Monday, August 3, 2009

August 2009 Reads

1. A DARK HORSE by Craig Johnson. #5 Walt Longmire mystery set in Wyoming. The elections are coming up and Sheriff Longmire is avoiding thinking about it, and things are a bit slow in Absaroka County. Walt's daughter Cady has returned to her home in Philadelphia and he's at loose ends. The Sheriff of a neighboring county sends him a puzzle to chew on and a prisoner to house since their jail is overflowing and Walt eagerly jumps into it. Mary Barsad has confessed to shooting her husband Wade six times in the head after he set their barn afire--with her beloved horses inside. Wade was universally disliked, and were it not for Mary's confession, the suspect list would be a mile long--and would include some ghosts from his past, as he was in the witness protection program. But after talking with Mary, Walt doesn't believe she's guilty--and he goes undercover in Jackson County, posing as an insurance investigator--although his cover doesn't last very long. (I kind of wondered about that, anyway. Walt was born and raised very near where all this action took place and he recognized a few of the characters--so why would they NOT recognize him?) As usual, this was a well-told story in a wonderful voice, and the book was nearly impossible to put down. I love Walt, I love his cast of secondary characters, including the great state of Wyoming, which Johnson obviously loves. With a perfect balance of slow, rambling detail and fast-paced action, and a plot twist I didn't see coming at all, this will likely make my top ten of the year list. The only thing missing for me was the voice of George Guidall who narrates the audio versions--I listened to three of the previous four books and could hear his version of Walt's voice faintly at the back of my mind as I read along. A+

2. THE BELLINI CARD by Jason Goodwin (AUDIO) #3 Yashim the Eunuch historical mystery taking place in the 1830's. This one is set partly in Istanbul and partly in Venice, Italy. The new Sultan, young Abdulmecid asks Yashim to locate a painting by Gentile Bellini--a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror--that is believed to be in Venice. Yashim's friend Stanislaw Palewski, the Polish ambassador to Turkey, undertakes an undercover role as a rich American out to purchase Venetian art, and Yashim actually takes a back seat role in the book until the last third or so, when all of his complex behind-the-scenes manipulations begin to come to the fore. A richly-woven tale involving the Venetian aristocracy (and its underbelly as well!) including a beautiful Contessa, as well as political intrigue and secrets from the past and present. I love Jason Goodwin's Istanbul, but I must admit that I found all the different twists and turns in this book a bit overwhelming. Perhaps that was in part due to the fact that I listened to this one and couldn't go back to check on something he'd referred to before as I could with the print version of previous books in the series. The multitude of names and titles confused me somewhat, and I have to admit that I wasn't totally enamored of the reader. He did a skillful enough job at the voices, but there was an annoying hint of a whine in his tone that kept distracting me. I think this is one series I will go back to reading in print--but carry on I will! Once again, there were some wonderful evocative descriptions of Yashim's cooking, too. Mouth-watering! I give this one a B+ and look forward to the next.

3. DEATH OF A SQUIRE by Maureen Ash. #2 Bascot de Marins "Templar" mystery set in 1200 Lincoln. King John is coming to Lincoln so the whole town, and most certainly the castle, is astir with preparations. When the squire of Nicolaa de la Haye's brother-in-law is found hanged in the nearby forest, she is concerned that her brother-in-law is somehow involved and that a plot to overthrow the King might be involved--and she needs to know the score before the King's arrival. Bascot de Marins, a Templar knight who is for now a temporary retainer of Nicolaa and her husband Gerard Camville, sheriff of Lincoln, helped her earlier in the year with another investigation, so she asks him once again to investigate and get to the bottom of the squire's death. Hubert de Tournay was not well-liked, being a nosy braggart who was always ferreting out secrets, and also tended to coerce young women to have assignations with him. Was his death the result of a political plot, or was there a more personal motive? I enjoyed this second entry in the series more than the first, as we get to know the main character and his supporting cast better. I've read quite a few books set in this time period and this is the first one I recall where there was actually a supporter of King John among the major cast of characters--Nicolaa de la Haye was staunchly in favor of the King. On a personal level, Bascot struggles with decisions in his own life--whether to rejoin the Templars now that his body and soul are somewhat healed after his years-long captivity in the Holy Land, or permanently become a knight of Nicolaa's household? And what of Gianni, his mute servant whom he rescued from a life of poverty and starvation? Looking forward very much to the next in the series. A.

