Thursday, March 5, 2009

MARCH 2009 Reading

1. DRAGONQUEST by Anne McCaffrey (AUDIO) #2 in the Dragonriders of Pern fantasy series, taking place some seven turns after events in the first book. This is a little longer than my usual audiobook listen, so I expected to take quite awhile to finish it, but it was a very engaging story that was hard to stop listening to, so it was devoured in just two days. The Dragonriders continue to fight the dreaded Thread, strands of some toxic element that falls regularly from the skies, but things go a bit topsy-turvy when Thread begins falling at irregular times and places. Desperate to figure out what these new chaotic attacks mean, F’lar of Benden Weyr travels far and wide, talking to not only other Weyr leaders, but craftholders, Oldtimers, harpers and the like, gathering information. His influence, garnered of necessity seven turns ago, begins to wane as Oldtimers plot against craftholders, who in turn are becoming resentful of the Weyrs. There’s much political jockeying taking place as well as plenty of Dragon action and several side stories featuring some of the main characters from the first book as well as some new characters stepping to the forefront. Very enjoyable, and I’d even found the reader more appealing in this book—his sometimes overly dramatic reading was the one downfall I found to the first book in this very long-lived series. Great book! A

2. THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE by Trudi Canavan. Prequel to the Black Magician fantasy trilogy, taking place several hundred years before the first book in that series. This is the story of Tessia, a commoner in Kyralia who is a healer’s daughter and who wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps. But women in Kyralia are not allowed to be healers, so when an episode of attempted rape by a visiting Sachakan magician reveals that Tessia is a natural magician, she becomes a second apprentice to Lord Dakon, who holds the ley her family lives in. First learning control of her magic lest she cause serious damage to her surroundings, Tessia’s goal is to figure out a way to incorporate healing with her magic, which has to that point not been done. A few months after she is apprenticed, she heads off to Imardin, the capital city, with Lord Dakon and his first apprentice (who is of noble blood and doesn’t like Tessia much) to meet the king, beginning a series of political intrigues and growing experiences for Tessia, both as a magician and as a person. I really wanted to love this book as I did the previously-published trilogy, but it really fell flat. Canavan is a good writer, with an easy-to-read style, but the story in this book was just….well, rather ho-hum. None of the characters really stirred me to either liking or hating them much, and while the story did explain some of the events that occurred later in the trilogy, it wasn’t done with the panache I had expected. The best I can say about the book is that it was okay. I don’t think writing prequels is an easy thing, and I will be on the lookout for more work by this author, but I hope she’s planning something new. C+

3. INNOCENT GRAVES by Peter Robinson. #8 Chief Inspector Alan Banks British police procedural set in rural Yorkshire. A young schoolgirl from the local private girls’ school is found strangled in a graveyard on a foggy November night. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Her body was arranged like a sex crime, but she hadn’t been raped or sexually assaulted in any way. Or was this some personal crime against Deborah Harrison herself, she being the daughter of a wealthy computer company mogul? A likely suspect is found in a local college teacher who was seen in the area at the right time, and he even had some of Deborah’s blood and hair on his jacket. He maintains his innocence and said she did bump into him on a bridge in the fog, but the police, wanting a quick solution for the girl’s powerful father, latch onto Owen Pierce and are determined to make the evidence fit. A few months later, he’s acquitted and a short time after his release, another girl is killed in similar fashion—again with some of his hairs on her jacket and some fingerprints on a film canister found nearby. Inspector Banks takes awhile to come around but believes Pierce is being set up, but by whom? Well, duh. I sussed the bad guy out right away and even guessed accurately at the reason why, but the actual clues that would let you figure it out didn’t come til later. It was still a great read despite my instinctive ‘knowing’ who the bad guy was ahead of time. This book didn’t feature just Banks—much of the story was told from the viewpoint of Owen Pierce and also some from other characters, including one of Banks’ subordinates, an ambitious detective who put together the first case against Pierce. Looking forward to the next! A.

