Monday, July 7, 2008


1. THE CON MAN by Ed McBain. #4 in the 87th Precinct mystery series, written way back in 1957! I’m on my way through the whole series from the beginning—have read many of the later books, but not read these before. Since they are so old, they are rather ‘dated’ but I enjoy McBain’s writing style and getting the ‘backstory’ of all the detectives I came to know and love in the later books is very interesting too. In this book, various con men and their ‘dirty tricks’ from simple graft, fraud and up to and including murder, are investigated and tracked down by several of the 87th’s detectives. Enjoyable, quick read. B+

2. MAD MOUSE by Chris Grabenstein. #2 John Ceepak mystery, featuring the Sea Haven, NJ ex-military MP, now policeman and his young partner, Danny Boyle. The books are actually told from the POV of Danny, who has just been promoted from part-time cop to full-time. When Danny and his friends become the target of a paintball shooter—who sometimes shoots real bullets as well—Ceepak works with him to try to figure out who might hold a grudge against the small group of friends. When Danny’s girlfriend Katie is critically injured by the shooter, the stakes become much higher and Danny thinks the trail leads to their sometime friend Mook—until Mook ends up dead. The new police chief wants the case wrapped up ASAP so that the beach town’s Labor Day celebration isn’t compromised, so Danny and Ceepak don’t have much time. I really like this series, love the characters, love the author’s writing style—it’s easy reading and somewhat humorous, yet the humor isn’t cheesy or forced. I have to admit I spotted the baddie when they were first introduced—wasn’t sure about the motivation or how it would tie in, but my ‘gut feeling’ kicked in and was right. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book, though—this one was as hard to put down as the first one. I’m glad I’ve got the next on my TBR—I don’t think it will be sitting there too long! A+

3. EXCURSION TO TINDARI by Andrea Camilleri. Fifth in the Italian police procedural series set in Sicily and featuring Salvo Montalbano, epitome of the grumpy inspector. But you gotta love the guy despite his less-than-sweet disposition. In this episode, Montalbano and crew are investigating two crimes—the disappearance of a reserved, quiet elderly couple, reported missing by their son, and the murder of a young twenty-something man with no visible means of support, yet who manages to live in relative style. Drug money? Or something else? And as he lives in the same apartment building as the elderly couple, is there some connection between them despite all evidence to the contrary? I absolutely love this series and hope the author keeps writing them for a long, long time. Montalbano is a complex character and the supporting cast is also well-fleshed and interesting. Catarella’s goofy speech never fails to make me laugh, and I think I want to marry Montalbano’s mostly-absent housekeeper, who prepares the most mouth-watering meals for him! LOL Anyway, another stellar entry in a wonderful series. A+

4. CARVED IN BONE by Jefferson Bass. First in the “Body Farm” mystery/thriller series, co-written by the real-life founder of that notable forensic institution. Set in Knoxville, TN and featuring fictional forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton, this series opens up with a case in which Brockton is contacted by a rural sheriff regarding a long-dead body found in a cave. The body has formed an almost-perfect coating of adipocere, a soapy/fatty substance formed in certain damp conditions over time. Dr. Brockton must remove this coating to get down the story that will be told by the body’s bones, and once back in his lab, the tale of a young, pregnant Caucasian woman dead for about 30 years begins to unfold. Meanwhile, Brockton is also testifying in a court case in which he was contacted by a sleazy defense attorney to refute testimony by the local medical examiner that the cause of death was the defendant stabbing the victim to death. While loathe to work with the defender of slimeballs, when Brockton sees the evidence, he realizes that this time the defendant really is innocent and steps over to the other side, hoping that his testimony is enough to finally get the aging, incompetent medical examiner removed from office. I really enjoyed the professional aspects of this book and the mysteries themselves were very interesting. However, I’m honestly not so struck on the character of Dr. Brockton, as he seems a bit of a wreck in his personal life in this opening book. Widowed two years ago, he seems unable to move on and does some pretty stupid things, from alienating his only child to sucking face with one of his undergraduate students. He also seemed to pass out a whole lot in this book, which seemed rather odd, but he seemed to be pulling himself together a bit by the end of the book so I hope his personal life stabilizes some as we go onward. I grade this book a little lower only because I found his constant grief and both physical and emotional weakness a bit annoying—the story itself was wonderful! B+

