Wednesday, July 8, 2009


1. THE LAMMAS FEAST by Kate Sedley. #11 Roger the Chapman medieval mystery. Roger is firmly ensconced at home in Bristol with his growing family (wife Adela, daughter Elizabeth, step-son Nicholas and new baby Adam) and feeling a little smothered, especially in the heat of summer in the small one-room cabin they're renting from the Priory. So when a series of murders plague the city, Roger of course is interested and begins poking his nose into the investigation as the Lammas Day festivities and week-long St. James' Fair approach. The sheriff's deputy is content to accept whatever solution seems easier, but Roger believes all the murders are tied together and seeks to figure out why and how. The mystery in this book (like pretty much every one in the series so far) was rather painfully obvious--it's kind of funny actually because each time I read one of these, I figure it out very early and then think, "Oh surely not!" and think the author's just throwing out a red herring. But it never is! LOL But despite that, I really do enjoy the books--the characters, the settings, the period details--it just 'works' for me despite the simplicity of the mysteries. A.

2. EATERS OF THE DEAD by Michael Crichton. (AUDIO) Narrated by the incomparable George Guidall, I figured I would finally investigate the book behind one of my favorite movies of all time (The 13th Warrior.) This is one case where the movie outshines the book. It's not that it's a bad book, it's just rather dry, being a slight dramatization, Crichton's take on a real historical document, a journal kept by one Ahmad ibn Fadlan of his travels as an ambassador from the Caliph of Baghdad to the Volga Bulgars. On the way, he was sidetracked and ended up on adventures with a band of Vikings, going deep into their cold north lands and seeing many things that were an affront to him and his Muslim religion; this took place in the 10th century. As a journal meant to relay facts, it was somewhat of a recitation (we saw this, we did that, we spent this many days here and traveled that many days until the next stop...and the phrase "I saw this with my own eyes" was used a lot, too.) While Crichton obviously embellished and made it more interesting than it probably was in reality, there were a lot of asides and footnotes, which the reader did very well, using different tones of voice to indicate a further explanation which was not a part of Fadlan's actual journal. It was a good listen, especially because of Guidall's reading. There were some differences between the movie and the book, but the basic premise was the same. B.

3. A COTSWOLD KILLING by Rebecca Tope. #1 Thea Osborne mystery, set in (duh!) the Cotswolds. Thea is a forty-something year-old recently widowed house sitter--a brand new house sitter on her first job minding the home of Clive and Jennifer Reynolds while they are on a Caribbean holiday. On the first full day of her occupation, she discovers a dead body in the pond on the Reynolds' property, which considerably livens up what promised to be a rather dull three weeks following Clive's extensive "do this and that" lists. Thea's brother-in-law is a Chief Inspector in another area but has apparently been "looking into" some sort of fishy business in that area and although he won't elaborate, Thea wonders if this death has something to do with James's investigation. There is an odd cast of villagers, and definitely something 'weird' about many of them, and with Thea not knowing them or the history of the interactions there, it's all that much more difficult to know what's going on. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed with this book; it was disjointed and not really cohesive. I couldn't get a good sense of who Thea was as a person, and her actions were often very contradictory from one minute to the next. It wasn't really bad, just sort of... "meh" I guess. This series of books has been hard to come by--I've had the second and third books on my wishlist at PBS for about a year and a half and have only moved up one spot on one of the books. My library doesn't have them either, so being that I was not bowled over with excellence in this opening entry, I think I will delete them from my WL and relegate this series to one of those I'm choosing not to pursue. C.

