Tuesday, August 5, 2008

AUGUST 2008

1. ANOTHER MAN’S MOCCASINS by Craig Johnson. #4 and most recent Walt Longmire mystery in which Walt and crew are back in Wyoming. Walt’s daughter Cady is also back at home doing physical therapy and recovering from the devastating head injury she received in the last book, but Walt is distracted from spending time with her because he’s trying to track down the killer of a young Vietnamese woman found on the side of the road. At first they think they have him in the form of Virgil White Buffalo, a hulking Native American found near her body with some of her belongings nearby. But things seem just a bit too pat to Walt, whose instincts take him elsewhere. First there is the girl’s grandfather—or at least another Vietnamese, a bit of a rare commodity in Absaroka County, who claims to be so. Then there’s the new bartender in town, who not only has a police record back in Chicago, but lies to Walt, albeit in a small way. And what about the hayseed ranching brothers who discovered the woman’s body while they were mowing hay along the roadside? They seem too uneasy to be completely blameless to Walt’s way of thinking. So who’s the culprit? While I’ve enjoyed all the books in this series, the last one was just a bit off-kilter with the setting having moved to Philadelphia; this one seemed to be back on track as Walt is on home turf, though he does flash back periodically throughout the book to his time in Vietnam during the war to a mystery he was chasing after then as a young Marine investigator. The answer to the old mystery was quite obvious to me, but the present-day one remained unsolved in my head until fairly close to the end as there were several plausible explanations and no ‘gut feeling bad guy’ jumped out at me. I really enjoyed this book, and it’s actually the first one I’ve read—I listened to all three of the first ones in audio, which were equally delightful. It was interesting seeing the names and places in writing and seeing how they’re spelled. ::grin:: I hope the author is home writing #5 because I’m going to be very impatient trying to wait for the next one…oh, the perils of being caught up with a good series! A.

2. ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton (audiobook) One of those classics that I never had to read in high school, so didn’t, but when I noticed while browsing through my library’s selection of audio downloads that the audio version was narrated by George Guiddell, I couldn’t resist. Short and so NOT sweet, the story takes place in the bleak New England countryside of about a hundred years ago and was very depressing. This is the tale of Ethan Frome, a man unhappily married to a sickly shrew of a woman who falls in love with her cousin who comes to live with them to ‘do’ for her. It’s a story of longing and loss, a classic love triangle with a twist. I hated ALL the characters and wanted to slap them all silly, but I must admit it was a story skillfully told and wonderfully read. How to grade it? Hmmm….B.

3. GOBLIN WAR by Jim C. Hines. Third and final entry in the “Jig the Goblin” light fantasy series in which Jig heads off to war. Goblins, hobgoblins, humans, a tangled mix of political and personal grievances to be sorted out and settled, a cranky old female chief for Jig to please, not to mention trying to figure out the wishes and motives of his God, Tymalous Shadowstar. Poor Jig! All he wants to do is retire peacefully to his corner of the mountain with Smudge, his fire spider, with enough to eat and an extra loincloth or two. Instead he’s thrust into the midst of war with his busted-up knife, dwindling healing powers and a rag-tag group of what passes for loyal followers, which isn’t saying much among the goblins. And there he goes, headed towards the ultimate battle in which the goblins attempt to secure their little corner of the mountain. I really enjoyed this series; it’s not your typical fantasy at all, more humorous and lighter in tone, yet with some underlying deeper message, too. I’ll miss Jig now that his adventures appear to be done, but will definitely be looking for more from this author. A.

4. THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak. Powerful book set during the rise of Hitler in Germany and into the WWII years, told from the point of view of Death (he was a bit overworked during that time!) and about Liesl, a young German girl who is the Book Thief mentioned in the title. The book opens with Liesl at about age 10 when she steals her first book (at her brother’s funeral) and moves forward to her years with the Hubermanns, a foster family who has taken her in and who become her Mama and Papa. The Hubermanns give the outward appearance of following the Party line, but Hans tends to be a bit rebellious and they end up hiding a Jew in their basement for many months, the son of a friend of a friend that he was in the first world war with. Max and Liesl become good friends over those months and save each other from the despair that would have crushed many other people. This is the story of Liesl, her family and the neighborhood and it was a wonderful, powerful book with the main message being, I think, that words are very powerful and have the capacity to do not only great good, but also great harm. Considering the circumstances of the main characters, the time and place they lived in and the outcome, it should have been a depressing book, but it wasn’t. Brutal, yes. The narrator, Death, didn’t mince words nor sugarcoat anything. I did cry, but I also laughed. The way the author strung words together was positively magical—I’ve put this book on my keeper shelf as I’m sure I’ll be going back over it to glean quotations from it. As it was, the story was so compelling I couldn’t be bothered to stop and write any down! A++

