1. THE GRIM REAPER by Bernard Knight. #6 book in the Crowner John medieval mystery series, set in 1195 Exeter, UK. The king’s judges are coming to town for the Eyre and Assizes to handle judgments on all the various civil and criminal cases that had been building up since their last visit. Just in time for the festivities, Crowner John has a serial murderer on his hands—someone who is killing people deemed to have sinned against God by the murderer, and worse yet, he suspects that the killer is a priest or cleric, as there is a written note next to the bodies with a quotation from the Vulgate with regard to each person’s particular sin. (The Vulgate was what the Bible of the time was called.) So few people outside the clergy could read and write—and even fewer would know the Bible well enough to quote it—not even many parish priests, so that narrowed down the suspects even more. Crowner John is dismayed when his clerk, Thomas, who is himself a defrocked priest, is put under suspicion by his brother in law the Sheriff, and aside from his goal of solving the crimes before the judges arrive, the grumpy coroner hopes he can clear Thomas’s name as well. Very engaging mystery—I hadn’t guessed who the killer was til the end of the book, though I probably *should* have, because I smacked my head with a “Doh!” when I realized the clues were there for me to find. Interesting trek back to medieval times with the Crowner and his cronies. His extreme grumpiness wasn’t quite so prevalent in this book, or at least I didn’t notice it so much which made it more enjoyable too. A.
2. GRAVE SURPRISE by Charlaine Harris (audiobook) #2 Harper Connelly paranormal mystery series, in which Harper and Tolliver are off to Memphis, TN to do a ‘cemetery reading’ for a college professor who teaches a paranormal studies class. The records of who is in the cemetery have just been discovered and have been kept locked and sealed, so Dr. Clyde Nunley, this professor, believes that he can disprove Harper’s gift of finding dead bodies and their causes of death. O Ye of little faith! LOL Harper is on a roll, having correctly “guessed” several names and causes of death when she is stunned to discover a grave with two bodies—and one of them belongs to a young girl named Tabitha that she had been hired to find (unsuccessfully) some eighteen months previously in Nashville. The police are called and of course the forensic evidence bears Harper’s revelation out, but she and Tolliver are stunned to find that Joel and Diane Morgenstern, Tabitha’s parents, now live in Memphis and they begin to wonder if the parents had something to do with her death—something they had no inkling of when they worked with them previously. Of course there are any number of other possible suspects and when Dr. Nunley’s body ends up in that same grave a couple of nights later, Harper and Tolliver are obliged to stick around until the case is solved. Enjoayble “listen” with a great reader, and a good story as well. We learn more about Harper and Tolliver’s past which makes their present actions and attitudes easier to understand as well. Once again, I have put the next in series on my “library listen” list and will likely get to that within the next couple of months. A
3. ICE HUNTER by Joseph Heywood. #1 in the Woods Cop mysteries featuring conservation officer Grady Service on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Someone is starting small fires in the Mosquito Tract area of Service’s patrol region—a largely uninhabited wilderness area near and dear to his heart, as it was to his father before him. Anyone attacking “the Skeet” is going to have a fight on their hands, and Grady pulls out all the stops to find out what’s going on—while learning quite a few things that even he didn’t know about the area. I figured out a lot of things early on—not that I’m a genius or anything—part of it is given away by the title and the cover photo. LOL The story ended up being fairly predictable, with both the mystery of the fires as well as the dead body found at one scene, a relative of the notorious poacher Limpy Allardyce, who is the patriarch of a thoroughly despicable family residing in Grady’s area. There were no surprises with Grady’s personal life either. Grady Service pretty much eats, breathes and sleeps his job, living in a ramshackle hut with his cat, and working far more hours than he bills the state for. This is one of those series that came up from Amazon’s recommendations because I rated Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series so highly. Well, Grady Service is no Walt Longmire and Joseph Heywood’s writing style didn’t capture me like Craig Johnson’s did. The dialogue seemed to be somewhat stilted and unrealistic at times and by the time I was two-thirds done with the book, I just wanted to be finished with it. And I did finish this book, but I’m not terribly eager to read the next one, and am, in fact, a bit disappointed that I recently spent a PBS credit for it. I’m thinking I may well just re-list it. This book is by no means horrible, but I’ve got no time for mediocre these days. C.