5. SILENT IN THE GRAVE by Deanna Raybourn. First in the Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane mystery series set in 1880’s London. Victorian England is really not among my favorite time periods, so I was almost expecting to dislike this book. But oddly enough I found it quite compelling, despite the “romancey” undertone that was threaded all throughout the book. I actually wanted to hate the main character as I tend to find most Victorian “Ladies” just silly, and there *were* times I wanted to smack Julia upside the head. But I found that by the end of the book, I actually liked her and was rooting for her. The book opens with the death of Lady Julia’s husband Edward—which is not seen as a surprise as he’s suffered for years from a congenital heart defect. But when a mysterious stranger, Nicholas Brisbane—who happened to be present when Edward went into a convulsion and died—calls on Lady Julia and says he believes Edward was murdered. When she learns that Edward had hired him to investigate some threatening letters that he’d received, Julia is aghast and at first unbelieving. It doesn’t take long to convince her, though, and soon she and Mr. Brisbane are investigating, both separately and together. The romantic/sexual undertone in their relationship left me a little vexed at times (as you know, I am NOT a fan of romance novels, nor of books classified as ‘mystery’ or ‘fantasy’ or some other genre but are really just romances in disguise) but this book didn’t really fall into that category--the mystery itself and the unfolding story kept me reading on undaunted. I have the next book in series here, and look forward to the continuation of the story and getting to know not only Lady Julia and Nicholas better, but the supporting characters too. A-.

6. BLACK POWDER WAR by Naomi Novik. #3 in the Temeraire historical fantasy series that mingles the Napoleonic wars with fantasy and the inclusion of dragons into the mix. Laurence and Temeraire are dispatched to retrieve three dragon eggs from Istanbul, and must go overland due to a devastating fire aboard their ship while it was docked in China. The journey is fraught with peril, and when they finally arrive, it’s to discover that the ambassador is dead and his main assistant has apparently scarpered with the money that was to be paid to the Sultan for the dragon eggs. Virtually held prisoner while the city is obviously preparing for war, Laurence attempts to investigate as much as he can while under guard, and eventually the whole company is in for a huge surprise when they finally meet the Sultan only to find that Lien, the Chinese dragon whose rider was killed in the last book, sitting behind the Sultan’s throne. This is not good news, as she harbors much hatred for Laurence and Temeraire and indeed all things British. The small company then decides to abscond with the eggs that had been purchased and escape and much more adventure ensues. I enjoyed this book more than the last one—which was almost entirely at sea—because I really do prefer solid ground to “naval stuff.” Looking forward to the next in series, which is sitting on my TBR making quiet noises to be read already. LOL A.

7. ERIC by Terry Pratchett. Ninth book in publication order of the Discworld humorous fantasy series, published in 1990, so I’m only 18 years behind now. LOL Once again featuring Rincewind, the Luggage and a thirteen-year-old demonologist named Eric—who has summoned a demon and got Rincewind instead—as they travel through time and space trying to grant Eric the three wishes he’s demanded. (Yes, he’s a bit confused…Rincewind is a wizard, not a demon NOR a genie! LOL) Somehow he manages to be well on the way to granting those wishes for the boy, although Eric soon finds out that it wasn’t *quite* what he was expecting or wanting after all. Great, rollicking LOL fun in the land of Discworld. A.

