1. THE ELVES OF CINTRA by Terry Brooks. Middle book in the Genesis of Shannara fantasy trilogy that merges the two worlds of Shannara and the modern-day world of his Word and the Void trilogy. The two groups begin their journeys to meet up together and resolve the end-of-world conflicts facing both of them. One group is a ragtag group of street kids, a family called The Ghosts led by Knight of the Word Logan Tom, heading south from Seattle in search of Hawk, now known to be the incarnation of The Gypsy Morph, The earth is a polluted, dead scar, with roving bands of demons and once-men preying on those who are still human and still alive. The other group, a small band of Elves led by the other known live Knight of the Word, Angel Perez, sets to leave the Cintra and save their mystical tree, the Ellcrys, by finding the Elfstones and the Loden, lost millennia ago. Their journey is dangerous because of two powerful demons tracking them as well as the King’s soldiers, as they are believed to have killed the King’s daughter, when indeed the demons are responsible. As the two groups make their journeys, each learns some things about their traveling companions (and themselves!) that surprises them. This book wasn’t *quite* as good as the first in series (nor, I suspect, as good as the third in the trilogy will be—it seems to suffer a mild case of the typical malady that middle books in trilogies are cursed with) but I did still enjoy it much and was enthralled with the world Brooks has created. Looking forward to The Gypsy Morph! A-
2. THE COLOR OF DEATH by Bruce Alexander. Seventh book in the Sir John Fielding historical mysteries featuring the blind Bow Street Magistrate in 1770’s London. Sir John and Jeremy set out to solve a series of robberies and murders that involve a group of black men. Racism and the whole slavery issue come into play here and Jeremy and Sir John must use their wits to solve the case. Sir John is injured shortly after the first robbery, so Jeremy is forced to do much of the sleuthing on his own, though when he tells Sir John the things he’s discovered, Sir John inevitably ‘sees’ more than his young protégé despite his blindness. There are some growing pains in their relationship as well, as Jeremy heads toward manhood. Enjoyable as always—knowing there are only four more of these books due to the author’s death saddens me greatly. A.
3. PRETTIES by Scott Westerfeld. Second in the “Uglies” young adult fantasy trilogy in which Tally Youngblood, the rebellious girl from the first book, is experiencing her dream and is now a Pretty. However, things aren’t as idyllic as she thought they’d be as disturbing memories begin to creep in and she and a small group of her clique, the Crims, begin making little rebellious gestures that turn into bigger breaches of ‘the rules.’ When Tally and her new boyfriend, Zane, are given a chance to ‘cure’ the brain lesions that are induced when people are “turned Pretty” at age sixteen, they do so and Tally’s memories then begin to flood back in and she’s once again trying to stay one step ahead of the government and Special Circumstances. Life becomes more difficult when Tally’s friend Shay remembers Tally’s betrayal and a small group of the Crims decides to run away from the city. I enjoyed the continuation of the story but I have to say that the first part of the book was just plain annoying, when Tally was being “pretty minded” which basically means being a total airhead only concerned about looking good, popularity and conformity. The language kind of reminded me of a Valley Girl convention! LOL I realize it was necessary to make the point, but it was still annoying. But that calmed down once Tally started remembering and got “herself” back and I’m looking forward to the next in series. A.
4. THE DAUGHTERS OF CAIN by Colin Dexter. Eleventh in the Inspector Morse British police procedural series in which a college professor is brutally stabbed to death in his home early one Sunday morning. The suspects are many and the tale is complex, revealed bit by bit so that you can guess parts of what’s happened but not all of it until close to the end. An enjoyable read as always with Morse and Lewis on the case, and again a series I’m sad that will be ending after just another couple of books. I’ve read these all before but they are comfort reads for me and I doubt I’ll ever stop enjoying them. A.
5. KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED by Craig Johnson (audio book) Third Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery. I finally managed to finish listening to this one and it was just as enjoyable as the first two, with the stellar writing of the author and the wonderful reader who seems to really capture the essence of the characters. Sheriff Longmire heads east from his home in Absaroka County, Wyoming to Philadelphia, accompanying his best friend Henry Standing Bear as he is set to make a presentation on Native American culture at a museum there. Walt’s also visiting his daughter Cady, a promising young lawyer, and is set to meet her boyfriend of several months, and plans to visit his deputy Vic Morelli’s parents there as well. Before the sheriff is ever able to get together with Cady, she is brutally attacked and suffers a devastating head injury, and lies in a coma while Walt and Henry investigate—somewhat stealthily, since the sheriff has no jurisdiction—to try to determine who attacked her. When their prime suspect, Cady’s new boyfriend, ends up dead, they don’t know which way to turn next. Adding to the confusion for Walt is Vic’s very attractive mother, Lena. As I said, it’s just another excellent entry in the series and I look forward to the next. A+
6. GARNETHILL by Denise Mina. First in a mystery series featuring Maureen O’Donnell, a rather unlikely sleuth who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Maureen is a woman with a rather checkered past, having been hospitalized for mental illness due to a breakdown brought on by memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father. The rest of her family is just as unsavory, with an abusive, alcoholic mother and a drug-dealing brother, although Maureen is very close to Liam, her brother. But one thing Maureen does have is good friends, and she needs them when her boyfriend is brutally murdered in her apartment. Maureen is cast as the prime suspect because she had recently discovered that Douglas was married, and there’s pressure to get the case solved because Douglas’s mother is a prominent government official. When the police don’t seem interested in answering questions that Maureen has, she investigates on her own, sometimes with the unknowing aid of her friends. Maureen is trying to not only overcome the suspicion of the police but her own doubts about her sanity. Could she have killed Douglas in a drunken stupor and not remembered it? Excellently written, well-plotted and with wonderful, in-depth characterizations. I felt like I knew Maureen quite well after only a few pages, and despite her foibles, I liked her a lot. I will definitely be reading more of Mina’s work! A+
7. CURSED IN THE BLOOD by Sharan Newman. Fifth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series set in 12th century France, although this book moves our main characters over to Scotland. When two of Catherine’s husband Edgar’s brothers are brutally murdered in what is thought to be a revenge killing, his father Waldeve sends Edgar’s brother Robert to France to track him down and bring him home to help sort out the mystery and take revenge on the culprits. Robert’s arrival in Paris coincides with Catherine’s father’s being questioned by the Bishop regarding his seemingly excessive dealings with Jews. Hubert is secretly a Jew, having been adopted at a young age by a Christian family and practicing Christianity on the surface, but always living in fear of discovery of the true religion of his birth and his heart. He doesn’t tell Catherine about the enquiry (although she is well aware of his religion) but urges her to travel to Scotland with Edgar ostensibly to finally meet his family but actually putting her safely out of the way if anything solid should come of the Bishop’s questionings. So they trek out with James, the couple’s infant son, Willa, a young girl who helps with the baby as well as Solomon, Catherine’s cousin, as a guard/escort. Catherine finds Edgar’s home, Wedderlie, to be a cold and barbaric place after the comforts of Paris, but she endures and carries on and does become friends with Edgar’s stepmother Adalisa who speaks French. Waldeve, Edgar’s father, is a cold and cruel man that Catherine finds hard to believe is related to her beloved. As Edgar and Catherine are separated during the solving of the mystery, each on their own adventures, each discovers certain facts that don’t really add up until they are together again and can compare notes. Very well done—I have enjoyed each of these books and the characters in them as well. Interestingly, the timeline sort of parallels that of my all-time favorite historical mystery series, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books, although in a different place. A.