4. DEATH OF A COZY WRITER by G.M. Malliet. #1 St. Just mystery. Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk is a writer of cozy British mysteries, and he's also an absolute beast. Pompous, phony, and cruel to his family, frequently changing his will in favor of whichever of his children has momentarily pleased him (or displeased him the least), he decides to have some real fun by inviting his four children to his wedding. They are aghast of course, seeing a threat to their inheritances, but they all head toward his manor, figuratively attempting to elbow their way into his favor and hopefully talk him out of this marriage to an obvious gold digger. (It takes one to know one!) Then Sir Adrian drops the bombshell that his marriage is a done deal, that he and Violet are already man and wife and that his will has (yet again) been changed--but he doesn't say how. Shortly thereafter, Sir Adrian's eldest child Ruthven is brutally murdered, and it's not long before he follows his son to the afterlife. Just about everyone has motive to kill one or another of them, so who dunnit? I admit that I was surprised by the ending, but to be honest, I didn't much care by that point. The book started very slowly, and I nearly gave it up since by the time I hit page 100 (1/3 of the way through the book) there had not yet been a murder, nor had we met DCI St. Just, our intrepid hero. There was just too much set-up, and in reflecting back, the set-up didn't really give many clues to the murderer. Once St. Just entered the scene, things did improve. I like him, and Sgt. Fear too, and wish that his character had been more developed. There is some wry humor that I found amusing, but the overall package of this book was just mediocre to me. I will likely read the next one, but I've deleted it from my wishlist and just added it to my library list. If St. Just develops further in that book I would say the series has promise. C+

5. THE RAVENS OF BLACKWATER by Edward Marston. #2 in the Domesday medieval mysteries, featuring Gervase Bret and Ralph Delchard and their cohorts Canon Hubert and Brother Simon, who travel around England at the behest of King William the Conqueror. The year is 1086, and the mission of our motley crew is to compile a so-called Domesday Book, in which every person and their lands are catalogued--and of course, appropriately taxed. They investigate cases of fraud, where landholders bilk other people out of their rightful property on the sly and in doing so avoid paying the taxes owed the King. In this case, they are off to Blackwater Hall near the town of Maldon in Essex. The local lord, Hamo FitzCorbucion, has apparently been stealing lands for years and several have finally complained, despite the risk of being killed for speaking out. Upon arrival, Gervase and Ralph learn that Hamo is out of the country and his eldest son Guy has just been brutally slain. Gervase, a lawyer, becomes interested in the case and they come to the conclusion that the murder is indeed related to their land-grab investigation, and thus they stay to get it all sorted out. This is only the second in the series, but already I think it will become one of my favorites. Gervase and Ralph are two very different characters--Gervase being a gentle soul who is betrothed to his beloved Alys and chaste, Ralph being a Knight who fought in King William's battles to conquer England and a man of lusty appetites. While this does occasionally cause some conflict, the two genuinely like each other and are friends, so it works well. The two clerics who travel with them round off the foursome, and the secondary characters are also interesting and well-drawn. The mysteries are also well-done, with plenty of clues dropped along the way, including some enticing red herrings that always seem to lead me astray to the wrong conclusion. I'm not often surprised anymore, so that's always a treat. I did figure out part of this one but not until very close to the end. Well done and looking forward to more! A+

6. DRANGONSINGER by Anne McCaffrey (AUDIO) #2 Harper Hall trilogy in the Pern series. This book continues where the first in this trilogy-within-a-huge-series left off, with fifteen-year-old Menolly, formerly of Half-Circle Sea Hold, now at the Harper Hall, where musicians are trained. The book chronicles her first week in the Hall, her wonderment and awe at how her music-making is not only welcomed but encouraged--at Half-Circle, girls were not allowed to become Harpers, so she was actually beaten for writing music and singing her tunes! It tells of the adjustment of those in the Hall to her, and more pointedly, to her nine fire lizards, which had previously been thought to be naught but mythical creatures. There are friendships made, and enemies acquired as well--as there are bound to be jealousies when someone has as much natural talent as Menolly. It is a week of huge changes and adjustment for Menolly, and it was a delight to have this reader (Sally Darling) take us through all those highs and lows. I am particularly enjoying this trilogy within the greater Pern series and hope that even after it has been completed, we will return to Menolly's story at some point later on. A+