8. INTO THE FOREST by Jean Hegland. Although this sometimes classified as “post apocalyptic fiction” I would say it deals more with the collapse of our modern USA civilization rather than an actual apocalypse. The fall of an empire as seen from one small corner of the country. This book was very thought-provoking and in some ways disturbing, I think because the way society collapsed was so plausible. It happened slowly, over many months—and didn’t reach the people in the story until weeks after it actually happened because they were rather isolated. You could easily see that indeed this COULD happen just as the author outlined. Eva and Nell, eighteen and seventeen year old girls and their father, a school principal, live in a country home five miles from their nearest neighbor and thirty miles from town. Their mother died of cancer just before the worst of these problems started, so their grief is still new and raw. They’ve always been somewhat isolated, the girls having been home-schooled, their mother working at home as a spinner and weaver. The problems start with occasional interruption in electrical and phone service, with internet news talking about shortages and cutbacks. Soon those outages become part of everyday life. A trip to town for groceries and supplies a few weeks later shocks them when they realize that most businesses are boarded up, gas stations closed, everyone they know dead of some deadly flu or they simply left, homes abandoned, and they are eyed suspiciously by everyone. The few groceries they manage to find at the local warehouse store cost them most of their savings, and the few people who will talk to them have only bad news. Economic collapse. No government services. No power, no water, no medical care. At home, their computer and telephone are now useless--dusty, chilling reminders of their old lives. They are now out of gasoline save enough for the chainsaw, so another trip to town is impractical. They work their garden, chop wood for fuel, ration their goods and plan to preserve and can the fruit of the orchard and garden for the winter months ahead, looking forward to spring for the time when ‘things get back to normal,’ when Eva can resume her ballet lessons and Nell can make her application to Harvard. Until it becomes apparent that things are not getting back to normal. What a powerful and wonderful book! While the whole setting ‘makes’ the story, as with all stories, it’s really about the people and their interactions. I highly recommend this book. If it doesn’t make my top ten list of the year, whatever books supplant it will have to be uber-super-great. A++

9. THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy (audio) Very skillfully read by the same guy who read No Country For Old Men, another of McCarthy's books that I listened to earlier in the year. It seems to be the month for end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type books. This one is much darker and edgier than the above-mentioned book, and certainly no less powerful. Rather than being isolated in one small area, this book actually takes us with a father and his young son southward down “The Road,” where they hope to eventually come to the sea, somewhere warm, somewhere they can find a place with a little safety and food and shelter. The earth is scorched and scarred, polluted and burnt and almost devoid of life, save for small wandering bands of humans who scavenge what little remains of the former lives of the human race, including, sometimes, the humans themselves. Pushing a shopping cart with a few dented cans of food retrieved from who knows where along the way, a tarp for shelter and a few other odds and ends, The Man and The Boy traverse The Road, encountering few others—and those they do encounter are seldom benevolent. Near-starving, with the man wracked with a worsening bloody cough, the pistol with two bullets in it that The Man carries in his pocket weighs heavily on his heart and mind. Suicide is contemplated often, as well as the question of whether he’ll be able to put the boy out of his misery when the time comes as well. He doesn’t really see any point to it, but they keep plodding onward. The book is, in many ways, raw pain and hurt and really should be more depressing than it ultimately ends up being. I expected to weep, whatever the ending might be, but I didn’t. Another definite possibility for my top ten of the year list. A+

10. WEDNESDAY’S CHILD by Peter Robinson. Sixth DCI Alan Banks British police procedural mystery set in Yorkshire. A seven-year-old girl is abducted from her mother’s Eastvale home by a man and a woman posing as social workers, and the race is on for Banks and his crew to find her before she turns up dead. Having two people in on such an abduction is unusual, since pedophiles generally work alone, so Jenny Fuller, psychologist, is once again called in on the case to advise the police on what they might be looking for. A couple of days later, an ex-con working as a gardener to one of the local ‘country estate’ owners turns up dead in an old mine, disemboweled and slit stem to stern and Alan must take his attention away from Gemma Scupham’s case to find Carl Johnson’s murderer. When some odd coincidences make it seem that the two cases are somehow related, the clues start stacking up and it’s a furious race to the finish. Excellent entry in this series, possibly the best one so far. None of the things that sometimes annoy me about Alan did in this book. Whether that was just my mood or whether the author had actually toned down those things (for one thing, the constant and repeated descriptions of Alan and his co-workers smoking and drinking) enough that I didn’t notice them, I don’t know, but I enjoyed it! A.