4. A TROUBLE OF FOOLS by Linda Barnes. (audiobook) #1 Carlotta Carlyle mystery, featuring a thirty-something ex-cop-turned PI in Boston, MA. This book was written over 20 years ago, which I didn’t realize until after I’d checked SYKM for the publication date—I did so because there was mention of someone having one of ‘those new-fangled answering machines.’ LOL In most ways, though, it was not dated like that and was an interesting story. Carlotta is contacted by a sixty-something woman who wants her to look for her missing younger brother. He hasn’t been seen for almost two weeks, and Eugene is the only family that Margaret Devens has left, so she’s distraught—but for some reason, doesn’t want the police involved. She and her brother lived together in the family’s old Victorian house in a suburb of Boston. Margaret is a rather reserved, refined appearing woman, but her brother Gene was a cab driver with a bit of a drinking problem and a set of rowdy friends who liked to while away their time toasting ‘the Mother country,’ which in this case is Ireland. After investigating briefly, Carlotta discovers that Eugene’s disappearance may be connected somehow to the IRA, which would explain his sister’s reluctance to involve the cops. When Margaret is brutally attacked in her home by two thugs who also ransacked the place, obviously looking for something, Carlotta is obliged to step up the investigation. She cajoles the owners of the Green & White cab company, where she had worked at one time while attending college, and where Gene was also employed, into hiring her to work nights so she could get closer to the situation. A solid first entry in the series made even better by the reader, one of my favorite female storytellers, C.J. Critt—oddly enough, I’d never heard of author Linda Barnes before stumbling upon this book listed in my library’s downloadable books catalog—though there’s at least a dozen books in the series and it’s still going strong. I have the second one on my library ‘listen’ list already and am looking forward to it. There is a romancey component to this—it remains to be seen whether or not it starts getting in the way of the mystery. B+
5. THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS by Jeanne DuPrau (audiobook) #2 in the Ember fantasy series. The people of the underground city of Ember—well, four hundred and seventeen of them, anyway—have managed to escape the underground city following Lina and Doon’s directions and have emerged aboveground. Having believed that Ember was the center of the universe, they are totally aghast at seeing sunlight, blue sky, green grass, and chickens, among other things. When they trek along until they come to the settlement of Sparks, they are at first welcomed by this small community of survivors—survivors of the disaster that, centuries ago, caused Ember to become a necessity. Up above, technology has devolved. There is no electricity, trucks are pulled by oxen, gasoline having long ago ceased to exist, and cities are dead—bombed out, scorched remnants of a bygone age. Lina and Doon and their families must now work hard to help the Sparks townspeople so that they can produce enough food to feed them all before winter. After the novelty wears off, the differences between the two groups come to the fore and tempers begin to flare, with Lina and Doon making decisions that eventually impact their new community greatly. Another great entry in the series, I really look forward to the next, The Prophet of Yonwood. The reader (Wendy Dillon) is excellent and the story is full of adventure and wisdom. A little “younger” story than I would usually read, but still very well done and very enjoyable. I sure wish there had been more stuff of this calibre around for young readers when I was a kid! A.
6. STORM TRACK by Margaret Maron. #7 Judge Deborah Knott series set in Colleton County, North Carolina. As several tropical storms and hurricanes make their way inland off the North Carolina coast, things heat up in Colleton County when the promiscuous wife of one of the rising stars in a local law firm is found strangled in a sleazy motel room with her own sexy black stocking. Preliminary investigations reveal that there are several people with good motives to kill Lynn Bullock—including, as usual, at least one of Deborah’s extensive web of relatives. Deborah learns some troubling facts about people she thought she knew well, makes some unexpected friends, and generally pokes her nose in where it shouldn’t be—but as usual, helps steer the local law to the right solution. Enjoyable read as always, and as an added bonus I didn’t figure out the baddie til close to the end of the book. These seem to get better with each successive book. A.
