affair with one of the two candidates for Master, but after a bit of investigation, Morse and Lewis discover evidence that indicates that Rachel Ward may not even have been the intended victim—due to an odd house-numbering scheme, it may have been her neighbor, Geoffrey Owens, a newspaper reporter discovered to have a bent for blackmail who was meant to be killed. On a personal note, Morse discovers the hard way that he has diabetes, going in for a doctor visit and being carted to hospital in an ambulance due to dangerously high blood sugar. He spends a few days in hospital initially on an insulin drip cooling his heels (but not his mind!) with regard to the murder case. But as usual, with Lewis’s plodding detective work and Morse’s brilliant mind, they put together the solution. This one is, I think, among my favorite Morse books. It’s good to go back into my ‘comfort zone’ after having a few not-so-good reads earlier in the month! I can always depend on Morse! A+

13. UNCOMMON CLAY by Margaret Maron (audiobook) #8 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in North Carolina, this time in “clay country” where Deborah has traveled to hear a case involving the “ED” or Equitable Distribution of property of a recently-divorced couple who also happen to be potters. Sandra Kay and James Lucas Nordan made beautiful pottery together but couldn’t manage the marriage part. And when James Lucas ends up murdered, baked in a kiln, and Deborah finds his body—family secrets, old grudges and present-day jealousies come out of the woodwork with the suspect list burgeoning. Of course Deborah takes a personal interest in the case, which is heightened when an old friend calls and asks her to check up on her son, who has gone to stay with the Nordans and who happens to be the illegitimate child of James Lucas’s older (and also deceased) brother, Donny. Deborah’s personal life also takes an interesting turn in this episode, which (with my interest in handmade pottery) I really enjoyed. The reader was once again excellent, and while I had one of my “inklings” about the bad guy, I just wasn’t able to put together the whys and wherefores until close to the end of the book. I think it won’t be too many months before I’ve caught up with this series, which has rapidly become one of my favorites. A.

14. MURDER IN MARBLE ROW by Victoria Thompson. Sixth in the “gaslight” mysteries featuring Sarah Brandt, a young widow in early 1900s New York who is also a midwife, and Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York police. Teddy Roosevelt is currently police commissioner, and when he directs Malloy to investigate the murder by bombing of a wealthy businessman, Malloy is dismayed because he knows he will have to question many upper class people—and be expected to tread lightly since those people tend to be able to buy their innocence. Malloy is even more incredulous when Roosevelt tells him that he was requested to be the officer in charge by none other than Peter Decker, who just happens to be Sarah Brandt’s father! It’s believed by nearly everyone (save Malloy and Mrs. Brandt) that the dead man was blown up by his son, who has disowned his wealthy family and lives with an enclave of Russian anarchists in a poor section of town. As the two investigate and meet the son and the rest of the family, whom Sarah had known as a child, they don’t believe he’s guilty but must investigate the other privileged people around on the sly. While I had figured out the murderer by about mid-book, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I’ve really taken a liking to this series, though the romantic tension between Malloy and Sarah does get a little tiresome at times. At least they’re not rutting in back alleys or anything. LOL A-

15. AN ICE COLD GRAVE by Charlaine Harris. (audiobook) #3 Harper Connelly mystery, this one set in Doraville, North Carolina where Harper has been hired by the grandmother of a missing boy. Actually it’s a “consortium” of people who have chipped in to hire her, because there are a total of six teenage boys gone missing over a couple of years—which were, apparently, easy for the local law to write off as runaways. However, when a new sheriff is elected, she recommends Harper to Twyla Cotton (the grandmother) as she’d heard about her from another detective Harper had previously worked with. Harper does find the six boys—and two more that were unknown—buried together in a mass grave on an old abandoned property, all brutally tortured, raped and murdered. Harper, who’s never done a ‘mass murder’ before, is literally sick from the discovery, and shortly afterward is attacked by a masked figure in black outside her hotel room, sustaining injuries enough that she is hospitalized. They hope to be able to get out of town before a major ice storm hits, but as usual the State Bureau of Investigation need her to answer a bunch of questions and the delay is enough to keep them in the area as the ice and sleet roll in. Harper and Tolliver’s relationship continues to change as well, and I have to say that I wasn’t really too crazy about the change. Those who have read the series to date will guess at the turn it takes, and all I can say is that the very graphic sex scenes were not at all romantic or sexy to me. They actually made me laugh out loud—it really seemed silly! This was one of those cases where I would have preferred a print book to audio because I could have just skimmed over that part, but since I was listening, I couldn’t. I know that this author does write romances as well, and if this is an example of her work in that genre, I’m glad that I haven’t bothered to sample any of them. Aside from that, I enjoyed the mystery and paranormal part of the book as usual. B.