11. MORE THAN PETTICOATS: REMARKABLE MINNESOTA WOMEN by Bonnye E. Stuart. Brief biographies of a dozen or so women who were important in the history of Minnesota, beginning back in the 1840’s when it was just a frontier territory to more ‘modern’ post-WWII history. I was vaguely familiar with about half the women in the book, the others I’d never heard of, so certainly a lot of knowledge was gleaned and absorbed, but I did find this book a bit dry; it felt like recitations of the women’s accomplishments and didn’t really allow you to get to ‘know’ the women. This is one reason I prefer historical fiction to historical ‘non-fiction’ books—more speculation is allowed into people’s motivations, more insight into their character rather than just ‘this is what they did when.’ This is the second book in this series I’ve read, and I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous one, which was about Washington state. C+

12. FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE by Rhys Bowen. Third in the Molly Murphy historical mystery series featuring a young Irish immigrant in early 1900’s New York. Molly is struggling to make it as a private investigator, having appropriated her former boss’s business—since he’s dead, he really can’t complain about it, and no family has stepped forward to claim the business or his money. She’s finding it difficult, since women don’t have the same freedoms men do, and she’s dragged off to jail several times by constables who are often bribed off and just as corrupt as the criminals they’re supposed to be arresting. Molly takes a job as a garment worker to try to ferret out for the boss of the company who’s stealing designs from him and selling them to another company, and the horrible working conditions she experiences sparks a desire to help organize the workers. She also takes on a missing persons case, a young English woman who ran off with her father’s stable worker, a charming Irish fellow, and sailed to America. The two cases soon intersect, and Molly finds herself in the middle of the fray, getting noticed by the Eastman gang, being rescued from jail by Captain Daniel Sullivan, the policeman she’s fallen in love with but cannot have as he’s betrothed to a young lady of ‘good birth’ and will not break the engagement for fear of hurting his chances of promotion in his job. Molly also meets another interesting young man, a photographer who is working on the side of organizing trade unions. Jacob, a young Jewish man, seems interested in her, and she is caught between the two trying to decide what to do. (Typical! This ‘torn between two lovers’ thing better not carry on book after book or I’m going to be steamed. LOL) I do enjoy this series, though Molly seems to do some awfully stupid things at times, ‘fiercely independent woman’ or no. I enjoy her supporting characters as well, and the settings and mysteries are also interesting. Looking forward to the next in series. A.

13. HEN’S TEETH by Manda Scott. First in the Kellen Stewart mystery series set in Glasgow, Scotland and surrounding countryside, with our protagonist being a doctor, a therapist and a lesbian. This book is one of my TBR Challenge Books that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, at least a couple of years. When Kellen is called in the middle of the night by an old friend to inform her that Bridget, her former lover, has been found dead, supposedly of a heart attack at the age of forty-one, Kellen reluctantly drives to their farm to sit with her friend and support her during the police questioning. There she learns that not only is Bridget dead, but her brother Malcolm, who had been Kellen’s mentor in medical school, died of the (apparent) same cause a couple of months previously while Kellen was out of the country. Malcolm had turned from doing medical work to genetic research and soon the mystery surrounding what he was working on with Bantam chickens seems to be at the center of the mystery. Kellen calls on her old friend Lee Adams, a thoroughly free spirited rebel who also happens to be a pathologist at the local hospital, to help investigate. I enjoyed the book and really like the main character and her cronies, but I was a little puzzled at first, as there seemed to be some backstory that I just wasn’t getting or that was possibly edited out or something, and it left me feeling a bit scattered, though that settled down eventually. Quite an interesting mystery as well as a thriller as Kellen and Lee finally learn just who is behind the whole chicken caper and nearly get themselves killed in the process. Very enjoyable read, and I’ve already ordered the next book in the series. B+

