Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Year-End Summary

Total Books Read (Finished): 234

DNF's: 11 (this is a shrinking number! Yay!)

Tops and Bottoms:

Since I read mainly mysteries, I have two separate top-ten categories, one for mysteries and one for "everything else."

Top Ten Mysteries:

1. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
2. A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn
3. Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin
4. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
5. The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
6. The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill
7. Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie
8. Winter's Child by Margaret Maron
9. The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
10. The Ravens of Blackwater by Edward Marston

Top Ten "Other":

1. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by MaryAnn Shaffer and Annie Barrows
2. Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen
3. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
4. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
5. Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
6. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
8. Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
9. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
10. Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Top Audios (with author and reader listed):

1.The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (multi-reader cast)
2.Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan (the whole series!) (Jesse Bernstein)
3.Hoot by Carl Hiassen (Chad Lowe)
4.The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (Alyssa Bresnahan)
5.A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Saul Reichlin)
6.The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Jayne Entwistle)
7.Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher (James Marsters)
8.The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein (read by J.J. Myers, aka Mrs. Grabenstein, LOL)
9.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (read by the author, who is outstanding!)
10.Winter's Child by Margaret Maron (CJ Critt)

Bottoms (These are books I finished that I gave grades of C or lower to...there aren't many.)

1. A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
2. Flesh and Bone by Jefferson Bass
3. A Potion for a Widow by Caroline Roe
4. The Last Templar by Michael Jecks
5. Flower Net by Lisa See
6. If It's Not One Thing, It's a Murder by Liz Wolfe
7. Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin
8. The Long-Legged Fly by James Sallis

It's been a good year! I completed the RYOB (Read Your Own Books) Challenge, where I pledged to read 150 books from my own TBR shelf, not the library or borrowing. I completed a couple of monthly challenges in 4MA (a Yahoo mystery group) and also did the whole Mystery challenge on Paperbackswap, including bonuses. I did NOT complete the Historical Fiction Challenge at PBS.

Reading goals for 2010: I always give voice to the vague concept of paring down my TBR stacks, but somehow it never seems to happen and I admittedly only make half-hearted attempts at it. I read a lot of my own books, but I acquire more just as fast as I trade off the ones I've read. Or faster! So I will once again give lip service to this noble goal and then most likely promptly ignore it. :)

My goal as always will be to have fun with reading. It's my primary pastime, and when it gets so bogged down with having to read too many books for review before release deadlines, having to read this or that for a discussion or umpteen challenges, it just becomes work rather than fun. No thanks! This year I'm limiting the number of ARCs I'll accept and cutting down on the number of challenges, too.

Happy New Year to all and keep on reading! :)


Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 2009 Reading

1. CHRISTMAS IS MURDER by C.S. Challinor. #1 Rex Graves mystery. Rex, a Scottish barrister, has been invited to spend Christmas at a hotel run by an old friend of his mother's, and as he hasn't heard from his girlfriend in ages (she's off to foreign parts volunteering or something) he accepts. Upon arrival, he discovers that there's been a death, an elderly man who apparently had a seizure of some sort in the common room. One of the other guests, a paramedic, tells Rex privately that he believes the dead man was poisoned. As a snowstorm blocks all traffic and phone reception, Rex feels obligated as an officer of the court to investigate as best as possible until the police are able to arrive. It isn't long before two more guests join the old man in the land of the dead, and Rex is really beginning to worry and wonder whom to trust. I think this is meant to be a classic British 'locked room' type mystery, but it really pales in comparison to the masters. It's cozy, but not annoyingly so. (Those who know my tastes will understand that comment! LOL) It struck me also that this is a perfect example of something we were discussing in one of my Goodreads groups a few months ago, about women trying to write a male lead character and vice versa--Rex didn't seem much like a man to me; his behavior and thoughts just seemed...I don't know, not manly. But then, I'm a woman, so what do I know? Maybe it's just that Rex was just not well-fleshed out, regardless of gender. Oddly enough, though the book had many faults, I found myself reading on and found it overall a quick, mostly pleasant read and found myself nearly done with it before I had time to grumble much. plan to continue on for at least one more book in the series. I'm hoping to get more of a sense of who Rex is in the next one, though. B-

2. BONE CROSSED by Patricia Briggs. #4 Mercy Thompson paranormal mystery. Mercy is a 'walker'--a skinwalker who can transform instantly into a coyote. She also runs her own garage in the Tri-Cities area (Washington state) and her boyfriend, Adam, is the Alpha of the local werewolf pack. Trouble is still bubbling in the area between the wolves and the vampires, as (last book) Mercy killed one of the leaders of the local seethe who was creating demon-vampires, and Marsilia, the seethe's mistress, wants her dead. It's not bad enough that Mercy is still recovering from the savage rape that took place last book, but as a message, Marsilia sends the nearly-destroyed body of Stefan, another of the seethe's leaders who helped Mercy, into Mercy's living room, thinking that in his debilitated state, he will 'forget' that Mercy is a friend and kill her before he himself dies. But Adam is there, and he and his wolves heal Stefan and take him to Adam's to recover. Mercy heads out of town to Spokane at the behest of an old college friend to listen to some ghosts in her house and try to get them to stop troubling her ten-year-old son, Chad. It's a good opportunity for Mercy to get out of town and lie low for a while--or is it? Amber's appearance on Mercy's doorstep might be just a little too convenient. Another great entry in this series, which is one of my favorite paranormals. Looking forward to the next. A.

3. THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY by Siobhan Dowd. (AUDIO) A young adult mystery told from the point of view of Ted Spark, a 12-year-old Londoner with (what I presume is--it's never actually named) Aspberger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Ted is good with numbers, scientific concepts and deductive reasoning, but he has a very difficult time socially. As he puts it, "the pc in my brain operates on a different operating system than most people's." When Ted's cousin Salim disappears from the London Eye, Ted and his somewhat rebellious older sister Kat try to piece together what happened to him. Salim is visiting with his mother (Ted's Aunt Gloria) before they are due to move to New York in a few days, where Gloria will have a job at an art museum. Gloria and her sister,Ted's mum, Faith, aren't terribly close and it's been several years since Salim and his family visited from Manchester, so they don't really know Salim. Did he leave of his own accord, or did someone abduct him? Ted's main interest was in HOW he disappeared, since he and Kat watched him get on the Eye and watched his pod (as well as several others, in case they were wrong about which one he was on) empty out afterwards with no sign of him. A very wonderful story, told with an interesting protagonist's voice. At first, I was a bit annoyed by the reader--he had a kind of high, nasal, breathless voice with a sort of staccato rhythm that was hard to listen to. Then I realized that he was trying to talk that way, since he was using Ted's voice to set the tone for the story, and he did a really good job. I was hoping that this was the first of a series featuring the Spark kids, but unfortunately it isn't--the author died in 2007 at the age of 47 of breast cancer, and while she did write several other books for kids and young adults, this wasn't a series. She was passionate in life about getting kids to read, making books accessible to disadvantaged children, and in the last few months of her life set up a trust geared towards providing funds to get books in the hands of underprivileged kids. On her website, there is a motto that says, "If a child can read, they can think. And if a child can think, they are free." This so exemplifies my own childhood experience with reading that I've decided to contribute to her Trust in 2010 rather than purchase any new books for myself. You rock, Siobhan! A+

4. VERDICT UNSAFE by Jill McGown. #8 Lloyd & Hill British police procedural. A two-year-old rape case is brought back into focus when the rapist is released on a legal technicality. Not only are his victims put into an emotional tailspin, so are their families, the police officers involved and the community at large. A twisted and convoluted tale full of petty criminals, crooked cops, and nothing but lies and more lies in Stansfield and Malworth, where the crimes were committed. DI Judy Hill firmly believes that Colin Drummond was guilty, but new evidence keeps coming to light that put doubt into the minds of some of her co-workers, including DCI Lloyd. Judy is formally removed from the case by their new Chief, who's a misogynistic throwback--but actually the only real "case" is a pending lawsuit filed by Drummond claiming the police set him up, and also beat him savagely. She's assigned to work on a series of burglaries, that coincidentally involve some of the same players in the rape cases. As Lloyd, Hill and their officers try to cut through the layers of deception, the real story begins to unfold, backtrack, unfold some more until finally it becomes clear. I have to admit I hadn't a clue til very close to the end. I vacillated back and forth between several scenarios, none of which happened to be right. First time in awhile that's happened! Another enjoyable read in this series which as often happens, started slow and became un-putdownable towards the end. A.

5. THE BOOK OF ANSWERS by Barbara Berliner. This is a compilation of questions on various topics posed to the telephone reference line at the NY public library. It was published over 2 decades ago, so some parts (chapters on statistics and pop culture, for example) are somewhat dated, but there's a lot of interesting stuff too. Organized neatly into chapters such as Firsts (Who/what was the first _________?) Myth and Legends, Trademarks, Who Was Who? etc, and with each Q&A separated by double spacing, it was easy to read small chunks at a time without getting lost--which was important to me as this was my (ahem) 'bathroom book' for a couple of months. LOL Enjoyable, entertaining and informative--although an updated version would be a boon! B.

6. PAGAN CHRISTMAS: THE PLANTS, SPIRITS, AND RITUALS AT THE ORIGINS OF YULETIDE by Christian Ratsch and Claudia Muller-Ebling. This book looks back at history and explains the origins of some of our modern-day Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree, the colors red and white, various common decorations, St. Nicholas (and his cousins Father Christmas and Sinterklaas among others) and various festivals held over the centuries around the world that coincide with Christmas. The idea that Santa's reindeer fly because they're high on magic mushrooms made me giggle a bit, I must admit! There was a lot of new information in here that I hadn't come across before--probably because the authors are German and a lot of these traditions were things I wasn't familiar with--but unfortunately the book was not very well organized, got repetitive at times (possibly because there were two authors? I don't know...) and was not easy to navigate. I enjoyed reading about some of these things--including the bits about "Baccy Claus: the smoking Christmas man" with various 'baccy recipes! LOL This isn't a book I want to make room for as a permanent reference, however, as it just isn't very user friendly, however much interesting stuff it might contain. C+

7. SISTER PELAGIA AND THE WHITE BULLDOG by Boris Akunin. #1 in the Sister Pelagia series, featuring this red-headed nun who is an assistant to Bishop Mitrofanii in a remote Russian province in the 19th century. The Bishop sends Pelagia to investigate who is poisoning his aunt's rare white bulldogs, which are near and dear to her heart--even moreso than her human family, really. While investigating who is harming the dogs, a murder mystery with a human victim takes place and Pelagia goes under cover as a noblewoman (Pelagia's supposed sister) to be the Bishop's eyes and ears during this time of political unrest and religious upheaval. I have to be honest and say that had this not been a book I was reading to complete a Challenge for one of my groups, I probably would not have read beyond page 50. It began verrrrrrry slowly, and although the story did eventually become more cohesive and interesting about mid-book, the writing style was just generally off-putting, although perhaps that may be in part the translation? I don't know. There were way too many peripheral characters all with long names (for example, Vladimir Lvovich Bubentsov and Marya Afanasievna Tatishcheva) that were repeated time and again over and over. It was very confusing as to who was who for the longest time. I also never really got a sense of who Pelagia was, what she stood for. I don't mind a richly detailed, slow-moving so-called literary mystery, but this one was just not my cup of tea. I'm glad I finished the book, but I won't be carrying on in the series, even though I've got the next two here--will trade them off to someone who will doubtless enjoy them much more than I would! C-.

8. A SEA OF TROUBLES by Donna Leon. #10 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice, Italy. Brunetti and Vianello head out to Pellestrina, a island with a small fishing community, to investigate the death of a father and son fisherman team. Their boat exploded, but no one is surprised when it turns out that they were dead before the boat went up--brutally murdered, in fact. In the closed community, it's not likely that the police are going to glean much information from the natives, and Brunetti despairs of finding the culprit. But it turns out that Patta's secretary, the ever-helpful Signorina Elettra has family on the island and volunteers to take a week's vacation there as she does every year, and keep her eyes and ears open. Brunetti is afraid for her, but cannot dissuade her. When a local woman, a shopkeeper, is found drowned, they are certain it's related to the first murders, but can't figure out how. Soon things race to an exciting conclusion, although to be honest, none of it suprised me terribly much. I enjoyed this trip to Venice, but I have to admit it wasn't quite as compelling for me as many others in this series have been. Still, am looking forward to the next. B+

9. THE SUGAR HOUSE by Laura Lippman. (AUDIO) #5 Tess Monaghan mystery set in Baltimore, MD. Having returned from Texas with boyfriend Crow in tow, Tess is beginning to settle into somewhat of a routine with her PI business and her personal life. She is asked by her father to take on a case for an old friend. Ruthie wants her to find out the identity of the Jane Doe her glue-sniffing, addict brother was sent to prison for killing, albeit accidentally in a drug-hazed stupor. Her brother was subsequently knifed to death in prison, and Ruthie is convinced that it wasn't just another prison squabble, but that it's because of who the Jane Doe was. For her own peace of mind and closure, she wants to know why her brother died. Tess doesn't hold much hope of finding the woman's identity after a year has gone by, but she gives it her best shot, linking one clue to another--beginning on Baltimore's mean streets but which eventually leads she and her good friend Whitney Talbot, recently returned from Japan, to a very exclusive private eating disorders clinic on the coast. Having once tangled with her own bulimia demon as a teenager, Tess feels as though she's on familiar ground and does eventually find out who Jane Doe really is--but there's a story behind the story, and once Tess gets hold of a bone, she's like a junkyard dog and won't let go, even when it puts herself in danger. It took me awhile to warm up to the reader of this book; I've encountered her before and she's not my favorite, although many folks just love her. "Something" about her (Barbara Rosenblatt) voice/tone/whatever annoys me, but I like this series enough that I was able to enjoy the book despite it. I guess if I plan to listen on in audio I'd better get used to it anyway. Looking forward to the next adventure! A-

10. OPEN SEASON by C.J. Box. #1 Joe Pickett mystery. Joe is a game warden for the state of Wyoming, in remote Twelve Sleep County. He and his pregnant wife and two young girls live in a small house that comes with the job, and he's just trying to get settled into this life when Ote Keeley, a hunting guide and known poacher, fatally wounded, stumbles into Joe's yard and dies on his woodpile. It's an obvious case of murder, and Joe becomes a suspect because he and Keeley have a history, one in which Ote took Joe's gun away from him when he was attempting to write him a citation for poaching some months back. Joe wonders at the lack of real investigation by the Sheriff's department and sets out to find out what Ote was up to, who killed him, and most importantly, why Ote headed for Joe's house with a cooler containing animal scat. What he begins to unravel is a conspiracy reaching to the upper echelons of Wyoming's wildlife regulatory boards and which threatens to put not only Joe but his family in grave danger if he continues to rock the boat. Although the bad guy in this was painfully obvious almost from the beginning (at least to me) I still enjoyed this debut novel. The author is obviously either a native or someone who has grown to love the land he writes about, and makes the place very much a character in the story. The writing style is easy to read, the characters engaging and realistic, and the main character has a flawed charm about him that makes him easy to like and to care about almost immediately. I greatly look forward to continuing on reading this series! A.

