Saturday, October 17, 2009

October 2009 Reading

I just realized I hadn't started posting my October reads yet, and here it is, mid-month already! You'll probably notice quite a few titles with the words "Dead, Die, Dying, or Death" in the title this month--I'm participating in a reading challenge for one of my online book groups to read as many books as possible with those words in the title.

1. DEAD CENTER by David Rosenfelt. #5 Andy Carpenter mystery. Andy is a lawyer in Paterson, New Jersey but in this installment is off to the midwest in response to a call from his ex-girlfriend Laurie who is now the acting police chief in her home town of Findlay, Wisconsin. The son of a childhood friend has been accused of murdering two young college women, one of them the girl who just broke up with him. Andy, who has finally made up his mind to start to come to terms with life sans Laurie, is reluctant to take up the case primarily for that reason, but also because he can afford to be picky about his cases and he likes to have a belief that his client truly is innocent. Although he normally trusts Laurie's judgment implicitly, he feels she may be too close to the situation. Eventually he does drive out with his dog Tara in tow. But after meeting Jeremy (the accused) and his family and getting a feel for the locals from Calvin, the local attorney he'll be working with, he comes to believe that Laurie is right. There is something bigger going on, probably involving the Centurions, a cultish, isolationist religion that is the sole cornerstone of the neighboring town of Center City, where Elizabeth and Sheryl, the two murdered girls, were from. It takes another murder or two to convince the judge that Jeremy is innocent and that charges should be dropped, but Andy is disinclined to just go home and let things hang in the air. Plus, he and Laurie have started their relationship up again and he really doesn't want that to end, either. I did spot the bad guy very early on, but had no basis for it, just a gut feeling. This was a great entry in the series, one of the very few "lawyer/courtroom drama" mysteries I will even go anywhere near. A.

2. THE WAY OF FOUR: CREATING ELEMENTAL BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE by Deborah Lipp. Pagan tutorial about working with elemental magicks, determining your own elemental nature and learning to balance your own nature through ritual and practice. Although Pagan, I don't do a lot of magical ritual myself so hadn't really worked much with or been terribly cognizant of, the Elementals. The author explains the differences between the elements in nature and the Elementals, magical beings and takes you through several exercises to determine your own elemental nature. I had known that I was strongly of Earth, but was surprised to find that I have almost as many Air characteristics. I'm already fairly balanced, also having some Fire and Water traits in my nature, but those two are definitely tamped down most of the time by the Air-Earth domination of my personality and essential nature. It took me several weeks to get through the book as some exercises are done outdoors, which is not always easy for me to do, living in the city. Some parts I paid more attention to than others. I thought this was a very well-done book with plenty of different aspects for different people. Some of this was fairly basic, other parts more advanced. There is another workbook that also accompanies this book which I didn't have, but may purchase at some point. I'll definitely be referring to this book again in the future, it'll stay on my Keeper shelf. A.

3. WHEN GODS DIE by C.S. Harris. #2 Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery. Set in 1811 London, full of political intrigue, Sebastian (aka Viscount Devlin) is asked by the close adviser of the Prince Regent to investigate the murder of a woman found in the Regent's company dead--while he fell asleep and doesn't recall anything that happens. Not wishing to become involved in the Regent's female problems nor in anything political in the current climate, he's set to decline when Jarvis dangles a necklace in front of him--an ancient necklace that was last seen around Sebastian's mother's neck on the day she disappeared when he was eleven years old. Of course this draws him into the mystery, and the story unfolds--both the story of the murder and of how the necklace came to be on Guinevere Anglissey's pretty dead neck. Sebastian, Tom (the street urchin he rescued who is now in his employ as his 'tiger' or horseman) and Kat Boleyn, his lover and actress in Drury Lane, investigate various aspects of the crime and things get more dangerous for them all the closer they get. I admit that I hooked one of the author's red herrings and ran with it and was rather surprised at the solution to the crime and the necklace mystery too. Cracking good action-packed suspense, the first book in awhile that I've been literally unable to put down. I liked this better than the first book, and the gratuitious sex didn't bother me as it was between well established characters. A+

4. SOVEREIGN by C.J. Sansom. #3 Matthew Shardlake historical mystery set in 1541 during King Henry VIII's Progress northward to York. Matthew, a lawyer, has been commissioned by Archbishop Cranmer to assist in readying petitions of Yorkshiremen to be put before the King's justice--but his real purpose is that he wants Matthew to keep a prisoner who is accused in the recent attempted revolution safe until he can be brought to the Tower for torture. As his father has recently died and left Matthew in debt for a mortgage on his farm, he feels that he has little choice but to take the £50 offered for the job although his heart is certainly not in it. Matthew and his assistant Jack Barak head north and soon are in the midst of a mire of not only terrible rains and mud, but also a tangle of political intrigues and plotting, with Barak taking up with one of Queen Catherine's servants. Matthew meets the fellow lawyer who will be in charge of the reading of the local petitions, Giles Wrenne, and strikes up a friendship with him only to learn after a time that he is slowly dying of an enlarging tumor in his gut. Meanwhile, several attempts are made on Matthew's life, as it seems he has made some powerful enemies who seek to discredit him, and there are also attempts to kill the prisoner that he is supposed to keep safe. Longing only for his own hearth and home, the mysteries within mysteries seem to deepen as the weeks roll past until Matthew doesn't know who should be trusted, until the end when all is revealed. I had a feeling about the resolution of the main mystery and was right, although some of the side plots had somewhat surprising ends to them. Very rich, meaty novel--a good mystery as well as plenty of historical detail with an interesting theory put forth by the author. The afterward notes were interesting too, to let the reader know where he'd taken liberties with known historical documentation or let his imagination run a bit wild. I'm ready for the next in series! This stays on my Keeper shelf. A.