7. WIFE OF THE GODS by Kwei Quartey. Debut novel (not sure if it is an intended series or not) featuring Detective Inspector Darko Dawson in Accra, the major city in Ghana, Africa. Dawson is off to a small village near the city of Ho in the Volta region when a young medical student is found murdered in the forest. Gladys Mensah was an outspoken young medical student who volunteered much of her time educating neighboring villages about HIV and prevention. She was also outspoken against trokosi, or ritual enslavement of women by so-called fetish priests. Were one of these activities what got Gladys killed, or was it something personal? Though she seemed to be universally loved by all who knew her, the suspect list is by no means short. Darko is called in from Accra (bypassing Ho CID) when some political pressure is brought to bear. He's suited to the task as he speaks Ewe, the regional dialect, and he has family in the area--an aunt and uncle whom he hasn't seen since he was a child, when his mother disappeared. The mystery of his mother's disappearance is also brought into the present-day investigation. I really enjoyed this book--it was from a culture that I know little about which always sparks my interest. I had mixed feelings about Darko--though I liked him, he had a problem with rage that he didn't seem to be able to handle well, which was more than a little disturbing in some instances. The writing style was fluid and easy to read. The only downfall really is that the plot was so transparent. I did figure the mystery out very early on (both of them, actually!) but I do that a lot, so it didn't lower my appreciation for the book as a whole very much. I hope the author continues with more Darko Dawson books--I would definitely look for them and would like to hear more about what happens with Darko, his wife Christine and their son Hosiah. While I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith's series set in Botswana, it's nice to have a flip side to Mma Ramotswe's Africa, a darker and more realistic side. Well-done first book! B+

8. FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES by Donna Leon. #9 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice, Italy. Guido gets a big surprise one lazy Saturday morning when Franco Rossi, an official from the housing commission pays him a visit to essentially tell him that his apartment doesn't exist. In reviewing and reconciling building permits and architectural plans, it seems his downstairs neighbor has the top floor of his apartment building and any permits and building done after that is null and void. Rossi tells him the commission will be in touch, but it's several weeks later when Guido hears from the man again--this time, Rossi makes a call stating that he hadn't realized at the time of the visit that Guido was a policeman and now there is something fishy going on at his office that he wants to talk to him about. He's calling from a cell phone which Guido says isn't secure and asks him to call back from a public pay phone. Rossi never calls and Guido discovers that he is in a coma in hospital from a fall, but never regains conciousness and dies. Meanwhile, Vice-Questore Patta's son is nicked on a drugs charge while at University and Patta asks Guido to use his network of contacts to keep it out of the papers. As is often the case with this series, there isn't really a hard and fast solution to the crime and justice seems a bit nebulous. But I enjoy them to the hilt. With the wonderful characters and setting, a visit to Brunetti's Venice always throws me thoroughly into another culture. A

9. A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE by Malla Nunn (AUDIO) A powerful book set in 1952 South Africa, when apartheid was just 'ramping up' and the laws that separated and regulated race were newly enacted. DS Emmanuel Cooper is sent from Johannesburg CID to investigate the murder of a white policeman near the village of Jacob's Rest. Captain Willem Pretorius, an Afrikaner with an impeccable reputation is found in the river, shot twice. The whole town is grieving--particularly his sons--large, brutish louts certain of their rightful place in the world and their God-given right to wreak retribution on whoever killed their Pa. Certain that this heinous crime had to be committed by someone passing through, probably a native African or "colored" (mixed race) person, the family attempt to shanghai Cooper's investigation, which is already compromised because those of the "lesser classes" are very reluctant to speak out against anyone of the ruling Afrikaner class. When the Security Branch of the government moves in and begins attempting to tie Pretorius' murder to a Communist plot, Cooper is essentially shoved aside and assigned to working on a series of attacks and rapes of colored women in the year previous to Pretorius' death--which, that case being of little import to anyone in power, is a real slap in the face. During that investigation, he continues to glean information with the help of Constable Shabalala, Pretorius' Zulu co-worker, about Captain Pretorius that shows him that despite the public show of grief, there are many people who are relieved that he is dead and that the town leader was not as spotless as believed. Shabalala remains rather reticent about his longtime friend, yet always stands behind Cooper in his investigation.This was a great book--I can't say I always enjoyed it per se, as there are a lot of unsettling and unpleasant parts to it, things to make ones blood boil, but the author strives for the mood and realistic setting for how things were at the time. The reader (Saul Reichlin) was excellent, handling many different accents and voices very well. The plot was rather complicated with several sub-plots that were almost more interesting than the murder mystery itself. Parts of the mysteries I figured out well in advance but not the actual "whodunit" itself. Excellent--not sure if this will become a series with Cooper featured in more books, but if it is, I will definitely be seeking them. A+