11. WORMWOOD by Susan Wittig Albert. #17 China Bayles "herbal" mystery, generally set in Texas, but in this book is set in Mt. Zion, KY where China travels with old friend Martha to assist her doing herbal workshops at an old Shaker museum. Or at least that's what China thinks--on the drive there, Martha confesses that she has ulterior motives in asking China along, that there are some problems with the way the Shaker village museum is being run. Martha has ties to the old Shaker village as her Aunt Charity was a Sister in that community for many years, having left abruptly in 1912, not long before it closed down. Martha's also curious about why her aunt departed so suddenly, since she never mentioned anything about it to her family. She figures that China's cover as an herbalist will work well, even as China the lawyer digs around in the paperwork to find out what is happening legally with Mt. Zion. Since they are well on their way when Martha springs this on her, she reluctantly agrees although she was loathe to leave home for two weeks, with a lot of turmoil there as well. The story is actually two mysteries, one back in 1912 within the Shaker community, the other in modern times, and the narrative of the book goes back and forth between the two. While I knew a little bit about the Shakers, I found this a fascinating look at their culture and what life was like in one of their communities--certainly not all tranquil bliss like the image they projected! The mysteries themselves were rather easy to work out, but I enjoyed the two storylines entwining, and definitely liked this much better than the last book in the series which was told partly from China's husband McQuaid's point of view. The only thing really missing was China's usual setting back at her herb shop and all her friends and family there--that's two books in a row now where there has not been nearly enough of Ruby, Cass, Brian and his menagerie and the rest of the gang, and I really do hope they are back in the upcoming Holly Blues! B+

12. ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood. (AUDIO) Since my opinion of Atwood's work has been rather hit or miss, and since my favorite of hers was another of her dystopian novels (A Handmaid's Tale--which is, indeed, one of my top ten all time favorite novels!) this book was recommended to me by several people and I finally got around to it. Set in a dystopian world in which most of the species Homo sapiens sapiens disappears from the planet, the story is told from the point of view of Snowman, previously known as Jimmy. Snowman now lives in a world where he is nearly worshiped as a prophet of the god Crake and the goddess Oryx by the beings that Crake created through gene splicing, cloning and other various bio-manipulations. Important though he may seem, Snowman lives in a tree to avoid being the prey of some of the other creatures Crake created that once in the wild were not quite what they were supposed to be and spends his time half-starved and full of nasty insect bites. Humans are mostly gone because of worldwide plagues, though Jimmy for some reason was immune. The story goes back and forth in time, to Jimmy's childhood, telling of life in the Compounds--enclosed communities run by various massive corporations and government agencies--where his father was also a scientist working on biogenetics. Jimmy's mother runs off to join a bio-terroristic guerrilla group, so he is mostly left to his own devices and spends hours with his friend Crake (an obvious genius even at a young age) watching various internet porn sites and games which quickly become boring to Jimmy. This is where he first "meets" Oryx, who was an eight-year-old star on a kiddie porn site called Hot Tots. Back then, the lands outside the compounds were known as the Pleeblands--where disease, violence and chaos were the norm for the Pleebes--those humans not fortunate enough to be part of a compound. As the story eventually unravels (it takes awhile to get going) to tell how and why Snowman came to be one of the few (the only?) human beings left, and how Crake and Oryx came to be deified, you're left with a sense that although the story is over, it really isn't. The reader of this book did a great job of inflecting the book with Atwood's wry, dark humor and with the various voices and managed the point of view/time changes very well, too. It would be misleading to say I enjoyed this book, but I did find it a powerful and most excellent entry in the field of dystopian fiction which I've come to be fascinated with in recent years. A.

13. SECONDHAND SPIRITS by Juliet Blackwell. #1 "Witchcraft" mystery featuring Lily Ivory, a 'natural' witch who has decided to settle in San Francisco after leading a rather vagabond life. She's opened up a vintage clothing shop in the Haight, the quirky neighborhood most known as a hippy hangout in the '60's. Just beginning to feel at home, she suddenly feels the rug pulled out from under her when she and a friend go the home of an old woman who has a large collection of vintage clothing from several eras that she wants to sell. Lily gets strange vibes from the woman's home, and a young neighbor girl just disappears before they've left--and later that night, the old woman herself ends up dead--laid out inside a pentagram--and this after Lily returned and performed a protection spell over the woman! Lily first begins investigating alone, but learns that she needs to trust her new friends, Bronwyn--a Wiccan who rents a corner of Lily's shop to sell her herbal concoctions and Maya, and even Aidan, a powerful male witch who knew Lily's father. Then there's Max, a hunky supernatural 'myth-buster' who keeps turning up wherever Lily is. I was surprised that I actually liked this book. Those who know me know I've really gotten picky about silly cozy mysteries lately, and since I'm Pagan, even pickier about my paranormal mysteries. This one took awhile to convince me but by the end I found I was indeed looking forward to the next one. The bad guy was terribly easy to spot, and there are a few things in the 'witchy' parts that made me scratch my head a bit...and I don't yet feel I have a good handle on Lily, but the fact that I want to know more speaks volumes. There were some darker aspects to things that (in my opinion anyway) elevated it above the usual sweetness and light cozy. I think this was a good opening to what will potentially be an excellent series--as long as the author doesn't veer off into the old 'love triangle" problem and use a bunch of romantic suspense malarkey to keep the reader interested. (Or, in my case, cause the reader to LOSE interest.) One thing that definitely endeared me to Lily is that she, like myself, has a 'parking space spell.' LOL A-

First in the Prior's Ford series, featuring the cast of the village of that same name in the Scottish lowlands. Not sure exactly how to classify this--not mystery, I guess general fiction, rather cozy, with a cast of motley characters each with their own hopes, dreams and problems, and some mutual issues affecting the village--the potential reopening of a granite quarry for one. Perhaps a written soap opera would be the way to describe this--though it's much less sordid than the soaps on TV--at least from the last time I watched one years ago! It's surprising that I liked this, really, but I did, very much. It tells the story of Glen and Libby, owners of the local pub (The Neurotic Cuckoo) who have an old secret in their past that they want kept quiet. Libby worries it will be brought to the fore when Glen heads up a committee working against the quarry re-opening. There's Jenny, Helen and Ingrid, local village women with younger children who together run a seasonal craft shop. There's Clarissa, recently widowed and a village outsider as she and her husband had only moved to Prior's Ford a few months before he died. And there's the Ralston-Kerrs, owners of Linn Manor (and the land the quarry is on!) who haven't two pennies to rub together but are valiantly carrying on as 'lairds of the manor' while they can. All in all, an enjoyable story with a lovely sense of place and atmosphere and some diverse, well-drawn and interesting characters. I closed the book feeling very satisfied and wanting to go back for another visit soon. A.

15. THE CINCINNATI RED STALKINGS by Troy Soos (AUDIO) This is one of the later books in the Mickey Rawlings "baseball" series set in the late 1910's/early 1920's. I needed an audiobook quickly to listen to on a long drive, and this one was there, so I snabbed it--very uncharacteristic for me, who never reads series out of order! Mickey is a utility infielder who's been traded all over the league, currently doing duty with the Cincinnati Red Stockings. He has an interest in baseball history and spends some time with a guy whom the team's owner has hired to set up a baseball museum to help draw in some crowds. When that man turns up dead, Mickey is at first a suspect and then becomes the hunted himself, as he figures the killer must have the idea that Mickey has something that the murdered man passed on to him--but for the life of him, he can't figure out what it might be. Until he does, the mystery is going to remain just that--the police aren't overly interested and seem content to let the murder go off as death in the midst of a robbery. I really enjoyed this book--enough that I went ahead and downloaded the first book to my MP3 player already. Mickey is interesting and I like the secondary characters too. It's interesting hearing about what baseball was like during those long-ago days, a time even before my parents were born. The reader had kind of an odd voice, not your "classical" deep, bounding male voice, but it suited Mickey's personality very well and was pleasant enough to listen to. Looking forward to going back to the beginning to hear about how it all started. A.

16. FIGURE OF HATE by Bernard Knight. #9 Crowner John historical mystery set in 1190's Devon. Lots of upheavals in the Crowner's life as the new Sheriff, who displaced his treacherous brother-in-law, begins dispensing the law. While honest, he's rather plodding and lazy and tends to let John handle most things. John's wife Matilda, an extremely socially conscious woman concerned with the neighbors' opinions and her diminishing status, seems to have developed a drinking problem after the fall of her brother from the highly lucrative Sheriff's position. And it's tournament season--jousting and melee are just beginning to gain popularity, and John is asked to referee at a joust to be held during the Exeter fair, given his battle experience as a knight of the realm. One of the knights, a local manor lord, behaves very badly after losing his joust (which meant losing his horse, armor and often a good chunk of money to the winning knight) and John publicly chastises him for his unchivalrous behavior. The coroner later meets up with Hugo Peverel a second time when he's found stabbed several times in the back in one of his barns on the manor. Soon his death is tied to two other previous deaths and the Crowner must figure out which of the man's friends or family killed the odious man--not an easy task with a wealth of suspects at hand, and it's further complicated when his brother-in-law Richard, a friend and neighbor of the family, throws in his support for them. I like this series a lot; the books seem to be well-researched and the author always has some interesting notes to read, too. Despite John's crabbiness, I like him and his secondary characters. The one thing that bothers me (and I know I've mentioned this before) is the constant use of the same verbs, often "animal sounds" attributed to the characters as they're speaking. For example, the Crowner, who is a rather gruff, curmudgeonly fellow, often snaps, growls or barks. His dandified brother-in-law frequently brays. If it wasn't for this, I would tend to rate the books higher, but at times it happens very frequently and is distracting enough to pull me right out of the story. I still look forward to the next one, though. B+

Current reads: DRAGON KEEPER by Robin Hobb (ARC for review, due out in January), MESSENGER OF TRUTH by Jacqueline Winspear, SIDETRACKED by Henning Mankell and listening to MURDER AT FENWAY PARK by Troy Soos in audio.

Hope your holidays are great, whichever you celebrate! And Happy New Year!


Friday, November 6, 2009

November 2009 Reading

1. VANISHED by Kat Richardson. #4 Greywalker paranormal series sees main character Harper Blaine off to London. Her visit is two-fold: first, she's been having disturbing dreams about her ex-boyfriend Will and is worried about him. And Seattle's master vampire, Edward, wants her to find out what happened to his agent in London. He believes there's another takeover attempt that is beginning in Europe. Harper would likely have refused the request were it not for her horrific dreams, but sees it in her best interest to help Edward--he's the devil she knows and all of that. Harper also learns some new information about her father and his death, which ties into her own life and why she became a Greywalker. That storyline also sets up some potentially really interesting future books. Action-packed adventure, taking Harper, Will's young brother Michael and another Greywalker named Marsden through London's long-abandoned underground river system and through the Grey which allows Harper to see things as they were centuries ago. Marsden also helps Harper to understand more about her abilities, about Greywalkers in general, and about her father. Enjoyable entry in the series, but wasn't quite as good as the last one--the ending was rather abrupt and left a lot of loose ends dangling--which of course, means the wait til the next in series is more difficult. A-

2. WHITE NIGHT by Jim Butcher. (AUDIO) #9 Harry Dresden paranormal mystery. Harry is consulted "off the record" by Sgt. Karrin Murphy (demoted after the fiasco in the last book) in a series of killings that were made to look like suicides. One of the women has a strange altar in her bedroom and Murph's gut tells her something's hinky. Harry confirms this when he sees a magical signature on the wall (visible only to wizards or those who use magic) and to their horror, they discover that these women were all members of a group of Pagans and magick users. Further clues show that they wanted to attract Harry (now a Warden of the White Council) and even make it look as though he might be the killer--since the women were observed talking to a tall man in a gray cloak before they disappeared. Harry discovers that his half-brother Thomas (a White Court vampire) may be tangled up in the mess that soon dissolves into an out and out escalation of the war between the Red Court, the White Court and the White Council. Excellent entry in the series as Harry continues to school his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, and works with Warden Carlos Ramirez to bring down those preying on the magick-using women. Well-read once again by James Marsters who captures the tone of the books and Harry's wise-cracking humor very well. A.