5. NO DOMINION by Charlie Huston. #2 Joe Pitt ‘paranormal noir’ mystery series. Joe, a Rogue Vampyre not pledged to any of the vampyre clans in New York, is feeling a bit peaky these days. He’s down to his last 3 pints of blood in the fridge and two months behind on his rent. Ever since the incident in which he pissed off a couple of the major clan bosses, the work coming his way has been slim to none. He’s about to go begging for a job when one gets thrown his way by Terry, the Society boss. New vampyres are hitting on some new drug out there that’s making them go a bit crazy and Terry wants Joe to figure out what this drug is and who’s supplying it. It’s disrupting the tentative truce between the clans and no one wants an all-out war. Or do they? Joe treks across forbidden Coalition territory to the Hood to look up a guy whose name he got from another guy—yeah, the connection is slim but when you’re not sure where your next pint of blood is coming from, and your girlfriend (who, by the way, doesn’t even KNOW you’re a vampyre!) is needing some expensive medical treatments, you get a bit desperate. What ensues is a madcap couple of days with Joe nearly meeting an untimely end several times and the unveiling of plots within plots and much political scheming. Very dark and noir, lots of graphic violins (but very little sax! LOL) and many unsavory four-letter words. In other words, my kinda book. ::grin:: I love Joe’s rogue attitude, what I call his whole “eff you personality,” since I tend to have the same attitude to belonging to groups myself. I have the next Joe Pitt book here on my TBR and I know it won’t be too long before I get to it. A.

6. WHITER THAN THE LILY by Alys Clare. #7 Abbess Helewise/Sir Josse D’Acquin historical mystery series. Josse is contacted by a neighbor to provide an introduction at Hawkenlye for some friends of his who have attempted to conceive a child unsuccessfully. Galiena Ryemarsh is many years younger than her husband Ambrose, but she is a skilled herbalist and has tried every remedy she knows to help them—so now she is off to Hawkenlye Abbey to speak to the infirmarer there and to take the healing waters. She sets off a few days ahead of her husband as he has matters of estate to tend to, but upon his arrival, she drops dead of an apparent poisoning. Ambrose himself seems ill—confused, weak, dizzy and definitely not his usual robust self. Josse and Abbess Helewise begin investigating Galiena’s death independently, and it leads Josse to an isolated pagan community on the coast and much danger. I figured out part of the plot ahead of time, but it was rather complicated and some parts weren’t really solvable til later in the book when enough information was available. I enjoy this series, but this one seemed to be a bit of a weak entry with the plot going hither and yon and a bit too much improbable and unlikely events transpiring. B.

7. HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steve Hockensmith. #1 in the ‘Holmes on the Range’ historical mysteries series, set in 1890’s Montana. Features “Big Red” Otto Amlingmeyer and his brother “Old Red” Gustav, who are wandering cowboys who take temporary jobs offered by different ranches, and in this book they’re hired by Uly MacPherson, manager of the Castlemere Ranche, commonly known as the Bar VR. It’s not an assignment they’d normally take, as the MacPherson brothers and the Bar VR don’t exactly have a great reputation, but Old Red takes the job for two reasons. One, the Amlingmeyer brothers are about out of money, and two, Old Red fancies himself a bit of a detective and he smells a mystery afoot. Though Old Red doesn’t read, Big Red does, having been the one member of their family sent off to school and having done some clerking in his time. And what Big Red reads to Old Red around the campfire are Sherlock Holmes mystery stories! Old Red loves ‘em and often uses Holmes’ ‘deducifyin methods’ and keen observation to ferret out the answers to questions that most folks haven’t even thought to ask. And he’s right about a mystery afoot, for as quick as you can say beans and bacon, there’s two dead bodies and a host of foreigners moving in to Castlemere, and Old Red aims to figure out whodunit. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for once I can easily understand why it was a finalist for so many different mystery awards the year it was published. (It’s not all THAT often that I agree with the people who make those decisions. LOL) The characterizations felt real to me and I got to know Big and Old Red quite well early on, and the secondary characters were also diverse and well-fleshed. I also liked that the ‘voices’ of these cowboys seemed to be very realistic and no effort was made to pretty them up—for example, one of the characters in the book is a black man, and there is rather liberal use of the “n” word, which although not pleasant, was common at the time as a part of normal everyday speech. So I guess I should add the caveat that if such things offend you, it’s probably best to avoid this book. While I am not generally a fan of this time period nor a fan at all of so-called westerns (there I go again, jumping out of my niche! LOL) I loved this book and am glad that I’ve already got the second one in the series here on my shelf. A+

8. GRENDEL by John Gardner. (Audio book) Narrated by the incomparable George Guidell, this is the Beowulf story told from the point of view of Grendel, the monster. While it is, indeed, ‘just a story,’ it’s also a commentary on the basic nature of humankind, about the darkness (and the light) that resides within each of us. I listened to this on the heels of reading The Book Thief, so it was a very contemplative week at my house. ::grin:: Guidell does a stellar job with the narration (as always!) and the story provides a different, and quite interesting spin on the tale of Beowulf, Hrodgar, Grendel and the Dragon, although of course if you’ve read the original, you know from the get-go how this is going to end. Well worth the few hours of listening time! A.

9. NOW MAY YOU WEEP by Deborah Crombie. #9 Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James British police procedural mystery, this one set in the Highlands of Scotland where Gemma and her good friend Hazel are off to for a cookery weekend at a B&B. What Gemma doesn’t know is that Hazel is headed for an assignation with an old lover, Donald Brodie, who’s the head of a Scotch distillery, and she discovers just how little she really knows about her friend’s past. When Donald ends up murdered in cold blood on the second day of their weekend, Gemma is unable to stop the local Chief Inspector, a crass and unsympathetic old coot named Ross, from hauling Hazel into custody for questioning. Meanwhile, at home, trouble is also brewing in the form of Kit’s grandmother Eugenia, who has served Duncan with papers that she intends to sue for custody. Another excellent entry in the series, although I have to admit that the historical flashbacks in this one that date back more than a hundred years to one of the women who owned a local distillery, seemed to me to be a bit distracting rather than actually enhancing the story as these tie-ins Crombie uses sometimes are. But the story itself and the descriptions of the settings in the Highlands made up for the distraction and I devoured this book much as I have every single book in this series. A.

10. THE RABBIT FACTORY by Marshall Karp. First in a series featuring LA homicide detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. When Eddie Elkins, the man inside the Rambunctions Rabbit costume at Familyland (a Disney wannabe) is found with his throat slit in the employees-only underbelly of the family-centered theme park, Lomax and Biggs are assigned to the case. When they discover that Eddie isn’t who he appears to be—that, indeed, he’s a convicted pedophile from back east—their obvious trail leads to who might have known this juicy tidbit of information and who had reason to whack him. However, the little cartoon flip-book that is left with the body screams “serial killer,” and sure enough, when another person with ties to the owners of Familyland, Lamaar Stuidos, is murdered with a similar flipbook left on the body, the boys know they’re going to be spending many sleepless nights trying to track down the killer. It seems to be someone with a grudge against Lamaar, but who? Their corporate people are less than cooperatve with our erstwhile detectives, as they’re busy trying to keep the whole thing shushed up so their stock doesn’t end take a nose dive into the basement. But Lomax and Biggs persevere, and there is a bit of a surprise twist at the end. I like Mike Lomax a lot—the book is told primarily from his POV, though that does change periodically. Karp handles the changing points of view well, though. Lomax is a recent widower, his wife Joanie having died of cancer about six months before. This book is almost like two stories, one detailing Lomax’s personal life and letting us get to know him and his family, and the other the murder case. I realize that a bit more detail is needed in introducing the main characters in the first book, but some judicious editing was definitely needed—the book was 632 pages in the hardcover edition! Granted, the author seems to write in the James Patterson style—very short chapters and lots of blank space—but still! Snip, snip, snip! LOL It took me a good 50 pages before I warmed to the mystery and the characters, but I am glad I stuck with it, because it ended up being a great debut novel. I have the next one here and it seems to be a bit shorter, so someone must’ve hit Karp with a cluestick. LOL And I have to honestly say that I’m really looking forward to it, too! A-.

