Monday, February 9, 2009


1. THE LAST WITNESS by K.J. Erickson. #3 Marshall “Mars” Bahr police procedural series set in Minneapolis. Mars has two weeks left before he and Nettie jump ship from the Minneapolis police department to start working for the state’s expanding cold case squad. What he doesn’t need is a hugely high-profile case, but that’s exactly what he gets when one of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ basketball players’ wives is found murdered in her home and “T-Jack” is a prime suspect—but he has an air-tight alibi, having been in a conference with his wife’s parents present at the time of her murder. The new police chief, who is a media hound and not at all adept at handling this type of case, promises a quick resolution and Mars is doing his best to make that come true, if only so he can leave the department with a clean slate. Of course things are never that simple and there seems to be obstacles at every turn, but eventually Mars comes up with a solution—one that I totally didn’t see coming. On a personal level, Mars’ son Chris is growing up and his ex-wife has a new beau that Chris isn’t fond of. Mars has some hard choices to make both personally and professionally in this book and manages to rise to the occasion like a pro. This is by far my favorite in the series so far. Lots of seat-of-your pants action, a great visit with some characters that finally started to flesh out and grow on me in the last book, and a wonderful portrayal of the Twin Cities area by someone who obviously lives here. I am looking forward to the next—and unfortunately, I believe the last—book in this series. A+

2. THE BODY IN THE TRANSEPT by Jeanne M. Dams. #1 Dorothy Martin mystery. Dorothy is a widowed American whose husband had been a professor and guest lecturer, so when it came time to settle down on her own, she chose to relocate to a village in England, which she’d come to love on visits there over the years. It’s Dorothy’s first Christmas without Frank and her first in England, and it’s destined to be an eventful one, when she stumbles across the dead body of a canon in a darkened side transept after Christmas Eve services at the cathedral. Canon Billings was almost universally disliked so there’s no shortage of suspects, and Dorothy, a fan of British mysteries, feels compelled to look into things on her own since she has a connection to the case, finding the body and all. Doing so seems to help lift her out of the depression she’d been feeling, but it’s bound to get her in hot water with the local police force. This was an okay first effort—it won some kind of award the year it was written, but I didn’t think it was *that* good. I figured out the bad guy and the essential plot bits fairly early, which is not unusual. I couldn’t really get “into” Dorothy, either—she’s a little too “fussy” for me, I guess—she has an affinity for outlandish hats and a bit too concerned at keeping up appearances. Also, at least in this book, there was just a little too much of the ‘poor me’ thing, related to her recent widowhood, being an outsider, etc. I think that is likely to change as the series goes on, though, and I certainly intend to read on. B.

3. A WHISKER OF EVIL by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. (Audio) #12 in the series featuring Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen and her cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and her Welsh Corgi, Tucker. This book opens with Harry finding Barry Monteith, a horse breeder and neighbor, dying, with his throat ripped out in what is assumed to be a wild animal attack. Later, it’s determined that it wasn’t—he was killed by human hands and a knife, but the odd thing is, the autopsy also reveals that he had rabies. Since Barry essentially dies in Harry’s arms, she’s quite shaken and her life goes topsy-turvy when the word of rabies gets out—first in Barry, and then in his business partner who ends up dying from it. The animal control officer, who begins to doggedly investigate the rabies also ends up dead—shot in the head—hours after telling Harry and the Postmaster that according to regulations she can no longer have her animals with her at the Post Office. I always enjoy these books, but this entry in the series was a little darker than some and slightly off-kilter, but that’s possibly due to Harry’s changing circumstances. I spotted the bad guy right away again, but wasn’t sure why the murders were committed until further along as the clues fell into place. Still, a mostly light, enjoyable listen, easy to concentrate on while unpacking and sorting and such. B+

4. CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson. #1 Jackson Brodie mystery, featuring an ex-cop and ex-Army security officer now a private investigator. Mostly Jackson’s work life is boring—following people suspected of having affairs or stealing from their employers and the like. Suddenly though, several interesting cases fall into his lap at once. All deal with the past—two sisters want Jackson to find out what happened to their sister Olivia who disappeared thirty-four years ago when she was just three years old. A still-grieving father wants him to find the murderer of his beloved eighteen-year-old daughter Laura, murdered right in his own law office by a supposed madman in a fit of random violence. And the sister of an axe-murderer wants him to locate her niece, who was a baby at the time and sent to live with her paternal grandparents after her mother apparently murdered her father right in front of her. Tanya, the niece, ends up being a handful and runs away from home as a teenager and no one knows where she’d ended up. Various chapters of the book tell the stories from the point of view of the different people in the stories and I think at least some of them are meant to be Jackson’s supporting cast of characters in future installments, so if this is the case, they become very well fleshed. I loved this book, although I did figure out two of the three mysteries well in advance. The characters are very human, very engaging, a bit eccentric, and yet the author manages to make you cheer and root for them despite their sometimes annoying foibles. Jackson is a peach, and I do look forward to getting to know him better in upcoming series books. Excellent stuff! A+

5. FEAR IN THE FOREST by Bernard Knight. #7 Crowner John medieval mystery set in and around Exeter. Devon’s coroner is investigating doings in the King’s forest in the nearby countryside, spurred by a verderer found with an arrow in his back. There has long been conflict between forest officials and the people who live there, but this is something different. It seems the forest lawmen have taken up with outlaws, using them to enforce their new, stricter and very unreasonable rules. But why? John de Wolfe thinks there must be someone with money and power behind the whole scheme, and even begins to suspect his brother-in-law the sheriff. While I figured out part of the mystery ahead of time, I think a more comprehensive knowledge of medieval laws and political workings would have been needed to sort the whole thing out. On a personal note, John’s mistress Nesta is expecting a baby and when his wife finds out, she leaves in a huff for the nunnery. While Matilda had long known of John’s dalliances, the news that a baby is forthcoming sends her over the edge and she decides to enter the convent as she’s threatened to do for many years. Nesta, rather than being joyful, is despondent over her condition and John is totally perplexed. While I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book (relating to the King’s laws about ‘venison’ and ‘vert’ in the forest) I thought this book was a bit too long and convoluted. At least, there have certainly been better entries in the series. I’ve got several more of these in series waiting and certainly will read them, but I do hope the story itself is a little more tightly put together in upcoming books. B.

6. LIRAEL by Garth Nix. Second of the Abhorsen trilogy, YA fantasy series. This book moves forward in time by about 20 years from the previous book and deals with Sabriel’s son Prince Sameth and with Lirael, a Clayr who has not yet awakened to the Sight despite being fourteen years of age, long past time when most Clayr begin to See into the future. Finally given a job as a Third Assistant Librarian essentially to keep her out of trouble, Lirael meets the Disreputable Dog and begins reading some of the old texts and discovers ways of getting into some of the locked rooms in the Old section of the library. Sam, meanwhile, begins to realize that he does not want to be Abhorsen-in-Waiting and does anything he can to avoid his training and reading The Book of the Dead that his mother has given him to study so that he can begin to assist her in the troubled times ahead. As Sam and Lirael journey from opposite directions to their inevitable meeting, both are dreading what they are sure their future holds for them as they battle the Dead—but of course are in for some big surprises. Very well done second entry in series, left on a bit of a cliffhanger that definitely causes some anticipation of the finale. A.

7. MIDNIGHT FOR CHARLIE BONE by Jenny Nimmo (audio) First in the young adult “Children of the Red King” fantasy series set in England. Charlie Bone is ten years old and lives with his mum and both of his grandmas. Grandma Maisie, his mother’s mum, is kind and friendly. Grandma Bone, his father’s mother, is not. His father died when Charlie was very young, so of financial necessity, they live with Grandma Bone—a perpetually cross, rigid, mean old woman who lords it over Charlie and his mother. Also living in the big old house is Uncle Payton Yewbeam (I thought this was ‘Youbean’ as pronounced by the reader—had to look it up! LOL) who is an odd and slightly sinister fellow. When Charlie discovers he can ‘hear’ photographs—the thoughts of the people in them at the time they were taken—Grandma Bone calls in the three Yewbeam aunts to test Charlie—and since he turns out to be one of the ‘endowed,’ he is sent to Bloor’s Academy, a school where you must be either a genius or endowed with some odd power like Charlie’s. His power means he’s a descendant of the Red King. Charlie is sad to be leaving his best friend Benjamin Brown (and his dog, Runner Bean—that name gave me fits of giggles every time I heard it!) behind, but he does make some new and interesting friends (and enemies!) at the Academy, and his weird uncle turns out to be Charlie’s ally. While a bit predictable in places, I did enjoy this reading (the reader was excellent!) and look forward to listening to the next in series. A-.