3. A PLAGUE OF POISON by Maureen Ash. #3 Bascot de Marins "Templar Knight" historical mystery set in 1201, Lincoln UK. Bascot, attempting to make a decision as to whether or not he should leave the Templars and accept King John's offer to have his father's lands restored to him and allow him to name an heir. He worries that his ward, Gianni, a ragamuffin that he rescued from a life of poverty on the streets, will end up back where he came from if he were to go back to his Templar brothers rather than leave the order and remain one of Nicolaa de la Haye's retainers. He's distracted from thinking about his choices, however, when a rash of poisonings plague Lincoln, with several deaths both in castle and town, apparently through honey laced with a deadly herb that lead to a quick and violent death. Near-panic begins to take the townsfolk, with people suspicious of everyone around them. Lady Nicolaa places the castle cooks under orders to serve only plain, unspiced foods, and charges Bascot with finding the vile murderer. His first task is to determine the motive of the killer, and to do that, he must try to figure out if the actual victims were the intended victims. I like this series and am beginning to like Bascot more each book, but one thing I have found is that there are too many peripheral characters, such that when the killer was revealed, I barely remembered who they were. While not a wholly satisfying book, I'll definitely read on--a great sense of time and place and interesting major characters overshadow the meandering investigation. B.

4. THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT by Diane A.S. Stuckart. #1 in the Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, set in 1483 Milan. Told from the point of view of one of Leonardo's apprentices, Delfina della Fazia, an eighteen year old girl who has disguised herself as a boy named Dino. Female apprentices are not allowed, and Delfina wanted nothing more than to be an artist so with her father's help, she escapes her small home village and an arranged marriage to run off to Milan seeking apprenticeship with Leonardo. During a live chess match in which one of the players disappears, Leonardo asks "Dino" to go find the Conte di Ferrara, who was playing one of the bishops. The Conte is found, all right--with a knife in his back in one of the gardens! Dino tells Leonardo and they begin a charade in which Dino assumes the role of the bishop in the chess match while Leonardo explains to the Duke why his game is held up and the Duke charges Leonardo with solving the crime. Which he eventually does, with "Dino's" help--but only after a couple more bodies are thrown into the mix. Several theories as to the killer float about, although I had no problem sussing them out right from the start. Several times during the book, Dino's disguise almost comes unraveled, although she does eventually have one confidant who helps her maintain the illusion of being male. I have to admit I was a little leery of this book given that the author writes romances also, and I am NOT a fan of romances, nor especially of romances disguising themselves as mysteries. I was pleasantly surprised in that there was none of that going on at all. (Thank you, author!) I'm also often leery of books featuring prominent historical figures as sleuths--I don't know why, as I really don't know enough about any given historical figure to scoff at any errors that might exist. LOL I enjoyed this book, although I started it almost expecting not to. It didn't take long before I was well past the 50 pages I'd promised to give it and immersed in the story. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the historical settings or known information about Leonardo, but as this is historical FICTION, it wasn't something I worried about anyway. While not a stellar read (and I can't readily put my finger on what makes me downgrade this just slightly) it is a good start to a promising new series--I've got the second one here and we'll see how it holds up. B+

5. THE DEAD CAT BOUNCE by Sarah Graves. (AUDIO) #1 Home Repair is Homicide mystery featuring Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree in Eastport, Maine. Jacobia is a former financial adviser who lived in New York and had some pretty high-flying clients--including some unsavory 'connected' folks. A year ago, she decided to abandon the rat race and bought a 200-year-old house in Eastport, Maine and moved in with her teenage son Sam. Since then, her life has been one big instruction book in how to fix up her house, and it's not been easy. Still, she's made a few friends and seems to be settling in relatively well, even though she's "from away." She certainly doesn't expect to find a dead body in her storeroom--especially not the body of one of the world's richest men! Nor would she have expected her best friend Ellie White to be arrested for the murder, but Ellie's confessed. It's up to Jake to figure out who Ellie is protecting--since they have a confession, the cops don't seem especially eager to do a lot of investigating themselves. I enjoyed this book on many levels, but I did find the reader to be somewhat annoying. She did really well with the different accents, especially that Maine 'down East' twang, but her way of reading and the tone of the book gave Jake a really superior-sounding attitude which grated on my nerves. I'm going to try the next in series in print and see if that makes a difference. If the author intended the main character to have this air of smug superiority, I'm not sure I'll continue on much longer. Most of the immediate secondary characters were interesting and beginning to flesh out well, including Jake's pompous brain surgeon ex-husband (he sounds so much like a neurosurgeon I used to work with, it's not even funny!) and her son Sam is a real treat, so I'm hoping I like the print version better. B.

6. NECESSARY AS BLOOD by Deborah Crombie. #13 Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James British police procedural. This book's theme is London's East End, specifically the Brick Lane area, notable for its rich Indian/Pakistani/Bengali culture. Gemma is visiting her friend Hazel, newly back in London, when Hazel's soon-to-be-ex-husband Tim calls Gemma and asks her to look into the disappearance of a friend. Nasir, a Bangladeshi lawyer, was supposed to pick up his three-year-old daughter from the sitter several hours previously but hasn't turned up. Since Naz is normally very responsible, the sitter frantically calls Tim. Gemma is intrigued when she learns that the man's wife, Sandra Gilles, a white textile artist, vanished into thin air about three months previously. When Naz turns up dead, the welfare of Charlotte, the young child now apparently orphaned, hangs in the balance. Scotland Yard is called in and Duncan and his sergeant Doug Cullen are on the case, with Gemma investigating in an unofficial capacity while she tries to deal with her mother's illness and planning her and Duncan's upcoming wedding as well as her normal work duties as a Detective Inspector at the Notting Hill station. Once again, I very much enjoyed this entry in this stellar series. Crombie's writing style leaves you totally absorbed into the neighborhood she's focusing on in each book and this one was no exception. She balances well the investigation of the mystery of the day with the personal lives of the major players and smoothly shifts back and forth between the point of view of several different characters. The only bad thing about this book is that now I'm going to have to wait many months for the release of the next entry! A+

7. THE GATES by John Connolly. (AUDIO) YA fantasy about an odd boy named Samuel Johnson (who has a dog named Boswell! LOL) who goes trick or treating three days early, and accidentally sees his neighbors, the Abernathys, engaged in some weird ritual that ends with them transformed into demons and with the gate to Hell in their basement at 666 Crowley Rd. When they learn that Samuel has seen them, they set out to try to keep him quiet about their plans--even as Sam is trying as hard as he can to get someone to believe him about what he's seen. On the other side of the inter-dimensional portal, we also get to meet a demon named Nerd, who isn't very demonic and who keeps botching the assignments given to him. Brilliant and imaginative and very well read by Jonathan Cake, I enjoyed this humorous horror story very much, and the ending found me hoping that there will be a sequel. A.

8. THE PATIENCE OF THE SPIDER by Andrea Camilleri. #8 Inspector Montalbano mystery set in Vigata, Italy. Supposedly recuperating from the wound he sustained at the end of the last book, with the lovely (and yet curmudgeonly in her own way!) Livia visiting and tending to him, Montalbano is instead dragged into a kidnapping case, "just to consult" while another detective has the lead role. Susanna Mistretta has disappeared, presumed kidnapped, although motive seems a bit unclear as her family has lost most of their money years previously. Several days pass with no ransom demand and Montalbano is beginning to believe she just went walkabout or else was taken by the proverbial sex maniac and is long dead. Then the ransom call comes in. Montalbano suspects that things aren't quite what they seem--as did I, having figured out the mystery well in advance of our grumpy detective friend. Enjoyable visit to Sicily, with Montalbano enjoying his fabulous fresh Italian meals, waxing philosophical, all the while cogitating until he pieces the clues together to solve the case. Strewn with a host of interesting, diverse secondary characters and ripe with the essence of Italian culture, I always enjoy a read in this series--but they read so quickly I decided that reading just one was like having a snack and I decided to dive right into the next in series--very uncharacteristic of me, I know! A.

9. THE CRUELEST MONTH by Louise Penny. #3 Armand Gamache "Three Pines" mystery in which the Sûreté du Québec detective and his team head back to the village of Three Pines to find out who scared a woman to death during a séance at the old Hadley House. The house, which Gamache has had the displeasure of seeing before, is said to be haunted, and the scare tactic was helped along with a real witch to bring the dead--and, for the victim, a lethal dose of ephedra, the diet medication. But from all reports, Madeline Favreau was a wonderful person, kind and loving, and it's hard for anyone to imagine why someone would want her dead. But villages hold their secrets, and it's up to Gamache and team to discover those hiddeen in Three Pines, all the while Gamache continues to search out a spy among his ranks who is still feeding information to his enemies in the higher ranks at the Sûreté. Gamache is the victim of some vicious attacks in the newspaper, publishing lies and misleading photos about the Inspector and his family, all linking back to the Arnot case which exposed a huge conspiracy a few years previously headed by one of the Sûreté's most popular detectives. I love this series--very atmospheric setting of a rather provincial French-Canadian village with a wonderfully eclectic set of secondary characters, descriptions of foods that make your mouth water and always a longing to go to this imaginary place and find a home. I didn't figure out who had done it ahead of time, although I suspected them all at one point or another, I think--Penny does a great job of laying out several red herrings along the way. I can't wait to get to the next in the series! A+

10. THE PAPER MOON by Andrea Camilleri. #9 Inspector Montalbano series set in Sicily, Italy. Once again, beautiful women and corrupt men pepper Inspector Montalbano's investigation into the death of one Angelo Pardo, a pharmaceutical representative. There's Angelo's sister Michela--who reported him missing and his mistress Elena, whose husband is older and impotent and allows his wife her sexual freedom. Both seem to be playing off one another, blaming each other for Angelo's death, and both are definitely suspects and not telling the whole truth, but when Angelo's connection to some corrupt politicians comes to light, there are a whole host of other possibilities as well. While the mystery was rather obvious, as always, I enjoyed the whole package of being deposited into Sicily, with its weather, the food, the atmosphere of Montalbano's world. These books read very quickly but are by no means cozy--there's a lot of sexual innuendo and content and graphic descriptions of the violent crime scenes. It's hard to know since it's written and set in a different culture if the author is trying to be 'sensational' or if this is just what's expected of crime fiction in Italy. At any rate, I loved this entry in the series no less than others but since I read two close together, am now content to wait another couple of months before I get to the next one. A.

11. FLOWER NET by Lisa See. #1 Liu Hulan mystery set in China. Hulan is an inspector with the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. American-educated, she seems to be the natural choice to work with an American delegation who arrives to sort out the murders of two men--one Chinese, one American. The American happens to be the ambassador's son, and the Chinese man was a friend of his, and was found stuffed into a closet on a ship carrying illegals to California. These deaths are destined to trigger a diplomatic explosion if they aren't solved quickly. David Stark, the attorney chosen to go to China--and coincidentally, Hulan's former lover--believes that the deaths have something to do with the Chinese mafia, the triads, particularly one called Rising Phoenix, but is short on proof. Working together with Hulan in China and in America, their delegation works to sift the clues. I must admit I was quite disappointed in this book, having read some of Lisa See's other "literary" fiction which I enjoyed a lot. There are three books in this mystery series, all written earlier than her other works, and it shows. This was rather amateurishly written, the plot was full of holes and the characters were two-dimensional. It was also just....boring, for lack of a better word. I didn't care about either of the main characters and wasn't really sure "who" they were, actually. I did finish it, but I skimmed the last 50 pages and in retrospect, rather wish I hadn't bothered. I really have no desire to read on in the series at all. C-/D+

12. GRAVE SECRET by Charlaine Harris. (AUDIO) #4 (and final--according to the author) Harper Connelly paranormal mystery in which Harper and Tolliver head back to Texas at the behest of the well-moneyed Lizzie Joyce, who is seeking to find out how her grandfather died a few years previously. When Lizzie leads them to a small family graveyard and deliberately doesn't point out which grave is her grandfather's, Harper sighs and begins 'reading' each grave, with the name and how they died--but springs a surprise on the family by telling them that Mariah, Richard Joyce's caregiver after his stroke, died from an infection after childbirth--NOT from a ruptured appendix as they were told. While in Texas, Harper and Tolliver stop to see their young sisters (who have been adopted by Harper's aunt) and learn from Tolliver's older brother Mark that their father is out of prison on parole and has been asking to see him. Harper also touches base with the police, trying to find out if there have been any new leads in her sister Cameron's disappearance. Once they poke all their irons into the various fires, Tolliver is shot, there is an attempt against Harper's life and other people are killed. As the author strives to wind down this series by tying up all the loose ends, the plot careens a bit and latches on to several very convenient coincidences, but the ending was satisfying if a bit rushed. I have enjoyed this series of Harris' more than any of the others she writes and was very intrigued with Harper's strange gift. Once again the reader (Alyssa Bresnahan) did a stellar job. One note: you really must start from the beginning of this series or you will be sadly lacking in the understanding of events as the backstory is very important as are the twisty relationships in the Lang-Connelly family. A-.

