Saturday, April 4, 2009

APRIL '09 Reading

1. IN LIKE FLYNN by Rhys Bowen. #4 Molly Murphy historical mystery set in New York in the early 1900's. Molly, trying hard to be a private investigator and finding the going tough, accepts a timely case from none other than Daniel Sullivan, her policeman "friend." It's timely for a couple of reasons--she's just had a falling out with her current beau, and also there's a typhoid outbreak in the city and this assignment would take her to a manse in the country to investigate a couple of spiritualists that Sullivan believes are fake. He sets up credentials for Molly to assume the identity of one of Senator Barney Flynn's cousins visiting from Ireland in an attempt to cheer up his wife, who is still despondent from their young son's death five years previously in a botched kidnapping. The Sorenson sisters are hoping to help Theresa Flynn speak to the spirit of her son and are also guests of the Flynns. Molly ends up investigating the kidnapping moreso than the spiritualists and of course ends up in a world of trouble when she uncovers some clues that went unnoticed when the case was originally investigated and riles up those involved. A light and fluffy read that does tackle some tough social issues of the times, but there were a few things that happened that did tend to boggle my mind. (Can't say more lest I spoil things for those who've not read it yet. LOL) I did figure out the mystery (and the plot twist) ahead of time but still enjoyed this foray back in time and plan to keep on reading the series. B+

2. STRIPPED by Brian Freeman. #2 Jonathan Stride police procedural, this one moving from Duluth to Las Vegas. An old murder case, once considered solved, is brought to the fore as people related to those who were associated with Amira Luz, murdered exotic dancer, begin to die off. The killer is giving them clues, even deliberately leaving fingerprints at some of the crime scenes, and Jonathan is trying to figure out why as he delves into the past to try to solve the old crime which will almost certainly lead to the present-day killer. When a case Serena (his lover and the reason he moved to Vegas) is working on ties in with his own case, they get the chance to work together again. I liked this book; I love Freeman's writing style and his characters, but this one was a little weird. There seemed to be an inordinate number of G/L/T (gay/lesbian/transgendered) people in it, which I don't have a problem with in any way, it just seemed like the book was overrun with them for some reason, including Stride's new partner Amanda, a 'she-male' who is also a darned good cop. I also didn't like the Vegas setting as well as Duluth, which is a city I dearly love. And I did figure out part of the mystery, although not a couple of the plot twists. I didn't like it quite as well as the first one, but it was still very good and am looking forward to the next in series. A-

3. WHO CUT THE CHEESE? A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE FART by Jim Dawson. Nonfiction humor with plenty of serious, factual information too, although the author usually did slant things to the humorous side. It's hard not to when you're talking about intestinal gas, I suppose! LOL I had this as my 'bathroom book' (with the appropriate bookmark of two squares of toilet tissue) for several weeks and quite enjoyed this foray into the world of farts, and tidbits about how farting has been viewed by various cultures throughout the world in various times, including literary references to the foul wind across the centuries--one of the aptly named chapters being "Lit Farts." You get the idea! LOL I did enjoy this--it was a light, fun read, and I did learn a few facts along the way, too. (Who knew that Whoopi Goldberg devoted a whole chapter of her autobiography to farts? Not me! LOL) Sometimes the humor was a bit forced (a bit like a crosswise fart in that respect I guess! HA!) but all in all an entertaining, worthwhile read. B+

4. HONOLULU by Alan Brennert. Historical fiction set first in Korea in the early 1900's to the 1910's-20's in Honolulu, HI. Tells the story of a Korean girl with the unfortunate name of Regret (female babies were often given these types of negative names) who flees the stifling control of her family's Confucian home in rural Korea to the promised paradise of Hawaii as a "picture bride." When the handsome man who has chosen Regret as his bride ends up not to be the wealthy, wonderful man he was portrayed to be, (he is instead a sugar-cane laborer and a drinking, gambling wife-beater) she also flees the rural plantation where they live to the big city of Honolulu. There she begins a new life pretending to be a widow, and Regret takes several different jobs and has many adventures as she seeks her place in the world. Full of pain, sorrow, and often portraying conditions that are brutal and hard to imagine people living in and through, this is also a hopeful story, and one I very much enjoyed. I learned quite a lot along the way too, having not read much about Korean--or Hawaiian--culture before. I haven't yet read Brennert's other book based in Hawaii, Molo'kai, but it won't be long before I get to it! Well done, very readable style, believable characters and descriptions that will put you right there. A.