4. CHARLIE BONE AND THE TIME TWISTER by Jenny Nimmo (audio) #2 Children of the Red King children’s fantasy series in which Charlie meets a boy of about his age that he first saw in a photograph at home—and who is actually his great-great-uncle Henry, sent forward through time by his evil cousin Zeke using a Time Twister—a marble with magical powers. Of course, evil cousin Zeke is none other than Ezekiel Bloor, now head of the same Bloor family that runs Charlie’s school. When the Bloors find out that Henry Yewbeam has been spotted in the school, they do everything in their power to attempt to capture him as Charlie and his group of friends do their best to protect the poor, baffled Henry, who arrived from 1916 and would be totally sunk on his own. Another enjoyable entry in this interesting children’s fantasy series, and I look forward to the third one soon. A.

5. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion (audio) A memoir of this writer’s life in the year after her husband of nearly forty years, author John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly of a heart attack at the dinner table. At the time, their only child, Quintana, a newlywed, was hospitalized and on a ventilator, having developed a septic infection from pneumonia, and after her eventual release a month later, then developed blood clots which led her to be on anticoagulants, which then resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage and coma a few weeks later. As you can imagine, Joan’s life was thrown into utter turmoil, and while she maintained an outward calm, inside her body was compensating by failing to emotionally accept some things. For example, she refused to give away her husband’s last pair of shoes, because she felt he would be upset at not having any when he came back. She called her year of grief her year of magical thinking because she believed that many impossible things were utterly true. The reader for this book set the tone very well, I thought, and it was difficult to stop listening much as people gather to watch the after-effects of a horrible accident. I have to say that I am glad it was short, though (only about 5 hours) or I might have stopped eventually. The tone was quite detached, almost cold, and at times I was irritated at the author’s description of privilege—the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best hotels—and I wondered how she would have handled her grief if she had been a poor housewife from Brooklyn with no money who had to find a job after her husband’s death. Still, it was an interesting book and very far my usual fare, and I can say that I felt it a worthwhile listen, although “enjoy” would be the wrong word. B.

6. ACCOMODATING BROCOLLI IN THE CEMETARY: OR, WHY CAN’T ANYONE SPELL? By Vivian Cook. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the book is supposed to be. I thought it was somewhat of a rant against bad spellers, but it isn’t, really. It’s a mixed bag of things cobbled together into a hodge podge of semi-related things—tests that see how well you can spell, blurbs about the evolution of the English language and how some words evolved over time, a review of some of the rules and fallacies of spelling, including the “i before e except after c” rule (which doesn’t hold much water, by the way) and various and sundry other things. There were photos of stupid spelling mistakes in newspapers (but they weren’t very good ones) and lists of differences between English English and American English, quotations from various famous people about spelling, lists of ways our modern culture has bastardized the language further with things like internet acronyms, texting language, etc. It was very poorly organized without a clear mission that I could glean. I love words and bits about their origins and the evolution of the language, but these bits weren’t even that well-done. (Oh yes; there was a section about hyphenated words too. LOL) I think the author wrote it just because he was pissed off that people think he’s a woman because his name is Vivian. I dunno! I wouldn’t really recommend the book. It took me about an hour to read through it and I was decidedly unimpressed. D.

7. KILLER’S CHOICE by Ed McBain #5 in the 87th Precinct police procedural series set in fictional Isola (modeled after New York.) Published the year I was born, some people would call this book “dated,” which, admittedly it is. But it’s a wonderful time capsule too, and I have to wonder if McBain deliberately set out to accomplish that, if he had any idea how long-lasting his series would be. The opening paragraph lets you know you’ve gone back in time as it talks about “eight dollar Scotch and twenty-five-cent wine” bottles broken together on a liquor store floor. I’m not even sure you can buy a bottle of eight dollar Scotch these days, and that was the expensive stuff back then. LOL There are numerous other clues—twenty-one-cent-a-gallon gas, a policeman’s salary of $3,800 a year, and phone numbers with an exchange listed rather than just a number. All that aside, McBain writes an enjoyable detective story, and already at this point in the series, I’m a big fan of Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling and the rest of the gang. A young woman employed in a liquor store is brutally shot to death four times, the stock in the store smashed to smithereens. They get several different pictures of who the young woman was—one from her mother, another from her ex-husband, and still another from friends. I had an inkling about who the killer was at the time they were introduced, but the clues as to how it was done weren’t really revealed until the end of the book—and I’d have missed them anyway, as a knowledge as to ‘how certain things were done’ would have been needed to figure it out. I still enjoyed this very much and look forward to the next one. B+