4. A SHRED OF EVIDENCE by Jill McGown. #7 Lloyd & Hill British police procedural mystery. It had been over 2 years since I read a book in this series, since I was very disappointed in #6, which went backward and forward in time, was bloated and boring and featured long portions that were written from the POV of the suspects/players in the mystery. It just didn't work for me at all, and was a huge shock after the previously stellar books. Every author's allowed one stinker I guess, and this one gets things back on track. A fifteen-year-old school girl is battered and strangled on a public green a few days after the opening of school term. Since Lloyd is off on a weeks-long training course, acting boss Judy Hill starts the investigation off with DS Tom Finch assisting. Lloyd comes back a couple of days early at the behest of HIS boss. There is only one plausible suspect to begin with (save for the ubiquitous "unknown sex fiend") and he is Colin Cochrane, a teacher at the school and celebrity of some note, having been one of England's star runners and now doing the lecture and advertising circuit. Rumor has it that Colin has been having it off with one of the school girls and a letter found in his tracksuit pocket would seem to bear that out. The victim was not, by all accounts, a chaste and virginal fifteen. The body was discovered by Colin's wife while taking their dog for a walk but her story changes slightly from first interview to formal statement such that her husband would be protected with somewhat of an alibi. You just know he's NOT the guy, and although neither Lloyd or Hill think so either, DS Finch is convinced of it. In pursuing evidence against him, other clues come to light and the murderer eventually found, of course. I did figure out the killer in one of those lightbulb moments, but not until very close to the end, having followed one of McGown's adeptly placed red herrings right to the sea. LOL I really enjoyed this, and stayed up a bit past my bedtime to finish it off last night. Was especially glad that Lloyd and Hill were featured more prominently again and it wasn't all about the suspects. I very much look forward to continuing on with this series to its end, which unfortunately came too soon as the author died in 2007. Still, I've got six more to read and savor before I'm done. A.

5. DRAGONDRUMS by Anne McCaffrey. (AUDIO) #3 Harper Hall trilogy within the greater "Pern" fantasy series. I thought this was going to be a continuation of Menolly's story, but instead we get to go on adventures with her young friend Piemer, who has (until now) been the soprano voice in the choir at Harper Hall. However, Piemer's voice has cracked--he's at the age where it's bound to change--so now something else must be figured out for him to do. Being that he always seems to find trouble and is quick on his feet, Master Harper Robinton and his Journeyman, Sebell, decide to apprentice him (officially) to the Drum master, sending and receiving messages, but on the quiet have Pymer report to them and be, for lack of a better word, a spy. And get into hot water he does, on the day of a Gather at one of the outlying Holds, when hiding in the wrong sack after stealing a queen fire lizard egg ends him up on dragonback going "between" to a far off southern locale. Very enjoyable visit to Pern with a great reader and exciting story. I've enjoyed this trilogy within the larger series--hope the next stories are just as interesting! A.

6. A POTION FOR A WIDOW by Caroline Roe. #5 Isaac of Girona medieval mystery featuring the blind Jewish physician in 1350's Spain and his family as well. Daughter Raquel is pining away for her betrothed, Daniel, who is off to Constantinople, and Isaac's Moorish apprentice Yusuf, a ward of the King, is sent to Sardinia for fostering to protect his status. Isaac and Raquel accompany the party on the first part of the journey, but before they can even leave the city gates, a man stumbles in with a knife in his back and dies. When it's discovered that the man was actually an agent of the King, the Bishop asks Isaac to look into things discreetly as he always does. Along the way, Yusuf's party meets up with a young girl posing as a boy hoping to get to Girona to find her family, and this girl ends up with ties to the man who was murdered. I like this series, but the earlier ones were definitely better. There were too many strange coincidences, the plot was at once convoluted and too simplistic, if that makes any sense. We seem also to have lost the depth of the characters that was present in the first few books where I felt more of a real connection. I have two more of the last 3 books in this series and likely will read them if only to see how the family's lives pan out. This was an okay read--light and quick, just not something to rave about. C+