5. HARD ROW by Margaret Maron. (AUDIO) #13 Judge Deborah Knott mystery set in Colleton County, NC. Judge Knott begins settling in with her new family, step-son Cal having moved in with she and Dwight after his mother's death in the previous book. It's an adjustment for all concerned, but Deborah is distracted when a case that Dwight is working on (body parts found along a roadside) intersects with a case in her court. It takes some time to identify who the hacked up parts belong to (and to find them all!) but once big-time farmer Buck Harris is identified, a few different suspects come to the fore: his ex-wife, his mistress, and a disgruntled employee or ten, among others. I like the way Maron weaves information and a story about some social issue in each of her books--in this one, it's the fate and the life of migrant workers. As always, the reader is excellent for this series, and the author's writing style and characterizations make for easy reading and listening--and in this case, a resolution to the crime that I didn't see coming, though the clues were there. Maron really makes you wish that these were real people that you could meet and talk to. Only one left to catch up to the end of the series, with the newest due in August. A.

6. THE FALLS by Ian Rankin. #13 DI Rebus Scottish police procedural set in Edinburgh. It's been ages since I read a Rebus--the last couple were rather disappointing to me--but Rankin is back in form with this book. The story, one of a young woman who had set off from her flat to meet some friends for drinks and never showed up, sucked me in right away. It's determined that Philippa Balfour ("Flip" to her friends) was playing a dungeons-and-dragons style game, with clues given by the Quizmaster via e-mail. But was this related to her death or not? Supposedly people who play in this way were anonymous to one another. While Rebus works a possible historical connection to other similar cases, Siobhan Clarke works the computer game angle, and both are trying to adapt to their boss "Farmer" Watson retiring and their former colleague Gill Templer taking his place. There's a new lady in Rebus's life too, which lifts his often dour spirit. Very enjoyable--I only figured out part of the mystery, so it was great to be led a merry chase and to be surprised at the end. Excellent entry in the series! A.

7. A NOBLE RADIANCE by Donna Leon. #7 Commissario Guido Brunetti Italian police mystery set in Venice. Another cold case mystery where an old unsolved case is brought to the forefront when skeletal remains are found in a shallow grave in a village north of Venice when the new owner of an estate begins renovating. A valuable gold ring with a family crest with the body leads authorities to believe that the body is that of twenty-one-year-old Roberto Ludovicio, wealthy heir who was kidnapped two years ago and never found. Dental records confirm this and a bullet hole in the back of the head confirms that he was murdered, but can Brunetti track down the perpetrators with so many of the clues gone dead? Of course--Brunetti finds that the clues are merely dormant, not dead at all, and they lead him on a merry chase, throwing red herrings all over the place. As usual, it's not always possible to obtain justice through the Italian penal and court system, but in Leon's Venice, usually the universe knows what its doing, and this was no exception. I love the author's intellectual mysteries, with much philosophy and excellent cooking as well as vibrant atmosphere included in the bargain. In fact I love it so much, I'm going to do something I've not done in many a moon--read a couple of series books back to back. A+

8. FATAL REMEDIES by Donna Leon. #8 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery in which Guido's wife Paola becomes a lawbreaker. Convinced she must do what she can to stop travel agents from booking "sex tours" to places like Thailand where the tourists have very young girls procured for them in what essentially amounts to rape and pedophelia, Paola gets up in the middle of the night and throws a rock through the window of a local travel agency known to cater to these types of tours. She does this twice and causes a bit of scandal for Guido as the newspapers hound him, her and the Questura. Guido's boss, Patta, puts him on administrative leave until the owner of the travel agency ends up murdered in his apartment--visciously strangled, with a note referring to him being a pedophile. Further investigation of course reveals that Paola's timely rock-throwing just provided an easy excuse for someone else who had it in for the man to kill him. Another solid entry in the series, although I didn't enjoy this one as much as the last--which is my signal that "two in a row is enough." LOL I think it may just have been the subject matter and the emotional roller coaster that Guido was on in part, though. A-