8. KITTY GOES TO WASHINGTON by Carrie Vaughn. #2 Kitty Norville paranormal series featuring the radio talk show hostess who is also a werewolf. Kitty, now traveling around the country doing her night time talk show from different cities, has been subpoenaed by a Congressional Committee to testify regarding an ongoing research project into the causes and potential cures of the ‘supernatural’ races like vampires, werewolves, and the like. She’s never been to the nation’s capital and hopes to combine some sightseeing with her testimony. That doesn’t happen, though, as she is waylaid by the city’s Vampire leader on the way to her hotel, commandeered to Alette’s townhouse and warned of rogue lycanthropes who may want to harm Kitty. She doesn’t know whether to trust Alette and her lackeys and does eventually hooks up with a sexy Brazilian were-jaguar named Luis (he purrs! LOL) whom she met at a party. Luis leads her to a bar that is a hangout for weres—there is no pack, no leader and the place exudes comfort and friendship. Was Alette lying, or are things not as they really seem? Kitty also finally meets the head of the research project she’s testifying about. She isn’t sure whether to trust Dr. Paul Flemming either—he’s been nothing but evasive when she’s tried to speak to him in the past and this is no exception. She knows she doesn’t trust Senator Duke, who is looking for a witch hunt (rather, a were-hunt) and wants Congress to declare open season on all ‘abominable creatures of the devil’ like weres and vampires. But who among those she’s met of the supernatural community has her best interests at heart? She finds out the hard way in a stunning climax that shocks not only Kitty but the whole world. Very enjoyable read—I really like Kitty, and I find the world that Vaughn has created to be believable and plausible, and I like that she is able to incorporate a bit of a sex for her heroine without making romance andsex so pervasive that it takes over the story. Glad to have the next couple in the series here waiting patiently for me. A.

9. THE GHOST WAR by Alex Berenson. #2 John Wells spy thriller in which two incidents, one in Afghanistan and the other involving China and North Korea, entwine to bring about potential disaster. John goes into Afghanistan on a mission to find out who is helping the Taliban. The usual ragtag bands of guerrillas are noticed to be more organized, well-equipped and prepared, and there’s rumor of ‘white’ soldiers helping them. Russians? Or a band of mercenaries? Satellite intelligence gleaned leads the Americans to believe that they need to find out. While John is in the Middle Eastern mountains fighting for his very life, Jennifer Exley, his girlfriend, is working with their boss on ferreting out a recently-discovered mole who betrayed a nuclear scientist in North Korea, leaving him and his American rescue team dead. A fairly typical spy novel, filled with political intrigue, deception, the very latest in spy vs. spy technology and even a modicum of diplomacy. There wasn’t a whole lot of character development since the last book, in fact, I felt like Wells stepped backwards somewhat into the grayness of the pages and became more of a ghost himself. This was a decent read, but a bit of a disappointment after the excellent first in series. If I were prone to spouting clich├ęs, I would say this is probably the author suffering from the ‘sophomore slump.’ I like a good spy novel, but I can’t live on a steady diet of them, so while I have the third one in this series here, I think it’ll be awhile before I get to reading it. I hope things pick up somewhat, as this author has obvious talent. B.

10. THE TAINTED RELIC by “The Medieval Murderers” (audio) The Medieval Murderers is a combination of five historical mystery authors—Michael Jecks, Ian Morson, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Philip Gooden and Simon Beaufort—yes, that’s six, but Beaufort is actually the same person as Susanna Gregory who has a different series. Each write a short story about their sleuth as a cursed relic (a piece of the “true cross” of Christ) crosses their path leaving murder and mayhem in its’ wake. I wasn’t sure if I’d like this setup or not, but I actually really enjoyed it. A couple of the authors I’d never encountered before, and particularly liked the writing style of Ian Morson, enough to seek out the first in his Falconer series. I’m not particularly fond of Michael Jecks—at least, the one book of his I’ve read I wasn’t wild about, but I’m going to give him another try—but it came off okay in the audio version; it was my least favorite of the stories though. Two of my favorite sleuths were included—Bernard Knight’s Crowner John de Wolfe and Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew. The reader for the book was excellent, using many different voices and accents over the course of the story. I have a couple of these combination books on my TBR pile in print—we’ll see if the stories are as appealing that way as this one was in the audio version. Some of the later ones cobble different authors into the mix. Well done and quite enjoyable, it didn’t seem like it was a 15-hour listen! A.