7. MAID FOR MURDER by Barbara Colley. #1 Charlotte LaRue “squeaky clean” mystery, about the owner/operator of a maid service in New Orleans, LA. Yep, another cozy! LOL I figured I’d be weeding this one out, but I actually ended up enjoying it. A typical light, quick cozy read. The descriptions of New Orleans were wonderful, the main character is practical and likable and there’s none of that romance-disguised-as-mystery, though there is a bit of ‘male interest’ towards the end of the book. Charlotte is a fifty-nine-year-old single woman, comfortable with herself and what she does for a living with a set of supporting characters around her that sound interesting, too. The mystery in this book centers around the murdered husband of one of her wealthy clients—oddly enough, the woman’s father was murdered in almost the same way many years before. Jeanne, the widow, is of course the police’s prime suspect at first, though Charlotte just can’t believe she’d actually have done it—but to listen to the ramblings of Jeanne’s mother, who is growing a bit senile, she probably had good reason to commit murder! There are plenty of other suspects, though, and Charlotte eventually figures it out—being a maid, you sometimes see things that other folks overlook. It would have been better of course if she’d reported those things to her niece Judith, who’s one of the homicide detectives assigned to the case, but then what kind of a cozy mystery would it be if the police actually solved the crime!?? LOL It will be interesting to read further in the series and see how or even if the author handles post-Katrina New Orleans. A few minor annoyances, but overall a good first entry in series. B+
8. ONCE WERE COPS by Ken Bruen. ARC for review. Written in the same spare, sparse, harsh prose that Bruen uses for his Jack Taylor series, Once Were Cops is primarily the story of two cops—Michael O’Shea, a serial killer doing double duty as a new cop who blackmailed his way to New York as a policeman on an exchange program from Galway, and Kebar, whom “Shea” is paired with, a rough cop-on-the-take whose one soft spot is his mentally retarded sister who lives in a group home. He panders to the mob to get extra money to keep Lucia in a good home. Both men are violent, living lives outside the law and basically do what they want. While this book is written in similar style to the Jack Taylor series, there is a huge difference. This book really had no soul; it was just nasty and violent and depressing without having the emotional connection, the poetic side to the staccato, bleak prose that Bruen infuses into the story of Jack Taylor. I really didn’t care for this book at all. I was unable to connect with the characters in any way. I can’t say I really hated them, certainly didn’t like them—I just didn’t care one way or another what happened to them. It seemed to be just one violent episode after another. If there was supposed to be some sort of message or moral or whatever, I didn’t see it. And the one thing that might have salvaged the book to make it a worthwhile read—a quirky plot twist at the end of the book—I anticipated well in advance. I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book, but all it did for me was to cause him to fall down off the pedestal he’d been firmly ensconced on previous to my reading this story. There was one good thing about this book: it was short. D+
9. TIL THE COWS COME HOME by Judy Clemens. #1 Stella Crown mystery, Stella, a young woman fast approaching thirty, runs the family dairy farm now, both her parents having died, with the help of long-time farmhand Howie and a host of interesting neighbors and friends. When someone starts sabotaging her farm with various ‘accidents’ that really aren’t, Stella, Howie and a few close friends attempt to investigate and get to the bottom of things. It’s hard enough running a small family farm and trying to fend off the banks and creditors and the big development companies without added problems. And when several area children become violently ill with some new strain of flu—and a couple of them die—Stella begins wondering if the sabotage on her farm and this mystery flu are related. While I did figure out much of the ‘mystery’ ahead of time, I still enjoyed this book a lot. Having grown up on a farm, (a dairy farm even, for awhile when I was really young) Stella’s story caused me to feel a bit like it was old home week and even brought on a brief wave of homesickness, too. Until I remembered how much work living on a farm is! I like Stella, too—she’s an infinitely practical young woman with a bit of a wild streak (she’s tattooed and her alternate form of transportation is a Harley she revamped herself) and yet a very caring, community-oriented person, too. I could see her and I getting along just fine, and my intention is to get to know her a lot better by reading on in the series. A fine beginning! A.