7. KUSHIEL'S CHOSEN by Jacqueline Carey. #2 in the Kushiel's Legacy fantasy series, loosely based on Renaissance Europe. Phèdre nó Delaunay returns to the City of Elua after the death of her adoptive father, Anafriel Delaunay, in the previous book and assumes her place among the peerage as the Comtesse de Montrève, wielding the title her benefactor never got to don. She also resumes her service to the demigods Namaah and Kushiel, both of whom have marked her, which essentially means she is a highly-paid whore who specializes in the pleasure of pain. As an anguissette (the only living one, apparently) marked with a fleck of red in the iris of her left eye, she is meant to be a bearer of pain. The difference here is that in the beliefs of the predominant religion, her service is actually a sacred, religious offering and not something dirty nor illegal. She resumes her trade in order to ferret out details about the treachery of Melisande Shahrizai, who escaped at the end of the last book. Phèdre believes that Melisande is waiting in the wings orchestrating some complicated political coup to take over the throne of Terre d' Ange, and she is right. She doesn't get to stay comfortably at home for long and soon is off on an adventure taking her to a Venice-like city called La Serenissima, and to several other places in her search for information and a way to bring Melisande's plan to ruin. Complex and detailed, with a huge cast of characters, exotic locations, plenty of steamy (but well-written!) sex, twisted plots, strange religions, and even pirates (yo ho ho!), this was an excellent followup to Kushiel's Dart and I am kicking myself many times over for waiting so long (it's been at least 2 1/2 years!) to have gotten to this sequel. I won't make the same mistake again--I have four more of them here awaiting my pleasure. This could easily have gotten overblown and off track with the scope of its contents and so much happening in a relatively short time, but the author skillfully keeps things together and makes this a very difficult book to put down. A+

8. WOLF BROTHER by Michelle Paver. (AUDIO) First in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness YA fantasy series. This is sort of "Clan of the Cave Bear" for young adults--set during the Stone Age, featuring Torak, a 12-year-old whose father has just been slain by a demonic bear and whose quest (given by his dying father) is to find the Mountain of the World Spirit. Torak had thought this was just a fable told around the campfire, but his Fa seemed to think it real and made Torak promise to try to find it or die trying. He also told Torak that he would find "his guide" who turns out to be an orphaned wolf cub, whom he is surprisingly able to communicate with. They set off together and soon are in the midst of a grand and dangerous adventure. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was narrated by Sir Ian McKellan, which is one of the reasons I chose it--he did a stellar job of it too, I must say. But there was just "something" lacking in the book and it took a full 2-3 hours before I was really interested in the story and even then for some reason it just didn't quite measure up to the other YA fantasy I've been listening to. I may move on to the next in series at some point, but it won't be on the front burner. C+

9. THE LAST TEMPLAR by Michael Jecks. #1 in the Knights Templar medieval series featuring bailiff Simon Puttock and 'retired' Templar knight Sir Baldwin Furnshill in Devon, UK. The time is 1316, several years after the Templars have been disbanded and disgraced, many of their number tortured and executed at the hands of the Inquisition. Sir Baldwin heads to his boyhood home, Furnshill Manor, to resume duty as the Lord of the manor after the death of his elder brother. Simon, meanwhile, is the brand new bailiff of Lydford Castle and finds himself very busy in the first days of his new position. First, a villager is burned to death in the fire of his cottage and then a group of monks is waylaid by highwayment, the abbot among them taken for ransom and later found burned at the stake over a fire in the woods. Simon, a rather sensitive man, is devastated and somewhat indecisive as to how to proceed, and Baldwin steps in to assist. They become friends, but Baldwin is wary of sharing the secrets of his past so soon after meeting Simon so their relationship is a little superficial at first. When a group of travelers is brutally attacked, robbed and murdered, things escalate quickly and it's soon determined that there are actually three separate crimes and not one roving band of killers. Bit of a surprising end, but by then I just wanted the book to be done. I chose this book for a challenge I was in with a category called, "Everyone Deserves a Second Chance" where you read an author you'd previously read and didn't care for. I liked this book better than the other Jecks I'd read a few years ago, but not much. There were many repetitive parts, and Jecks' propensity to describe every person you come across in great detail down to their wrinkles got old really fast. And I didn't particularly like Simon Puttock's character--he seemed like a whiny wimp to me. At any rate, at least for now, I will not be continuing on in this series. C+

10. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson #1 in the Milennium trilogy. Translated from Swedish and featuring journalist Mikael Blomkvist, middle-aged co-founder of Millennium magazine, and freelance investigator Lisbeth Salander, a pierced, tattooed twenty-something computer hacker with a definite antisocial bent. Blomkvist is convicted of libeling a billionaire financier and, intending to take a break is instead hired by Henrik Vanger, an octogenarian businessman to investigate the disappearance and probable murder of his niece Harriet decades previously. It's a locked-room mystery, as the Vangers lived on an island with but one access, and that was blocked by a tanker crash. Blomkvist is intrigued but not sure what he can come up with that the much-obsessed Vanger himself hasn't already considered. To entice him, Vanger promises some juicy information about the billionaire that will vindicate Blomkvist's near-ruinous fine and prison sentence when he has completed his investigation. Reluctantly, Mikael agrees, but though he reviews hundreds and thousands of pages of documents and photographs, it isn't until midway through the book when Salander comes into the investigation that things begin to really move, and they realize they're onto something much more than the disappearance of one teenage girl thirty-odd years ago--something horrifying, grisly and on-going! To be honest, I nearly gave up on this book by the time I got to my mandatory 50 page trial, and probably would have, had I not read from a number of people that it's a very slow starter. I'm glad I read it--it was a good, solid thriller with some interesting characters, but I can't say it came anywhere close to living up to all the raves and hype. Not only was the beginning slow, the writing throughout was rather meandering and tangential at times--could definitely have been tightened up a bit, though perhaps that was partly due to the translation. I also figured out two of the major plot twists/solutions well in advance. And the ending? That was sort of like an afterthought more than anything. For me, as an American, even one of Swedish descent, it was also a little difficult to try to come to terms with all the various place names and cultural vagaries, but the author can't be faulted for that, since he's writing about his homeland for his countrymen. In short, it was certainly a good first book which I liked, and I will most definitely read on in the series, but this book suffered from "hypeitis" in that it in no way lived up to the high expectations I had for it. B.

11. THE PURRFECT MURDER by Rita Mae Brown (AUDIO) #16 Mrs. Murphy cozy cat mystery set in Crozet, Virginia. It's autumn in Virginia, and Harry and Fair are busy on the farm with various harvestings, but a good murder mystery will always distract Harry. When the local OB/GYN doctor who works at Planned Parenthood is shot by a sniper, many in Crozet are grieved, but not terribly surprised, as the doctor had been getting threats from radical Pro-Life groups for years due to his willingness to perform abortions. A rabidly religious man comes forward to claim responsibility, but then the doctor's wealthy female patients begin to get threats--and one is murdered at a fundraiser which Harry and all her friends are attending--and Harry's friend Tazio is found standing over Carla's body with the knife in her hand. Harry is determined to clear Tazio's name and begins to ask questions--she can't even rely on her friends Sheriff Shaw and Deputy Cooper for information, as this murder took place in another county. Are these two murders connected or are they about two very different issues? Harry and the critters are on the case! While I enjoy this reader (Kate Forbes) very much and enjoy a visit to Crozet, the actual mysteries in these books are getting less and less mysterious, it seems. The red herrings are very red indeed--I would even say scarlet--because I spotted them a mile away and knew the killer from the time of introduction. Harry, as usual, does some really stupid things--for being such a smart and saavy lady, it's amazing how she continues to defy logic to do the dangerous things she does. Enjoyable, but also frustrating, if that makes any sense! B-

12. THE EYE OF JADE by Diane Wei Liang. #1 Mei Wang mystery set in modern-day Beijing, China. Mei Wang is a young woman in her twenties who left her job at the Ministry of Security because she refused to play the game and become one of the ministers' mistress. Of course in doing so, she lost face and most of her acquaintances think she 'lost' her job. Now with her own business as an "information consultant" (since private detectives are forbidden by the government) she struggles along to make ends meet and has a hard time getting people to take her seriously, being that she is a young woman. When an old family friend whom she calls "Uncle Chen" comes to hire her to find a Han Dynasty artifact, she eagerly takes on the case and ends up in hot water several times before solving the crime. A lot of this book was setting the stage for Mei's future exploits, I think--letting us get to know her and her background. Mei's father died in the labor camps when she was just a small girl, which colored pretty much her whole life. Her mother struggled to raise Mei and her sister Lu, who is now marrying a rich businessman, and of course Mei as the unmarried older sister, is never in favor. When her mother suffers a stroke and ends up in hospital, despite the fact that they don't get on well, Mei is devastated. I had a hard time getting "into" the book--Mei did seem in some ways to be a rather silly young woman, but I have to admit she did mature somewhat by the end, confronting several ghosts from her past. The strength of the book was an introduction to life in modern-day Beijing (somewhere I'd never been before) with the kow-towing that must be done to stay on the good side of the government, and even to get decent medical care. She also didn't shy away from showing the whole spectrum of life, from the dark, seedy areas to the beautiful gardens and areas where the wealthy live. The author herself was born in Beijing and spent time in the labor camps as a child, and was a member of the Student Democracy Movement, even participating in the protest in Tiananmen Square before emigrating. These aspects were very interesting, and even though the mystery itself was rather weak and almost a sideline, I'm willing to cut the author some slack and see if her second effort (which I have here on Mt. TBR) is a little beefier in content. B-.