14. THE FAITHFUL SPY by Alex Berenson. Modern-day thriller/spy novel, I believe it’s first in a series and features rogue CIA agent John Wells. John was sent to Iran to attempt to turn spies for work infiltrating the Taliban and al Quaeda, and ended up a terrible failure at recruitment, but he did manage to become a member of al Quaeda himself. Living abroad in the rough for years, speaking mainly Arabic but fluent in several other languages, initially going through the motions of the Muslim religion and eventually even converting, John is outraged at the way the fundamentalist extremists have twisted what he sees as a beautiful religion for their own purposes. He has not been able to get a message ‘home’ in a long, long time and is assumed by many to be dead, and is even forgotten by all but a few. Eventually he is accepted by the people he lives and works with as a leader of a small band of guerillas, and is even summoned to meet Sheikh bin Laden, though nothing important seems to come of it. He learned about 9/11 well after the fact, not having a clue that it was coming to pass, and seems to have not done anything really ‘useful’ for his agency or country, living a meager subsistence sort of life fighting minor skirmishes in the mountains. That is, until one day he is summoned from his group, sent back to the United States on a false passport and told to wait for contact. He travels to Montana to see his family, and his ex-wife alerts the CIA, who haul him in and treat him like a traitor. He knows that al Quaeda has been planning something. Something big. But he has no idea what and has no useful information. Eventually he escapes—or is allowed to escape?—and disappears, waiting for contact from Omar Khadri, the ‘big cheese’ of al Quaeda’s North American operations. It’s been a long time since I read a real honest-to-goodness spy novel, and most of those that I read in the past were seriously outdated…Russian spies, Cold War type of stuff. This was waaaaaay too real and plausible and kept me right on the edge of my seat up til the end. Very well written with a believable main character, I will definitely continue reading in this series. Quite different from anything I’ve read in recent months, a nice change of pace. A.

15. THE DEAD SURVIVORS by K.J. Erickson. Second in the Marshall “Mars” Bahr police procedural series set in Minneapolis. Mars is a Special Investigator assigned to a unique task force that only handles homicides not gang- or drug-related. Business has been a little slow and there are concerns that the creation of the group is a waste of time and money. This book starts with Mars being asked by a patrolman that he’d had contact with on a previous case to look at a death that was written off as a suicide by the patrolman’s Sergeant. Some things just didn’t ‘sit right’ and after only a short time investigating, Mars’ infamous gut feelings are leading him to the same conclusion, and a homicide investigation is opened fairly shortly afterwards. The investigation leads to connections to another murder in Wisconsin, and a possible serial killer who seems to be killing people who had ancestors who were tied to a Civil War battle, but just how they’re connected, how the killer is choosing them and of course who the killer is remain unanswered questions. How to investigate properly without alarming millions of people is a big consideration, and the whole investigation is complicated by the fact that Mars ends up in hospital with appendicitis and has surgery and by the fact that it’s the Christmas holidays. Who can be expected to evoke much cooperation with other agencies during the holidays? As some of you know, the Civil War is not one of my favorite time periods but while there was a strong tie-in to the Battle of Gettysburg, most of the action was firmly in the present time and the storyline kept me thoroughly enthralled. I liked this book better than the first in series and am looking forward to the next one. A.

