Monday, April 14, 2008


1. THE TINNER’S CORPSE by Bernard Knight. Fifth in the “Crowner John” medieval mystery series featuring Sir John de Wolfe, the King’s Coroner of Devon UK in the 1190’s. This episode features the tin mining industry and spotlights the importance of tin to the county and the realm at that time. When a foreman-type is brutally beheaded in a stream near the tin works he oversaw in Cragmoor and discovered next morning by his workers, Crowner John is called in to investigate, even though the Stannery (sort of like the tin workers union) has their own governing body and laws. Those laws don’t cover things like murder, so John leaves his ever-grumbling wife for yet another trip into the countryside with his two faithful assistants and soon he, Gwyn and Thomas find out just how fraught with competition and malice the guild can be. In side plots, John’s wife Matilda and her brother the Sheriff plot to hire another coroner (the county is supposed to have three, but for the time being, John is it!) so John needn’t be away from home so much. And John’s longtime mistress and main squeeze Nesta has gone cold on him as well, realizing just how hopeless her situation is, being with a man she can never marry and in a relationship that will never be more than what it is. This book was okay, but I found myself cringing occasionally because the author was constantly making known just how “grumpy” our Crowner is, using phrases/words like “John barked,” or “the Crowner growled,” or “he snapped,” etc. and it got repetitive enough that each time one of those (or similar) words was used, I cringed. LOL I also wasn’t terribly fond of the ending, but can’t say more lest I give too much away. B.

2. FIRETHORN by Sarah Micklem. Fantasy set in a medieval-like world, featuring a young girl with bright red hair and unknown origins, originally called Luck by her adoptive family but renamed Firethorn after surviving self-inflicted poisoning with berries from a firethorn tree. She ends up going off to war with Sire Galan as his ‘sheath’ (read: mistress) and meets many interesting people along the way, enduring some horrible conditions and never being quite sure of her place. I really loved this author’s writing style—very evocative and mood-setting—and the story itself also held me in thrall. I hope I can locate the second in the series—it seems to be out of print already until a new version is released later next year. I hope to see more from this author in the future! A.

3. A FINER END by Deborah Crombie. Seventh in the Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James British police procedural series, this one centering around Glastonbury with a lot of woo-woo and mysterious goings on. Duncan is summoned to Glastonbury by his cousin Jack Montfort when Jack’s girlfriend is the victim of a hit and run driver and he suspects there’s more to it than just an accident. Gemma, now an Inspector and working with a regular police force out of Notting Hill, accompanies Duncan for a weekend getaway to Glastonbury and ends up thoroughly tangled in the mystery too. I absolutely love this series, and this book was no exception. Now, there are likely some folks who won’t like the mystical bent this particular book took, but it *was* set in Glastonbury, after all! This series has fast jumped into one of my top five favorites ever, and I’m going to prove it by moving on to the next one in series as my next ‘read at work’ choice. LOL A+

4. STAGE FRIGHT by Ellen Hart. Third in the Jane Lawless, lesbian restaurateur mystery series set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. When a prominent local theatre actor, Torald Werness, dies impaled on the fork of one of the stage props, Jane is put into the thick of things because not only was she in the theatre at the time, but the dead guy is who she suspects attempted to burgle her garage a couple of days previously. One of Jane’s houseguests is most likely his nephew, which is just now coming to light, and Torald was looking for proof in some papers that were stored by the young man in the garage. Inspector Trevelyan once again pursues Jane as a possible suspect so Jane must solve the crime to clear herself. I’m enjoying this series more as I read on in it—the characters are fleshing out a bit, though there is still room for improvement there, as there is with the plotting—I figured out most of the mystery fairly early on, and had to wait ages for everyone else to catch up with me. One thing I do love is the local setting—since Hart is a local author, she does that part very well and captures the spirit of the area flawlessly. Looking forward to the next in series! B.