16. LITTLE GIRL LOST by Richard Aleas. #1 John Blake P.I. mystery, under the “Hard Case Crime” imprint. I actually had thought to weed this book out of my TBR; it was one I’d acquired on a whim well over a year ago, and when I added it to my ‘weed out’ pile, I wondered what I’d been thinking! I was anticipating it’d be one of those kind of cheesy, stereotypical Dashiell Hammett type ‘hard ass’ PI books. I was very pleasantly surprised instead. John Blake isn’t your typical tough guy—though he is that, certainly. He’s actually got a degree in literature and there were some literary references woven into the prose, and he’s much more sensitive emotionally than any of those fifties-style PI guys. John gets involved in trying to solve the murder of Miranda Sugarman, the girl who was his high school girlfriend ten years ago. She’d gone off to college in another state, set to become an eye doctor, and he never heard from her again aside from a few sporadic letters her first year away. She ended up as a stripper in one of the seediest strip joints in New York—and died with two bullets in her head on the roof of the building where the club is located. John’s boss and mentor, Leo, advises him to leave it alone, but John feels obligated to find out what led Miranda from the path full of promise to that sad and violent end. This was a fairly quick read, but had much more substance and character than I expected. I like John and his supporting cast of characters, the book was well-written with a style that didn’t make it ‘work’ to read it. The mystery was well-plotted too, and with the surfeit of suspects and possible baddies, I wasn’t sure at all til near the end who the real bad guy was, though I did figure out part of the mystery itself well in advance. I fully expect to carry on reading this series. A.

17. THE PROPHET OF YONWOOD by Jeanne DuPrau (audiobook). This is #3 in the Ember fantasy series, though it’s actually a pre-quel to the events taking place in the first book—it’s the story of the United States (and the world in general), telling how world war broke out, how the earth was scarred and ruined and how most of the population was killed off in The Disaster, necessitating the City of Ember (a vast underground city) even being built, populated and provisioned. However, I have to say that I really didn’t like this story much. There was very little tie-in to the actual events of the first two books, it was a whole new set of characters and also a different reader than the first two. She wasn’t *bad* per se, but the woman who read the first couple was excellent and this lady just didn’t live up to her performance. I think if there’d been more of a connection between this story and the main character (Nicki, an 11-year-old girl) with the characters in Ember, it would have made more sense. Instead it was almost like two totally different stories—and this one just wasn’t as good. I understand the fourth in series has been recently released and that one goes back to the characters from Ember and Sparks, which I’m glad about. This one just didn’t do it for me much. C.

18. THE GYPSY MORPH by Terry Brooks. Third and final entry in the Genesis of Shannara fantasy trilogy in which all of the heroes and heroines of the previous two books unite—Knights of the Word Angel Perez and Logan Tom, the boy Hawk who is also the gypsy morph, and Kirisin Belloruus, the young elf who successfully found the Loden elfstone and used it to protect his people. They come together to fight the demons that have taken over the world, and in their little corner of the universe set out to find a safe haven that Hawk has been promised he will find by the King of the Silver River, where those who are protected will weather the nuclear storm that is coming. The road toward their destination is fraught with danger and some don’t make it. But some, of course, do. This series of books successfully ties together with Brooks’ Knight of the Word ‘modern fantasy’ trilogy to form the prequel to his epic “Shannara” fantasy series, begun more than thirty years ago. And he does so very successfully and in grand fashion! I greatly enjoyed this book (and the whole series) and look forward to re-reading the earlier Shannara books at some point and getting around to finally reading some of the more recent Shannara trilogies as well. Well done, Mr. Brooks! I just wonder what you’ll get up to next! A.

19. SPECIALS by Scott Westerfeld. Third in the “Uglies” young adult fantasy trilogy, in which our heroine Tally, futher surgically and technologically enhanced to become a Special—super-cool, lightning fast, uber-smart and created to protect the world from the Smokies—the so-called “Uglies” of the world who ran away, hid out, and never underwent the operation at age sixteen to change them into (basically speaking) Stepford people, clones of one another with cotton candy brains and nothing more to do than party and have fun. Tally’s been rebellious almost from the beginning, and even now as a Special she is part of a fringe group headed by her friend Shay called The Cutters. When Shay cooks up a plot to make the Cutters really look extra-Special by discovering the location of the New Smoke (the wild rebels’ hideout) and capturing their leader David (former boyfriend of both Shay and Tally), Tally goes along with it mostly to make sure her current boyfriend Zane—still recovering from his bubblehead status—is saved so he can be turned into a Special like her. Many conflicting feelings flow throughout the story which much philosophical wrangling—friendship, love, betrayal and whether any one person’s happiness overrides doing things for the greater good of many. Enjoyable read as always with lots of action and a great storyline. There are moments when you wonder if Tally’s totally lost it but then she comes back from being a cloned drone to using her brains—and her heart—to make her decisions. I’m looking forward to the next in series! A.