16. DEATH AND RESTORATION by Iain Pears. Sixth (and second to last) in the Jonathan Argyll “art history” mysteries. Big changes are afoot at the Art Theft Squad and Flavia needs to choose whether to join her boss Bottando on an international task force or to take over the day-to-day running of the Art Theft Squad. She’s a hands-on type of person and doesn’t relish sitting behind a desk, though the more regular hours would make it possible to spend more time with Jonathan. The Squad gets a tip that there is to be a theft at a local Abbey, but that particular institution has nothing of real value so they are puzzled as to what a thief would want. But when a rather notorious thief named Mary Verney is spotted entering Rome, Flavia assigns her to be watched closely. But that doesn’t stop a small icon at the abbey from being stolen right out from under their noses—and the head of the abbey is clonked on the head and severely injured as well. Is the loud-mouthed American restorer working on another picture in the abbey to blame? Or did Mary Verney slip out of their surveillance? Or is an unknown factor involved? I really enjoy this series—I always learn a bit about the art world, and enjoy both Jonathan and Flavia and their relationship and the supporting cast, too. The author also often will manage to surprise me a bit and this book was no exception. One more left in the series, then that’s it! Bummer! A.

17. BIRDS OF A FEATHER by Jacqueline Winspear. Second in the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series, set in post-WWI England. It’s been over a year since I read the first in series, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I don’t know why I put off reading this one for so long. Maisie is hired to find a young woman who’s left her home without notice—she is over thirty years old and has a history of doing such things, so no one is terribly worried, but her controlling father wants her back. When Maisie learns that Charlotte Waite is connected to another young woman recently murdered, she begins investigating in earnest. Meanwhile, she also must deal with the cocaine addiction of her beloved assistant, Billy Beale, and the recuperation of her father from a serious accident in which he is severely injured during the foaling of Lady Rowan’s favorite horse. I enjoyed the book a lot and certainly was compelled to keep on reading, though I did figure out the culprit about midway through when a couple of major clues were dropped in our laps. One thing I did find annoying though was that Maisie didn’t share some important details with Detective Inspector Stratton but then in her own mind chided him for taking a wrong turn in the investigation. Perhaps if he had all the information he may have actually listened to you, silly girl! Also annoying was the appearance of another possible love interest for Maisie (to offset Stratton) and which one she chose to dine with was left dangling as a cliffhanger for the next book. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill of female historical fiction characters semi-smitten with their policemen or something, but when I read the next book, it won’t be because I want to know which it was. I could care less! I love the way Winspear is able to set the historical scene (although, again, this is NOT my favorite time period! LOL) and I enjoy Maisie and the supporting cast of interesting characters, so despite the minor annoyances I most certainly enjoyed the book and will be reading onward. A-.

18, TAKEOVER by Lisa Black. ARC for review, due for release next month (August) I believe. This is a thriller featuring forensic scientist Teresa McLean, who lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. Teresa is processing a crime scene in the wee hours of the morning, a man found dead outside his home with his head bashed in. No one likes being up in the middle of the night, but at least Teresa gets to work with her fiancĂ©, Paul, who’s a detective with the Cleveland police force. But how quickly things can change. A few hours later, Teresa is called and told that Paul is one of the hostages in a stand-off at the Federal Reserve Bank—where he had gone to question the co-workers of the murdered man only to be accosted by a couple of would-be bank robbers. Coincidence? Not very likely. Tess arrives at the scene—or where the negotiations will be conducted, in a building across the street—and must maintain her professional demeanor in a very stressful situation—a situation that only becomes more stressful as the hours wear on. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like the book; we were virtually thrown into the story almost immediately with very little backstory or explanation. But this was indeed quite a ‘thrilling’ book—I was compelled to read it almost in one sitting. The writing style is very appealing; it’s clear and easy to read. However, I did figure out the plot twist way ahead of time—the clues were way too clearly broadcast so that when the entire situation was finally revealed, it was very much of a relief—I was certain that everyone who was ‘investigating’ in the book must be really stupid or something! Figuring out the mystery ahead of time in a cozy mystery isn’t really such a big deal, but in a “thriller,” it certainly works better if there is a big surprise at the end. Aside from making the solution too obvious, the other flaw I saw was lack of character development. I tend to be a reader of series books, and depth of character is even more important in those type of books than plotting—at least for me. I’m not sure if the author is intending to make this into a series or if it’s a ‘one-off’ book, but if there are more books with Tess to come, I would advise spending a bit more time on getting the reader to care about her, to let us really know her. Despite everything she went through in this book, I still found her to be a bit two-dimensional, even at the end. That was part of the problem I had with being thrown headfirst into the story—I really didn’t care at all about Teresa at that point. The forensic bits were interesting, certainly. And it was a good story. It would’ve been better with a bit more flesh on its bones, though. There is much promise here and I hope the author continues to write--I will be looking for more from her for certain. B.