8. THE TITAN’S CURSE by Rick Riordan (audio) #3 Percy Jackson and the Olympians YA fantasy. I normally wouldn’t have listened to another book from the same genre one after another by choice, but this one I was on a wait list for, so when it’s your turn to download it, you snap it up while you can. When Percy’s friend AnnaBeth is kidnapped, he naturally wants to be on the quest to rescue her. But her rescue coincides with another disaster—the kidnapping of the Goddess Artemis, and thus her Hunters have a say in who goes along, and Percy is NOT on the guest list! Does that stop him? It does not! He sets out on his own, but then ends up with the selected group. On a strict timetable—the quest must be accomplished and Artemis rescued before the Council of the Gods on the Winter Solstice—Percy, Grover, Thalia, and some of the Hunters are led across country from New York to New Mexico to San Francisco as various bad guys (led by Percy’s old nemesis Luke) and clues fall into place revealing who is behind Luke’s caper and why. Very well done with an excellent reader, loosely educational as information about mythology is imparted in an informal way, and entertaining too, with a just plain great story. A.

9. PARDONABLE LIES by Jacqueline Winspear. #3 Maisie Dobbs historical mystery. In this episode, Maisie is beginning to settle comfortably into her business as a private investigator, but gets pulled to France on two personal cases—one to confirm the death of the son of a friend of a friend, another she’s looking into informally for her good friend Priscilla, to locate where her brother Peter died. She also is working with a very young girl who is accused of murdering her pimp. During the course of her investigations, Maisie has several attempts made on her life, though she’s not sure which investigation has stirred up such a hornet’s nest. She also confronts many of her own demons and ghosts with regards to her service as a nurse during WWI in France. While I did like this book, I found some of the coincidences tying her cases together to be almost so fantastic as to be nearly unbelievable. I figured out some of the mysteries in advance but the final one was a surprise. I like Maisie and look forward to reading the other books in series but I didn’t like this one quite as much as the previous ones—it seemed a bit long and drawn out in places, too. B+

10. DEATH IN DISGUISE by Caroline Graham. #3 Inspector Barnaby English mystery. Set on a large estate that is run and occupied by a New Age religious group. Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sgt. Troy arrive when The Master, the head of the group, is murdered during a regression session. This book was very slow-moving for me, long and drawn out, with much detail about the lives of the members of the group, such that Inspector Barnaby doesn’t even make an entrance until page 133. I liked the other two books in the series, but really found this one tedious and slow-going. I don’t know if it was just that I couldn’t get interested in any of the characters or what, but to be honest by about page 200, I didn’t much care who killed whom and skimmed through to the end. I do intend to read on in the series—mostly because I’ve already got several of the next ones here, and based on the strength of the first couple of books. I guess every author is allowed to have one worm in the apple basket of their work. C-

11. HOOT by Carl Hiaasen. (Audio) Those of you who read this author’s adult humor books might be surprised to know that he also writes for young adults and is actually a Newbery Award winner for this book. I’ve read a couple of Hiassen’s adult books and while I thought they were okay, I just loved the audio version of this YA story. Set in Hiaasen’s beloved Florida, this is the story of Roy Eberhardt, the new kid at Trace Middle School in Coconut Grove, FL, and his shaky alliance of new friends. They band together to save some burrowing owls (a protected species) from greedy land developers and the bigwigs at Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House. Determined not to let Mother Paula’s build their 469th restaurant where the owls are currently nesting, Roy, his friends Beatrice and her nameless stepbrother, a runaway living on the streets, plot to take on the town’s officials, the cops, and the foreman of the construction crew all the while Roy is trying to stay out of the clutches of the town bully. Excellent story, with some of Hiaasen’s typical humor, toned down somewhat for the younger set. Great reader, too. I also understand this book has been made into a movie, and I do plan to watch it soon! A+