13. BLOOD AT THE ROOT (also published as DEAD RIGHT) by Peter Robinson. #9 Chief Inspector Alan Banks British police procedural. A young man is found beaten to death in an alley, and and after identifying him, it's discovered that Jason Fox was a member of a white supremacist group called The Albion League. He was seen having words with three Pakistani youths in a nearby pub, and they become the natural first suspects. But Banks doesn't believe they're guilty and begins searching into Fox's life to find out more about the youth, which leads him down a path into not only hate-groups, but international drug rings, gangsters and a whole slew of ne'er-do-wells. Meanwhile, he has personal issues to deal with as his wife Sandra has decided that a trial separation is needed and goes to stay with her parents. Banks is devastated and realizes that he'd taken his twenty-some year marriage quite for granted. He also gets into hot water with the Chief Constable, Jimmy Riddle. I enjoyed this entry in the series quite a lot, although a couple of the minor plot twists were easy peasy to figure out. The main mystery of who killed Fox was rather a natural progression to the ending without much of a surprise, either. The writing was a little uneven though--at times wonderfully evocative and poignant, and at other times seeming a bit rushed. Still, this has become one of my favorite series and I'll definitely keep reading onward. B+

14. THE BLACK DOVE by Steven Hockensmith. #3 "Holmes on the Range" mystery featuring Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer in the 1890's American west. This episode finds the brothers, previously cattle wranglers and now wannabe detectives, in San Francisco. The ginger-haired brothers see their old friend Dr. Chan (from the train episode last book) and follow him into Chinatown, where he nearly shoots Big Red, not realizing who they are. The next day when Old Red smells a mystery, they go his shop in Chinatown to see why he's so skittish, but they find him dead of an apparent suicide, having gassed himself to death. Of course Big Red starts his deducifyin' and sees several clues that lead him to believe that Chan was helped to the other side. With the help of Diana Corvus, the Southern Pacific railroad detective that they worked with last book, the brothers navigate the seedy and dangerous Chinatown attempting to solve Chan's murder and find out what happened to The Black Dove, the name given to a much-desired prostitute that Chan actually purchased from her madam. Along the way, in typical Amlingmeyer fashion, they manage to piss off just about everyone who's anyone in Chinatown, including rival tongs (gangs) and the so-called law in this action-packed, humorous adventure. I enjoyed this book as much as I've enjoyed the previous entries in the series. The author doesn't shy away from controversial issues of the day, so the book (while humorous) isn't totally light and fluffy. I'm not a fan of typical "westerns" but I do really enjoy this series a lot! A.

15. TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO by Philip Josè Farmer. #1 Riverworld Saga classic Sci-fi. Sir Richard Burton, nineteenth-century explorer, linguist, and often controversial man, awakens from death totally naked and hairless alongside a river. After some initial disorientation, he sees many other people in the same state--people from not only a variety of cultures, races, religions but also different times. In his first days, he meets not only a twenty-first century American, but a neanderthal man, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's concentration camps and an alien (who apparently brought about the demise of earth in 2008) as well as several other more famous people, such as Hermann Göring. As these people attempt to communicate, to figure out where they are and why they've been resurrected, and just to learn "how things work" in this riverworld, Burton (who considered himself an athiest) realizes that if this is 'heaven' it's not much better than Earth, in that men are still selfish, greedy, power-hungry beings and he and his friends struggle to survive the brutal world. After many months, he decides to try to lead a group in a boat up the River to see where it begins to determine if they can figure out what it's all about. He also learns that it's impossible to die--when someone is killed or dies, they simply resurrect again somewhere else along the River, which after some time is determined to be millions or billions of miles long. It's been awhile since I've read any classic Sci-Fi and this was very refreshing and interesting to me, although it was written back in the early 70's so I suppose is a bit "dated" in that sense. Some stirring philosophical debate, a very interesting concept. There are several more books in the series and I've ordered the next--which features Samuel Clemens! A.