10. THE LEMUR by Benjamin Black. Stand-alone mystery/thriller about a former journalist who is asked by his father-in-law to write his biography for him. Bill Mulholland is a powerful man, head of a multi-national media corporation and ex-CIA operative—so John Glass knows that there will be some things in Mulholland’s background difficult to track down. He hires Dylan Riley, an internet hacker/researcher to do some digging for him, and after a brief phone call in which Riley intimates that he found something ‘really big’ and in essence tries to blackmail Glass, Riley is found by his girlfriend, murdered, with some of his laptop computers missing. Glass is hauled in by the police as his phone number was on Riley’s outgoing calls, and then he begins wondering just what it is that Riley had found and whether or not his father-in-law was involved. I received this book a month or so ago from LT early reviewers, which is weird as it’s NOT an ARC and has been out for several months. It’s a fancy looking little book, very slim, 130 pages that was only about a two-hour read, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have bothered finishing it. Very melancholy, a rather plodding writing style, and not very interesting. The characters were all rather blah—cardboard-like and stereotypical, and I found the “mystery” to be quite uninteresting. I found myself hoping that the author would put all the characters together in a locked room and blow them up or something. I was rather in a state of disbelief at seeing the $13.00 price on the inner flap, too. I’d never have paid it! This was my first book by this author—and probably my last if this is any indication of his work. Some might like it, but I didn’t. D+.
11. CHARM CITY by Laura Lippman. (audio book) #2 Tess Monaghan mystery set in Baltimore. It’s been years since I read the first in this series and that was in print, so I’d forgotten the basic bits about Tess’s life—that she’s twenty-nine years old, an ex-newspaper reporter turned PI, that she’s a fitness buff who rows in the summer and does other training in the winter, that she works primarily for a lawyer, and that she lives above her aunt’s bookstore. In this book, two mysteries cross paths—one dealing with her Uncle Spike, beaten unconscious and leaving Tess with a totally fugly Greyhound dog to care for, the other a side job undertaken for Baltimore’s lone newspaper. Recommended by a couple of her friends, the board at the Beacon-Light hires Tess to find out who got into the system’s computers and printed a story that was meant to be kept back for a few days pending further investigation. The story could have catastrophic results for Baltimore, as it casts a dark shadow over Wink Wynkowski’s past—and Wink is Baltimore’s last great hope to get an NBA franchise to town. Things turn ugly when Wink is found dead of an apparent suicide and various factions at the newspaper attempt to thwart Tess’s investigation at every turn. Of course, more dead bodies turn up as well—it did bug me a little bit that Tess couldn’t figure out the killer ahead of time, as the clues were all there. Of course, I had a ‘gut feeling’ early on about it, and was on the lookout for confirmation, but still. There were a few red herrings, but they were kinda obvious. The reader for this book was great, the story interesting, and the characters believable and likable. I remembered what it was about Tess from the first book that bugged me—the long, drawn-out descriptions of her workouts/rowing, with sweat and heavy breathing—but that wasn’t nearly such an issue in this book. I am adding this series back to my active list, whether I decide to listen to it, or find the next in print. A.
12. #12 Inspector Morse British mystery, once again centering around Oxford, specifically Lonsdale College where a new Master is about to be elected. Webs of deceit, lust, adultery and worse come to the fore as a young physiotherapist is murdered in nearby Bloxham Drive. It’s discovered that she was having an affair with one of the two candidates for Master, but after a bit of investigation, Morse and Lewis discover evidence that indicates that Rachel Ward may not even have been the intended victim—due to an odd house-numbering scheme, it may have been her neighbor, Geoffrey Owens, a newspaper reporter discovered to have a bent for blackmail who was meant to be killed. On a personal note, Morse discovers the hard way that he has diabetes, going in for a doctor visit and being carted to hospital in an ambulance due to dangerously high blood sugar. He spends a few days in hospital initially on an insulin drip cooling his heels (but not his mind!) with regard to the murder case. But as usual, with Lewis’s plodding detective work and Morse’s brilliant mind, they put together the solution. This one is, I think, among my favorite Morse books. It’s good to go back into my ‘comfort zone’ after having a few not-so-good reads earlier in the month! I can always depend on Morse! A+
13. UNCOMMON CLAY by Margaret Maron (audiobook) #8 in the Judge Deborah Knott mystery series set in North Carolina, this time in “clay country” where Deborah has traveled to hear a case involving the “ED” or Equitable Distribution of property of a recently-divorced couple who also happen to be potters. Sandra Kay and James Lucas Nordan made beautiful pottery together but couldn’t manage the marriage part. And when James Lucas ends up murdered, baked in a kiln, and Deborah finds his body—family secrets, old grudges and present-day jealousies come out of the woodwork with the suspect list burgeoning. Of course Deborah takes a personal interest in the case, which is heightened when an old friend calls and asks her to check up on her son, who has gone to stay with the Nordans and who happens to be the illegitimate child of James Lucas’s older (and also deceased) brother, Donny. Deborah’s personal life also takes an interesting turn in this episode, which (with my interest in handmade pottery) I really enjoyed. The reader was once again excellent, and while I had one of my “inklings” about the bad guy, I just wasn’t able to put together the whys and wherefores until close to the end of the book. I think it won’t be too many months before I’ve caught up with this series, which has rapidly become one of my favorites. A.