CR: OXYGEN by Carol Cassella, AN EYE FOR MURDER by Libby Fischer Hellmann and listening to CATCH AS CAT CAN by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown in audio download.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

September 2008 Reading

1. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith. Delightful classic British story about a poverty-stricken family living in an old castle in the English countryside in the post-WWII era. The story is told as the ‘journal’ of Cassandra, the 17-year-old daughter of a writer who was a ‘one-hit wonder’ many years previously and now seems to be slipping into eccentricity if not downright craziness. Cassandra, her sister Rose, brother Thomas, their stepmother Topaz, and Stephen, the handyman and gardener, live quite an interesting life stretching pennies until the heirs to the castle that they’re renting arrive from America. Then things get interesting! Simon and Neil Cotton are as different as night and day, and the family begins to plot to have Rose ‘catch’ one of the Cottons (who are obviously rich!) so that their poverty will end. Ah, but the best laid plans… well, you know. I enjoyed this book a lot—I really liked the quirky Cassandra who seemed oodles more mature than most modern-day seventeen year olds, and yet she was refreshingly innocent at the same time. I wish I’d read this when I was a kid, as this type of “kids surviving mostly on their own” book was even more up my alley then than it is now. The author’s descriptions of the English countryside were brilliant, too. The book did have a few rather cheesy, romanticized moments, but I kept the fact that the book was written in 1948 in the back of my mind—and that this was the author’s first novel, also. Context is everything sometimes! B+

2. HOME FIRES by Margaret Maron. Sixth in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in Colleton County, North Carolina. Racial tensions run high when a black church is torched and Deborah has a personal interest when her nephew A.J. is initially implicated with a couple of ne’er do well friends of his. Past grief and grudges come forward and the media and civil rights leaders descend on Raleigh and the general area when two more churches go up in flames—and a body is found in one of them. Something smells rotten to Deborah and she begins to wonder if the burnings—and the death—are racially motivated at all, or if someone has a better reason for creating mayhem. On a personal level, Deborah is seeing the new home she’s having built on a few secluded acres given to her by her father nearing completion and her relationship with Kidd, her park ranger boyfriend seems to be deepening as well—although that thread by no means dominates the book or the series. (There’s a little bit o’lovin’ but not oodles of sappy romance. Nice! LOL) I ‘recognized’ the baddie (one of those gut feelings) very early on, but didn’t know how or why it was done til close to the end. I love this series! Typically I’m not a fan of so-called ‘Southern’ fiction but this series is a definite exception to that rule. It doesn’t even bother me to have Deborah call her father Daddy, which most of the time grates on my nerves unless the speaker is under the age of twelve. LOL Deborah has such a practical nature, a pragmatic spirit and isn’t afraid to admit her own foibles and willingly accepts the faults of her friends and family too—and yet, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Looking forward very much to the next one in the series. A.

3. FINN by Jon Clinch (audio book) This is the story of Finn, the infamous Huckleberry’s father, as mean and despicable a fictional character (or a real one, come to that) as ever graced the pages of a book, I think. His character was eluded to occasionally during the telling of Mark Twain’s classic tale, but this is his story—the tale of his upbringing, his adulthood, his relationships, his prejudices, and how Huck came to be as well. If the author is attempting to elicit sympathy for Finn—and I honestly don’t think that was his intent—he thoroughly struck out with me. Although part of what nauseated me about Finn are his deep-seated racial prejudices, that in and of itself wasn’t really enough to bring forth the feelings of disgust as in that regard he was simply a product of the times and the household that he lived in. No, it was more the utter self-centeredness of the character that sometimes left me with my jaw hanging open. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone so selfish, so full of excuses for his despicable actions and so concerned about his own skin above all else! It took me awhile to warm up to the reader, but after an hour or so I knew I had to keep listening and after awhile I found his characterizations to be quite well-done. I don’t think saying “I enjoyed the book” is exactly the way to describe how I felt about it, as there was little in it that was “enjoyable,” but it was an excellent work of fiction and an insightfully plausible story of how one of America’s most notable fiction characters, Huckleberry Finn, might have been molded. Well done! A.