16. MIND SCRAMBLER by Chris Grabenstein. #5 John Ceepak mystery set along the Jersey shore, told from the POV of Ceepak's young partner, Danny Boyle. Danny and Ceepak are of to Atlantic City to obtain the deposition of a former cellmate of Ceepak's father in hopes of obtaining testimony that will convict him. (Yes, Ceepak's father is a real scumbucket that he hopes to see locked away with the key melted down.) While there, Danny bumps into his former girlfriend Katie--a kindergarten teacher who moved to California, and who is now employed as the nanny for Richard Rock, a big-time magician and illusionist performing at a ritzy casino in AC. Katie says she wants to talk to Danny about something, but before that happens, she turns up dead--and not only dead, but dressed in a kinky S&M outfit and looking like the victim of erotic asphyxiation--of course, we all know that wasn't the case and that she was murdered. But why? And did Katie really have a secret life that is totally out of character for the sweet girl Danny dated? Danny's mind is a bit scrambled with his personal involvement in the case, but Ceepak keeps him on the straight and narrow as they are deputized by the local constabulary to help investigate, muddling through the hidden world of stage magicians. I enjoy this series more with each book, as we get to know Ceepak and Danny better. The bad guy stuck out like a sore thumb for me right from the beginning, but I had no idea why or the how it was done details, so still made for a very interesting, enjoyable read. More, more! A.

17. COYOTE by Linda Barnes. #3 Carlotta Carlyle mystery featuring the PI and sometime-cabbie in Boston, MA. A young Spanish-speaking woman, possibly an illegal from some Central American country, comes to Carlotta as a walk-in client. She has with her one of Carlotta's business cards and a newspaper, pointing to an article about a dead woman named Manuela Estefan. The woman claims in halting Spanish that the dead person isn't Manuela Estefan--SHE is, and the woman had her green card. She wants Carlotta to get it back without involving the police, and she seems decidedly afraid. When Carlotta leaves the room briefly, the woman disappears, leaving behind an envelope with five crisp hundred-dollar bills behind, but no way to contact her. She turns up dead a couple of days later, much the same way the original woman was killed--with her hands cut off! Tackling a big social issue of essentially slavery of illegals for cheap labor, this book tells the story of how a "coyote" operates, helping get people to the country and then basically using them for whatever they want to. Meanwhile, Carlotta's "little sister" Paolina--her sister from the Big Sisters program--has returned from Columbia with her mother, where she's been visiting for several weeks. Paolina, now almost eleven, seems changed--she's started back-talking, skipping school, and where the relatively happy and enthusiastic girl had been is a dejected, sullen one and she won't talk to Carlotta about it or explain why. Paolina's behavior and the murder investigation ultimately end up tied together. I didn't figure out the bad guy in this one til very near the end, and I've enjoyed getting to know Carlotta a little better with each book in the series. This was the first one I'd read in print (I listened to the others in audio) and liked the smooth, easy-reading style just as much as I enjoyed listening to the others. A.