9. REAPER MAN by Terry Pratchett #11 in publication order of the Discworld humorous fantasy series in which DEATH gets a vacation and an hourglass of his own! When DEATH stops coming around, what happens? People who are supposed to die, don't. Case in point, Windle Poons, venerable hundred and thirty year old Bursar at Unseen University. His time is up--he knows it and so does everyone else. So why is he still alive? Er...or rather, undead? Because DEATH is having a working vacation on a ranch under the assumed name of handyman Bill Door, using his scythe to harvest the hay and being decidedly squeamish about butchering chickens. LOL And when things stop dying, life force starts building up--which can only lead to dire (if hilarious!) consequences. As usual, Pratchett's wacky (and yet, still rather profound at times) world never fails to leave me smiling, laughing and chortling with glee--and as always, I often found myself reading only to have the real meaning of some goofy phrase or concept that I read about a few pages previous dawn on me, paging backwards to reread portions of it. Nothing to be said except that Terry Pratchett is a genius! A+

10. BUTCHER'S HILL by Laura Lippmann (AUDIO) #3 Tess Monaghan mystery series set in Baltimore. Tess, now an official private investigator, is hired by two people--the first, a woman who claims to be looking for her long lost sister and the second an elderly man who is just out of prison, having been put there because he shot a neighborhood boy to death when he was harassing the old man. Luther Beale, "The Butcher" of Butcher's Hill wants Tess to find the other children who were with Donny Moore when he died to attempt to compensate them in some way for their suffering, but since they were minors in the foster care system, they won't be easily tracked down. Of course both cases end up being more complicated than they first seem, although I figured out much of both of them fairly early, the main mystery was a bit of a surprise ending for me. I enjoyed this book but not as much as I did the previously book in the series. The reader is pretty good, just not a favorite, and while I mostly like Tess, many of her supporting characters are annoying as heck. Still, a solid entry in the series and I look forward to the next, whether I end up reading in print or listening to it. B+

11. CHARLIE BONE AND THE INVISIBLE BOY by Jenny Nimmo (AUDIO) #3 in the Children of the Red King YA fantasy series, in which Charlie once again seeks to help out someone that the Bloors have enslaved. This time it's Oliver, an invisible boy they're hiding in the attic. Oliver was made invisible by an ensorcelled blue Boa Constrictor. Who is on Charlie's side and who's on the Bloors' becomes more defined in this book, as a pretty new girl, Belle, arrives at Bloor Academy. There's a lot happening in this book! Charlie also has responsibility for his friend Benjamin's dog, Runner Bean, as Benjamin is off to Hong Kong with his private detective parents on a case. Of course this complicates matters a bit, too, as Charlie is worried about his Uncle Paton, who has come up very ill after a week-long absence in which he tries to find out what his nasty sisters are up to. Excellent story as always and I really look forward to listening to the next one! A.

12. HIGH PRIESTESS by David Skibbins. #2 Warren Ritter "Tarot" mystery, featuring the old hippie radical fugitive from the law, now a tarot reader on the street in San Francisco. Warren is also bipolar and heavily involved in therapy attempting to deal with his checkered past. Warren (aka Richard Green in his previous life) is visited by a ghost from his past--someone who knew him back in his days with the Weathermen, a radical anti-war group from the 60's. Edward Hightower (also an assumed name) is now the leader of a small church--an offshoot of the Church of Satan. Their members are dropping like flies and Edward (with his sister, Veronique--who also happens to be Warren's ex-girlfriend) wants Warren to find out who. Instant suspects include several hyper-religious folks who sent threatening e-mails to Edward and the group, tracked down by Warren's current girlfriend Sally--a paraplegic computer hacker. But those solutions seem almost too easy, and soon it's rather obvious that those people haven't committed the string of murders. But someone wants Warren to take the fall for that--so the next crime is brilliantly set up to make him look like the bad guy. Now he has no choice but to investigate and clear his borrowed name. I really like this series! Warren is a definitely flawed and fallible but very likable guy, and the author obviously has mental health experience (I believe he's a therapist of some sort) as he portrays the bipolar swings very accurately. The solution to the mystery was quite simple, but Skibbins manages to still eke out a dynamite twist at the end. Loved it! A+

13. THE SNAKE STONE by Jason Goodwin. #2 in the Yashim the Eunuch historical mystery series set in 1830's Istanbul. The sultan is dying, and the city is in a peculiar mood. Yashim, who works for the sultan, hasn't been summoned to the palace in months, so he's perfectly free to investigate the murder of a French archaelogist on his own behalf. Dr. Lefevre had been a guest in Yashim's home the day before he died and he had been asking a lot of nosy questions about valuable Greek artifacts. He sought a ship back to France which Yashim helped him procure and then his body was found, gutted stem to stern and half-eaten by dogs a couple of days later. With lack of any other suspects, the French ambassador can only conclude that Yashim had something to do with his death, so he sets out to remove the cloud of suspicion from his good name before the ambassador files his final report. Steeped in history, myth and legend, the tale leads Yashim to several different neighborhoods of the city and even below it, as other people that Dr. Lefevre talked to end up attacked or dead also. When his widow arrives, not yet knowing she is a widow, things get even more complicated. An excellent story, full of the culture, sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Istanbul (I want to hire Yashim as my personal chef!!), with lots of history and the added bonus of secrets well-kept and secret societies, this was a very enjoyable read. A.