4. MOVING PICTURES by Terry Pratchett. Tenth in publication order of the Discworld humorous fantasy series. This is Pratchett’s spoof of Hollywood and the movies, or “Holy Wood" and ‘moving pictures’ as they say on the Discworld. People don’t eat popcorn, they have ‘banged grains’ to munch while watching the moving pictures. Of course, the pictures are only 10 minutes long and no one has ever heard of a three-reel film until Throat Dibbler encouraged the movie mogul Thomas Silverfish to try it. (You can blame ‘advertising’ on him as well.) Perpetual wizard student Victor (‘Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Can handle a sword a little) and small-town girl Ginger are about to become big stars, first in Cohen the Barbarian and then Sworde of Passione when the magic of Holy Wood infects them and everyone else. Much hilarity ensues as Pratchett seems to catch a pretty darned accurate picture of the way things really work in (our) Hollywood when you boil it all down. Wonderful reading, hilarious light reading as always—wonderful escapism. Much better than any Hollywood (or even Holy Wood!) fillum. A.

5. A DIRTY DEATH by Rebecca Tope. #1 in the Den Cooper British police mystery, set in a rural area of Devon. The book seemed to be told from several different points of view, which is quite distracting. The main character actually seems to be Lilah Beardon, the daughter of the first (of several!) murder victims and we certainly get to know her quite well over the course of the book, though I felt like I hardly know the policeman, Den Cooper, at all! Den and Lilah meet when Lilah’s father Guy Beardon is found dead in his slurry pit on their farm. It’s deemed accidental until a neighbor is bludgeoned to death and his brother knocked senseless a few days later, at which time the police look more closely at Guy’s demise and believe the two deaths are related. He wasn’t well-liked in the community though he was a wonderful father to Lilah and she misses him dreadfully. More murder and mayhem ensues and Lilah is eager to help solve the crimes so their family can move on with their lives. I found this story to be a bit long and draggy with much extraneous information and too many circulating points of view. Everyone seemed to have dark and sordid secrets, and aside from Lilah and Den, there wasn’t a person who didn’t have some ulterior motives in the lot! I liked the writing style—I had picked this as one of my “weed-out weekend” books and was intrigued enough to keep reading beyond two chapters—but the book just went nowhere fast. The plot got stuck in the slurry pit with Guy Beardon, I think! LOL Anyway, this author has three different mystery series, and as this one is a short (four book) series that ended several years ago, I doubt I’ll read more of it, especially as they aren't easy to come by here; after reading this one I won't try very hard to acquire more, either. But I do have the first in another of her series here and I’ll give that a try. I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages and must admit I was disappointed in it, though there is promise here. B-

6. THE ALCHEMYST: THE SECRETS OF THE IMMORTAL NICHOLAS FLAMEL by Michael Scott (audiobook) Young Adult fantasy novel, first in a trilogy, in which teenagers Josh and Sophie Newman, living with their aunt in San Francisco for the summer and working across the street from one another—Sophie in a coffee shop and Josh in a bookstore—discover that Josh’s boss, Nick Fleming, is really the noted alchemist Nicholas Flamel, and that he’s more than 600 years old! This discovery is made when the bookshop is attacked by John Dee—yes, the same magician who served Queen Elizabeth I and who is now serving “the Dark Elders” in an effort to bring them back into power and subdue the “Humani” as they refer to the humans of this world. During the course of their adventure in which Nicholas’s wife Perry is kidnapped by Dee, and the Codex (an ancient book with many important alchemical spells, including that of The Philosopher’s Stone) is stolen—except for the final two pages which Josh inadvertently rips out when Dee takes the book—the bookstore blows up and Josh and Sophie end up on the run with Flamel, they meet many legendary creatures and persons, including several ancient gods and goddesses. Very well-written, well-read and an all-around enjoyable “listen” that I definitely look forward to continuing on with. The author also seems to know his Pagan lore very well, which is a refreshing change. :-) A.

7. SMUGGLER’S MOON by Bruce Alexander. #8 in the Sir John Fielding historical mystery series set in 1790’s London and featuring real-life historical figure, who was known as “the blind Beak of Bow Street.” Though he is blind, Sir John has an uncanny sense of what is going on around him, aided by his assistant Jeremy Proctor, who is in effect his adopted son. It’s Jeremy who tells us these stories and he tells them very well! In this installment, Mrs. Fielding is off to visit her ill mother and immediately Sir John receives a summons from the Lord Chief Justice to go to the town of Deal on the coast to investigate smuggling and to confer with the magistrate there—the magistrate has been accused of not doing his job well and letting the smuggling trade run rampant. When the Fielding household arrives—for Sir John takes with him not only Jeremy, but Clarissa, Mrs. Fielding’s young ward, as well as Constable Perkins—they discover that Albert Sarton, the magistrate, though quite young, is actually a competent and seemingly trustworthy fellow and that something is rotten in Deal. Sir John confers with several people and often leaves Jeremy in the dark til the plan comes together in a smashing conclusion—while I had figured out the main bad guy ahead of time, there were a few small side plots that added to the whole and which in no way diminished my enjoyment of the book. Pity there are only three more! A.

8. THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Audiobook) Classic mystery in which Sherlock Holmes and Watson investigate a death on the moors, believed by the superstitious locals to have been caused by a ‘hound of hell’ which legend says plagued the Baskerville family for many generations. With the most recent death, suspicions are brought to Holmes by the family doctor, who wonders what he should do as the new Baskerville heir is arriving the next day from America and he does not wish him to meet the same fate as his friend. Holmes sends Watson to Dartmoor to the Baskerville estate to keep an eye open and to help protect the newest Lord of the Manor and of course subtle clue after subtle clue are dropped into the story, but it’s only Holmes who is able to pull them all together. I haven’t ‘read’ this story for many years and had forgotten whodunit and the reader for this was fabulous, so it was a real treat for me. Conan Doyle was one of my early favorite authors and he does a detective story in a way that no one else can! A.

9. GRAVE SIGHT by Charlaine Harris (audiobook). First in the Harper Connelly paranormal mystery series, featuring this young lady who has the ability to speak to the dead after being struck by lightning at the age of fifteen. She and her step-brother, Tolliver, travel around taking assignments to locate bodies. They work mostly on word of mouth, and for the most part are treated as something akin to the freaks in a circus side-show. While Harper can’t tell who killed the person if they were murdered, she can tell how they died, and actually relives the last moments of the person’s life. In our introduction to this interesting duo, Harper and Tolliver are summoned to Sarn, Arkansas by a wealthy widow who wants to locate the body of her dead son’s girlfriend, Tini Hopkins. Sybil Teague is upset because Del’s (her son) good name has been under a cloud for these many months since his death, as it’s rumored that he killed Tini and then himself, but Tini’s body was never found. Since she was a bit of a ‘wild girl,’ some folks think she just went away. Sybil wants to put the rumors to rest. Harper DOES find Tini’s body, discovers that she was shot twice in the back and also visits Del’s grave and discovers that he most certainly didn’t commit suicide. Harper and Tolliver are not made to feel welcome in Sarn at all, and while they want nothing more than to head on out to their next assignment, they are cautioned by the sheriff to stick around when Helen Hopkins, Tini’s mother, is found bludgeoned to death shortly after they visited her at her request. I liked this book a lot. The reader was excellent and I felt that she brought out the voice of Harper very well and helped me to understand her a little. I did think that the relationship between Tolliver and Harper was a bit weird, almost to the point of making me uncomfortable, and there were times when Harper’s vulnerability was a little tiresome—but then, she has had a very difficult life, even with the whole “I’ve been struck by lightning” thing aside, and her character was written in such a way that she wasn’t really trying to get sympathy or make excuses for her weakness, she just had very much of an “I am what I am” aura about her, and I liked that. I also thought Harper was pretty mature, given that she’s only twenty-four years old—it seemed that life has made her wise beyond her years. I have already got the downloadable version of the next book in this series on my list at the library and I don’t think it will be too long before I actually go and get it! A.

10. THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION by Iain Pears. Seventh and final book in the Jonathan Argyll “art history” mysteries—or, at least there’s been none for more than eight years so one must assume the series has ended. Flavia, now firmly in place as Bottando’s temporary replacement as head of the art theft squad, is called to a meeting with the Prime Minister about a painting that has been stolen for ransom. The painting is on loan from another country, part of an international exhibition and is a delicate matter as any publicity about its theft will greatly impugn not only the PM’s reputation, but all of Italy’s. Flavia is given vague directions and yet she senses that they want her to deal with this differently than what’s implied. And this begins a long and twisted plot that goes back years. Jonathan meanwhile, to avoid sitting down and actually writing a paper that’s needed for an upcoming conference, decides to track down the particulars of a small picture that Flavia’s boss Bottando has had for years, ‘a gift from a friend’ he’s said. Jonathan wants to find out its history as a retirement gift for Bottando and in so digging finds some startling information and connections. I enjoyed this book a lot—there are a few surprises, much lovable description of Italy, its food, its people and its culture. I’m unsure as to whether Pears planned this as a last installment in the series or whether it happened abruptly—argument could be made for both viewpoints. It did end on a satisfying note, but there is definitely room for further storylines as well. Excellent ending to an all-around excellent series. A.