8. ONE FOR SORROW by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer. First in the John the Eunuch historical series. John is Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor Justinian in 6th Century Constantinople. This mystery centers around the murder of his friend Leukos, another of Justinian’s court officials. It appears to be a simple case of a man cut down and attacked in a back alley, but John doesn’t believe it and conducts his own investigations. When a young prostitute is murdered a few days later in her Madam’s house near where the first murder occurred, John feels they are connected and the mystery deepens. I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed with this book, as it sounded very interesting and it took me a long time to track it down. I’m not really sure exactly why I wasn’t overly fond of the book. There’s nothing overtly ‘bad’ about it, and I did like the way the authors didn’t cover up the dark side of history—the cruelty, class struggles, slavery, the realities of living in a stinking city. But I couldn’t really connect with the main character for some reason and for me, that is paramount to enjoyment of a series. I don’t necessarily have to LIKE the main character but I do have to feel some connection. Part of my problem with the book was the writing style, I think. I felt that there were way too many adjectives and adverbs being used to describe every little detail of the surroundings, of the people and their clothing, the food they ate, their actions, etc and it was quite distracting rather than enhancing the story. You know, it sort of felt like when you wrote a report in school and after doing the word count, had to go back and insert another hundred words somewhere to make up the difference. (If that makes any sense! LOL) A lot of superfluous words that didn’t really enhance the story. Moreover, I didn’t really care about the mystery. I did finish it (and yes, I guessed the bad guy fairly early on, too LOL) but I think I will set the series aside, at least for now. It took me much longer than it should have to read this book, as I would read a couple of chapters (which were rather short) and lose interest, so it was completed in very piecemeal fashion. Not a good sign. I was interested in the parts about John’s religion, Mithraism. Being a Pagan myself, I am always interested in other Pagan religious practices and seeing how they fit into society in general in differing time periods. But for me, that interest isn’t enough to carry me into the next book in the series. Another thing that factored into my decision is that these books are very difficult to come by for me, and again, this one didn’t hold my interest enough to make me continue to pursue them. C.
9. KILLER MARKET by Margaret Maron. Fifth book in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in North Carolina. Judge Knott is off to High Point to fill in for a colleague on vacation, not realizing that she is arriving during Market Week when an international furniture show has taken over the town. While trying to find somewhere to stay (who knew she’d need a hotel reservation in the usually sleepy little town?) she stumbles into a murder mystery centering around the furniture industry and many of the top players in the furniture market. Oddly enough, the murdered man is someone she met briefly in her youth and her tote bag ends up beside his body—and it was an allergic reaction to her penicillin pills that killed him! For an even bigger dose of coincidence, Chan, the murdered fellow, is the son-in-law of a former college classmate of Deborah’s—so at least she does find a place to lay her weary head. LOL Admonished to ‘stay out of it’ and not get involved by both the local police and her police friend back home in Colleton County, Deborah really tries to do just that, but of course doesn’t succeed and is very much in the thick of things as potential suspects start coming out of the woodwork. I love this series, whether I’m reading it or listening in audio, and look forward to continuing ahead. This mystery I didn’t figure out until close to the end of the book which is always an added bonus. I don’t always follow the red herrings, but I did this time! A.
10. COVER HER FACE by P.D. James. #1 Chief Inspector Adam Dalgleish mystery. This is one of my TBR Challenge books which has been on my shelf almost 2 years! I never got to it simply because I’m in the midst of so many other British police mystery series. Who killed Sally Jupp? A maid at Martingale, the local country manor home, Sally is found in her (locked) bedroom peacefully in bed, dead as a doornail with obvious strangulation marks around her neck and her infant son wailing in his cot next to her. She had been given her position at the recommendation of the matron of the local home for unwed mothers a few months past and seemed to sow dissent among the Maxie family and their help from the time of her arrival, culminating with the announcement earlier that day that their son Stephen had asked her to marry him! With so many possible suspects, will CI Dalgleish and his trusty note-taking sidekick be able to sort out the problem? Of course! Classic British mystery written in 1962, this was a very engaging book despite the lack of detail into the main character’s (Dalgleish) life and psyche—in fact, he doesn’t even make an appearance until almost page 60 and we are not privy to the machinations of his obviously very superior brain. As with most mysteries of that era, the focus is on plotting rather than character development, and James does that VERY well. I had no idea who the murderer was until the reveal, though I did pick up on many clues—some of them red herrings—along the way. In that sense, I enjoyed the book very much, but I do hope we are given more insight and details of the Chief Inspector’s life in later books. A-