12. FOOL by Christopher Moore. The wacky Moore goes all medieval in this spoof of Shakespeare’s King Lear story, this time told from the point of view of his jester, Pocket. With more plot twists and turns than a redundant colon, Moore’s ribald wit permeates the tale, poking fun at not only Shakespeare himself, but all his characters as well. The inept yet cruel King Lear, his grasping, whorish daughters and their power-hungry husbands, and Pocket’s own half-wit apprentice, Drool. It’s been years since I actually read King Lear itself, so (to be honest) I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of parallels and puns. It’s also been a couple of years since I read my last Chris Moore book, and this one seems to me to be much more decidedly raunchy than his previous work. I seem to recall that he used to rely more on actual wit than on adolescent sexual jokes.While I don’t mind irreverent humor at all, this book was so full of it that IMO it detracted somewhat from the story itself. Sort of like an X-rated Austin Powers meets Shakespeare, more or less. There were some definite laugh out loud moments, lots of witty repartee and some stellar prose and verse, and Moore’s portrayal of Pocket as the main character rather than Lear was an interesting take on things. But I have to say that this was definitely not my favorite of Moore’s works and when it was finished, I closed the book more with relief than satisfaction. C.

13. PAGAN EVERY DAY: FINDING THE EXTRAORDINARY IN OUR ORDINARY LIVES by Barbara Ardinger. I actually started reading this ‘page a day’ type book several months ago, periodically picking it up and reading a dozen days’ or so worth of ruminations. Each day of the year has some thoughts from the author—information about a particular God or Goddess, holiday, pantheon, or concept, often tying together ancient beliefs and myths with the modern world. Sometimes she suggested mini-rituals, other times it was just information, and sometimes she encouraged the reader to think about some particular thing that might tie in with that day of the year and explore our thoughts and feelings about things. There were even some challenges to help us to live a “greener” life (‘walk to work or take the bus today if you normally drive,’) or just to be a better person (volunteer for a few hours at a homeless shelter or do something kind for someone you really don’t like) and such. I very much enjoyed the book, although I didn’t always follow through with her suggestions since I was reading several days’ worth of things at a time. But I did learn a LOT—not only about various pagan beliefs, but about ties from pagan and mythological beliefs as the origin for some current modern-day practices. And oh yes, it definitely gave me things to think about! I am going to keep this book on my Keeper shelf and perhaps one year will choose to pick it up and actually go through the days one at a time. A+

14. MURDER ON LENOX HILL by Victoria Thompson. #7 “gaslight” historical mystery set in early 1900’s New York and featuring midwife Sarah Brandt and police detective Frank Malloy. Sarah is referred to speak discreetly with the Linton family to examine their seventeen year old daughter Grace, whom they are concerned might be pregnant. Grace is a ‘simpleton’ with the mind of a five-year-old and Sarah does indeed determine that she is several months along—everyone assumes that she was raped or taken advantage of, but most puzzlingly, Grace denies anyone hurting her. Living a very sheltered life, Grace is never alone with any men, but Sarah doesn’t believe in immaculate conception and is determined to find who fathered Grace’s child. Mr. Linton comes under immediate suspicion, being the only man to see her regularly, but he is ruled out fairly quickly and the trail next leads to the church the Lintons attend, which is where Grace and Mrs. Linton spend some time volunteering, and eventually a murder does occur there, though the main mystery seems to be Grace’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, Malloy is asked by Sarah’s father, socialite Peter Decker, to resume investigating Sarah’s husband’s murder, which took place four years previously—Decker believes Dr. Tom Brandt was a womanizer and wants Malloy to prove it so that Sarah will finally forget about carrying on Tom’s legacy of helping the poor and return to her rightful place in society. Frank Malloy, of course, has other motives for wanting the crime solved. A predictable, light historical read that I did enjoy despite the mystery (all of them, actually) being extremely transparent and easy to solve. B.

15. TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover. #2 Ray Dudgeon mystery set in the Windy City of Chicago. In the first book, Ray takes on the mob and in this one, he seems to be tackling the US Government and their covert military operations. Battered, bruised and barely holding things together (physically and psychologically) after his torture and near death some months previously, Ray is hired by a retired military man whose daughter was brutally murdered—shot to death by one of her employees who then turned the gun on himself. Her killer had apparently been suddenly psychotic and paranoid and believed Joan was ‘out to get him’ and thus he ended both their lives. Of course nothing is ever that simple—the fact that Joan was set to testify for a Congressional hearing on defense contract spending had *nothing* to do with her death, I’m sure, right!?—and the fact that that information was kept hushed up is even more telling. Ray ends up in a tangled web of deceit, trying to sort out the good guys from the bad while trying to keep himself alive and mend his broken relationship with ex-girlfriend Jill, and also trying to protect Steven Zhang’s widow and daughter—he being the man who killed Joan and then himself. I like Ray, despite his foibles, and the author’s writing style make the reading of his story easy and appealing. Ray lives in a world of realism where things are never perfect and exist in multiple shades of gray, not ever simplistically black and white or right and wrong—much like real life, I suppose. I hope he lives a long and prolific life and I will be eagerly awaiting the next in series to see which major player he goes up against next. A.

16. WINTER’S CHILD by Margaret Maron (audio) #12 Judge Deborah Knott mystery set in Colleton County, North Carolina. Newly married sheriff’s deputy Dwight Bryant is just settling in to his blissful home life with Judge Deborah but is pulled away from her AND from a murder investigation in which a much-disliked, abusive good ole boy is shot in the back of the head while driving home from work. The summons away from Colleton County is a strange phone call from his eight-year-old son Cal, who lives five hours away in Virginia with his mother. Dwight makes a trip north to see Cal, and then learns that Jonna, his ex-wife, is actually missing. When Cal goes missing, last seen being picked up in front of his house by a woman in a blue parka who was assumed to be Jonna, Dwight frantically tries to figure out what’s going on, as his relationship with Jonna has not, to this point, been antagonistic at all. Jonna’s body is discovered in her car a day later, murdered, and Cal is still missing, so Deborah takes emergency leave to be with her new husband in the search for his son. Back home, Detective Maylene Richards is now in charge of the murder investigation, which continues with too many suspects and not enough opportunities. As a twisted tale of family secrets and prideful deception unfolds, Deborah and Dwight begin to piece together the tale of Jonna’s death in hopes of finding Cal unharmed. Excellent entry in the series, which just seems to get better and better with each one, and as a reader, C.J. Critt is wonderful and never lets me down. A+

17. TAILED by Brian Wiprud. #3 Garth Carson mystery. Garth has turned his rental taxidermy business over to his Russian friend Otto to run and is now an insurance appraiser specializing in taxidermy collections. Traveling around the country to check out various big-game hunters’ collections is something he’s enjoying a lot—until he keeps an appointment for an appraisal and comes across the body of Sprunty Fulmore, Chicago Bears football player and the apparent victim of a big game hunt himself. After awhile, Garth is sent to Denver to do another appraisal but finds himself the object of an FBI investigation since Sprunty was the second of his clients to end up dead—not only dead, but with a white gecko placed in his hand, so the authorities believe there is a serial killer on the loose. When a collector in Denver ends up dead the same way while Garth is there, they’re convinced the killer is Garth himself. Garth learns more about his grandfather, “Kit” Carson, big-game hunter whom he inherited his own stuffed animal collection from, and about a secret society he formed with Native American implications. Now, as the last remaining descendant of the founding members of the Order of the White Gecko, the FBI don’t realize that Garth isn’t the killer but the next intended target. Off on a wild gecko—er, goose—chase across the country, Garth, Angie (his long-time live-in girlfriend) and some crazy people he meets along the way head for New Mexico to try to head off an alien evil spirit that will take over the earth if it manages to get hold of the ‘vuka’ (spirit) inhabiting Garth. Enjoyable, wacky, light read—it’s been quite awhile since I read any Wiprud, and I’m not sure why I was so long in getting back to this. So far this is the last in this series, but Wiprud has several non-series books out there, and I’m glad to say a couple of them are on my shelf. A.

DNF: I did end up giving up on SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING by Amy Tan in audio. I may still actually read the print version, but the audio version was read by the author and it didn't seem very professionally done--the sound volume varied frequently (as though she were moving away and towards the microphone) and just wasn't (IMO) very expressively read. I gave it a good two hours before moving on.