10. MURDER IN LITTLE ITALY by Victoria Thompson. "Gaslight" historical mystery #8 set in early 1900's New York with widowed midwife Sarah Brandt and Detective Frank Malloy. Summoned to the Ruocco home above their Italian restaurant in Little Italy to help deliver a baby, Sarah Brandt soon finds trouble on her hands when the size of the baby points out obviously that Antonio Ruocco could not possibly be the baby's father--even allowing for the fact that Nainsi O'Hara was pregnant when they married, they were expecting a seven-month baby instead of the full-term plus size baby she delivered. Nainsi's mother-in-law, Patrizia, matriarch of the famity, wants
her to take the bastard baby and go. Sarah convinces her to let Nainsi stay until she's recovered, but she returns the following morning to check on her patient only to find her dead. Nainsi's mother, arriving a short time later, begins screaming that the Italian family killed her daughter, and insists the police be called. Thus Sarah ends up working again with Frank Malloy, who has been directed by Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt (a friend of Sarah's prominent family) to solve this crime and fast as the death sparks a series of riots between Italian and Irish gangs and threatens to rip the city of New York apart. This was a light, enjoyable read, typical of the series with a mystery that wasn't too hard to figure out but a nice visit with "old friends" in the form of the main characters. There was some interesting details about the political machinations of the gangs and the rampant corruption in the city at that time. Looking forward to the next one. A.

11. DEATH'S HALF-ACRE by Margaret Maron. (AUDIO) #14 Judge Deborah Knott mystery, narrated by C.J. Critt. Spring has arrived in Colleton County, North Carolina and once again the debate as to whether to develop and build or to preserve and protect the countryside ramps up. Many issues are being hotly debated among friends, family and colleagues of Judge Knott, and the County Commissioners have their plates full. When the head of the Commission turns up missing for an important meeting and then later is found dead of an apparent suicide--with a letter implicating herself and vaguely hinting at impropriety of others--everyone who knew Candace Bradshaw
is surprised. Not necessarily that the ambitious woman might have been doing some shady deals, but that she would kill herself over it. Sure enough, a couple of days later, Deborah's husband deputy sheriff Dwight Bryant learns from the coroner that Candace was murdered, and with a list of suspects as long as your arm, it's not going to be easy to narrow it down. Of course Deborah tries to remain cool and uninterested but her curiosity gets the better of her and soon she is in the thick of things. Meanwhile, Deborah spots her octogenarian father Kezzie having a very expensive pair of earrings appraised and wonders what he's got up his sleeve--but knows better than to ask outright. Let's just say that her old Daddy is just as sharp as he ever was and a bit of the rogue con man comes to the surface in his caper. A very enjoyable trip down south with Deborah and her very large extended family, as always. I spotted the killer very early on, but it was just that old gut instinct kicking in--there were several times I doubted my proclamation but at the end I was right after all. I'm all caught up with this series now--although the next one comes out in August. A

12. WARBREAKER by Brandon Sanderson. This is a stand-alone fantasy novel, one in which the author creates a totally unique world, a world where things don't quite work as we know them, a world with BioChromatic Breath--which is used almost like currency. Don't have it, and you're a Drab. Have enough and you're practically a God. This is several stories within a story, woven skillfully together into a cohesive epic tale that grabs hold of you and won't let you put the book down. Siri is the third (read: unimportant) daughter of the King of Idris and is shocked when her father sends her to Hallandren to wed the God-King Susebron instead of her older sister Vivenna, who has been groomed for just that position her entire life. Vivenna decides to attempt to rescue her sister, whom she feels must be totally out of her element and miserable, and in doing so breaks out of her 'perfect, compliant daughter' mode and hooks up with a band of mercenaries who had been helping one of her father's spies in Hallandren. Lightbringer, one of the Returned Gods of Hallandren, begins having flashes of memory of his previous life--do these visions relate to present day as prophecy or are they just memories? And who are (or were) Vasher and Denth, opposing each other in an effort to start (or stop?) a war? A tale of two very differing religions and countries, with lifestyles and beliefs that are miles apart, headed towards what seems an inevitable war. Political and religious intrigue, dark magic, and a whole host of people who are not who or what they seem, combine together with Sanderson's easy reading style to make this an excellent read. He writes in such a way that you care about all the characters, even though they are on opposing sides and are very different people. This was the first Sanderson book I've read, and I can assure you it won't be the last. A+

