Sunday, February 10, 2008


1. RAINBOW’S END by Martha Grimes. #13 in the Richard Jury and Melrose Plant mysteries, greatly enjoyed this one as Grimes seems to get back on track again. Jury is off to America again, this time to Santa Fe, NM to investigate a possible connection between three women who died in the UK—one of them being a woman who died in a previous book. Brian Macalvie makes a return appearance in order to get Jury involved in the case, acting on one of Macalvie’s infamous hunches, though the connection between the dead women seems tenuous at best. This book also involves a couple of delightful visits with the Cripps family from a previous book, which I found most enjoyable, even Piddlin’ Pete. ::grin:: While I picked out the bad guy in advance, I didn’t really know how or why the crime was done at first, just instinct told me who it was. Very much enjoyed this visit with the whole gang, from Long Pidd to London all the way to Santa Fe. A.

2. HOLY FOOLS by Joanne Harris. Historical fiction set in France in 1605-10 in a small abbey in an isolated area of the coast. Tells the story of Juliette, aka Soeur Aguste, how she came to be ensconced at the abbey as a nun, and of Guy LeMerle, a charlatan and con man that she knew as The Blackbird, leader of the troupe of traveling performers she belonged to before her entrance there. When he turns up at the abbey in the guise of a priest, she knows he must have something evil planned, but as he essentially holds her daughter Fleur hostage with a family some miles away, she cannot reveal his secret. As he sows his seeds of dissent, it is easy to see how religious fervor could pervade the tranquility of an isolated place like the abbey. While I loved the writing style of the author, I found the plot to be very predictable and figured out a couple of major plot twists well in advance. I also didn’t really care for the switching point of view from that of the main character to LeMerle occasionally. Some authors can pull this off skillfully but in this book I just found it annoying. I also did not care for the ending, which I felt was too predictable, too pat, and just didn’t feel right. This is the first of Harris’ books I’ve read, and because I loved her evocative style, I will be reading more—I just highly doubt that this is her best work. B-

3. BLOOD BOUND by Patricia Briggs. Second in the Mercy Thompson paranormal mystery series, featuring Mercy who is an auto mechanic but also a walker, a form of shapeshifter able to transform into a coyote. Mercy owes Stefan, a vampire acquaintance, a favor—so when he calls at 3 a.m. one morning asking her to accompany him in her coyote guise to a meeting with another vampire as an impartial witness so she can report to Stefan’s mistress (the leader of his seethe), she agrees. Little does either of them know that this vampire is not just any vampire—he’s a demon riding a vampire and is immensely powerful. Later, Mercy must go after the creature herself when not only Stefan but two powerful members of the local werewolf community have disappeared. The only thing in her favor is that the demon does not know Mercy is a walker—or does he? Has someone inside the circle of vampires or werewolves betrayed Stefan—and Mercy too? I am enjoying this series and quite like the main character, although I have to say that the frequent descriptions of “pack behavior” as well as descriptions of appropriate behavior and body language when with werewolves, vampires, fae, etc. rather overruns the story at times, but I suppose is necessary to keep things clear. B+.

4. BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION by Tom Raabe. Nonfiction about the disease of biblioholism. I have to say it’s a relief to discover that I am not a biblioholic. Bibliophile, sure. But compared to some of the behaviors described in this book, my love for books is mild—and healthy. I have no problem trading my books when I’m done with them or returning them to the library, I’ve never been fired for reading on the job, sold all my furniture to make room for more stacks of books, nor actually followed in Erasmus’ steps and spent money on a book when I needed my last few dollars for food and nourishment. Like any hobby or interest, some folks take the love of books to the extreme, to the exclusion of almost everything else. I had first read about this obsession with books when one of the characters in the last Cliff Janeway book of John Dunning’s (which I read last month) was afflicted with this disease—and yes, it is indeed a disease. A bit shocking what some folks will do for books, really. One might laugh it off as a harmless addiction—not like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling or other so-called self-destructive substances or habits, right? After reading this book, I would tend to disagree. Interesting book, though the author kind of annoyed me at times—his style or something, dunno for sure just what. Still, I’d recommend this for anyone who thinks they are a biblioholic. The book will possibly either confirm your suspicions or leave you breathing a sigh of relief, as I did. LOL B.