11. NIGHTSHADE by Susan Wittig Albert. #17 China Bayles mystery, which finished off the thread started a couple of books ago dealing with China’s father’s death. This book focuses on the investigation that China’s recently-discovered half-brother Miles instigated by hiring McQuaid, China’s husband, to look into it. He believes that Robert Bayles’ death sixteen years ago in a firey car crash was no accident, but that he was murdered. Before he can do much work with McQuaid though, Miles Danforth ends up dead himself, the victim of a supposed hit-and-run in the parking ramp at his office building. All the heavy coincidences and bits and pieces of evidence come together in a totally not surprising ending. This book is different than others in the series, which are always told from China’s point of view. In this book, the author switches over to McQuaid’s point of view for several chapters and I must say it just does NOT work well at all! Everything from McQuaid’s point of view was written in the present tense and instead of using first person (I did this, I did that), it was written as “McQuaid does this, McQuaid does that.” I found that immensely annoying for some reason. It felt like the tale was being told by the proverbial turd in McQuaid’s pocket…someone who was right there with him, but not actually him. For example, one chapter opens with, “McQuaid has a long list of things to do this morning, but first things first.” Another starts with “McQuaid is on the road by nine thirty, heading southeast on…” Ack! Very distracting. This is, truthfully, the only book in this series that I out and out did not like. It was primarily due to that change in POV, but also many of the regular cast members weren’t much in evidence til the end of the book. I missed Ruby, I missed China’s musings in the herb garden and the shop and the folks around Pecan Springs. I’m glad that Ms. Albert has gotten the mystery of what happened to China’s father sewn up so she can move on now, and I sincerely hope she returns to the writing style she used in her previous books. I loved those, and I have already put Wormwood, the next-in-series, on my wishlist in anticipation of a GOOD return visit to Pecan Springs. C-.

12. DEATH OF AN ADDICT by M.C. Beaton. #15 Hamish MacBeth Scottish police cozy mystery. A young man who is renting a cottage in a remote part of Hamish’s patch ends up dead of a supposed overdose shortly after Hamish met him while visiting Parry MacSporran, the crofter who owns the place. The red-headed policeman is sure that the lad wasn’t on drugs and had kicked his habit, but the Strathbane usuals swarm in and close the case without so much as a by your leave and tell Hamish to mind his own business. Hamish promises the boy’s parents he’ll investigate on the QT and requests some time off—he always seems to have extra holiday time to spare so he can take a couple of weeks off! LOL He heads off to Strathbane to check out a rather cultish upstart church that Tommy was interested in—and starts out posing as a homeless man living in his car and willing to work in the church for minimal money…but somehow ends up instead in the middle of a big drug sting, wearing an Armani suit and a Rolex and posing as a drug kingpin with an attractive DI from Glasgow posing as his wife! The next thing you know, they’re off to Amsterdam. Holy whirling dervish, Batman—this book was all over the place and unlike Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, it not only *believed* six impossible things before breakfast, it DID them. My goodness! Still, as I was scratching my head and rolling my eyes, I was reading on and mostly enjoying the story even though I knew most of it was purely improbable rubbish. I just like Hamish, even though Beaton’s plots seem to have gotten more and more bizarre as the series has gone on. The next up is A Highland Christmas, and even though I mostly enjoyed the book, I would say I’ve probably had my fill of Hamish until about that time of year. B-.