13. KITTY TAKES A HOLIDAY by Carrie Vaughn. #3 Kitty Norville paranormal mystery. Kitty has decided to take a break from hosting her supernatural talk show, The Midnight Hour, and heads for the hills (an isolated cabin in the mountains) to work on writing a book she's contracted for to share her life and experiences since becoming a werewolf four years previously. She's not making much progress, but her efforts are interrupted by the appearance of werewolf-hunter Cormac with her friend and lawyer Ben O'Farrell, who has been bitten and is now also a werewolf. Cormac hopes that Kitty can help Ben through the horrible first days and weeks and the first "change" at the full moon. Cormac and Ben have been best friends since childhood and at one time gave a promise to each other to kill the other if they ever were to become a lycanthrope. Cormac couldn't follow through on that promise and Ben is angry, but the situation is complicated by the fact that there was "something else" working with the wolf who bit Ben that got away, and Cormac is determined to hunt it down. While longing for some solitude, Kitty is happy to help Ben but then finds that the neighbors are not so keen on having a werewolf next door and Kitty begins receiving threats, dead animals on her doorstep and some kind of odd curse with barbed-wire crosses strewn around her cabin--and then Cormac's 'evil thing' shows up and makes itself known, but the hostile sheriff thinks Kitty is behind some attacks on cattle some few miles away. Things take a romantic twist (of course!) but it was well-done and not off-putting to me like some romantic side plots can be, so I'll definitely keep reading the series. Enjoyable, quick read. A.

14. MISTER MONDAY by Garth Nix. (AUDIO) #1 in the "Keys to the Kingdom" young adult fantasy series. Young Arthur Penhaligon,during the throes of an asthma attack in gym class, comes close to death before help is summoned, and has what he thinks is a
hallucination, being given a piece of metal and told it is a Key. When he takes this key, his asthma all but disappears and he feels verywell--and the person (Mister Monday) who gave him the key now wants it back. But Arthur is warned to not let him have it and told that he is the heir apparent to the Key, which is part of the Will and is suddenly drawn into a strange world inside an invisible house that only
he can see. He willingly goes into this house when a devastating plague strikes his city and he receives a clue that the cure can be found inside--and as a plague killed his real parents when he was but a baby, he is determined that his adoptive parents will not suffer the same fate. Once inside, he finds out that he is in a house that defies space and time and that it's inhabited by Denizens, who are creatures created by the house itself, and by the children who followed the fabled Pied Piper into it (from the real world, which are called The Secondary Realms) and have become immortal slaves of the House. As he travels through the strange world of the House, he meets various characters--some in the employ of Mister Monday that he flees from, and others who work to help him figure out what to do--and hopefully come up with the plague cure, too. While this book had an interesting premise and a good reader, I did occasionally find my mind wandering and it didn't hold me spellbound as some audio books do. That might be due to being distracted by other things, and I did feel that it's a good start to a series that encompasses all seven days of the week, and I presume Arthur will have to navigate through each of those (the namesake of each day has a Key that is one of the seven fragments of the Will) so that he's able to save the world. LOL Will definitely listen on! B+.

15. HALF THE BLOOD OF BROOKLYN by Charlie Huston. #3 Joe Pitt paranormal noir mystery. Joe is a vampire, infected with the Vyrus, and now is the head of security for one of the vampire gangs that control New York. Gone is his carefree life as a Rogue, answering only to himself--but also gone is the constant scrabbling for a living, for having a decent supply of blood. Terry, his boss and the head of the Society clan, is trying to keep the balance between the clans (and maybe expand his membership a bit) and asks Joe to protect Lydia (his assistant) in a meeting across the bridge with the boss of a small clan they hope to annex. Joe is distracted because his girlfriend Evie who has AIDS, is in hospital and failing rapidly. He has been trying to decide if he should just infect her with the Vyrus (which will kill her instantly or cure her AIDS) and make her a vampire--something he sees as a horrid last resort--or let her die. Evie doesn't even know he's a vampire at this point, so he can't even offer her the choice! There is also a strange "Van Helsing" (vampire slayer) at work, who knows his stuff, and Joe is trying to figure that into the current happenings as well. At any rate, when they head across the bridge into Brooklyn, there's big trouble waiting in the form of a previously hidden clan of Jewish vampires, who are much more powerful than Joe or anyone anticipated, and he learns that all is not what it seems and his loyalties--such as they are--are tested
again and he has some major decisions to make. Some of those decisions are made for him, and he's not crazy about the choices that were made. Dark, gloomy, violent and abrasive and without an ounce of goodness and light, this book is typical Charlie Huston fare, and propels Joe Pitt down the same bloody path he's been wandering for decades, only at a faster pace. Plenty of plot twists and turns to turn up the odd surprise and with enough issues unresolved that you know you have to read the next installment to find out what happens. This book (and series) is great for what it is, but I couldn't thrive on a continual diet of this doom and gloom. A.