11. THE PESTHOUSE by Jim Crace. Not sure how to classify this—I guess it would be sort of speculative, post-apocalyptic fiction of sorts. It’s the story, mainly, of two people—Margaret and Franklin—and seems to be set in the future, a future in which America as we know it has disappeared. We’re back to wood and bone implements, handmade homespun clothing, horse-drawn transportation (if we’re lucky!), no electricity and a rather bleak landscape in which people are leaving the country in droves—by ship. However, human seem to have changed little, and our age-old cruelty to one another, greediness, hunger for power and self-preservation instinct seems to have survived whatever catastrophe took place. And as always, small pockets of goodness and unselfishness will be found, too, if you look hard enough. Franklin and his brother Jackson, young men in their twenties, set out eastward for the sea after their father’s death and the family farm fails, leaving their mother to hold down the fort and knowing they probably won’t see her again. Margaret, a single woman in her 30’s who developed a flux of some sort, is quarantined in a hut on the edge of town—Ferrytown—with her head and body hair shaved off, basically left to either die or survive by her family, in hopes that they aren’t already afflicted. Through a set of bizarre circumstances, Franklin and Margaret end up traveling together eastward, then become separated, and end up together again towards the end of the book. Initially I found the book mesmerizing and couldn’t put it down, but later wanted more information about what had happened to land America in such a state, and that information really wasn’t forthcoming—just a lot of ‘teaser’ kind of clues. Franklin and Margaret’s stories became a bit stale after awhile, though it was a good book overall and I did come away with some things to think about and ponder. The ending was quite satisfying if a little predictable, and had the book been a bit less bogged down in the middle, my overall opinion would have been higher. B+.

12. A FATAL GRACE by Louise Penny. #2 Three Pines mystery set in a small village outside Quebec, Ontario and featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. When a vile newcomer, CC de Poitiers, who moved into the old Hadley house, is deliberately electrocuted while in the middle of a frozen pond watching a curling match on Boxing Day, Chief Inspector Gamache is once again dispatched to Three Pines to work on the murder. No one liked CC—she was mean, viscious and cruel to virtually everyone she encountered, most noticeably to her own pubescent daughter. But who had means, motive and opportunity to do the wannabe Martha Stewart in in such a complicated and bizarre way? Gamache’s team ponders, puzzles and gets stuck in Three Pines in a snowstorm, and eventually they figure it out. There are a couple of red herrings, but I did have a gut feeling about the killer early on and I was right, though I did doubt myself for quite some time. Wonderful mystery, delightful characters, food descriptions that you can almost smell wafting off the pages, and a writing style that just keeps you wanting more. Humorous at times, yet poignant, rich in the Quebecois culture, there’s a bit of everything. I’m glad I have the third one here but I fear I won’t be able to keep my hands off it for long. Excellent! A+

13. THE BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH by Rick Riordan. (audio) #4 Percy Jackson and the Olympians YA fantasy series. I really enjoy this series a lot! Percy, AnnaBeth, Grover and their friends are off again on another quest, this time to navigate the labyrinth made by Daedalus, who was also the infamous designer of the wings stuck on with wax that caused his son Icarus to fall when he flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. The half-bloods believe that Luke, their arch-nemesis who has an allegiance with the Titan Kronos, has found a way to easily get to Camp Half-Blood through the Labyrinth and seek to find that path and block it. Meanwhile, Grover sets out with them determined to find the god Pan, given one last chance to do so before his Seeker’s license is revoked by the Council. Percy, fast approaching fifteen, has his share of girl trouble in this episode too, with the usual adolescent confusions that go with it. Another action-packed adventure, with some humor and some very serious moments too. There’s one more installment, and Percy will be turning sixteen, when everyone finds out if his prophecy—whether he will save or destroy Mount Olympus—comes to pass. Excellent stuff, wonderful reader (Jesse Bernstein) who does a multitude of male and female, old and young, human and creature voices very well. A+