5. THE DEADLY DANCE by M.C. Beaton. Fifteenth in the Agatha Raisin mystery series set in the Cotswolds in the UK, in which Agatha finally gets up the steam to open her own detective agency. Now, to me, this book was just plain silly. Instead of one man-crazy woman (Agatha) we also have Agatha’s crazy assistant at the Raisin Agency, Emma Comfrey, who has taken to batting her past-middle-aged eyelashes at every man she meets and obsessing over them. I swear Ms. Beaton must’ve been drinking coffee laced with uppers during the writing of this book or something, because the story bounced all over the place, told partly from Agatha’s viewpoint, partly from Emma’s, and with occasional forays into other folks’ minds as well. While some of the other books in the series have had their irritating moments, I mostly enjoyed them overall. I nearly threw this one across the room in disgust a couple of times. The whole thing was totally unrealistic. Ludicrous! I found that I really didn’t even care about the original ‘whodunit’ case, the rest of the story was so choppy and silly. And I freely admit that I skimmed about the last 50 pages of the book and am taking a long vacation from the Raisin woman, possibly a permanent one. I haven’t decided yet. D+

6. BROKEN HEARTLAND by J.M. Hayes. Fourth, and most recent in the Mad Dog & Englishman mystery series featuring Sheriff English and his family and the wacky folks of Benteen County, Kansas. Like the previous books, this is a wild and wacky tale with odd sets of circumstances coming together to create utter chaos for a brief period of time. I think Mercury is in permanent retrograde in Benteen county. ::grin: This book comes complete with shoot ‘em up villains, small-town politics and religious nutters galore as election day arrives and the hot race being the one for Sheriff. Sheriff English is certain he’s going to lose, since the religious right has been whipped into a frenzy by his opponent and Englishman is decidedly moderate on the political scale. But he doesn’t even have time to vote himself as the day unfolds with his deputy Wynn (aka Win Some, Lose Some) crashing into a school bus full of kids during a high-speed chase before dawn even breaks, a shooting at the high school, and a man caught stuffing the ballot boxes. Mad Dog comes home from a spiritual retreat to find a bloody message on his door and his wolf/dog Hailey’s water poisoned, which eventually ties into Englishman’s business as well. Bizarre plot, crazy doings, and poor Sheriff English without a deputy to help—until he deputizes one of his daughters who came home from college after having a feeling that Englishman was in trouble. Boy, was she right! Enjoyable though intense and crazy, I do hope Hayes continues this series—but I’m caught up for now! Yay! A.

7. GIOTTO’S HAND by Iain Pears. Fifth in the Jonathan Argyll “art history” mysteries, another series that seems to have ended with the last book being published in 2002. Two more to go, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them. These feature Jonathan, an art dealer and Flavia, a detective for The Art Squad in Rome, and in this book they’re on the trail of a crooked art dealer regarding a theft that occurred thirty years earlier. The theft came to light in the confession of a dying old woman who played a minor role and wants to come clean before she meets her maker. Bottando, Flavia’s boss, is unsure whether to bother investigating, but as Flavia has business in Florence anyway, she stops by to see the old woman while Jonathan is on a trip to England to see his mentor for some career advice. Since he’s “in the neighborhood” he stops by to see the Englishman they think may be the thief, just in time for Jonathan to discover his dead body at the foot of his stairs, an apparent accident. But is it? Another wide-reaching trek with an interesting case that I did not solve til very near the end. Love this series, thoroughly enjoy the characters, and the little tidbits of information about art history is always fascinating too. A.

8. UP JUMPS THE DEVIL by Margaret Maron (audio download) Fourth in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in North Carolina. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version of this book—the reader was excellent, really did well with the different voices, and was able to tell the story in such a way that it didn’t annoy me as I worried it might, this being a “Southern” mystery. The story addresses issues of land development, and reaches back into Deborah’s and her family’s past and how this ties in to a murder investigation of one of their elderly neighbors. Was Jap Stansel killed because of his land, because he knew something about the murder of his son, or for other personal reasons? There are plenty of folks who “could’ve done it” or could’ve at least been involved, but who had the motive and opportunity? I have to say that I did figure out the bad guy as soon as he/she was introduced, but at the time didn’t really know why, just one of those “gut feelings” I get quite a bit of the time. I did figure that out as time went on too, but honestly, even knowing that detail did nothing to spoil the ‘getting there’ of the story. I love Deborah’s family, though I highly suspect I would not myself want to be a member of it, as they are very traditionally involved with one another, nosier than hell, and seemingly very time-consuming to be a part of. LOL Anyway, I think I will see if some more of the series are available on CD from the library—unfortunately, without a (steady) internet connection at home it would be too difficult I think to try to just download more in MP3. Excellent stuff! A+.

9. THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield. Why on earth did I wait so long to read this book? I’ve had it on my TBR for ages and ages…but maybe that enhanced my enjoyment of it even more. It would have been very easy to get totally lost in this book and do nothing else for the whole weekend, especially with the winter weekend we had lending itself to “hibernation.” But I made myself take my time, savor it, and let myself get caught up in the whole story. And a wonderful story it was, too—a ghost story, a story about twins, about family and roots, and about books, too. Enough has been written about this book already that I am not going to synopsize it. You can check on Amazon if you don’t know what it’s about. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it! A+

10. PAGAN WAYS by Gwydion O’Hara. Another from the huge stack of pagan and witchcraft books I have on my TBR shelf, this one will be making its way to another owner. It isn’t a bad book per se, just very basic and with very little information or ideas that were new to me, and it was pretty simplistically done. It might be quite informative for someone who knows little to nothing about Pagan beliefs and history. B.