5. CAT ON THE SCENT by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (audio) Seventh in the Mrs. Murphy and Tucker “pet” mysteries set in small-town Crozet, Virginia and also featuring Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen, the town’s post mistress. This one featured Civil War re-enactment stuff, which dropped it down a bit on my enjoyment scale, as the Civil War is one topic/time period that I just have never been interested in, nor enjoyed much. A prominent local is shot for real during a re-enactment battle and of course there are numerous folks who wouldn’t have minded him dead. This was a typical book in the series, a light mystery “listen” although the series isn’t really ‘cozy’ per se—it certainly touches on many of the sordid bits of small-town life. I do enjoy the characters in the series and certainly will be carrying on, probably listening to them, mostly. The reader for this series seems to be particularly delightful so I’m hoping she continues to read all the books. B.

6. THE MISTRESS OF SPICES by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. One of my TBR Challenge Alternate selections that’s been on my shelf for a couple of years—finally getting to it! This is the story of a woman named Tilo and her journey to become a Mistress of Spices, and how she came to be in a spice store in Oakland, CA. Mystical and magical, the book is almost a series of short stories about the different spices and the people Tilo deals with associated with each spice, but the stories are all woven together to make it Tilo’s story too. I quite enjoyed the book aside from the frequent usage of various Indian phrases and words that I wasn’t familiar with. I’ve read a few books by Indian authors so have some knowledge of it, and I’m quite familiar with Indian foods and spices, but this using of foreign words happened way too often and it was enough to pull me out of the story occasionally. Aside from that, I would recommend the book for those who enjoy mystical/Goddess stories and who aren’t put off by the woo-woo. ::Grin:: B.

7. AND JUSTICE THERE IS NONE by Deborah Crombie. Eighth Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery/Brit police procedural in which Duncan and Gemma’s paths cross with two similar murders causing the appearance of a serial killer loose in London. There seems to be a connection with not only the similarities in the way they were killed, but the two victims are both connected in some way with the antiques trade. When their main suspect ends up dead himself, Duncan and Gemma must root out further clues to the culprit—although, in this book, it was fairly clear to me early on who that was. On a personal note, Duncan and Gemma move in together because of Gemma’s pregnancy and there are some adjustments with that, particularly as Kit, Duncan’s thirteen-year-old son, moves in with them as well. I really enjoy the way the author ties the past to the present in her novels—sometimes, as in the previous book, it’s a past that is centuries distant, and other times, as in this book, it’s only as far back as the childhood of some of the characters. There’s only a few books left in the series before I’m caught up—I’m going to have to start hoarding them, I think! A.

8. WITCH HUNT by Shirley Damsgaard. #4 in the Ophelia and Abby paranormal mystery series featuring Ophelia Jensen, a librarian in small-town Iowa who has pre-cognitive abilities and her grandmother Abby, a witch. When a biker gang starts hanging out in their small town and essentially taking over a bar there, Ophelia begins to have feelings of unease that something bad is going to happen. And sure enough, one of the bikers ends up dead, and the accused is none other than her good friend and co-worker Darci’s cousin Becca who is visiting from California. Ophelia herself is distracted, trying to be a good parent to Tink, the thirteen-year-old girl she’s taken into her home as a foster child—from their last book’s escapades—and not finding it a very easy task. This book just seemed ‘off’ to me. I’ve enjoyed the previous ones in the series, though it did take me til the middle of the second book before I really began to warm to Ophelia. I found plenty to be annoyed with in this book though—much repetitive text and phrases, too many scenarios that were extremely unlikely, and Ophelia needed slapping upside the head way too often. I did finish it—if it weren’t such a quick, easy read I probably wouldn’t have—but I admit that I skimmed the last couple of chapters, and I’ve decided to hang up the spurs on this series since I can’t honestly say I much care what happens to Ophelia any longer. I do have the next one in series here, but I’m going to trade it off. C-.