14. WHO COOKED THE LAST SUPPER? THE WOMEN’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD by Rosalind Miles. Nonfiction history, from ancient to modern times, as it relates to women’s place in history. Spans the gamut from religious to political history, and this book is difficult to read without getting quite angry at times, me being a woman and all, and a majority of the book being about how women have been second-class citizens since, as the author wryly puts it, ‘the rise of the phallus.’ Viewed as simply man’s property for much of recorded history, women have had to fight tooth and nail for basic human rights. This is a glimpse into how things were through time, from the beginning (when women were revered) and with specific views at different cultures and microcosms. Also points out notable exceptions to the rule of the day, wherever and whenever that might be, with information about various “famous women” but also about how things were for the ‘average Jane’ of the times. I learned a lot reading this book, but despite the author’s attempts at injecting some humor into it, I did read it in small bits rather than devour it in large chunks as it tended to get quite dry in places. A very worthwhile read, though. B+

15. CAT’S EYEWITNESS by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. (audio) #13 in the Mrs. Murphy mysteries set in Crozet, Virginia and featuring not only the wise tabby cat but her friends Pewter the fat gray cat and Tucker, the Welsh Corgi. And let’s not forget their human, Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen. Thanksgiving in Crozet should be a relaxed and happy time, and it is, until Harry’s friend Susan’s great-uncle Thomas, a monk at the local monastery dies, praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary that had begun crying tears of blood. Harry, ever the skeptic, wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t witnessed the phenomenon herself. Brother Thomas was over 80, so his death wasn’t investigated as suspicious, but when a reporter who had broken the story about the Virgin also ends up dead, very obviously murdered, Harry’s ‘something’s not right’ antennae start twitching and she starts asking pointed questions, much to the chagrin of her friends and family and Sheriff Rick Shaw. Personally, Harry is a bit at loose ends, having quit her job at the Post Office, and is investigating growing grapes and starting a vineyard. And Fair, her ex-husband, has put more pressure on her with regard to his oft repeated proposal of re-marriage, too. The mystery was fairly straightforward, but I’ve come to love these characters more and more as the series wears on, and I’ve also grown fond of this reader, Kate Forbes, too. I found it hard to stop listening to this one and had to find things to do to occupy me so I could finish it. And now my bathrooms are really, really clean. LOL I’m glad my library has all of these available for audio download—I’ve already got the next one on my list. A.

16. FLESH AND BONE by Jefferson Bass. #2 in the Body Farm mysteries featuring Dr. Bill Brockton, founder of the research institute dedicated to learning more about how we decompose. In the first book, I enjoyed the forensic parts but was not crazy about the main character, and that trend continued in this book. For all that Dr. Bill Brockton is the consummate “nice guy,” I just can’t get attached to him, nor do I really care much about him—even when he’s suspected of murder. He’s just boring milquetoast for me. But I *did* enjoy the forensic aspect of the book a lot—if not for that, it’s doubtful I would have continued reading it. Lots of gory details, so if you’re squeamish, I wouldn’t read this book. Bill gets embroiled in the creationism/intelligent design vs. evolution debate in this book as well as working on the murder of a guy dressed in women’s clothes that appears to be a hate crime. When a colleague of Bill’s—whom he just happens to have slept with also—ends up murdered and displayed in his own Body Farm on top of the body they’re using to research that hate crime murder, he is a strong suspect in the case. Can’t see why, when ‘whodunit’ was as plain as the nose on your face, at least to me. I’m debating whether to continue on in this series or not. The whole package just seems really uninspired, great forensic details or no. One of those, “It wasn’t really was okay, BUT”...kind of books. C+

17. THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie. #1 in The First Law fantasy trilogy. Set in a world beset by war and utterly devoid of magic, this book tells the story of several very different characters. Loren Ninefingers, an aptly named mercenary who has survived many wars, battles and skirmishes; Sand dan Glokta, a former fencing champion turned Inquisitor, a master of torture after his eight-year experience in an enemy prison leave him crippled and disfigured both physically and emotionally; Jezal dan Luthar, a young nobleman of privilege who has yet to see war and who is hoping to win the upcoming summer fencing Contest. Several other peripheral characters come into play as well, and the world is about to see Magic and all the myths and legends that were thought to be just children’s stories come back to life as Bayaz, the First of the Magi, makes himself known as the country is thrown into war from two directions. The king is a puppet, his heir a worthless fop, and his advisors plot and scheme to gain control of the government. A multi-layered tale, well-written and interesting to read. While this had many of the elements of your ‘classic’ fantasy tale, it was decidedly darker than some, but all the better for it, I thought—me not being a big fan of knights in shining armor and all that rot. I like a world where the lines between good and evil are more realistically drawn, blurred and gray in many places, much like our own world. The characters were well-fleshed, imperfect and varied, and it will be interesting to follow their stories into the next book, which I thankfully have here already. Well-done! A+.

18. COLD GRANITE by Stuart MacBride. #1 Logan MacRae Scottish police procedural series. DS MacRae, on his first day back to work after a year-long medical leave following a stabbing that left him near-dead, ends up as lead investigator on a child murder case—the months-dead body of a four-year-old boy found in a ditch who appears to have been tortured and sexually abused. Logan was supposed to be gently transitioned back into work, but this murder kicks off a couple of weeks from hell, in which several other childrens bodies are found, though not all of them are related to the first case. Logan is also recovering from a break-up with his girlfriend, who happens to be the medical examiner/pathologist. I had a really hard time putting this book down—stayed up later than usual to finish it, in fact. The writing was very compelling and the story was quite interesting. While mostly a bleak, dark book, MacBride does inject enough humor into it so that it doesn’t feel quite so grim. And I really do like Logan. However, after I finished it and thought back, there was much about the book and the procedures, etc. that I found to question. Perhaps police procedure works differently in Aberdeen, but it seemed to me that Logan, as a Detective Sergeant, had a whole lot more direct involvement, leadership responsibility and latitude with his activity than most other DS’s I’ve read about in other series, who seem to be assigned a lot of mundane detail work while the Detective Inspectors and higher do the actual investigation. He basically solves all the cases—obviously he’s brilliant, so why is he still a DS? As often happens I did figure out most of the cases well ahead of the police—these nice juicy obvious clues kept falling right in the reader’s lap! LOL Also, the interconnections of all the various cases just seemed a little too pat, too coincidental. While not a sprawling metropolitan area, Aberdeen does have over 200,000 people and it just doesn’t seem likely that these cases could all connect up like they did. There was also a lot of repetition with regard to descriptions—of the weather, especially. Yes, it was rainy and snowy. We get it. How many ways and times can that (or can wet and miserable policemen) be described without becoming tiresome? At any rate, despite those negatives, I am quite excited about this series and am looking forward to the next one but I’m hoping MacBride learns to tighten things up a bit and makes the plots more plausible in future works. B+

19. THE WOLVES OF SAVERNAKE by Edward Marston. #1 Domesday medieval mystery set about twenty years after William the Conqueror takes Britain by storm. Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret are traveling around compiling The Domesday Book, in which a sort of census is taken along with recording what lands are owned by whom so that the appropriate taxes can be paid to the King. Summoned to the town of Bedwyn near Savernake Forest by the local miller regarding a dispute with the local Abbey over some tracts of land, Ralph and Gervase arrive only to discover that Alric the miller has died--the apparent victim of a brutal wolf attack--throat ripped out and bleeding in the stream. This seems a little too coincidental for our sleuths, and they set out to find who stood to lose by the knowledge the miller would have given to the King's men. I quite enjoyed this introduction to the characters of Ralph and Gervase, with a solution to the murders that I didn't see coming at all. Lots of period detail and atmosphere which was excellent, though the writing style on the whole is just a bit dry in places. I have a couple more of these and will definitely continue on reading, though. B+