19. THE ST. JOHN’S FERN by Kate Sedley. #9 Roger the Chapman medieval mystery in which a newly-married Roger heads off to Plymouth, directed there by one of his dreams, and sure enough, finds a mystery that needs solving. Oliver Capstick was murdered in his home about five months ago, and everyone knows the culprit—his nephew, Beric Gifford. They had argued heatedly the day before and he was seen both coming and going from the uncle’s home, even to the point of having a dark stain on his tunic on his way out. But no one, including the Sheriff’s posse, can find him, despite searching not only the countryside, known haunts and his manor estate. Everyone thinks he took St. John’s Fern, a flower that legend says can make a person disappear. Roger is a bit skeptical of course, though isn’t one to totally discount the supernatural. His travels lead him over the countryside to several villages and to Beric’s home of Villetort Manor in search of the young man or at least a search for some clue as to w here he’s gone. I always enjoy this series, even though I thought the solution to the mystery in this one was quite obvious right from the beginning. In fact, I wanted to clunk Roger over the head with the oh-so-simple clues, but I let him off easily since he was a newlywed and likely to be a bit muddled. LOL Anyway, another wonderful foray into 1400’s England; I wish these weren’t so difficult to find—I always have to order them from my library and I hate giving them back. A

20. ACQUA ALTA by Donna Leon #5 Commissario Guido Brunetti police procedural set in Venice, Italy. Guido starts out investigating the assault of Brett Lynch, an American archaeologist/pottery expert who is in Venice visiting her lover, one of the opera singers who was featured in Leon’s first book, Death at La Fenice. Brett is threatened and told not to attend a meeting she had set up with a local museum director to discuss some antiquities that had been in a display from China that she’d spearheaded a couple of years earlier—which she now discovers are fake. There are also some derogatory comments made about her lesbianism by the thugs who beat her up, so she isn’t sure just why she was attacked. When the museum director ends up dead, the necessity of finding the connection intensifies, and Guido digs and investigates while out of doors, Mother Nature provides the usual annual onslaught of ‘acqua alta’ or the torrential winter rains that cause severe flooding throughout the city. I love this series—the characters, the setting, the food, the poetic prose…the only part of these books that sometimes annoys me is the constant background presence of the Mafia, and this book that featured rather heavily. It seems sometimes that it’s just too convenient and too pat a solution to whatever problem is presented. But I still loved it! A

DNF: MAGICAL HEARTH: HOME FOR THE MODERN PAGAN by Janet Thompson. I struggled through about 20 pages, but there were numerous typographical and/or spelling and word form/grammatical errors that made it impossible for me to read. In addition, the information that was provided in the little that I read was poorly organized and widely scattered. Perhaps someone else will find it useful--I'll be passing it along via PBS.

Up next: I'm making my way through PAGAN EVERY DAY: FINDING THE EXTRAORDINARY IN OUR ORDINARY LIVES by Barbara Ardinger. This will likely take me several weeks or months as it's a daily meditative type thing filled with short, page-long essays about different topics. I'll be starting August off with ANOTHER MAN'S MOCCASINS by Craig Johnson.