11. THE WHISKEY REBELS by David Liss. (ARC for review, though the book does come out at the end of this month.) Historical fiction set in the immediate post-Revolutionary War period in Philadelphia and New York. The story is told from the point of view of two people: Ethan Saunders, a disgraced spy, and Joan Maycott, a young woman with literary aspirations. Ethan’s story begins in the present time while Joan’s starts in the past with her early life. Her and Ethan’s paths begin their fateful crossing when she and her husband Andrew trade in his war debt for a parcel of land in western Pennsylvania, which was in essence the great frontier at that time. They find to their horror that they have been horribly cheated and Joan begins plotting revenge against all who have wronged her. Ethan, meanwhile, in Philadelphia in 1791, is content to be a sloshing drunk and occasional thief, drowning his sorrows at being disgraced and (wrongfully) branded a traitor and his loss of the love of his life, Cynthia Fleet, to another man, and her father who was his co-conspirator as a government spy, who died in disgrace with him. I can’t say too much without giving important things away, so I won’t, but eventually Joan and Ethan’s paths cross, and the stability of the whole of the new United States of America rests on what happens. Let me say right up front that this time period in American history is NOT one of my special interests. I generally just don’t care for it, haven’t read much about it, so I have no idea how much of what the author imparts here is pure speculation, pure fiction and which parts are based on solid fact. There are many “real” historical figures in this book, but I have no knowledge of whether their portrayals were accurate. The book also dealt in large part with banking, finance and the early days of what became eventually the stock market, which, on the master lists of things I’m interested in, falls right down there near the bottom with politics, knitting sweaters for yappy little dogs and designer handbags. LOL That said, once I discovered what the book was about, it rather amazed me that I DID keep reading—and I did so because the author made the characters and the story itself irresistible. I surmised rather early on that the lives of these two characters would intersect, I just wasn’t sure when and how, and I wanted to find out! The book is a little slow and plodding in some parts and the plot was twisty and quite complicated—which, I suppose was ultimately what kept me reading. That, and wanting to find out what ultimately happened to the main characters. But I have found this slowness to be true of Liss’s other books as well—and yet, when done reading and reflecting back, I have to say that I don’t remember those slow points much and tend to think on the story as a whole as a very interesting, engaging one. Liss does not sugarcoat life in post-Revolutionary war America, and portrays it as the difficult, sometimes brutal, often fatal life that it was. Recommended especially for those who enjoy historical fiction in this time period, anyone interested in the early days of the U.S. banking system, and for those who’ve read and enjoyed the author’s previous works. A-

12. WHAT ANGELS FEAR by C. S. Harris. #1 Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery, set in early 1800’s London. When a young actress is found brutally murdered and raped in a church, it is believed that she was going to meet Sebastian St. Cyr, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and nobleman with the title of Viscount Devlin. Thus, without much investigation—and indeed, with someone seemingly planting false clues—the Bow Street constables begin seeking Sebastian in the brutal killing. When a constable is seriously injured during an attempt to capture him, despite the fact that he was injured by his own co-worker, Sebastian knows that the only way to clear his name is to find Rachel Ward’s killer himself. Trained as a spy during the war, he already possesses good investigative skills, and with the help of Tom, a young street urchin, he gains access to all the darker, seedier parts of London that he would otherwise be unable to navigate without drawing attention to himself. He also calls on Kat, an actress who knew and worked with the murdered woman—and a former lover of Sebastian’s. (Yeah, gotta have at least a few bits of steamy sex—this author is also a romance writer under another name, after all. LOL) The investigation takes a troubling turn when he learns that Rachel was supposed to meet his father—and he wonders if his father might be a traitor. Plenty of other suspects come to the forefront, though, and while there is plenty of vice and avarice to go around, only one man could ultimately have done such a foul deed. Of course, I spotted him right away, though I didn’t know at the time what his motivation would be. I very much enjoyed this book—the characters were well-drawn, the settings wonderfully depicted, and I look forward to getting to know them all better next time ‘round! I marked the grade down slightly due to the several interludes of gratuitous sex; sweat-slicked flesh, deeply probing bits and heaving bosoms did nothing to either develop the characters or advance the plot. If I want romance, I’ll read a romance novel. *sigh* B+.

13. THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau. (audiobook) #1 Ember fantasy series. Wow! There really seems to be a large crop of wonderful fantasy for young readers out there these days! This is a combination sci-fi/fantasy/post apocalyptic fiction for younger readers. I’d say younger than “young adult”—at least, there’s no hint of any sex or awakening hormones in it—it was pure adventure, which I much prefer. And it was an excellent story! It’s about a city called Ember, and in particular two of its citizens, 12-year-olds Doon and Lina, who are now done with school and starting their first jobs. Lina is a messenger, and Doon works in the pipeworks under the city. Ember is a city totally in the dark—once a prosperous, well-provisioned city, now shortages, power outages and scrabbling for mere subsistence living are commonplace. The citizens have been told as far back as anyone can remember that Ember is the only light in the darkness, that there is nothing beyond the city’s boundaries. But neither Doon nor Lina believe it—both have dreams that there *must* be something more, somewhere else to go. Both are increasingly worried about the more frequent and prolonged power outages, the lack of lighbulbs and other supplies. Unbeknownst to Lina, her great-grandmother many times removed (the seventh mayor of Ember) was supposed to pass along a special box with instructions to the next mayor as to what to do. But that mayor died and the box has been stashed in Lina’s closet underneath a veritable tonnage of junk for years. When Lina’s baby sister Poppy discovers the box, she opens it and begins chewing on the directions that are inside—Lina manages to save enough of it so that she realizes it’s important and tries to get someone to listen to her. During the course of her messenger duties, Lina discovered that the mayor is corrupt and has a secret stash of supplies—but the mayor knows she knows, so now his goons are after her and Doon even before they get the instructions deciphered completely. The book ends on a cliffhanger such that I know it won’t be long til I get the next in series. Not only was this a great story, but the reader for this was also excellent—she did the many and varied voices very skillfully. A.

14. MURDER IS BINDING by Lorna Barrett. First in the Tricia Miles “Booktown” mysteries. Modeled after the infamous book town of Hay-on-Wye in England, economically depressed Stoneham, New Hampshire has been remade into a prosperous village with numerous book shops—some antiquarian, many specialty shops and the like opening in the remodeled downtown area. Not a Barnes & Noble in the bunch, anyway! LOL Tricia Miles is the owner of Haven’t Got a Clue, the mystery store, and when Doris, the sourpuss owner of the cookery store down the street, ends up dead, with Tricia finding the body, she ends up being the primary suspect—both by the police, who seem to be watching her very carefully, and by the townspeople, who do love a good gossip. She and her pretentious sister Angelica, visiting from the big city, set out to clear Tricia’s name by asking more pointed questions than the police seem to be doing. When a second death occurs—an older lady who scrounged estate sales, thrift shops, etc. and sold tidbits to the store owners—things escalate more since Tricia had been the last person known to have spoken with her. This book seems to be yet another in a long line of yawningly predictable cozy mysteries with an unmarried protagonist who is a specialty-shop owner of some kind trying to clear her own name when murder happens. She does really stupid things that no sane person would do (essentially breaking into the dead woman’s cottage and snooping around after dark, for example—and then not sharing information gleaned with the police) and of course there must be at least one potential love interest making eyes at her. The mystery really wasn’t—spotted the bad guy straight away—the plot was predictable and I am disappointed to have to say that a book/series that had the potential to be something special ended up being just another cardboard-cutout-cozy. I do have the second one in this series on my PBS wishlist, and I likely will read it when I eventually get it, but I won’t be wishlisting any more of them unless the second one is a great improvement over this and I wouldn’t hesitate to delete it if I needed the space on my list. It wasn’t horrible—just very forgettable, which IMO is almost worse than being really bad—because I did waste about three precious reading hours actually reading this and if it were *really* bad I’d have stopped after fifty pages. LOL C-.

15. ANARCHY AND OLD DOGS by Colin Cotterill. #4 Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery set in 1970’s Laos in which Siri gets involved with his good friend Civali in attempting to thwart a coup against the new Lao government, which also eventually involves Nurse Dtui and Phosy the policeman as well. Siri also ventures to the southern part of the country to Pakse, to investigate the death of a young boy fished out of the river and brings Civali with him to look into some political things on the sly, and while they are there, Siri encounters Daeng, a woman that he and his wife knew in their young revolutionary days. There are a couple of surprises at the end of the book, too. All in all, another very satisfying visit with Dr. Siri and crew, though I have to admit that at times all the political nuances and plots were a bit over my head. The ghosts that Siri has visitations from were somewhat more quiescent in this book, perhaps because Siri was often under the influence, consuming mass quantities of Lao cocktails, which consists of one-half rice whiskey and the other half rice whiskey. LOL I love this author’s writing style and his magical way with words. Can’t wait til the next one! A.

16. THE CASE HAS ALTERED by Martha Grimes. #14 in the Chief Supt. Richard Jury and Melrose Plant mystery series, in which Jury’s friend Jenny Kennington is arrested for two murders that occurred on the fens of Lincolnshire. The first victim was a cousin of Jenny’s that she’d long had conflicts with but had not had any contact with for several years—yet she was the last person to see the woman alive and they had argued. It’s believed the second murder was committed to keep the victim, a young local woman, quiet because she saw something. Jury can’t believe that Jenny has had anything to do with it, but of course he then begins questioning himself as to how well he really knows her—which is, apparently, not well at all. Melrose gets to play the part of an antiques appraiser in this book, as the house where Jenny and the first murder victim were staying is owned by a man who is a collector. That man, Max, was also previously married to Verna Dunn, the first murder victim, and employed the second victim, Dorcas Reese, as a kitchen helper, so Jury wants someone ‘inside’ the house to see how things lie. The reveal isn’t really terribly surprising, but as usual, I enjoyed this entry in Grimes’ long-lived series for the visit with not only Jury and company, but Melrose and his cadre of friends in Northants as well. This one was, once again, a bit bloated with a bit too much in the ‘extraneous’ department, but certainly not as bad as a couple of previous books which looked like they’d not seen an editor’s desk at all! Nothing spectacular here, just a nice comfy visit. B.