16. THE WATER ROOM by Christopher Fowler. #2 Bryant and May mystery, featuring our two elderly policemen and the entire PCU (Peculiar Crimes Unit) in London. The unit is finally ready to move into their refurbished quarters after the fire that destroyed nearly everything at the end of the first book in the series. Bryant and May, both fearing that their boss is going dissolve their unit at the drop of a hat, are determined to keep themselves and their subordinates busy. They begin to investigate cases brought to them by friends or acquaintances, and find that their cases begin to intersect with the hidden rivers of London as their common ground. Ruth Singh, an elderly woman of Indian descent, is found dead by her brother--sitting in a chair in her basement looking as though she's ready to go out to do the weekly shopping. She's totally dry, but autopsy reveals that she has Thames water--in her mouth and esophagus, but she didn't drown--she asphyxiated from laryngospasm. But how did the water get there?? Bryant is certain foul play is involved and sets out obsessively to prove it. May undertakes a favor for an old lover who has become concerned that her museum curator husband has started doing something illegal that will get them into trouble with the law--he's meeting a known dodgy character in areas that deal with old riverbeds under London's streets, and for the life of them, Bryant & May cannot think of what his interest might be or what they are up to. I enjoyed this book even more than I did the first one--it's not often you have detectives worrying about seeds under their dentures or chest pains when going up several flights of stairs. Both eccentric in different ways, these two lead their younger colleagues into thinking outside the box to solve these odd cases. The prose is very descriptive and the author has a wonderful way with words and phraseology. I had to look up a few words that I'd never heard of before--which always makes me happy. And I didn't figure the mystery out, either. Wonderful stuff, and I will definitely not be waiting too long to get to the next in series! A+

17. FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS by Cherie Priest. First book in the Eden Moore trilogy--not sure how to classify it. Sort of Southern gothic horror paranormal mystery ghost story? LOL Eden Moore is a young mixed-race woman who's seen ghosts ever since she was a young girl. Her childhood and parentage are shrouded in mystery, her mother having died in a home for troubled teenagers during Eden's birth, her father's identity unknown. Lovingly raised by her Aunt Lulu and Uncle Dave near Chattanooga, Tennessee, they give her everything she needs except the answers to questions about her past. She was attacked by a religious nut when she's just a young girl, and is spared from death because the three sisters (her ghosts) warn her that he's coming. Later, Eden learns that Malachi is a relative who thinks she's the reincarnation of an evil person from generations back in their family tree. As a young woman, Eden sets out to find the answers that Lulu refuses to give her, which leads her on a trail of horror, danger, and pure evil as she travels from Tennessee to Georgia and then the swamplands of Florida as she tries to work out who to trust and what to do next. Steeped in Southern mythology, this ghost story grabbed me in from the first page and wouldn't let me go. While the plotting seems a bit wobbly at times and all the ghosts, ancestors and their relationships are sometimes confusing (there's some inbreeding and I'm still not sure of a couple of the ties) Eden's character grows during the course of the book and by the end, I've come to like her very much. The ending is a bit anti-climactic but there are hints of stories yet untold which I presume will be unfolded in the other two books in the series. I'm glad I've already got them or I'd have to go hunting them down! A-.