11. AN ORDER FOR DEATH by Susanna Gregory. Seventh in the Matthew Bartholomew medieval mystery series set in 1350’s Cambridge, UK. When the body of a Cambridge scholar is found brutally stabbed, it’s first believed that it was a simple robbery. But when the Junior Proctor of the University is found hanged execution-style after he starts investigating the death, Brother Michael (the senior proctor, and Matthew Bartholomew’s good friend) believes otherwise. More deaths follow, along with the usual mix of University politics, differences in opinion between the different religious sects, etc. I do enjoy this series but there are parts of it that are rather repetitive at times and sometimes I wish the author would just get on with the story….perhaps a bit of judicious editing would help? At any rate, I didn’t get the bad guy in this one til near the end when a big clue popped out at me, and that’s always a bonus. I have several more in this series on my TBR and am looking forward to them! B+

12. BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS by Alexander McCall Smith. (audio) Seventh in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency cozy mystery series featuring Precious Ramotswe in Botswana, Africa. I enjoy this series in print but was looking for something light and easy to listen to, since I was reading the much heavier Thirteenth Tale at the same time, and this seemed to fit the bill. The reader does a really wonderful job with the voices in this book, and the story was a typical adventure for Mma Ramotswe, Mma Kutsi, Mr. JLB Matekoni and the rest of the gang. There isn’t a whole lot of mystery, just enough to justify calling it such I suppose—more of a cozy visit with old friends, a bit of philosophizing and cultural immersion. I love the series, and this book was a joy to listen to. I may try listening to the next one also, though I do have the print version on my TBR. A.

13. SEEING REDD by Frank Beddor. Second in the Looking Glass Wars fantasy trilogy which is an alternative “Alice in Wonderland” story. Queen Alyss Heart has been on the throne for a few months now, but she can’t help thinking that something isn’t right. The former queen, her evil Aunt Redd is dead…isn’t she? Well, of course not! What sort of conflict would there be if she were? LOL Alyss is quickly learning that being a wise queen isn’t as easy as it seems, and that always being open and up-front about things can have its drawbacks in the political world. I really liked the book, moreso than the first one—which is rather unusual in fantasy trilogies as they say the middle one tends to be the weak one. The author is a screenwriter/producer also and I can’t help but think that this series would make an excellent movie—the fighting and battle scenes with the playing cards, slicing and dicing blades inside hats, Glass Eyes that rip things to shreds, etc. would be wonderful effects! Anyway, I am really looking forward to the last book in series, and there was a bit of a cliffhanger that makes me hope it comes out sooner rather than later! A.

14. DEATH ON THE LIZARD by Robin Paige. #12 and so far last in the Lady Kathryn and Sir Charles Sheridan Victorian/Edwardian mystery series. Kathryn and Charles are off to Cornwall to an area called “The Lizard” as Charles helps out his friend Lord Marsden investigate problems with the Marconi wireless telegraph service. Marsden is a member of the Marconi company board and stands to lose a lot of money if thefts and "accidental" deaths continue to beset the company. Meanwhile, Kathryn and Lord Marsden’s sister Patsy visit a friend in that same area whose ten-year-old daughter has drowned recently. They are hoping to cheer her up, but she seems inconsolable and has turned to a spiritualist who is hoping to help her with the ‘hallucinations’ she’s been having since Harriet’s death. The two storylines become intricately entangled and the mystery gets to be quite interesting. This time period is not really my favorite to read about, but I have always enjoyed Paige’s series. This is one of those series where the point of view changes from chapter to chapter and Paige is one of the few authors I’ve seen who can consistently pull this off in grand fashion. This book was particularly interesting as I learned quite a lot about the “wireless,” a hot technology of the time. I am sorry to see that this is the last book in series at least for a time and am hoping that the author decides to resume it sometime. A.

DNF: CHARITY GIRL by Michael Lowenthal. Set during WWI on the ‘home front’ featuring a young Jewish girl who has run away from home to escape an arranged marriage, and is now living cheaply in a walk-up flat and working in a department store wrapping up ladies underwear. The book seemed to focus on the entertainment aspects of the girl and her friends’ lives—dances, romance, basically ‘hooking up’ with guys to get a free meal or paid admission to a movie or dance. I thought the author used some provocative sexual descriptions to try to snag interest in the story, but it didn’t work—at least for me. I gave this a full 75 pages but just could not make myself care about the character or her story.

And that's it for February!