11. PAWING THROUGH THE PAST by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (audio) Eighth book in the Mrs. Murphy cat mysteries featuring Mary Minor Harristeen, postmistress of small-town Crozet, Virginia and her troupe of animal friends. I enjoy the reader for this series so have started listening to them, although I’ve enjoyed them in print, too. While they do feature animals that communicate, it’s not really a cozy series as there’s definitely too much cussing and details about the sordid secrets of small-town life. But that bit of an edge makes it interesting and I think the animal bits are very well done. In this book, Harry (as MMH is referred to) and her friends are preparing for their twenty-year class reunion when they all receive a mysterious letter saying, “You Will Never Grow Old.” At first it’s taken as a joke. But when first one, then a second of her classmates ends up shot between the eyes, no one’s laughing. Are the murders the result of something happening now, or rooted in the decades-old past? Even though admonished to ‘stay out of it’ and let the police investigate, Harry and her furry friends are determined that no more of their classmates should perish and are on the scent. Delightful as usual with the excellent reader and the wonderful characterizations the author brings out. I had a good idea who the killer was fairly early, but it was one of those ‘gut feelings’ and I was by no means sure. A
12. IRON KISSED by Patricia Briggs. Third in the Mercy Thompson paranormal series featuring shape-shifter Mercy and her circle of paranormal friends—werewolves, vampires and the like. When Mercy’s mentor Zee, a fae, is arrested for the murder of a man who was a guard on the fae reservation, Mercy must augment the police’s investigation to prove her friend’s innocence. How to do that, though, without betraying Zee’s (and indeed the whole fae community’s) secrets? Can she get Zee released without getting into major trouble herself, or without owing the fae her heart and soul? Mercy’s romantic life also comes to a head when she realizes she must FINALLY choose between Adam, the local werewolf pack leader who has claimed her as his mate, and Samuel, her first love—also a werewolf, a doctor, and the son of the Marrok—the ruler over all North American werewolves. As you probably know, I am not a big fan of “romance” per se in books, so it was a relief to get the sexual tension over with when she chooses and get on with it, as it were. I enjoy this series and really like Mercy and hope additional books will be forthcoming soon! B+
13. COLD DAY IN HELL by Richard Hawke. Second in the Fritz Malone mystery series set in New York. With a popular late-night television star on trial for the brutal murders of two of his ex-girlfriends, the city is shocked when a third, and then a fourth murder using the same MO are discovered with the main suspect in custody. Fritz gets involved because the first of the post-arrest victims was a woman he’d unofficially consulted with about security concerns. Now, I loved the first book in this series, but this one I’d have to demote to “liked a lot.” Part of the reason is that Charlie, Fritz’s girlfriend’s father and his mentor, doesn’t appear in the book at all. He’s a wonderful character, so that was a shame. Plus, he and Margo are on the ‘outs’ and their relationship in the first one was a big part of the book, and an enjoyable, refreshing part at that. The humor was also a bit flat this time. I figured out the bad guy almost from the moment he was introduced, too—even with all the intriguing red herrings, I just knew who it was. And though some of the side plots were quite interesting, it seemed like they took us too far afield and some of the doings were quite implausible, too. Don’t get me wrong—I like Fritz a lot, and will happily read anything this author puts forth. (Including anything featuring Hitchcock Sewell, the main character of a series he writes in his other guise—hint, hint!!) I just hope Fritz is more on form again by the next book. This one left me feeling a bit dissatisfied on the whole--but I still love this author, his writing style and his characters. Maybe that means I hold him to a higher standard, I don't know. B.
DNF: MURDER IN MINIATURE by Margaret Grace. First of a mystery series about a retired woman (Gerry something—I’ve forgotten already) who builds miniature doll house things. Apparently the author is a miniaturist (if that’s what they’re called) in real life and the parts about that type of crafting were, I’m sure, very accurate. I have to say (as with plenty of other books I’ve read written by an expert in the field of ‘whatever’) that the expertise doesn’t necessarily transfer over into writing an engaging work of fiction, though. I slogged through to page 70 before giving up, but I would have quit much earlier and carried on because it was the only book I had with me at work. It read like a recitation rather than a story and the main character, nor indeed any of her friends/family, just didn’t spark my interest at all. Next!