13. IF IT'S NOT ONE THING, IT'S A MURDER by Liz Wolfe. #1 Skye Donovan "photographic" mysteries, although I have to say for most of this book, the main character was Skye Williams (she gets divorced and takes her maiden name back) and doesn't even pick up a camera til the last quarter of the book. Skye Williams nee Donovan is a woman who discovers her husband is cheating on her--with another man. While all that drama is going on, her best friend Bobbi Jo is accused of murder, then Bobbi's husband dies after having a massive stroke, and her other best friend Lily has a relationship crisis AND a daughter's wedding to plan also. At first I wasn't sure I was going to finish the book. It was really scattered with a bunch of different subplots, there was too much going on, not enough details about the mystery--which almost seemed to fall through the cracks as the book went on--and I had a hard time relating to Skye, who struck me as just another SUV-driving yuppie suburbanite trying to stave off boredom with various hobbies, clubs and friend-activities. There was a lot of set-up, a lot of going 'round and 'round in circles, and while the main character did grow on me somewhat after awhile, there are too many relationship/romance-like sides to the stories for my taste. I'm going to try the second one in the series (probably from the library though, rather than acquiring it) and see if things have improved. I didn't really feel as though this was a mystery--more like chick lit with sort of a mystery (I figured it out well in advance) attached. If you like that sort of mystery, you will probably enjoy this more than I did. C+

14. THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown. #3 Robert Langdon thriller/mystery. Professor Langdon, specialist in symbology, is summoned to Washington by (he thinks) his good friend Peter Solomon on very short notice. Once there, he discovers that Peter has been captured by a madman who expects Langdon to unlock the centuries-old Masonic secret of the Ancient Mysteries--a portal, a pyramid hidden under Washington DC or his friend will be killed. As with the other two books, this one proceeds at breakneck speed, slowed down only by the flashbacks each character has, as Langdon and a cast of other interesting characters race against time in an effort to save (or destroy) Solomon and the secret he has hidden. It's up to the professor to decode various items and bring practical interpretation to the fore, while barely having time to stop and wipe the sweat from his brow. I did enjoy the book on the whole, but as this is the third in the series, the plot twists and turns are now expected and somewhat formulaic rather than surprising. The author provides some nuggets of information, trivia and arcana centering around the Masons and their legends and I do enjoy this sort of a mystery and probably will do more of my own research on these topics at a later date. If you enjoyed the others in the series you will probably like this one too, as I did. That said, I can't say that it's worth all the hype leading up to it, but then again, how could ANY book live up to that much hype!? LOL Not great literature by any stretch of the imagination--but still a worthy read. B+.

15. SAND SHARKS by Margaret Maron (AUDIO) #15 Judge Deborah Knott mystery. Deborah is off to the beach at Wilmington for a judges' conference while new husband Dwight takes his son and Deborah's brother Will north to Virginia to clear out his murdered ex-wife's house and ready it for selling, while attending some seminars of his own in that area. Deborah is looking forward to a few days of relaxing on the beach, seeing old friends and scarfing down some fresh seafood, but of course ends up smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation when she discovers the strangled body of Judge Pete Jeffries in the water. She didn't know him well but had witnessed him being quite a butthead in just the few hours before his death that evening at Jonah's, a local restaurant. Her colleagues then fill the gaps with other stories of his greed and incompetence and the suspect list burgeons. When an older judge who is about to retire is deliberately run down on the way to a retirement reception for him, putting him into a coma, the local police detective and (privately) Deborah begin trying to figure out if the two incidents are related--and if so, how. There was a lot of different personal things going on in this episode, and the mystery seemed somewhat secondary. Which is okay, because I love visiting with Deborah and her family and friends. Another wonderful episode in this series, which has become one of my very favorites, and probably THE favorite audio series for me now, since reader C.J. Critt does such a fantastic job of interpreting who Deborah is and also all the secondary characters as well as the peripheral characters who exist for just a short time. The down side? I have to wait many moons for the release of the next one! A.

16. BAKING CAKES IN KIGALI by Gaile Parkin. This is a story about Angel, a menopausal woman living in Kigali, Rwanda with her husband and five grandchildren. Both of her children have died in her native Tanzania, and she and her husband move to Kigali when he is offered a consultancy with the university there. Angel bakes cakes, and while she runs her business out of her apartment, she considers herself "a professional somebody." The story encompasses life in and around an apartment compound, featuring a variety of people from all over the world who have come to Kigali for various reasons. It tells of the struggle to beat back the myths about AIDS, about learning ways of dealing with centuries-old traditions that keep women firmly in their places, about a commingling of people who speak one or two of several different languages who practice different religions and have different outlooks on life surviving and even sometimes happily co-existing. At first I thought this book was going to be kind of lame, too cozy, too much like Mma Ramotswe goes to Kigali. But it wasn't, and by the time I was done with it, I was very satisfied, felt I had gained much cultural (and geographical!) knowledge about different African traditions and was glad to have read it. I found much that I could relate to with Angel despite our many differences--especially her descriptions of her hot flashes! LOL It's simultaneously silly, heart-breaking, depressing, poignant and yet hopeful. It's a story of survival, and so much more. Highly recommended! A+

17. STEEL GUITAR by Linda Barnes. #4 Carlotta Carlyle mystery set in Boston, MA. Carlotta, a private investigator who drives cab to fill in the monetary gap, picks up a fare she recognizes--Dee Willis, a blues singer/guitarist who has increasingly gained fame and fortune over the years. The same Dee Willis whom Carlotta used to play with in a blues band. The same Dee Willis who stole Carlotta's husband Cal, now ex. Carlotta saves Dee from a bunch of hungry hobos who attack when Dee begins waving money around looking for 'one of their kind.' When they've escaped and Dee realizes who she is, she hires Carlotta to find an old mutual friend of theirs, another musician named Davey Dunrobie. Against her better judgment, Carlotta agrees, but when Dee's bass player Brenda ends up dead in Dee's bed, she begins to wonder how that event ties into Dee's hiring Carlotta. As angry as she has been with Dee in the past, Carlotta can't imagine her having anything to do with murder. So who did kill Brenda, and what has it got to do with Davey Dunrobie? Another good entry in the series, and one in which we get a closer look at Carlotta's past and where she's come from. A-.

18. GROUNDS FOR MURDER by Sandra Balzo. #2 Maggy Thorsen mystery. Maggy is co-owner of Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop in Brookhills, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her business partner Caron are struggling to keep things going, what with the death of their other partner in the last book, and trying to stay ahead of the chain coffee stores springing up. Maggy, planning to attend Java Ho, a coffee convention being held locally, agrees reluctantly to host the Barista Competition, hoping for some good publicity for Uncommon Grounds. But things turn messy when Marvin LaRoche, owner of the HotWired coffee chain and the convention's organizer, is bashed on the head with the trophy--and Maggy finds his body. Being a power-hungry self-centered man and having delivered a very controversial speech at the opening ceremonies of the convention, there is no shortage of suspects with a motive to clobber LaRoche. Maggy is even added to the list as she had a rather loud argument with him just hours before his death. So she has a reason to investigate, and doesn't share all she knows with her love interest, Sheriff Jake Pavlick, which gets her into even more trouble. I had a gut feeling about the baddie in this book, but didn't really know why or how the murder was done until close to the end. Enjoyable read, this series seems to be what I'd call a "semi-cozy." There are definitely some adult themes and a little mild cussing, but it's not terribly edgy. I like the author's writing style and down-to-earth characters and am looking forward to the next one in the series. A-

19. THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN by Fred Vargas. #1 Chief Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg mystery set in Paris. Adamsberg, the new Commissaire recently transferred from his home in the Pyrenees, comes with a stellar reputation for solving big cases, but on the surface he appears more like a bumbling Columbo-esque sleuth who doesn't use any of the usual techniques for solving crimes. Working more by his senses than by deductive reasoning, Adamsberg begins taking interest in a person who draws blue chalk circles around various objects around the city and writing an odd little quotation next to the circle. He feels that something bigger is coming, and that soon the chalk circle man will be encircling dead bodies with his chalk rather than discarded plastic toys, broken watch straps and the like. And so it happens, to the disappointment of Adamsberg's colleague Danglard, an often-tipsy man who views Adamsberg's reputation skeptically--but comes to respect it by the end of the case. This book was a little hard to get into at first, possibly in part due to the translation, not sure. The writing style doesn't seem to flow well at times, but when it does, it's brilliant. The main character was also quite an enigma, with his personal foibles intersecting with his professional work. It was difficult to get to know him and his methods, but by the end of the book I was more comfortable with him and with the whole situation. Although there have been several later books in the series translated into English in past years, and I've had a couple of them on my TBR for awhile, I was glad I waited to get this one (the first in series) and read it first. I'm hoping future books will make more sense due to the groundwork laid by this one. B+

20. CHARLIE BONE AND THE SHADOW by Jenny Nimmo (AUDIO) #7 Children of the Red King YA fantasy series. Charlie and his endowed friends, all descendents of the fabled Red King, all attendees of Bloor's Academy, are once again under attack by the nasty side of the family tree. Charlie's parents are still away on their extended second honeymoon, and Charlie's nasty Grandma Bone brings a wrapped package into the basement, knowing that Charlie's curiosity will get the better of him, and it does--he and his friend Benjamin's dog Runner Bean are sucked into the painting to the stark, foreboding land of Badlock. There, Charlie meets up with one of his ancestors, Otis Yewbeam, and a nasty stone gargoyle dog named Oddthumb. Charlie eventually manages to get out, but Runner Bean remains trapped inside, much to Benjamin's dismay. Charlie plans to bring Billy Raven, an albino boy who's an orphan, home the following weekend to try to speak to Runner (he speaks to animals) to try to figure out how to get him back. Meanwhile, Dagbert "the Drowner" Endless begins plotting his revenge against Charlie and his friend Tancred Torsson, but behind all these attacks is the evil Count Harken, an enchanter set on eliminating all those who work against him. Another excellent entry in the series with yet another cliffhanger at the end! A.

DNF: GHOST AT WORK by Carolyn Hart. I tried the audio version, and while the fact that the reader was annoying influenced my decision to stop somewhat, I wasn't getting into the book itself at all either.

Current reads: CHRISTMAS IS MURDER by C.S. Challinor, BONE CROSSED by Patricia Briggs and listening to THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY by Siobhan Dowd.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

October 2009 Reading

I just realized I hadn't started posting my October reads yet, and here it is, mid-month already! You'll probably notice quite a few titles with the words "Dead, Die, Dying, or Death" in the title this month--I'm participating in a reading challenge for one of my online book groups to read as many books as possible with those words in the title.

1. DEAD CENTER by David Rosenfelt. #5 Andy Carpenter mystery. Andy is a lawyer in Paterson, New Jersey but in this installment is off to the midwest in response to a call from his ex-girlfriend Laurie who is now the acting police chief in her home town of Findlay, Wisconsin. The son of a childhood friend has been accused of murdering two young college women, one of them the girl who just broke up with him. Andy, who has finally made up his mind to start to come to terms with life sans Laurie, is reluctant to take up the case primarily for that reason, but also because he can afford to be picky about his cases and he likes to have a belief that his client truly is innocent. Although he normally trusts Laurie's judgment implicitly, he feels she may be too close to the situation. Eventually he does drive out with his dog Tara in tow. But after meeting Jeremy (the accused) and his family and getting a feel for the locals from Calvin, the local attorney he'll be working with, he comes to believe that Laurie is right. There is something bigger going on, probably involving the Centurions, a cultish, isolationist religion that is the sole cornerstone of the neighboring town of Center City, where Elizabeth and Sheryl, the two murdered girls, were from. It takes another murder or two to convince the judge that Jeremy is innocent and that charges should be dropped, but Andy is disinclined to just go home and let things hang in the air. Plus, he and Laurie have started their relationship up again and he really doesn't want that to end, either. I did spot the bad guy very early on, but had no basis for it, just a gut feeling. This was a great entry in the series, one of the very few "lawyer/courtroom drama" mysteries I will even go anywhere near. A.

2. THE WAY OF FOUR: CREATING ELEMENTAL BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE by Deborah Lipp. Pagan tutorial about working with elemental magicks, determining your own elemental nature and learning to balance your own nature through ritual and practice. Although Pagan, I don't do a lot of magical ritual myself so hadn't really worked much with or been terribly cognizant of, the Elementals. The author explains the differences between the elements in nature and the Elementals, magical beings and takes you through several exercises to determine your own elemental nature. I had known that I was strongly of Earth, but was surprised to find that I have almost as many Air characteristics. I'm already fairly balanced, also having some Fire and Water traits in my nature, but those two are definitely tamped down most of the time by the Air-Earth domination of my personality and essential nature. It took me several weeks to get through the book as some exercises are done outdoors, which is not always easy for me to do, living in the city. Some parts I paid more attention to than others. I thought this was a very well-done book with plenty of different aspects for different people. Some of this was fairly basic, other parts more advanced. There is another workbook that also accompanies this book which I didn't have, but may purchase at some point. I'll definitely be referring to this book again in the future, it'll stay on my Keeper shelf. A.