17. IN A DARK HOUSE by Deborah Crombie. (audio) I had this book in print on my TBR, but when I spotted it in audio for download on my library’s website, I decided I wanted to see if the series is as appealing when listened to as when read. It is! The reader (Michael Deehy) was excellent with the ability to do a wide range of voices very well. I was shocked to see that the price for this audiobook on CD at Amazon was $95! Glad I have a library card! LOL Anyway, in this book, a serial arsonist is at work and it has turned into murder as a body, a Jane Doe, is found inside a burned-out warehouse. Add to the fact that the warehouse belongs to a prominent local politician and Kincaid has his hands full—and it couldn’t come at a worse time, as the hearing for his custody battle for Kit with his ex-mother-in-law Eugenia Potts is coming up very quickly. When Gemma responds to a call from her friend (and Duncan’s cousin-by-marriage) Winnie who is a vicar from Glastonbury filling in for a friend of hers in London asking her to come speak to one of her parishioners who is distressed over the disappearance of her flat-mate, she finds that Elaine Holland’s disappearance may be tied in to Duncan and the fire brigade’s arson/homicide case as well. And things become even more complicated when a couple of other women who vaguely fit the description of the Jane Doe also seem to have disappeared—including the warehouse owner’s daughter! While I figured out the whole mystery well ahead of time and wanted to shake Duncan and Gemma for being so thick, I can’t really fault them—these books are generally told from the POV of several people so you as the reader have benefit of knowing things that they don’t. And the audio version is every bit as compelling as the print versions of this series—I found I was inventing things that I could do while listening so I could finish the book! After I finished my weekly cleaning and ‘batch cooking,’ I even tucked my MP3 player into my jeans pocket and took a walk….if it gets me moving, you KNOW it was good. LOL If you’ve never read any of Crombie’s books, I highly recommend them in either form! A+

18. FAULT LINES by Nancy Huston. I reviewed this ARC for Amazon Vine, and gave it an F. I don't even want to post my review here. What a waste of trees is all I can say.

19. Fifth in the “Fools Guild” medieval mysteries featuring Feste the fool, this one is actually in the form of a story told by Father Gerald, the current head of the Guild, to the children around the campfire at their new headquarters. It’s a story that features Gerald, but tells of ‘other fools’ in Denmark circa 1150’s as the different factions struggle for power. It’s a tale of treachery and loss, of how fools (i.e. spies) are recruited and trained, and how very surprising they can sometimes be. This is mostly the story of Amleth, who was the son of one of the princes or faction leaders who was murdered and betrayed by his wife and his power-hungry brother. The only one who seemed to care about Amleth was Yorick, the court fool, who trained him to juggle and play the lute and about all the other things fools generally do, like sneaking around and listening at doors. Then one day, Yorick just disappears without so much as a by your leave. When Amleth is sent to Paris to study, he packs Yorick’s bag of tricks with him and seeks training with the Guild there using the secret password that Yorick has taught him and manages to stay alive through cunning for many more years. I absolutely love this series! Alan Gordon does a wonderful job of drawing you right into the story, getting you to care about the characters, and setting the scene for whatever time period and place he’s writing about. This is one of the few series I collect in hardcover and that I know I will be reading again someday even though I already know what happens—the period detail and the stories are irresistible and I suspect will be just as enjoyable the next time around. A+

DNF: A SPOT OF BOTHER by Mark Haddon (audiobook) I’m not sure if my annoyance at the book was due to the reader or not—it was a British guy with a very “posh” accent and he had some horrible variations for the different characters. And that was also quite distracting—the frequently-changing points of view. One of the voices sounded like the Viceroy from Star Wars: Episode One which was REALLY annoying. I didn’t like what I perceived to be the main character either—a somewhat affected older man, recently retired, whose daughter announces her upcoming marriage. He seemed to have a lot of worries and anxieties and flights of fancy and panicky moments. I wanted to slap him upside the head. Anyway, after an hour and fifteen minutes, I had to stop. I don’t know if I should attempt the printed version or not, I’d probably hear that snotty, nasal voice while I was reading. LOL

And that's a wrap for September!