14. MURDER IN MARBLE ROW by Victoria Thompson. Sixth in the “gaslight” mysteries featuring Sarah Brandt, a young widow in early 1900s New York who is also a midwife, and Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York police. Teddy Roosevelt is currently police commissioner, and when he directs Malloy to investigate the murder by bombing of a wealthy businessman, Malloy is dismayed because he knows he will have to question many upper class people—and be expected to tread lightly since those people tend to be able to buy their innocence. Malloy is even more incredulous when Roosevelt tells him that he was requested to be the officer in charge by none other than Peter Decker, who just happens to be Sarah Brandt’s father! It’s believed by nearly everyone (save Malloy and Mrs. Brandt) that the dead man was blown up by his son, who has disowned his wealthy family and lives with an enclave of Russian anarchists in a poor section of town. As the two investigate and meet the son and the rest of the family, whom Sarah had known as a child, they don’t believe he’s guilty but must investigate the other privileged people around on the sly. While I had figured out the murderer by about mid-book, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I’ve really taken a liking to this series, though the romantic tension between Malloy and Sarah does get a little tiresome at times. At least they’re not rutting in back alleys or anything. LOL A-
15. AN ICE COLD GRAVE by Charlaine Harris. (audiobook) #3 Harper Connelly mystery, this one set in Doraville, North Carolina where Harper has been hired by the grandmother of a missing boy. Actually it’s a “consortium” of people who have chipped in to hire her, because there are a total of six teenage boys gone missing over a couple of years—which were, apparently, easy for the local law to write off as runaways. However, when a new sheriff is elected, she recommends Harper to Twyla Cotton (the grandmother) as she’d heard about her from another detective Harper had previously worked with. Harper does find the six boys—and two more that were unknown—buried together in a mass grave on an old abandoned property, all brutally tortured, raped and murdered. Harper, who’s never done a ‘mass murder’ before, is literally sick from the discovery, and shortly afterward is attacked by a masked figure in black outside her hotel room, sustaining injuries enough that she is hospitalized. They hope to be able to get out of town before a major ice storm hits, but as usual the State Bureau of Investigation need her to answer a bunch of questions and the delay is enough to keep them in the area as the ice and sleet roll in. Harper and Tolliver’s relationship continues to change as well, and I have to say that I wasn’t really too crazy about the change. Those who have read the series to date will guess at the turn it takes, and all I can say is that the very graphic sex scenes were not at all romantic or sexy to me. They actually made me laugh out loud—it really seemed silly! This was one of those cases where I would have preferred a print book to audio because I could have just skimmed over that part, but since I was listening, I couldn’t. I know that this author does write romances as well, and if this is an example of her work in that genre, I’m glad that I haven’t bothered to sample any of them. Aside from that, I enjoyed the mystery and paranormal part of the book as usual. B.
16. LITTLE GIRL LOST by Richard Aleas. #1 John Blake P.I. mystery, under the “Hard Case Crime” imprint. I actually had thought to weed this book out of my TBR; it was one I’d acquired on a whim well over a year ago, and when I added it to my ‘weed out’ pile, I wondered what I’d been thinking! I was anticipating it’d be one of those kind of cheesy, stereotypical Dashiell Hammett type ‘hard ass’ PI books. I was very pleasantly surprised instead. John Blake isn’t your typical tough guy—though he is that, certainly. He’s actually got a degree in literature and there were some literary references woven into the prose, and he’s much more sensitive emotionally than any of those fifties-style PI guys. John gets involved in trying to solve the murder of Miranda Sugarman, the girl who was his high school girlfriend ten years ago. She’d gone off to college in another state, set to become an eye doctor, and he never heard from her again aside from a few sporadic letters her first year away. She ended up as a stripper in one of the seediest strip joints in New York—and died with two bullets in her head on the roof of the building where the club is located. John’s boss and mentor, Leo, advises him to leave it alone, but John feels obligated to find out what led Miranda from the path full of promise to that sad and violent end. This was a fairly quick read, but had much more substance and character than I expected. I like John and his supporting cast of characters, the book was well-written with a style that didn’t make it ‘work’ to read it. The mystery was well-plotted too, and with the surfeit of suspects and possible baddies, I wasn’t sure at all til near the end who the real bad guy was, though I did figure out part of the mystery itself well in advance. I fully expect to carry on reading this series. A.