3. WHEN GODS DIE by C.S. Harris. #2 Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery. Set in 1811 London, full of political intrigue, Sebastian (aka Viscount Devlin) is asked by the close adviser of the Prince Regent to investigate the murder of a woman found in the Regent's company dead--while he fell asleep and doesn't recall anything that happens. Not wishing to become involved in the Regent's female problems nor in anything political in the current climate, he's set to decline when Jarvis dangles a necklace in front of him--an ancient necklace that was last seen around Sebastian's mother's neck on the day she disappeared when he was eleven years old. Of course this draws him into the mystery, and the story unfolds--both the story of the murder and of how the necklace came to be on Guinevere Anglissey's pretty dead neck. Sebastian, Tom (the street urchin he rescued who is now in his employ as his 'tiger' or horseman) and Kat Boleyn, his lover and actress in Drury Lane, investigate various aspects of the crime and things get more dangerous for them all the closer they get. I admit that I hooked one of the author's red herrings and ran with it and was rather surprised at the solution to the crime and the necklace mystery too. Cracking good action-packed suspense, the first book in awhile that I've been literally unable to put down. I liked this better than the first book, and the gratuitious sex didn't bother me as it was between well established characters. A+

4. SOVEREIGN by C.J. Sansom. #3 Matthew Shardlake historical mystery set in 1541 during King Henry VIII's Progress northward to York. Matthew, a lawyer, has been commissioned by Archbishop Cranmer to assist in readying petitions of Yorkshiremen to be put before the King's justice--but his real purpose is that he wants Matthew to keep a prisoner who is accused in the recent attempted revolution safe until he can be brought to the Tower for torture. As his father has recently died and left Matthew in debt for a mortgage on his farm, he feels that he has little choice but to take the £50 offered for the job although his heart is certainly not in it. Matthew and his assistant Jack Barak head north and soon are in the midst of a mire of not only terrible rains and mud, but also a tangle of political intrigues and plotting, with Barak taking up with one of Queen Catherine's servants. Matthew meets the fellow lawyer who will be in charge of the reading of the local petitions, Giles Wrenne, and strikes up a friendship with him only to learn after a time that he is slowly dying of an enlarging tumor in his gut. Meanwhile, several attempts are made on Matthew's life, as it seems he has made some powerful enemies who seek to discredit him, and there are also attempts to kill the prisoner that he is supposed to keep safe. Longing only for his own hearth and home, the mysteries within mysteries seem to deepen as the weeks roll past until Matthew doesn't know who should be trusted, until the end when all is revealed. I had a feeling about the resolution of the main mystery and was right, although some of the side plots had somewhat surprising ends to them. Very rich, meaty novel--a good mystery as well as plenty of historical detail with an interesting theory put forth by the author. The afterward notes were interesting too, to let the reader know where he'd taken liberties with known historical documentation or let his imagination run a bit wild. I'm ready for the next in series! This stays on my Keeper shelf. A.

5. CIRCLE OF THE DEAD by David Lawrence. #1 DS Stella Mooney mystery set in London. Stella is a haunted character, a street smart rogue cop who grew up in the tough projects and has maintained her toughness. Smart enough to escalate up the promotion ladder if she wanted to, Stella elects to stay a Detective Sergeant so she can keep her fingers on the pulse of the street, keep close to the people instead of becoming a paper pusher. I have to say that in this book, the role of DS seemed to be a lot more expansive than it is in many other British police procedurals I've read. Of course Stella tended to act impulsively at times with a lot of authority that she in reality didn't have, too. As she tries to solve the case of Jimmy Stone, killed by a professional hit man with a knife to the heart, her mental health becomes increasingly fragile as she is attacked several times, continues to drink too much and sleep too little due to nightmares about a previous case and her own miscarriage, and conflicting feelings about her live-in boyfriend George. There wasn't really any mystery here--we knew up front who the bad guys were, the only mystery was what would happen to Stella and her sanity. For much of the book it felt like Stella was nothing but a pinball battered back and forth, bouncing off various pylons out of control. I liked Stella, but at times her whole persona was just a real drag, and her continued unwise--okay, sometimes totally stupid--decisions tended to border on being unbelievable. Dark, gritty, violent, compelling story and interesting perspectives, but not something I would want to read a bunch of back to back. B.

6. DEATH OF A CELEBRITY by M.C. Beaton. #18 Hamish MacBeth mystery set in fictional Lochdubh, Scotland. A young woman, star of a local television show that has begun doing exposes of various Highland people and institutions, is killed. Hamish himself could be suspect as she was about to interview him and smear the local constabulary. A new interim Chief Inspector, Pat Carson, seems a little more keen on Hamish and his wild ideas than his old nemesis Blair was, but a couple of small foul ups leave Hamish once again banished to his own village patch to let the big boys in Strathbane solve the murder--or make fools of themselves trying. Of course it takes a second murder to wake them up and realize Hamish was right from the start. These books have gotten to be all so much alike that I'm sure the author can write them in her sleep--just as I can almost read them in my sleep. I know I say this after almost every book in this's not that I hate the books, and I really do like Hamish, but I'm going to give up now, I think. They just don't seem to be worth the couple of hours of time it takes to read them, so predictable have they become. C.

7. INKHEART by Cornelia Funke. (AUDIO) First of a YA fantasy series about a young girl named Meggie, and her father Mortimer (she calls him Mo) who is a book repairer. One day a strange man comes to their house to speak to Mo; even his name (Dustfinger) is odd and he calls Mo "Silvertongue." Mo is worried after Dustfinger's visit and decides that they need to leave the house for awhile to visit Meggie's Aunt Eleanor--her long-gone mother's sister. Eleanor, a spinster with a houseful of books, some of them rare and collectible, welcomes them although she's uncertain of Meggie, not being fond of children in general--but when some mysterious men capture Mo to take him back to "Capricorn," Meggie and Eleanor must figure out why they wanted him, where they've taken him and how to rescue him. Along the course of their adventures, Meggie discovers why it is that her father never reads to her aloud--it has to do with the name Silvertongue--a name the evil Capricorn has given him. Mo can read things from stories into the real world--and vice versa. Meggie learns that Mo read Capricorn and his cronies and Dustfinger out of a book called Inkheart--while at the same time, Meggie's mother was read INTO the book, never to return again, although Mo tried many times to get her back out. What a wonderful story--very imaginitive, and this audio version was great, read by Lynn Redgrave who did a marvelous job with all the different voices from the evil Capricorn to the spinster-ish Eleanor to the pre-teen Meggie. A must for all bibliophiles, I think--well, a must for anyone, really! I look forward to the next in this series very much! A+

8. THE DEAD PLACE by Stephen Booth. #6 DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry mystery set in the Peak District of England. Once again, two cases end up tangled together. A strange caller rambles on about death, looking for 'the dead place,' quoting poetry and literary sources and makes it known how special they think the moment of death is. The call is made with a voice changer, and calls are made from public phones, often in the vicinity of where a funeral is taking place. And they promise that a death is coming. Is this a funeral home employee, or one of those ghouls who goes to funerals to soak up people's grief? Meanwhile, there is a case of a body found in an open area--first thought to be a murder victim, but once she is identified after a forensic artist's composite drawing is published in the newspapers, it's determined that she was a woman who had died of natural causes 18 months previously and had been believed to be cremated by her family. So who was cremated in her place? And how was the switch made? The story delves into the details of the funeral home/crematorium business as well as thoughts on death itself--which weighs heavily on Ben Cooper's mind as his mother suffers a stroke and is hospitalized, not doing well. Great story as always (although I still intensely dislike Diane Fry!) and I did not figure out the bad guy in this one at all. Looking forward to the next one! A.

9. THE SORCERESS by Michael Scott. (AUDIO) #3 'Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel' YA fantasy series. This book picks up immediately where the second one left off, with Sophie and Josh Newman, fifteen-year-old twins (now known to the 'The Twins of Legend') with the alchemist Nicholas Flamel battling against the forces of evil, which are spearheaded by the noted magician, Dr. John Dee. Presently in London, Dee continues to send various foes against them, most drawn from the pages of history and/or mythology. This book is very fast-paced, hurtling along from one near-disaster to another with little time for piecing together of any puzzles in between. Meanwhile, on Alcatraz Island, Flamel's wife Peronelle, a sorceress of some note, has to deal with various monsters sent by Niccolo Machiavelli, another of the evil crew, who is looking to settle an old debt with her. The book leaves no doubt that there will be more in the series as it seemed like nothing more than an action-packed interlude on the way to a hopefully somewhat meatier conclusion. (I've no idea how many books are planned in this series.) I enjoyed the book, although the reader is not my favorite. We learned a few things along the way, but most of this was action and not much introspection or puzzle-solving and not a lot of character development. My favorite character in this series, Scatatch, an ancient Celtic warrior goddess (who is now a vegetarian vampire!) was very short on exposure in this book--hoping to see more of her again next time. B+

10. DIES THE FIRE by S.M. Stirling. #1 of a speculative fiction/dystopian series set in a modern world beginning the night of "the Change" when some sort of worldwide, catastrophic event like a giant electromagnetic pulse renders modern technology useless. Everything electrical, battery-operated, or explosive is rendered instantly useless--planes fall out of the sky, automobiles stop working where they are, the lights literally go out all over the world. Mass chaos ensues, and as expected, as the months go by, much of the population left after the initial Change dies from starvation, various diseases and plagues, and eventually from the brutality of other men, with roving bands of cannibals stalking the countryside. A few viscious, power-hungry men setting up mini-empires in various cities, ruling by violence and terror to take what they want and control the populace. But out in the countryside (this takes place primarily in Oregon, with Portland being the demense of the evil Protector) small of people retreat to family farms and try to plan for a future, raising food without electricity, gasoline-powered machinery or modern conveniences. They must also, of course, protect themselves from the ruthless bands of bandits, cannibals, and the Protector's increasingly far-reaching cohorts demanding feudal-like power, tithes of food and service and the like. This story is told primarily from the point of view of two people, leaders of two different such groups, Juniper MacKenzie and Mike Havel, Mike having been a bush pilot whose plane crashed in the episode with the Larsson family his current clients on board--all miraculously survive the crash, and Mike, a former Marine, sets out to keep his charges safe. Juniper was a folk musician and High Priestess of a small Wiccan coven and heads for her cottage in the hills with a few friends when the Change happens. Very hard to put down! Interesting story, and very much looking forward to the next book in this series to see what happens to our friends (and to society!) as time goes on. A+

11. A CARRION DEATH by Michael Stanley. #1 Detective David "Kubu" Bengu mystery set in Gaborone, Botswana. A half-eaten body is found near a waterhole in the Kalahari desert, a disgruntled hyena hovering close by, waiting to see if the humans are going to leave him to his lunch or not. Not! Assistant Superintendent Kubu's first task is to try to determine the identity of the body, which has no hands and thus no fingerprints. No white men have been reported missing, so this is proving quite difficult initially. After a time, however, Kubu has several different possibilities to fulfill the role, and he and his team remain interested when the coroner determines that the man (whoever he was) was murdered. Several different sub-plots to the main mystery seem to intersect with Botswana Cattle & Mining Company (the country's largest company) involved on several scales, and with several more dead bodies piling up along the way. Some of these sub-plots were fairly easy to figure out, as was the main baddie. Detective Kubu (Kubu meaning "Hippopotamus") is a delightful character, a large man fond of good food and wine, proud of his heritage and country and family, and yet pragmatic in recognizing its faults, too. He sings off-key opera, is respectful of his parents, resists his wife's attempts at getting him to diet and delights in having the baboons from the nearby jungle jumping all over the outside of the police station! While I delved right into the cultural details about the country, enjoyed getting to know Kubu, his wife Joy and the other secondary characters, and learned much about several pertinent social issues (diamond poaching and theft, alienation of the indigenous Kalahari Bushmen, etc) it seemed to me that at times the story was burdened with too many different issues and details. It felt crowded, as though the author were trying to cram in as much information and detail about the area, the culture, the food, the climate, the law enforcement possible. It was a lot to digest, and thus was not a book to be read quickly in a couple of sittings. Whether that is the result of the collaborative effort of the two people writing the book and overlapping on some things, or some other reason, I don't know. At any rate, despite it being somewhat bloated, I very much enjoyed the book and do look forward to the second in the series. B+

12. THE TALE OF HILL TOP FARM by Susan Wittig Albert. (AUDIO) #1 in the Beatrix Potter historical cozy mysteries set in early 1900's Sawrey, UK. First of a very cozy mystery series centering on Beatrix Potter (author of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books) beginning when she bought Hill Top Farm not long after the death of her beloved fiancé (and publisher) Norman Warne. The mystery here centers around the death of one of the villagers and Miss Potter and the village’s animals along with her own menagerie eventually solve the crime. I don’t think it’s easy to take a real historical figure and base a series of books on them, but from the admittedly little I know of Beatrix Potter, it seems that the author has done a remarkable job. The book is very cozy and told partly from the point of view of Beatrix and partly from the POV of various animals, and knowing this, I elected to ‘read’ the audio version, which actually worked well for me. The reader was wonderful, doing a variety of voices and accents very skillfully and captured the soul of the book well. I’m not sure I would read these in print—they’re just TOO cozy for my usual tastes and even in audio, the always “prim and proper” tone of the English village of the day did wear on my nerves after awhile—but I did enjoy this in audio and most certainly will listen to more of them. B+

13. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. (AUDIO) Very interesting tale of a toddler whose family is murdered but escapes the killer’s knife by wandering out of his house into a nearby graveyard. His mother’s spirit briefly visits the graveyard and asks two ghosts, Mr. & Mrs. Owens, to take care of her son, and they do, calling him Nobody Owens (“Bod” for short.) They need help raising him since they aren’t allowed to leave the graveyard and the living and the dead almost never interact, but a creature called Silas—who is neither living nor dead—agrees to help by procuring food and acting as Bod’s guardian and liaison with the outside world. And so Bod grows, living in the graveyard, interacting with spirits and ghosts, very much loved and feeling cared for, although he does realize he is somehow different. A variety of spirits and beings educate him as he grows. Eventually he knows what happened to his family and begins to look forward to the day when he will meet the man Jack who killed them. It’s hard to give a synopsis of the book without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that it was an excellent story, and wonderfully read by the author himself. A definite gothic feel, at times scary and macabre, at other times poignant and tender, this is a must-read (or must-listen if you can!!) for all but the very young. A+

14. DYING LIGHT by Stuart MacBride. #2 DS Logan MacRae Scottish police procedural set in Aberdeen. Logan, still trying to recover from the shame he feels associated with events at the end of the last book, doesn’t get fired like he anticipates—instead, he’s charged to work with DI Steel’s team. He’s not sure which is the worse fate; Steel, a chain-smoking, shrewd, crude and lewd woman whose squad is known as the Screw-Up Squad, sees Logan (a former hero) as her way to promotion and glory. He ends up doing much of her dirty work, dragged in to work off-shifts and days off on a serial killer case, much to the chagrin of his new love interest, fellow copper Jackie Watson. Dark, gritty and violent, this was a good story, but it was hard to believe some of the odd coincidences, and also to fathom how someone like DI Steel ever got as far as she did up the ladder with all the shortcuts she took and blatantly ignoring sound procedural practice. I like Logan, but he just seems to skitter from one disaster to another—which is, I suppose, what makes this noir. B+

15. ALANNA: SONG OF THE LIONESS (THE FIRST ADVENTURE) by Tamora Pierce. First of a children's fantasy series, this is the story of Alanna, a pre-pubescent noble girl who conspires with her twin brother Thom such that they each get sent where they want for training—she wants to be a warrior knight and he wants to be a sorcerer. Alanna changes her name to Alan and heads off to the castle for knight’s training in Thom’s place and he heads for the convent to begin training his magic Gift. This is made possible by a father who is a scholar with his head in his studies and somewhat indifferent and inattentive to his children. Of course trouble starts brewing the next year when “Alan” begins developing into a woman, but she is determined to find out what her dreams and visions of the black city mean. While this was an okay story, the writing was just a bit too simplistic and “young” for me. It only took a couple of hours to read, and while I think it would be a good story for children, I don’t think it’s a series I will pursue. B.