14. THE WHITE DRAGON by Anne McCaffrey. (AUDIO) #3 in the DragonRiders of Pern fantasy series, which features primarily Jaxom, soon-to-be Lord holder and also dragonrider of the world's only white dragon. Jaxom, still a very young man of eighteen, does much maturing during this book as he finds his way through his confusing position in life--should he focus on being Lord of the hold, or on being a Dragonrider? How can he be both? Exciting new discoveries are made regarding the ancestors of Pern and the three stars known as The Dawn Sisters. It's discovered that they are fixed entities, not stars at all, and when mysterious traveling ships are found during an excavation, it's believed that they may be somehow tied to those ships. Excellent entry in this series and I look forward to the next, although I have noticed that despite its age, it seems to be rather difficult to find. A.

15. DEAD BEAT by Jim Butcher. #7 in the Harry Dresden paranormal mystery series. Something foul is afoot in Chicago, as usual. The evil vampire queen Mavra contacts Harry, basically blackmailing him into searching for a much-sought-after item called The Word of Kemmler. Kemmler was a necromancer--one who could animate the dead, essentially make zombies of them. The White Council had hunted and killed him years previously, but someone (several someones probably!) want his power. Under normal circumstances, Harry would tell Mavra to go fly a kite--in the sun!--but the trump card she's playing has Harry's friend Karrin Murphy, police detective in charge of the Special Investigations department, as the bait. If Harry doesn't cooperate, Mavra will see to it that Murphy's career is ruined. So Harry cooperates--or at least gives the appearance of doing so. This leads him down a twisty path to first of all find out what The Word of Kemmler might be and then locating it. As usual, this is never as easy as it seems as unplanned-for obstacles litter Harry's path. An enjoyable, quick read with a marvelous writing style and a lovely visit with Harry. I do enjoy this paranormal series because it's not chock full of romancey bullcrap like so many of them are. I wish we could visit the poor guy when things are quiet and he actually has time to eat and sleep, but I guess that would be kind of boring! Looking forward to the next. A.

16. GET OUT OR DIE by Jane Finnis. #1 in the Aurelia Marcella historical mystery series set in A.D. 91 in Roman Britannia. Aurelia runs the local mansio (inn) with her sister and with their brother Lucius' permission--he is technically the owner, but as an army spy, is away "on business" most of the time. When a series of local attacks occur, with Roman travelers being killed and left with a badge that says "Get Out or Die!" Aurelia feels threatened to her core, especially as one of the victims is left for dead in her courtyard! But Quintus is another spy, like her brother, although he is loathe to tell her much at first. They all decide that the best way to return their small village to safety is to catch "The Shadow of Death" who is organizing the attacks is to catch him. The list of suspects includes some of Aurelia's friends and the town leaders, and although I knew right away who it was, it took Aurelia and company ages to figure it out. I did quite enjoy the book--the settings and characters were very well drawn, the writing style was easy to read, and I learned plenty of new things about that era. However, I did find the book a bit draggy in the midsection especially and it seemed like they hashed over the suspects' motives, means and opportunities to commit the various crimes over and over again to the point where it became repetitive--which is the only reason I didn't give it top marks. I will definitely be on the lookout for the next book in series and hope that the editor had a bit more a judicious hand with the draggy bits. B+

Currently reading: WATER LIKE A STONE by Deborah Crombie (#11 Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mystery.) In audio, I'm listening to The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, second in a YA fantasy series.

DNF: MAD SEASON by Nancy Means Wright. I slogged through about 50 pages and just found the writing style stilted and the whole storyline confusing. Couldn't get into it at all. WICKED WEAVES (Renaissance Faire mystery #1) by Jim and Joyce Lavene. Oh, boy, I'm sorry but that book was just BAD...I did read 50 pages but it almost killed me.