9. THISTLE AND TWIGG by Mary Saums. First in a new series featuring Jane Thistle and Phoebe Twigg, two ladies living in their sixties in small-town Alabama. Sound familiar? LOL Well, it’s not the ‘southern sisters,’ that’s for sure. Both these ladies are widows and have just met. Jane moved to a house outside of town and Phoebe has lived there all her life. Jane is a Brit who has lived in the States for almost 50 years, as she was a military war bride; Phoebe is Southern through and through. I enjoyed this first book in the series, though there is a lot of woo-woo so if you don’t like that sort of thing, best avoid it. This was a good, but not great, first in series. The story alternates chapter to chapter, told partly from Jane’s POV and partly from Phoebe’s, and Saums does do a wonderful job with speaking through two characters with totally different personalities/life experiences, etc. But as with the first book I read in Saums’ other series, some things just didn’t ring true and seemed very implausible, like Jane’s ornery old coot of a neighbor Cal agreeing to sell her his land after meeting her ONE time when he had refused many, many offers for large amounts of money over the years. Huh? Intuition and sixth sense aside (and woo-woo doesn’t bother me—that part I had no problem believing)—that’s just insane. There is also something about Jane’s past that I found hard to buy into, but I can’t say more about that without doing a major spoiler. The mystery wasn’t much of a mystery—I figured it out fairly early on. Jane and Phoebe stumble upon a dead body after taking a walk and doing some target practice on neighbor Cal’s land. Cal’s been known to shoot at folks who ignore his trespassing signs, so he’s the obvious suspect, but Jane doesn’t believe it after meeting him, even though he even shot at her and her real estate agent when she had come to initially look at the property. I have the second in the series on my wishlist at PBS, and I will read it, but it’s not one that I’ll run right out and buy. B.

10. MURDER ON MULBERRY BEND by Victoria Thompson. #5 Gaslight historical mystery featuring midwife Sarah Brandt in turn-of-the-20th century New York. When a young woman who’s a reforming prostitute who was staying at a Christian Mission for girls on Mulberry Bend is murdered wearing Sarah’s donated clothing, Det. Sgt. Frank Malloy gets the scare of his life, first thinking the dead woman is Sarah. And of course Mrs. Brandt is pulled into the investigation in an attempt to find out who killed Emilia, venturing into the dangerous Italian neighborhood to speak with her family and acquaintances and volunteering at the Mission to gather more facts and to soothe her soul, feeling that she doesn’t do enough to help her fellow man. Meanwhile, Malloy continuing investigating the long-cold case of the murder of Sarah’s husband, Dr. Tom Brandt and makes a startling discovery. The mystery of the dead ex-prostitute wasn’t much of a mystery at all as I spotted the baddie very early on, and there were many obvious clues put forth. I do enjoy this series though, which is just a bit of an oddity as this is definitely not my favorite historical time period. The characters are wonderful, though, and Thompson does a great job of setting the atmosphere of the times as well. A.

11. BLOOD RITES by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden paranormal series #6 in which Harry ends up with an undercover job as a production assistant for the producer of pornographic movies in order to find out who’s putting a dark curse on the women surrounding the producer. He also ends up in the middle of a war between the White and Black vampire courts and nearly gets his nuts roasted a few times in the process. LOL Harry learns more information about his past, his mother, and also finds out he’s got family he never knew about. Great, fast-paced entry in the series with Harry at his best (and worst!) I don’t know why I don’t read these faster, because I sure enjoy them when I do! A

DNF (Tried to read, but Did Not Finish):

THE BLACK CHALICE by Marie Jakober. I love medieval monks, generally, but this one just failed to capture my attention and seemed much like a sensationalist attempt to focus on sex and ‘the dark side.’ Which I don’t mind if it’s interesting and well-done. This one wasn’t--very scattered, just couldn't seem to pull a coherent storyline together.

THE MOBILE LIBRARY: THE CASE OF THE MISSING BOOKS by Ian Sansom. A mystery about a library/librarian—sounds great, right? Um…not. I read about 50 pages hoping that eventually I’d get interested, but I didn’t. The humor (if you can call it that) seemed forced and while I don’t necessarily have to *like* the protagonist in a series, neither should I feel outright contempt! What a moron he was! I’ve got better things to do with my time—like clean the bathrooms. Next!