16. A DUTY TO THE DEAD by Charles Todd. First in a new historical mystery series featuring Bess Crawford, a nurse during WWI. As we meet Bess, she is on an empty hospital ship, Brittanic, heading back to England, when it hits a mine and sinks. During the fracas, her arm is broken and then injured worse, and thus must be taken off active duty. During this time, she decides to finally assuage her conscience and visit the family of a solider she'd grown close to who ultimately died and left her with a message for his brother that she promised to deliver in person. Arthur Graham's family lives at Owlhurst, a small manor village in Kent, and she sets off to deliver this message to his brother Jonathan. But while a guest in the Graham home, Bess becomes drawn into the family intrigue centering around Arthur's older brother Peregrine, who was committed to an asylum at the age of fourteen after murdering a servant girl. As Arthur's message consists of "Tell Jonathan I lied. I did it for mother's sake. But it has to be set right," she can't help but wonder if it has something to do with Peregrine's situation. As she asks more questions of the villagers who knew the family at the time, she becomes more involved, almost obsessed, with making certain Arthur's wish is carried out, to the point where her own life may be in peril. I very much enjoyed this book--the story was excellent, the characters well-drawn, and the spirit of the times were heartily embraced, and the mystery remained so til fairly close to the end. I look forward to reading more about Bess and her adventures. A.

17. FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH by Caroline Graham. #5 DI Tom Barnaby British police procedural. Once again a small English village is the setting, as Alan Hollingsworth is found dead--at first believed to be of a suicide, his wife Simone having disappeared a few days previously, ostensibly to visit her sick mother, although her mother had been believed dead for many years. Then the thirty-year-old daughter of one of the Hollingsworth neighbors disappears, something totally out of character for her. DCI Barnaby and his Sergeant Troy begin investigating, gleaning information from all the nosy neighbors and trying to sift through to find the important bits. Was Alan done in by a former business partner that he'd swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is the beautiful Simone's disappearance voluntary, or was she abducted? Neither were well-liked, but neither were they seemingly the types to incur strong hatred. Through many twists and turns, the mysteries are eventually solved, although not to Barnaby's satisfaction, as it's mostly speculation on his part. I did figure out the main part of the mystery about halfway through, but the hows and whys were a bit muddled til the end. Enjoyable, but perhaps a little TOO long and twisty. B+

#5 Kitty Norville paranormal series. Kitty, a werewolf, and Ben (formerly her lawyer, now her fiance and pack mate) finally get fed up with planning a big traditional wedding and decide to get married in Las Vegas, much to the chagrin of Kitty's mother. They plan on combining business with pleasure by having Kitty do a live version of her radio show, The Midnight Hour, at a theatre in Vegas. However, things start falling apart when Kitty is asked by Rick, Denver's Vampire Master, to carry a message to Vegas' Master, Dom. It gets worse when the happy couple arrive at their hotel only to discover that there is a gun convention taking place at the hotel--and Ben recognizes several Hunters--as in, werewolf and vampire hunters--in the crowd. Then there's magic shows featuring real magic and an animal act featuring several lycanthropes. Kitty begins to wonder if her show will ever get done and begins to wonder at the wisdom of their Vegas wedding plans--which were made to simplify everything--and when Ben is kidnapped hours before the ceremony is to take place, she begins the search for him in a state of near-panic. Does their wedding ever take place? You'll have to read it to find out! Another good entry in this paranormal series, although this one did seem a little fragmented and scattered compared to previous books, not quite as good. Looking forward to the next one, though! B+.

19. THE MISSING INK by Karen E. Olson. #1 Tattoo Shop mystery featuring Brett Kavanaugh, owner of the Painted Lady tattoo shop in Las Vegas. Brett gets involved in a complex case her brother Tim, a Las Vegas police detective, is investigating when it's determined that a missing girl was last seen in her shop. She'd come in to ask about getting devotion ink with her fiance's name on it, made an appointment to get the tat, then never showed. The odd thing is, her fiance's name was Bruce Manning Jr--son and heir of a wealthy businessman, known as Chip to his friends--but she wanted her tattoo to say Matthew! Soon the news is splashed with photos of Elise Lyon, missing bride-to-be of Chip Manning--but she had used the name Kelly Masters when she made the appointment at The Painted Lady. When a woman is found shot dead in a car near the airport--and HER name ends up being Kelly Masters, things begin to get really confusing. Soon Brett is in the puzzle up to her pretty little tattooed neck. I liked this book okay--I've enjoyed all of Olson's books in her other series--but this one wasn't exceptional. I like her writing style--it flows, it's easy to read. But this book was cozier than her other series, and in fact had many of the elements of "just another cookie cutter cozy mystery." You have a main character with a quirky job or hobby, you have a set of slightly freaky friends or secondary characters, and you have the main character doing unbelievable things that no sane person would do which continually puts her in jeopardy. And yes, one of those things was withholding evidence from the police, even though one of the police in question was her brother. The concept is great! As a tattooed woman, I felt it certainly had promise. I learned some interesting things. But Brett's character just didn't seem to have much depth, and the whole package didn't quite measure up--possibly because Olson's other series IS so good, I had high expectations. I will read the next in series, but I have become very disillusioned with cozies in general and it is going to have to be an improvement over this one, and Brett is going to have to develop some meat to her character and quit doing such dumb things if I'm to continue beyond that. B-

Current reads: VANISHED by Kat Richardson, WHITE NIGHT by Jim Butcher in audio.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

September 2009 Reads

I've been on vacation and thought I would get more reading done...but I mostly listened to audios this past week, as I was busy doing a lot of stuff around the house that was perfect for listening while I worked. :)

1. MORETA: DRAGONLADY OF PERN by Anne McCaffrey. (AUDIO) #7 overall publication order of the "Pern" fantasy series, this seems to be a stand-alone story of the weyr-woman Moreta, whose dragon Orlith is the queen of Fort Weyr. The events in this book happen about 900 years before the earlier books in the series, and take place when they are just discovering that dragons cannot only go "between" and thus traverse hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye, but that they can also go other places in TIME. A plague is upon the land, started by a strange cat-like creature and spread to horses and other four-legged beasts. Many all across Pern have died, but some have recovered, and the principle of vaccination is put to good use to keep many people (and animals!) alive. Moreta works together with Alessan, new leader of Ruatha Hold--they meet at a Gather there, and shortly after when the sickness starts, they work together to secure ingredients needed to treat the illness by using dragon riders to travel other places and times. A romance develops between them, but the story has a rather sad and bittersweet ending, but this is something you sort of knew was coming if you're familiar with the series, as there is a ballad in some of the other earlier books (that Menolly sings if I remember right) about Moreta's Ride--and now it all makes sense. Very well done, enjoyable to listen to--another different reader than previous books, but very well-suited to the prose and the tone of the book. A.

2. THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by C. Alan Bradley. (AUDIO) I guess this would be classified as a 'historical' mystery, as it takes place more than 50 years ago, in 1950 in the English village of Bishop's Lacey. Our heroine is a precocious 11-year-old girl named Flavia de Luce who loves chemistry and spends as much time as she can tinkering in the lab she inherited from her mother, who died when she was just a baby--and where she concocts such things as poison ivy lipstick for her annoying older sister. The de Luce family has lived at Buckshaw for generations, and the current family consists of Flavia, her two teenage sisters, and her father, a reclusive stamp collector. The household staff consist of Mrs. Mullet, the cook and housekeeper, and Dogger, the gardener and general dogsbody. Flavia is awakened one night by loud voices and discovers her father arguing with a tall red-haired man--whom she later discovers dead in the cucumber patch! When her father is arrested for the murder--the man was an old school chum of his--Flavia sets out to free him and travels around on her ancient bicycle Gladys digging up ancient history and cogitating until she comes up with the solution--but not before she ends up in plenty of hot water! I think Flavia is either someone you will really appreciate and enjoy, or someone you'll look at as an annoying brat and give up reading in frustration. Put me firmly in the 'enjoy' camp! I loved this whole story from beginning to end--the atmosphere, Flavia's way with words, the literary references strewn throughout, and even though I'm NOT a fan of chemistry, Flavia's passion for it (and for poisons!) came through to illuminate her character and the story. The reader did an excellent job, too, and made listening a pleasure. I noticed that there's another entry in this series set for publication next year and I'm already looking forward to it. A+

3. MISS ZUKAS AND THE LIBRARY MURDERS by Jo Dereske. #1 Helma Zukas mystery. Wilhelmina "Helma" Zukas, a thirty-something librarian working in a smallish seaside town in Washington State, is a very precise woman. So when she is a little late for work one morning (she knocked over a houseplant when she went back into the apartment to make sure she'd drawn the blinds--and had to clean it up) only to find a police car parked in HER spot, she's a little put out. Arriving inside, she finds that there's a murdered body in the Mo-Ne aisle of the fiction stacks--not one of their regulars, thank heavens! Helma takes it as almost a personal affront and sets off doing a parallel investigation to the police. As I said, Miss Zukas is very precise--so while she doesn't actually out-and-out lie to the police, she does omit some very pertinent information that she observed/gleaned during the course of the investigation. I was a little leery of this book as I've had bad experiences with most cozy mysteries of late, but I actually liked this one. Miss Zukas obviously has a touch of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and could keep company with Mr. Monk without too much trouble I think. LOL But although she's rather rigid and epitomizes the 'spinster librarian' stereotype, there is an undercurrent of wry humor and her bawdy friend Ruth rather offsets Helma's prim and properness. I did have one of my 'gut feelings' about the bad guy, but didn't figure out the hows and whys of the mystery until closer to the end. I've already set out to procure the second one in this series. B+

4. LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse. The blurb on the front of the book reads a quote from author Val McDermid stating, "Eat your heart out, Dan Brown--this is the real thing." Well....I don't know about that. It's another tale of lore regarding the Holy Grail, another possible story and explanation of the secrets of the Cathars lodged in the mountains and caves of what is now southern France. The story weaves together the lives of two women, Alaïs Pelletier in the 12th century and Dr. Alice Tanner in 2005. Alaïs is the second daughter of Bertrand Pelletier, close advisor and seneschal for the Viscount of Carcassone, and when the Inquisition begins and war appears imminent, her father confides a secret of great importance to her and gives her an ancient book to keep safe. She knows it is part of a trilogy and that there are two other books who also have appointed guardians, but she strives to learn more and investigates on her own when her father refuses to share more details with her. The modern-day Alice, an Englishwoman in France to meet with a lawyer regarding a bequest from a previously-unknown aunt, asks an archaelogist friend if she can volunteer on a dig in the Pyrenees for a few days. While doing some work, she discovers a secret cave entrance with two bodies and some interesting artifacts--a ring with a small labyrinthine stone disc most notably. She also has a strange flashback sensation and sees some visions as though in a dream. From there, things start to get really weird. Alice has a feeling of being followed and soon her hotel room is riffled through. Then one of the young policeman who was at the site approaches her and gives her a number to call--and subsequently is run down by an unknown assailant. Unsure of who to trust and unable to reach her friend Shelagh, Alice also investigates, and continues to have the strange dreams, too, and the story continues to entwine and Alice discovers her connection with Alaïs. This was a good story, but for some reason, it took me ages to get through it and I had a hard time staying on track and interested for very long. Part of it was that it was rather bloated and overblown and in need of some judicious editing--sort of the polar opposite of Dan Brown's Grail story, The DaVinci Code, which was action packed and short on detail. I think a book somewhere between the two in tone and substance would be ideal. This story was also quite predictable, and I think anyone who's read anything of Grail lore will easily know what's going to happen by mid-book at the latest. In short, I'm glad I read it, and would recommend it for those interested in the Grail or the story of the Cathars, but I wasn't blown away. B.

5. THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe. (AUDIO) Story of a Harvard graduate student studying Colonial America who is attempting to come up with something to write her dissertation about. Connie Goodwin then is asked by her mother to ready her grandmother's house in Marblehead, MA for selling. What Connie finds there is chaos--the house hasn't been touched in 20 years and has no electricity, telephone and is coated in layers of dust. But she finds the family Bible with a key bearing what she believes is a name, Deliverance Dane, and also develops strange feelings accompanied by headaches. The researcher in her takes over and Connie soon finds herself immersed in the search for Deliverance Dane, and comes to believe that she was accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. As her advisor begins pressuring her to come up with some new primary sources for her research (Deliverance Dane's book of receipts--recipes--would do nicely), Connie begins spending more time with Sam, a fellow that she met who does building restorations. When he falls off some scaffolding and is badly injured--then it's determined that he fell due to a seizure and these become more severe and almost life-threatening, Connie follows an instinct that leads her to Deliverance's physick book, which she believes holds the key to curing Sam. Meanwhile, the chapters are interspersed with "interludes" that actually tell the story back in the 1690's of Deliverance and her daughter Mercy. I actually found the interludes more interesting than the contemporary parts. I do like this sort of book, and I did like this one, or at least the premise for it, although I have to say it was very predictable all the way through and I was disappointed by the lack of something unexpected happening. The characters in the modern sections were rather undeveloped--sort of cookie-cutter images of "the hunky boyfriend," "the evil villain," "the steadfast friend/roommate," and "the quirky mother" pulled from some melodramatic serial. And Connie herself rather reminded me of an "airheaded academic." I wanted to smack her upside the head more than once. In short, the book is a wonderful idea that seems to have fallen a little short on execution--I would have liked it much more had the modern parts been more believable (example: Connie's apartment was only an hour away from the grandmother's house--why would she stay there in layers of dust and decay with no phone, no electricity, minimal running water, etc. when she could have taken a week or so to at least make it semi-habitable first?) and if the characters had been more than just going through the motions. The narrator did a commendable job with the varying voices and accents as well, although I can't say I really "enjoyed" her voice or the telling as much as I have some other readers. I'm giving this a B-.

6. MAMA DOES TIME by Deborah Sharp. #1 Mace Bauer mystery set in central Florida. Mace works at a local wildlife park and is dismayed one September morning to get a call from her Mama saying she's at the jail--the dead body of a man was found in the trunk of her car when she came out of the bingo parlor and she's been hauled in for questioning. Mace rallies with her two sisters, Maddie and Marty, and they essentially overwhelm the police station trying to get her out. Detective Carlos Martinez, new in town from Miami, locks Mama up which puts him in a costume with horns and a pitchfork in the girls' eyes. Soon they provide evidence that Mama couldn't have committed the crime so she is released, but Mace and her mother get a threatening letter with a decapitated, stuffed dog that looks suspiciously like Mama's Pomeranian, Teensy, so Mace figures no one is safe until the real murderer is caught. It turns out the dead guy was an ex-gangster in a witness protection program and Mace and her sisters immediately suspect their mother's boyfriend, Sal, who hails from New York and looks and talks like a gangster. He moves down the list when Mace runs into an old boyfriend, whom she learns has borrowed a lot of money from the dead man--and was seen arguing with him. More suspects come to light, and Mace continues investigating behind the scenes, much to the chagrin of Detective Martinez. I have to admit that Mace was actually better than many "cozy" mystery heroines at keeping the police informed of what she was doing--although that might have had something to do with the fact that Det. Martinez is quite a hunk. LOL I really enjoyed this book--Mace is a great character that I really like, although I am generally not a fan of "southern" books, this one was okay because of Mace. Even the yappy-little-dog-in-a-sweater-toting Mama, the epitome of the petite, polite Southern lady with all accessories color matched, didn't put me off. LOL The writing style was easy to read and relaxed, the only downfall being that the dialogue felt somewhat stilted and unnatural at times. (If you are alone in a room with someone and you're talking privately, do you keep interjecting their name into the conversation every few sentences? I don't...I mean, they're the only one there so they know I'm addressing things to them, and vice versa, so there's no need. I find that it's fairly common with newer authors to do that, though--it's not really bad writing, just sounds awkward, at least to me.) At any rate, I'm glad I took a chance on this mystery when the "Southern" bit could have easily put me off, as I enjoyed it very much. Looking forward to the next one! A-

7. UNPAID DUES by Barbara Seranella. #6 Munch Mancini mystery. Munch, an auto mechanic living in 1980's California, has another visit from her past, which comes back to haunt her again when a beaten, dead body found in a pond comes up with a picture of Munch attached to the name and prints, nearly giving Detective Mace St. John another heart attack. The victim is actually someone named Jane Farrar, "New York" Jane to Munch, who had been one of the gang of druggies Munch used to hang with ten years previously before she went straight. Munch wonders whether Jane's husband Thor might be the perpetrator as he had savagely beaten Jane (and many others) to near death before. She is loathe to tell all to St. John though, because it will dredge up a very bad incident in her past life in which she unknowingly participated in a brutal triple murder--she was the driver for a supposed drug heist that Thor, Jane, and Sleaze John did, and didn't know until later that people had been killed. Munch fears that revealing this will pull the rug out from under her new stable, sober life with a decent job and her adopted daughter Asia. On top of this, Munch's friend Deb's son Nathan "Boogie" Franklin comes for a visit--she hadn't seen him since he was a young boy, and now is a teenager, living on his own. Munch invites him to stay until he finds a job and gets himself together. Munch's romance with Detective Rico Chacon is on shaky ground as well, as she attempts to get him to commit to a more permanent relationship and provide some stability--but of course, he's still married. The mystery was painfully simple to figure out, and as much as I love Munch, I wish some of the mysteries would involve something besides her sordid past. Yes, it's true--past mistakes will come to bite you in the butt, and by now we get that. I hope the next book is more firmly rooted in Munch's present life. B.

8. ECHOES FROM THE DEAD by Johan Theorin. Translated from the Swedish, this compelling story mingles past and present very skillfully. Julia Davidsson has been mourning the loss of her five-year-old son Jens for twenty years. He disappeared into the fog one day and was never seen again, presumed drowned, but his body was never found and Julia is haunted by the fact that he may still be alive and wants to know what happened to him. She has, over the years, distanced herself from family back on the Baltic island Öland because it's just too painful to continue seeing people who were in her life when Jens disappeared. Now she is simply existing and working as a nurse in a city some distance away, drinking too much and spending much time brooding over Jens. When her father Gerlof calls her and says that he has received one of the sandals that Jens was wearing when he disappeared in a parcel in the mail, Julia extends a work leave and is off to Öland to once again take up the quest for knowledge. While there, she reacquaints herself with Gerlof, now elderly and living in a care home, suffering from Sjögren's syndrome, which causes much pain and difficulty with movement. She really knows no one else, and has plenty of time to confront the past and her own demons as she spends time in the places of her childhood. When one of Gerlof's friends who had been working on the mystery of Jens' disappearance with Gerlof is found dead, crushed by one of his stone sculptures, Gerlof (who has been rather reticent with Julia about some of his thoughts and findings) realizes how real the danger of knowledge about the past likely is. Has the past come back to haunt the whole island? Is the mysterious Nils Kant, a felon who shot three people--including a local police superintendant--with a shotgun and then fled to South America still alive and coming back for revenge? His body was returned and is presumably buried in the cemetery, but some believe he is alive. The local policeman, who was the son of the one Kant shot, thinks this is nonsense and tells Julia so as they begin striking up a friendship. As the story is unveiled in bits and pieces--told from several points of view including that of the young Nils Kant--clues are dropped here and there. I admit I did figure out most of the mystery well ahead of time, but it made the story no less compelling. You just had to read on and find out what happens to Julia and to Gerlof, too. Dark and brooding (which seems fairly typical for Scandinavian mysteries) and very well-written--and thus, presumably well-translated also--I was thoroughly enthralled with this story from beginning to end and would highly recommend it. A+

9. PROVEN GUILTY by Jim Butcher. (AUDIO) #8 Harry Dresden paranormal mystery set in Chicago. This is the first audio version of the series I've listened to, and the book is narrated by none other than James Marsters--aka "Spike" from the Buffy TV series! If you're expecting his Spikey accent though, you'd be wrong. Marsters voice is barely recognizable if that's the only thing you've heard him in. He actually has a very nice, very expressive voice, and adopted Harry's 'tone' very well. Harry is contacted by Molly Carpenter, teenage daughter of his friends Michael (wielder of one of the Holy Swords) and Charity to come bail her out of jail. Upon arrival at the jail, though, Harry discovers (after the shock of seeing a pierced, tattooed, rather grown-up looking Molly) that it's her boyfriend who's been jailed for assault. He supposedly visciously attacked an old man in a rest room at SplatterCon, a horror movie convention that's in town. After speaking to him, Harry believes he's innocent and upon putting up the bail and bringing the two of them back to the convention, ends up getting caught in the midst of a huge attack--perpetrated by beings that appear to be the bad guys from the horror shows come to life. Things just get weirder and weirder from there, with the White Council and the Summer and Winter Courts getting involved. Harry leads a team that ends up having to go into Winter to retrieve Molly who was captured by some critters from the Never-Never, and once again Harry ends up facing several life or death situations on no sleep, little food or rest and without much planning or foreknowledge as surprises spring up one after another. Also addressed in this book is Harry's continuing battle with the demon Lashiel who exists in his head, and his relationship with Karin Murphy, the cop who heads Chicago's Special Investigations unit. This is by far my favorite paranormal series, as it's all about the magic and the alternate world that Butcher has created in Chicago--a little sexual tension here and there but no out and out romancey clap-trap. I found I really enjoyed the audio version and likely will continue to listen to them rather than read them, at least for as many as the library has available. Excellent! A+

10. OH DANNY BOY by Rhys Bowen. #5 Molly Murphy mystery, set in 1902 New York. Molly is still struggling along as a private detective, but not doing very well. Her two young charges and their father are presently in the country where Bridie is at a camp recovering from the typhoid fever, so although she is grateful that she doesn't have to worry about feeding more mouths when she doesn't have much income, Molly is somewhat at loose ends. She's been studiously refusing to even open the letters she has been getting from police Captain Daniel Sullivan almost daily, being very angry at herself and him for their encounter at the end of the last book. But he sends a messenger to summon her to the jail where he's being held on charges of taking bribes and being in the pay of the Eastman gang. Since his assets have been frozen, he can't even make bail. Molly stirs into action, shocked at his condition after a few days in jail, trying to figure out who stood to gain by Daniel's being out of the police force. Then, surprise of all surprises, Daniel's former fiance, Arabella Norton comes to see Molly and wants to hire her to find a friend of hers who's disappeared. I wasn't sure who the bad guy was in this one until fairly close to the end. Molly had some interesting adventures, teaming up with a female police "matron" whose policeman husband had been killed in the line of duty, so she had taken to overstepping her bounds and investigating a serial killer case, which Molly helps her with. I enjoyed the book, despite Molly's continual back-and-forth fight with herself over her feelings for Daniel. Have the next couple in the series here already and looking forward to them. A.

11. THE STEPSISTER SCHEME by Jim C. Hines. #1 in the "Princess" fairy tale fantasy series in which Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White team up to rescue Cinderella's husband, Prince Charming from the clutches of her evil stepsisters Charlotte and Stacia who've kidnapped him and taken him off to Fairytown. But are the stepsisters really bright enough to have come up with this scheme, or is there someone more powerful and evil behind it all? It sounds kind of cheesy and rather "chick litty" doesn't it? And when the blurb on the back of the book compared the trio of beauties to Charlie's Angels, I cringed inwardly. But I enjoyed Jim's "Jig the Goblin" series so much, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And it's really not like that at all--it's great fun! Fairy tales mingle with myth, legend and fantasy (with the requisite dwarves, pixies, witches and fairie folk) in a light, adventurous romp. These three strong but very different women work together (with a few odd helpers--some willing and some not so willing) to free the Prince against near impossible odds, each playing to her own strengths and helping each other out of various scrapes along the way. Quite enjoyable, and definitely looking forward to book two! A.