17. THE PROPHET OF YONWOOD by Jeanne DuPrau (audiobook). This is #3 in the Ember fantasy series, though it’s actually a pre-quel to the events taking place in the first book—it’s the story of the United States (and the world in general), telling how world war broke out, how the earth was scarred and ruined and how most of the population was killed off in The Disaster, necessitating the City of Ember (a vast underground city) even being built, populated and provisioned. However, I have to say that I really didn’t like this story much. There was very little tie-in to the actual events of the first two books, it was a whole new set of characters and also a different reader than the first two. She wasn’t *bad* per se, but the woman who read the first couple was excellent and this lady just didn’t live up to her performance. I think if there’d been more of a connection between this story and the main character (Nicki, an 11-year-old girl) with the characters in Ember, it would have made more sense. Instead it was almost like two totally different stories—and this one just wasn’t as good. I understand the fourth in series has been recently released and that one goes back to the characters from Ember and Sparks, which I’m glad about. This one just didn’t do it for me much. C.
18. THE GYPSY MORPH by Terry Brooks. Third and final entry in the Genesis of Shannara fantasy trilogy in which all of the heroes and heroines of the previous two books unite—Knights of the Word Angel Perez and Logan Tom, the boy Hawk who is also the gypsy morph, and Kirisin Belloruus, the young elf who successfully found the Loden elfstone and used it to protect his people. They come together to fight the demons that have taken over the world, and in their little corner of the universe set out to find a safe haven that Hawk has been promised he will find by the King of the Silver River, where those who are protected will weather the nuclear storm that is coming. The road toward their destination is fraught with danger and some don’t make it. But some, of course, do. This series of books successfully ties together with Brooks’ Knight of the Word ‘modern fantasy’ trilogy to form the prequel to his epic “Shannara” fantasy series, begun more than thirty years ago. And he does so very successfully and in grand fashion! I greatly enjoyed this book (and the whole series) and look forward to re-reading the earlier Shannara books at some point and getting around to finally reading some of the more recent Shannara trilogies as well. Well done, Mr. Brooks! I just wonder what you’ll get up to next! A.
19. SPECIALS by Scott Westerfeld. Third in the “Uglies” young adult fantasy trilogy, in which our heroine Tally, futher surgically and technologically enhanced to become a Special—super-cool, lightning fast, uber-smart and created to protect the world from the Smokies—the so-called “Uglies” of the world who ran away, hid out, and never underwent the operation at age sixteen to change them into (basically speaking) Stepford people, clones of one another with cotton candy brains and nothing more to do than party and have fun. Tally’s been rebellious almost from the beginning, and even now as a Special she is part of a fringe group headed by her friend Shay called The Cutters. When Shay cooks up a plot to make the Cutters really look extra-Special by discovering the location of the New Smoke (the wild rebels’ hideout) and capturing their leader David (former boyfriend of both Shay and Tally), Tally goes along with it mostly to make sure her current boyfriend Zane—still recovering from his bubblehead status—is saved so he can be turned into a Special like her. Many conflicting feelings flow throughout the story which much philosophical wrangling—friendship, love, betrayal and whether any one person’s happiness overrides doing things for the greater good of many. Enjoyable read as always with lots of action and a great storyline. There are moments when you wonder if Tally’s totally lost it but then she comes back from being a cloned drone to using her brains—and her heart—to make her decisions. I’m looking forward to the next in series! A.
CR: OXYGEN by Carol Cassella, AN EYE FOR MURDER by Libby Fischer Hellmann and listening to CATCH AS CAT CAN by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown in audio download.