13. ONE LAST BREATH by Stephen Booth. #5 Ben Cooper/Diane Fry British police procedural set in the Peak District of the UK. When Mansell Quinn, a man who was convicted of the brutal murder of his mistress a number of years ago, is released from prison, those who knew him are a bit on edge. When he disappears just a few hours after his release and his ex-wife ends up murdered in similar fashion, a full-scale manhunt begins. But Quinn knows all the local haunts, the villages and even the caves that dot the countryside, and it’s noted in the prison library records that he took special interest in one of the caves in the area and checked out a particular book on it many times. Despite numerous sightings, he’s not an easy man to track down. When Cooper begins digging back to the original crime, he wonders if Quinn was really the guilty party after all, as he changed his story several times. Fry, frustrated at Cooper’s tangents and lack of focus, investigates the present-day case and urges Ben to do likewise, but it’s only when their two heads are put together with information about both cases that a clearer picture begins to emerge. Added to the mix is the fact that Cooper’s father Joe was the arresting officer of record, and he’s wondering if Quinn is bent on revenge against those he felt wronged him. I did figure the mystery out as to ‘whodunit’ but missed a couple of plot twists that made it even more interesting. As annoying as I personally find the character of Diane Fry, I still thoroughly enjoy these stories, love Booth’s writing style and his verbal painting of the Derbyshire countryside. Another winner! A.

14. THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE by Alexander McCall Smith. #8 in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, Africa. In this book, a few stressful situations develop—Mma Makutsi resigns her job as assistant detective in a bit of a snit, Charlie the apprentice has decided to strike out on his own and open a taxi service, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni decides to try his hand at detective work in addition to being a first-rate auto mechanic. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe is hired to investigate some suspicious deaths at the Mochudi hospital—three patients have died at the same time on the same day of the week in the same bed! Now if you know Mma Ramotswe, you know she’s not a superstitious woman, and she feels there must be a logical explanation for these events, although interviews with the doctors and nurses involved turn up no clues. This was a typically light and wonderful entry in this series—Mma Ramotswe always manages to boil down life’s problems and ups and downs into a few simple truths that always leave me feeling better for her sharing them with me. Definitely one of my “feel good” series! A

15. CLAWS AND EFFECT by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (audio book) #9 Mrs. Murphy mystery. Something fishy is happening at Crozet hospital. The head of maintenance is found dead in the boiler room—no doubt that it’s murder with his throat brutally slit as it was—and when Harry gets nosy and decides to make a late-night stop there to ‘check things out,’ she gets konked on the head, though not hard enough to do any serious damage. A long-time member of the supporting cast also ends up shot to death a few chapters later, and this leaves Sheriff Rick Shaw seeing red and pulling out all the stops to find the killer. It doesn’t make Harry (and her critters—cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and her Welsh Corgi Tucker) any less determined, either! I had a gut feeling about the killer early on, but really had nothing to support my thoughts. But once a few choice clues were dropped later in the book, it all came together. I really enjoy the narrator of this series—she brings all the different characters to life and gives them substance that might easily be missed in a print reading. I especially enjoy the ‘animal voices.’ Excellent listen—looking forward to more. A.

16. HIDDEN WARRIOR by Lynn Flewelling. Second in the Tamir Trilogy fantasy series. Tobin, the young prince of Skala, begins to come into his own as he becomes a teenager, trains in the city of Edo at the palace with his cousin Korin (the heir to the throne) and the rest of the Companions, whose task it is to guard the royals. What no one else (save for a few wizards) knows is that Tobin is actually a girl who has been given a glamour of sorts, a binding at birth which has allowed him to look and live as a boy—specifically, as the male twin who died at birth—in order to protect his prophesied status as the next warrior queen. Tobin just found this out himself at the end of the last book and is still having difficulties dealing with this knowledge throughout this book and still thinks of himself as male even though he has seen his ‘true face.’ Brother, the ghost of this twin, is becoming more solid and can now be heard by Ki, Tobin’s squire, and Tobin remains leery of Brother’s motives and doesn’t know if he can trust him since he has a history of violence, even against Tobin. The present king, Tobin’s uncle, and his top wizard Niryn are doing all they can to stamp out the ‘fringe religions’ including the one which believes that the country’s leaders should be female and foretell of a warrior queen coming to save them. So naturally, keeping Tobin’s true nature quiet is tantamount. Meanwhile, Tobin’s wizard friends Iya and Arkoniel, use his ancestral home in the country to harbor and train up ‘rogue’ wizards who don’t join the Harriers, the ruling wizard class who have taken to burning wizards who don’t join them. They see that the time for revealing Tobin’s true nature is coming faster than they would like and are preparing as much as they can. Excellent entry in the series and I’m greatly looking forward to the conclusion. I love this author’s writing style and her intricate plotting and storytelling ability. A+

17. DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE: A GUIDE TO BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH by Christopher Davies. Interesting book that talks about the differences between the “English” spoken by Americans and by those in the UK. Some of it is simply lists of translations, other parts talk about how some of these differences evolved, including the spelling differences and all those extra U’s that the Brits are known for. (Blame Nathaniel Webster for that one!) I enjoyed it as did my husband (who is from England) but there were a few phrases and words that left both of us scratching our heads as we’d never heard them used. Some were obviously regional colloquialisms. The thing I found funny was that often when a less-than-savory phrase or word was used, the author didn’t really *explain* what it meant…he just put something like, “Don’t use this phrase in the UK (or America)—vulgar phrase” and then would tell you what you should say instead. Well…THAT was real helpful to those not in the know. LOL I enjoyed this but would have liked even more about the history and evolution of the language differences and less of the listings. B+

18. THE ALEHOUSE MURDERS by Maureen Ash. #1 in the Templar Knight medieval historical mystery series featuring ex-Templar, Bascot de Marins, who was held captive in the Middle East for eight years before escaping. Now employed by Lady Nicolaa de la Haye and living in the household of Nicolaa and her husband Gerard Camville, sheriff of Lincoln, he is called upon to investigate four murders, the bodies being found in the local alehouse, but with three of them having obviously been killed elsewhere and dumped there. Some people obviously know more than they’re telling, and old rivalries, court intrigues and questions of parentage come into play as Bascot delves deeper into the lives of those involved. I liked this mystery, but I didn’t love it, with whatever magic ingredient that makes a good book a great one being missing, at least for me. It took me a long time to warm up to the main character and the writing style I found to be a little dry. However, it seems to be very well-researched and the author does an excellent job of painting the not-often-romantic realities of medieval life. By mid-book, I found I had come to like the wounded ex-Templar and his mute assistant Gianni and the mystery was an intriguing and well-plotted one, though I did spot the clues and figured out the mystery fairly early. Despite the slow start, by the end I found that I had enjoyed the book. I have the second-in-series here and will definitely continue to read on. B.

19. BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM by Kate Atkinson. This is the story of Ruby Lennox, from her inauspicious conception in a flat above a Pet Shop in 1952 in York, UK to the present day. It also delves into the lives of many of Ruby’s female ancestors in her mother’s line and ties them all together with interesting threads and themes—some minor, some major, and all very interesting. Bopping back and forth between present-day, World War I era and World War II, the author skillfully weaves the story of just how Ruby came to be and gives us some insight as to why she is the way she is—although Ruby is the last to figure this out. I did glean the major plot twist well ahead of time (as indeed, I think the author meant the reader to do) but it in no way spoiled the story. Chock full of the realities of each of the times the story lands in, I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed the imagery, the voices of the different people and once again being reminded that what we do today can have far-reaching ripples of effect for years and years. Wonderful!! A+

DNF: MURDER AT WITCH’S BLUFF by Silver RavenWolf. I have read and enjoyed some of this author’s non-fiction pagan reference books, but OMG…this attempt at fiction was just. So. Bad. Poorly written, full of cheesy clich├ęs, and enough typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors to have me double checking the book to see if I’d accidentally picked up an ARC or uncorrected proof. (I hadn’t.) I simply couldn’t make it to 50 pages, the usual length I try to give any book. Baaaaaaad.

THE PLAYER’S BOY IS DEAD by Leonard Tourney. Historical mystery featuring a newly appointed constable (Matthew Stock) and clothing merchant in Elizabethan England. Boring. Couldn’t get into it at all, wasn’t interested in the main character or the mystery. Did give it the full fifty pages, but it just wasn’t happenin’ for me.

And that wraps up August!

Cheryl