18. UNCOMMON GROUNDS by Sandra Balzo. #1 Maggy Thorsen mystery set in Brookhills, Wisconsin. Maggy and her business partners Caron and Patricia are set to open their new coffee shop, Uncommon Grounds, in a strip mall in suburban Brookhills. Maggy, late on her first day, opens the door only to find Patricia collapsed on the floor, a pitcher of milk spilled around her. At first it appears to be some sort of natural event but it's later determined that the espresso machine was interfered with and that Patricia was deliberately electrocuted. Although Patricia could be a bit intense and overbearing, Maggy can't think why anyone would want to kill her--until some previously unknown facts about her come to light, and Maggy realizes how little she really knew Patricia. Then the suspect list begins to burgeon, though the new sheriff in town, Jake Pavlick, seems to be happy with the easiest result. Gary Donovan, the town's chief of police and long time friend of Maggy, helps her mull over possibilities--she just doesn't believe that Patricia's husband David is capable of murder as everyone seems to think--but when he turns up dead of an apparent suicide, she begins to wonder. I had a vague inkling about the bad guy early on but wasn't sure til about two-thirds of the way through. I enjoyed the book quite a lot more than I expected, as I've had a pretty low opinion of most "themed" cozy series I've tried lately--to the point where I haven't bothered finishing most of them. But this has a little harder edge to it than your "typical" cozy mystery, and I liked Maggy a lot--she seemed to be a very "real" person with some depth of character--and not an annoying one!--and her supporting cast is also coming along nicely. I found a few bloopers (wrong form of a word used, wrong character name, etc) which threw me off guard a bit, and Maggy did admittedly suffer from that old 'amateur sleuth' curse where she does dumb things like withholding evidence and investigating dangerous things on her own....but that almost seems de rigeur these days. I'm glad to have found a cozy series that I'm actually looking forward to carrying on with. B+

19. THE LAST OLYMPIAN by Rick Riordan. (AUDIO) #5 Percy Jackson and the Olympians YA fantasy. Percy and his pals from Camp Half-Blood (so named because its denizens are demi-gods with one parent being a Greek god or goddess) are preparing for the big battle--the battle to save Mount Olympus--which, in its present incarnation, is at the Empire State Building in New York. Forced to fight a two-pronged battle--one against the monster Typhos, who is headed for New York, and the other against the evil Kronos (who is using the body of Percy's once-friend Luke as his host) and his army of Titans and fallen demi-gods. Meanwhile, Percy--about to turn sixteen, when the prophecy featuring him is due to come to fruition--tries to get things sorted in his personal life: is AnnaBeth more than just a friend? And where does Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the mortal girl who can see through the mist, figure into things? Percy begins dreaming of things past, of Luke, Thalia and AnnaBeth's childhoods and starts to piece together why things are the way they are. A tale of Greek mythology and prophecy, friendship and betrayal and loyalties strained to the breaking point, Riordan brings the whole series to a satisfying climactic end while still leaving room for potential future expansion--which I personally hope happens! Excellent book, excellent series, highly recommended for young and old alike! A+

20. THE WITCH HUNTER by Bernard Knight. #8 Crowner John historical mystery set in late 12th century Devon. A local tradesman falls over dead of an apparent apoplexy while riding his horse, in front of witnesses. But the man's widow insists that he was done to death by a witch's spell, the witch having been hired by her husband's arch enemy, who has been trying unsuccessfully to talk him into selling his lands off. A corn dolly effigy with a pin in its heart is found in the man's saddle bag, but even before that little artifact is discovered, the widow insists that Crowner John be notified to hold an inquest. Sir John thinks it's all a bunch of hogwash and denies her claim, and because the widow is a friend of his harpy-like wife Matilda, hears no end of complaint about it over the next few days. And when the widow's cousin Gilbert, a canon in one of the local churches, begins preaching against witchcraft and exhorting the church to actively stifle the "pagan ways" they've passively condoned by looking the other way, the whole city of Exeter gets stirred up, with several local "wise women" in danger of being condemned by the church or harmed by the townspeople. Crowner John is still reluctant to get involved, although his brother-in-law Richard de Revelle, the sheriff, has jumped on Gilbert's bandwagon. But when John's own mistress, Nesta--the proprietor of a local inn--comes under a cloud of suspicion, then he begins to feel an urgent need to get to the bottom of the original death, if only to show that the man was killed by very earthly means and thus dispel the furor in the town. A typical entry in the series, which I mostly enjoyed--certainly for the atmosphere and sense of time and place. Knight does a wonderful job of invoking the mores and culture of the times, as well as the sights, sounds and (often not so nice) smells. I have to admit though that sometimes the author tends to overuse certain words or phrases in description of his characters. For example, Crowner John, who is rather taciturn and crabby, often will "snap" or "bark" or "growl" when he's speaking. His brother-in-law, somewhat of a dandified popinjay, tends to "bray." At times it's enough to make me grit my teeth a bit--but certainly not enough of a problem to stop me from reading on in the series. B+

Current reads: LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse and listening to MORETA: DRAGONLADY OF PERN by Anne McCaffrey--but it's doubtful I'll finish either of those tomorrow, so this likely ends my list for August. (And just WHERE has the summer gone, I'd like to know??)