12. THE SERPENT'S TALE by Ariana Franklin. #2 Adelia Aguilar "Mistress of the Art of Death" historical mystery. The Bishop (Adelia's former lover Rowley, who is also the father of her child Allie) summons Adelia to investigate the death of one of King Henry's mistresses, Rosamond. It's being made to appear that Queen Eleanor (recently escaped from her imprisonment) has done the deed, and Rowley is anxious to get to Rosamond's manor before the king so he can hopefully divert an all-out war, which is sure to ensue if Henry believes Eleanor has killed one of his favored mistresses. Adelia, traveling as always with Mansur (her Arabian assistant who must needs pose as the real doctor since women aren't allowed in England at that time) and Gyltha, is reluctant to leave hearth and home but is compelled by her tie to King Henry. Waylaid by a band of mercenaries hired by the Queen herself, they end up seeking shelter at Godstow abbey and more murder and mayhem ensues until Adelia sorts out who's done what. During the discovery process, she's frightened that the murderer will discover what she knows (or assume that she knows more than she does!) and seek retribution against her by harming her child. I did not see the solution coming, so that was a big plus, even with the hints that were dropped along the way. This book was a bit of a letdown after the stellar opening book in the series, though, and while I enjoyed the tale quite a lot, there were a lot of things that required you to suspend disbelief to carry on. Still, as I often say, it IS historical FICTION, and in the author's notes at the end, she does comment on some of the things she took liberties with. I also felt that Adelia's character was changed somewhat being that she is now the mother of a young child, which weakened her in some ways, especially as it applies to her role as an intrepid investigator--but in other ways it strengthened her and made her a more rounded person. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. I really like Adelia's supporting cast a lot! B+

13. CHARLIE BONE AND THE BEAST by Jenny Nimmo. (AUDIO) Read by Simon Jones. #6 in the Children of the Red King YA fantasy series. This book is read by a different reader than the previous five, and I'll start off by saying I did not enjoy his reading as much--too many of his varied voices sounded alike, and unlike with the previous reader, you couldn't always tell who was speaking just by the voice. The voices of individual persons also varied a little each time they spoke, as though he'd forgotten who he was. Still, I enjoyed the story itself, as the new boy at Bloor's Academy, Dagbert Endless (who has as his endowment the ability to call the sea--he's a self-proclaimed "Drowner!") tries to come between Charlie and his friends by sowing dissention and whispering gossip. Meanwhile, in the town, a wolf beast has been howling and the citizens are up in arms, organizing a hunt. Charlie believes that this is actually Asa Pike, the wolf-boy who was previously the sidekick of Manfred Bloor, but who stepped in to save Charlie at the end of the last book. Charlie believes that Manfred is holding Asa prisoner somewhere and is planning to rescue him, but with half of his friends not speaking to him because of Dagbert's whisperings, it's proving a little difficult. Charlie's mum and dad are absent in this book, off taking an extended second honeymoon, since they've been apart for ten years, Lyle Bone having been believed dead in a car crash. Looking forward to the next one, although I do hope the reader gets a grip on his characters' voices a little better by then. B+

14. UNNATURAL CAUSES by P.D. James. #3 in the Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard series. Dalgliesh is off to Suffolk on holiday to visit his Aunt Jane, his only living relative, for a week of peace and quiet on the coast. He's going to be contemplating a major life issue--should or should he not ask his steady girlfriend, Deborah, to marry him? Once at his aunt's, though, he doesn't have much time to ponder at all--he's distracted when one of the villagers goes missing--and then turns up dead, floating in a rowboat with both his hands chopped off! In the small seaside community of Monksmere, many are writers and artists, including the dead man. Maurice Seton was the author of popular detective fiction, and he was disliked in varying degrees by his neighbors and fellow villagers. Mr. Seton was last seen down in London at his club two days previously, and of course aside from the mystery of who killed him, there are the questions as to why, how, and why the disfigurement was done. Dalgliesh is determined to stay 'on the side' and not become involved, knowing that even should the local constabulary deign to call in The Yard, he would be exempt since he is too closely involved with and knows most of the suspects--including his dear aunt, whose wood chopper was apparently stolen to do the limb severing. So he gleans information as he is able and tries to resume his holiday, to little avail. This book was a bit different from her first two in the series in that we actually get to know Dalgliesh better--there is as much focus on him as on the mystery itself, so for me this was great, as characters are just as important to me if not moreso than plotting. The mystery was still very well done and I enjoyed this book immensely. Although I'd read it before some years past, I did not remember 'whodunit' and wasn't sure even right up til the reveal. The book was written in 1967, which makes it by necessity a bit dated in some ways, but in others, the story itself is really timeless and stands the test of time quite well. Very enjoyable and well-done! A+

15. GIRL IN A RED TUNIC by Alys Clare. #8 Hawkenlye Abbey mystery set in 1190's Kent, England featuring Abbess Helewise and Sir Josse d'Acquin, knight of King Richard. The whole country of England seems to be poor and hungry as people give and give to attempt to ransom their captured King Richard. Even staunch supporters such as Sir Josse and the Abbess are much less enthusiastic than they once were, especially the Abbess as her giving and giving makes it harder to feed and help those who are hungry and in need. Abbess Helewise gets a visit from her past when her Leofgar, her eldest son (she was a widow when she entered the nunnery and had fostered her two young sons out) whom she's not seen since he was a child, comes calling at Hawkenlye. His wife is ill, seemingly in the midst of a post-partum depression, and his fourteen-month-old son has developed fears and terrors and refuses to speak. Professing to want them under the care of the Abbey's well-known healer, Leofgar spends some time with his mother and Sir Josse, who happened to be there himself with a bit of a fever and cough. Soon it becomes apparent that the young family is on the run from something or someone--but what, or whom? When a man is found hung from a tree a short distance from the Abbey, Leofgar and his family disappear in the night, and the Abbess and Sir Josse set out to discover the mystery, and of course eventually do. I enjoyed this book more than the last one in the series, which seemed a little long-winded and unfocused. This one had me wanting to eagerly read on, and getting to know a bit more about Abbess Helewise's past was interesting, too, although much of the contents of her dreams and memories were rather, shall we say, unseemly for a nun! I'm by no means a prude, but nun + romance just doesn't add up to anything I really want to read, and I do hope THAT trend doesn't continue, but I am still looking forward to the next. B+

16. WORLD MADE BY HAND by James Howard Kunstler. Speculative "post-earth-changing-event" fiction set in a time slightly in our future, about 20 years after the United States economy collapsed due to the lack of availability of oil, there were several nuclear bombs dropped on major cities, and this was followed with a couple of serious flu epidemics which depopulated the country to about a quarter of its former self. The folks of Union Grove, a smallish town in upstate New York, like everyone else in the country, live in a whole new world. A world without cars, electricity, and supermarkets. A world without mass-produced goods, medicines, and a world where former bank presidents and real estate agents work in the fields like peasants in days of yore. The middle-aged ones still clearly remember the days of cell phones, computer and commuter trains. The younger ones--and there aren't that many, since exposure to the flu viruses seem to have sterilized most people--gape in awe as their elders try to explain what a car is and how it used magic fluid to 'drive.' It wasn't necessarily the smartest folks who survived--it was those who were adaptable to change, who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. This is the story of a month or so in the life of Union Grove, primarily of Robert Earle, a forty-seven-year-old former software executive who is now a carpenter, earning his keep (most business is conducted by barter) by repairing and revamping things around town. Several different factions exist in the area, including a big farm cooperative, a gang of hoodlums who run the 'general store' which sells salvaged goods, and a rather freaky religious cult. What this story tells us is that regardless of how much things have changed, some things remain constant: the capacity for human beings to do evil, and the capacity for human beings to do good, and that the capacity for both resides within each of us. This was a good story, an interesting story with a few well-fleshed and real characters that you came to care about (although a lot of the secondary ones seemed to be almost caricatures in a way) and it was a well-written story, but it wasn't a truly unique concept and the book seemed to run out of steam at the end. I'm reminded of Pat Frank's 1959 classic Alas, Babylon, among others. Definitely worth a read though if you enjoy this sort of book. B+

17. THE LONG-LEGGED FLY by James Sallis. #1 Lew Griffin mystery set in New Orleans. The book travels through time from 1964 when Lew was a young private eye to the 1990's when he's an older author of mystery novels and sometimes "looks into things" on the side. Lew Griffin is a tough black private eye and even in the 1960's he was cynical and world-weary, drinking too much and barely scraping by, alternating between apathy and rage with little in-between. Self-educated and sensitive underneath it all, his drinking problem develops into a full-blown alcoholism over the years, of the variety that leaves you indebted to friends who haul you home off the street and tuck you in bed, bail you out and eventually commit you to detox. The cases in this book were essentially unremarkable and the focus here was all Lew. Now, characterization is important to me, but in a mystery, there has to BE a mystery, too. There really wasn't much here. By the time he got to the '90's, I liked him and his philosophical musings, but overall the book was quite depressing and had it not been short and easy to read, I would have stopped early on. The writing style was lyrical and very evocative and quite unusual for a mystery about a 'tough guy private eye' and I wonder if the author's obvious talent is somewhat wasted here. I'm still not sure what the purpose was in writing the book in this format with snippets of Lew's life over the years, and the so-called cases he had really didn't tie together coherently. In short, I have mixed feelings about the book. As a mystery, it doesn't quite "work." As a story, it was very interesting, and probably a must for anyone who knows and loves New Orleans. I have the second in the series here and will give it a try, but if it's written the same way I probably won't continue beyond that. C.

18. FURIES OF CALDERON by Jim Butcher (AUDIO) #1 in the Codex Alera fantasy series, a much more 'traditional' fantasy than Butcher's other modern-day "urban" fantasy Harry Dresden series. The land of Alera is about to be besieged by war, with the barbarians at the gates. While Alera itself seems based in Roman history, it's odd because the barbarians (the Marat) sound like the marauding American Indians of tomahawk and scalping fame with their various tribes and clans. Alerans use magic by bonding with furies, which are elementals based in air, earth, fire, water and metal. Like many fantasies, this story switches point of view several times to tell the various storylines of the main characters. Tavi, a fifteen-year-old boy living in Bernardhold, nephew to the steadholder, has not yet bonded with any furies, and thus is known as a freak and Amara, a young Cursor (messenger/spy) who is a windcrafter sent by the First Lord to the Calderon Valley (Tavi's home) to seek out information about the invasion, and who finds a traitor very close to hand, are the main characters. Tavi's uncle and aunt and Amara's tutor and traitor Fidelius as well as several other secondary characters also figure heavily in the story. As they trek along, sometimes together and sometimes not, they meet a fairly predictable set of adversarial situations. I did enjoy the book, but something about it failed to fully engage my interest. Good, but not great, in other words. It was a rather slow starter, and Butcher does a good job of building the world of Alera, although all the various magical rules and the governmental setup were a little confusing for awhile. The tone of the book was completely different than Butcher's Dresden Files series also, missing the wry humor and smart-alecky main character, but if anything it shows that the author is not a one-dimensional writer but can easily expand his horizons, and has done so. I'm hoping that subsequent books in the series will be a tad easier to get through now that I'm familiar with the world of Alera. The reader for this one was good, but not a favorite. B.

19. THE MERRY MISOGYNIST by Colin Cotterill. #6 Dr. Siri Paiboun series set in 1970's Vientiane, Laos. As usual, Dr. Siri and gang have two cases going--the first, a personal one, has Siri and his noodle-making wife Madame Daeng trying to locate Crazy Rajid, a mute Indian street person who hasn't been seen by anyone for several days. They follow a set of riddles around the city to try to figure out what happened to him--Siri has a bad feeling about it, and he's learned to pay attention to his spirit guides. The second case involves a woman brought to him as a 'customer' to the morgue, a beautiful young woman who appears to have been the victim of a strangling. Fairly routine, until they get to the internal exam and find a foreign body stuck in her female parts. At first it seems to be a lone case, but eventually someone remembers a similar case a few years ago and Siri and Inspector Phosy investigate what they believe to be an especially brutal serial killer, a rather uncommon animal in Laos. On a personal note, Nurse Dtui (also Inspector Phosy's wife) is large with child, and Siri is being investigated by the Housing Authority, since he does not live at his proscribed address but has moved in with his wife above her noodle shop and allows various and sundry characters to inhabit his former home. Very, very enjoyable read--this is definitely among my top ten favorite series of all time. If it were possible to give six out of five stars, I would gladly do so! A+

20. KILLER'S PAYOFF by Ed McBain. #6 in the 87th Precinct series, set in fictional Isola, modeled after New York. Classic "cop fiction" with the boys from the 87th trying to track down the murderer of a blackmailer/extortionist who was mowed down gangland style in the street. First they must track down who he was blackmailing, and then figure out which among them had the means and opportunity to go with their obvious motive for wanting the man dead. Or maybe it wasn't one of Sy's "clients" at all--maybe it was someone from his personal life who wanted him out of the way? Great police procedural, although a bit dated, as it was written in 1958--the author uses lots of monetary figures which make me laugh--you know, the blackmailer was living in the lap of luxury in a $350/month apartment, stuff like that. LOL I've speculated before on whether he realized at the time what a time capsule he was creating? Enjoyable, quick read, interesting to read about the characters that I came to know and love later in the series before they were really fully formed. B.

21. KITTY AND THE SILVER BULLET by Carrie Vaughn. #4 Kitty Norville paranormal series. Kitty, a werewolf who's been basically exiled from her former pack in Denver, must return home again when her mother falls ill. With boyfriend Ben (also a werewolf) in tow, she tries to make a low-profile return, rarely leaving Ben's condo there except to visit her mother and do her radio show The Midnight Hour at KNOB. But of course word leaks out and her former pack-leaders Carl and Meg, now ruling the pack with essentially a reign of terror, are looking to hunt them down and kill them. Meanwhile, Kitty has been approached by one of the Master vampire's assistants who wants to make a move on the Master and with the alliance that Carl and the Master have forged, helps Kitty to see that the only way to make the town safe again is for them to work together to oust the current leadership. Kitty is torn--all she wanted was to exist quietly, do her radio show and stay on the sidelines. She's not sure she's pack leader material, but some of Carl's pack have come to her pledging support. When her family is threatened, she knows she must act. Excellent, action-packed entry in this series, which has become one of the few paranormal series I've stuck with so far, that seems to get better with each book. There is some romance and sexual tension, but it's understated and doesn't take over the whole story, so I don't mind it at all. A+.

Current reads: SOVEREIGN by C.J. Sansom, and listening to INKHEART by Cornelia Funke in audio.

DNF: I ended up not finishing the audio version of THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery; I gave up after about an hour. It was the readers' voices that put me off--and since it takes place in France, there was a lot of what I call the "snotty-sounding French accent" going on. I just wasn't in the mood. It may be a perfectly good story, but I'll probably just wait to read it in print.

Also DNF'd a book I'd gotten from Amazon Vine to review, THE TATTOO MACHINE by Jeff Johnson--which sounded really interesting but was just poorly written and scattered, sort of like anecdotes cobbled together rather than a coherent story. I usually try to finish review books, but after 40 pages I knew I didn't want to waste any more time on this one.