20. FLUSH by Carl Hiaasen (audio) Another of Hiaasen's YA books, the theme for this one (like HOOT) is Florida and saving wildlife and the environment. Noah Underwood's father is in jail...again. He's not a bad guy, he just has "principles." He KNOWS that the scumbag owner of a gambling boat dumps raw sewage into the water (instead of the holding tanks they're supposed to use) so he...well, he sinks the boat. Determined to get the public aware and on his side, Mr. Underwood conducts a media campaign from his jail cell. Noah, determined to help his father get the proof he needs, contacts "Lice" (so-named for obvious reasons!) Peking, a former employee of the casino owner--who subsequently goes missing after agreeing to help them. But the Underwoods don't give up that easily, although MRS. Underwood wishes they would, and their marriage is hanging by a precarious thread, much to Noah's dismay. Chock full of Hiaasen's usual quirky characters (including Noah's sister Abby) and environmental themes, this book wasn't as good as Hoot but was still a great listen,with some laugh out loud moments as well as serious issues dealt with, and I have put more of Hiaasen's work on my library download list. B+

21. THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET by Judy Clemens. #2 in the Stella Crown mystery series featuring the amateur sleuth who also is a dairy farmer. Stella sets out to begin life anew after the events of the first book left her good friend and farmhand Howie dead, and herself recovering from a serious motorcycle accident. The first order of business is to hire a new hand. Enter Lucy, a young widowed woman with a little girl, who seems to know her way around a barn and whom Stella likes immediately. But when an anonymous caller warns her off Lucy and there's a visit from Child Protective Services--and then someone paints nasty graffiti directed at Lucy on Stella's barn, Stella begins to wonder if she made the right choice in hiring her. Added to that mystery is Stella's biker friend Lenny, a big teddy bear of a man who it seems has a checkered past which is now coming back to haunt him. Attempted break-ins at his store and home and a brutal attack on his business partner devastate Lenny as he works to confront his demons. I really enjoy this series; the writing style is great, it reads quickly and smoothly and I like the characterizations, too, and am learning a lot about the Mennonite culture--although Stella isn't Mennonite, many of the characters in her series are. The mystery wasn't too much of a mystery in this one, and I'm getting a little weary of Stella's apparently emotionally-stunted personality (for someone so strong and independent, she has a hard time facing personal things) but I still enjoyed it a lot and have put the next one on my library list as they are hard to come by at PBS. B+

22. ALONE AT NIGHT by KJ Erickson. #4 (and as far as I can tell, the last) in the Mars Bahr police procedural series set in Minneapolis. This book tells a case that Mars & Nettie are working on as part of the Cold Case Unit, this one investigating three unsolved convenience store abductions from years previously. The one that intrigues and haunts Mars is the one where a body was never found, having occurred 19 years previously when a seventeen-year-old student named Andrea Bergstad disappeared from the isolated, rural One Stop where she was about to finish her shift. There were precious few clues even back then, and Mars heads back to Redstone Township to talk with the then-sheriff, Sig Sampson, to get a better feel for the case. Of course digging in the past can often dredge up things that someone doesn't want brought to light, and it's not long before Mars believes there is a present-day tie to the case that might be dangerous for anyone looking to discover what really happened to Andrea. This was an excellent entry in the series, although I have mixed feelings about the ending. I wonder whether the author knew this would be the last book--though with several things not resolved, I can't help but think not. It always saddens me when a series that I started out being slightly ambivalent about begins to blossom and then just drops off the face of the earth just as I'm getting truly addicted to it. I keep hoping there will be more. A.

Currently reading: Haven't decided yet!

DNF: After listening for 3 hours, I finally decided to give up on 44 SCOTLAND STREET by Alexander McCall Smith. It’s not that the story is bad—although there isn’t much happening, it’s an interesting peek at the lives of a few wildly different people living in a building in Edinburgh, Scotland. The reason I’m quitting is the reader, who does a very poor job of differentiating between the characters’ voices and often seems to slur his words or try to read parts too fast. I do have the print copy of this and may eventually pick up where I left off in the audio, but no way could I look forward to another 9 hours of listening to (checks audio details) Robert Ian Mackenzie! Why couldn’t they get Sean Connery to read this? LOL

I also tried reading DEATH OF A RED HEROINE by Qiu Xiaolong, which I found to be dry and rather tedious and the main character didn't interest me much. As it was a very long book for a series mystery, I gave up after 50 pages or so, not wanting to slog through another 400+ of the same.