18. CHINA TRADE by S.J. Rozan #1 Lydia Chin and Bill Smith mystery set in New York's Chinatown. Lydia Chin is a 20-something private investigator. She's also Chinese-American with a large family including a mother and several brothers who would like nothing better than for her to be a traditional woman--meaning to marry and learn her "place" and stop bringing disgrace to the family. But Lydia is not so inclined. In this first entry in the series, a friend who runs a small Chinese museum called Chinese Pride hires her to find some porcelains that were recently donated to the museum by the widow of a collector--only two crates of the newest additions were stolen from their basement. Because they don't want word to get out that they can't properly safeguard donations, they hire Lydia rather than contact the police. Lydia works with a sometime partner, another PI, "older white guy" Bill Smith, and she calls him in on this case. They seem to have a sort of semi-romantic relationship--Lydia is reluctant to get involved with him because of her family, and Bill obviously cares for Lydia but is content to just bide his time, at least for now. They begin investigating this case by trying to hear of any word on the street and consulting other museums and some of Bill's contacts (read: fences) to try to locate the porcelains. A complicated tale involving rival museums/porcelain collectors, a ghost from Lydia's past, import-export dealers, the unsavory leaders of a couple of local Chinese gangs, and Lydia's best friend Mary, a police detective. Great first entry in the series! This isn't really a 'cozy' mystery, but it isn't real hard-boiled either. I like Lydia and her independent spirit a lot. Bill is less well-fleshed in this book, but I understand that Rozan alternates between their two points of view in each book, so I'm assuming we'll get to know him better next time. (Interesting concept, by the way!) I liked the details about Chinese-American culture and values and the writing style was relaxed and easy to read. I'm impressed enough that I've already ordered books 2 and 3 from PBS. A.

19. THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM by Matt Beynon Rees. #1 Omar Yussef mystery set in Bethlehem, Israel. Omar Yussef is a fifty-six-year-old history teacher, an alcoholic who's been dry for ten years. Obviously not a devout Muslim, he does the best he can in an ever-changing, violent world to teach his students right from wrong and respect for all. When one of his former students, George Saba, is accused of being a collaborator with the Israelites and murdering one of the local heros, Omar takes a leave of absence from his school and sets out to investigate so he can prove his friend's innocence. Of course, he's been living too long with his head in an idealistic cloud, and in reality, those in power need a scapegoat and since they hold all the cards, they thwart Omar Yussef's efforts at every turn. After awhile, he isn't even sure that people he's considered close friends and confidantes (including the head of the police in Bethlehem) for many years aren't pulling strings against him. Does he take the easy way out and go with the flow to keep his family safe, or does he soldier on in the name of what he believes is right? Probably not a dilemma many of us can identify with on a very real and visceral level. Despite being in a setting that is brand new to me, with lots of interesting cultural details, one thing the book shows is that humans are human wherever you go--and motives for murder like power and greed cross national, religious and cultural borders. Very interesting first entry in series. It's difficult to read about an area of the world that has existed as a war-torn scrap of land for so very long, but I am always glad to learn about new areas and cultures. I did figure the mystery out ahead of time, but it was just a good guess or my gut feeling--I felt like I was on shaky ground being so unfamiliar with the culture and missed a lot of clues, I think, and sometimes had to stop to rearrange my thoughts. I liked Omar despite his sometimes petty vanity and stubbornness and I look forward to getting to know him better. B+.

20. THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION by Michael Chabon. (AUDIO) Set in modern-day Sitka, Alaska, but in a modern world changed inexorably by an alternative history--one in which, during WWII, Berlin was nuked, where Jews are resettled in Sitka (a proposal FDR actually put forth but which went nowhere in "our" world) as a temporary homeland--whose lease is now about to expire and which will leave "the frozen Chosen" in limbo. With reversion imminent, Sitka detective Meyer Landsman, a bit of a drunken rogue, is awakened to a call that someone in his own building (a flea-bitten hotel) has been murdered. Divorced for several years, Landsman discovers that his ex-wife (also a cop) Bina Gelbfish is back in town and is now his superior officer. As they attempt to piece together who killed the heroin addict who was Landsman's neighbor, they discover that the dead man is actually the once-loved son of the local head of the Verbover Jewish sect, who was rumored at one time to be a possible messiah. The story quickly becomes much more complicated than a simple murder investigation--soon there are conspiracies between the Jewish gangs, the leaders of the reversion committee, even the US Government! I love Chabon's writing style, and the premise for the book is certainly interesting. The plot, however, becomes a bit tangled along the way, and at least in the audio version, a bit confusing at times with a prodigious number of characters and some shifting back and forth in time that wasn't always easy to keep straight. Still, a great, winding story with a scope that defies genre classification, being part noir murder mystery, part speculative fiction, part social commentary, part literary novel. And does that blending very well. A.