5. CIRCLE OF THE DEAD by David Lawrence. #1 DS Stella Mooney mystery set in London. Stella is a haunted character, a street smart rogue cop who grew up in the tough projects and has maintained her toughness. Smart enough to escalate up the promotion ladder if she wanted to, Stella elects to stay a Detective Sergeant so she can keep her fingers on the pulse of the street, keep close to the people instead of becoming a paper pusher. I have to say that in this book, the role of DS seemed to be a lot more expansive than it is in many other British police procedurals I've read. Of course Stella tended to act impulsively at times with a lot of authority that she in reality didn't have, too. As she tries to solve the case of Jimmy Stone, killed by a professional hit man with a knife to the heart, her mental health becomes increasingly fragile as she is attacked several times, continues to drink too much and sleep too little due to nightmares about a previous case and her own miscarriage, and conflicting feelings about her live-in boyfriend George. There wasn't really any mystery here--we knew up front who the bad guys were, the only mystery was what would happen to Stella and her sanity. For much of the book it felt like Stella was nothing but a pinball battered back and forth, bouncing off various pylons out of control. I liked Stella, but at times her whole persona was just a real drag, and her continued unwise--okay, sometimes totally stupid--decisions tended to border on being unbelievable. Dark, gritty, violent, compelling story and interesting perspectives, but not something I would want to read a bunch of back to back. B.

6. DEATH OF A CELEBRITY by M.C. Beaton. #18 Hamish MacBeth mystery set in fictional Lochdubh, Scotland. A young woman, star of a local television show that has begun doing exposes of various Highland people and institutions, is killed. Hamish himself could be suspect as she was about to interview him and smear the local constabulary. A new interim Chief Inspector, Pat Carson, seems a little more keen on Hamish and his wild ideas than his old nemesis Blair was, but a couple of small foul ups leave Hamish once again banished to his own village patch to let the big boys in Strathbane solve the murder--or make fools of themselves trying. Of course it takes a second murder to wake them up and realize Hamish was right from the start. These books have gotten to be all so much alike that I'm sure the author can write them in her sleep--just as I can almost read them in my sleep. I know I say this after almost every book in this's not that I hate the books, and I really do like Hamish, but I'm going to give up now, I think. They just don't seem to be worth the couple of hours of time it takes to read them, so predictable have they become. C.

7. INKHEART by Cornelia Funke. (AUDIO) First of a YA fantasy series about a young girl named Meggie, and her father Mortimer (she calls him Mo) who is a book repairer. One day a strange man comes to their house to speak to Mo; even his name (Dustfinger) is odd and he calls Mo "Silvertongue." Mo is worried after Dustfinger's visit and decides that they need to leave the house for awhile to visit Meggie's Aunt Eleanor--her long-gone mother's sister. Eleanor, a spinster with a houseful of books, some of them rare and collectible, welcomes them although she's uncertain of Meggie, not being fond of children in general--but when some mysterious men capture Mo to take him back to "Capricorn," Meggie and Eleanor must figure out why they wanted him, where they've taken him and how to rescue him. Along the course of their adventures, Meggie discovers why it is that her father never reads to her aloud--it has to do with the name Silvertongue--a name the evil Capricorn has given him. Mo can read things from stories into the real world--and vice versa. Meggie learns that Mo read Capricorn and his cronies and Dustfinger out of a book called Inkheart--while at the same time, Meggie's mother was read INTO the book, never to return again, although Mo tried many times to get her back out. What a wonderful story--very imaginitive, and this audio version was great, read by Lynn Redgrave who did a marvelous job with all the different voices from the evil Capricorn to the spinster-ish Eleanor to the pre-teen Meggie. A must for all bibliophiles, I think--well, a must for anyone, really! I look forward to the next in this series very much! A+

8. THE DEAD PLACE by Stephen Booth. #6 DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry mystery set in the Peak District of England. Once again, two cases end up tangled together. A strange caller rambles on about death, looking for 'the dead place,' quoting poetry and literary sources and makes it known how special they think the moment of death is. The call is made with a voice changer, and calls are made from public phones, often in the vicinity of where a funeral is taking place. And they promise that a death is coming. Is this a funeral home employee, or one of those ghouls who goes to funerals to soak up people's grief? Meanwhile, there is a case of a body found in an open area--first thought to be a murder victim, but once she is identified after a forensic artist's composite drawing is published in the newspapers, it's determined that she was a woman who had died of natural causes 18 months previously and had been believed to be cremated by her family. So who was cremated in her place? And how was the switch made? The story delves into the details of the funeral home/crematorium business as well as thoughts on death itself--which weighs heavily on Ben Cooper's mind as his mother suffers a stroke and is hospitalized, not doing well. Great story as always (although I still intensely dislike Diane Fry!) and I did not figure out the bad guy in this one at all. Looking forward to the next one! A.

9. THE SORCERESS by Michael Scott. (AUDIO) #3 'Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel' YA fantasy series. This book picks up immediately where the second one left off, with Sophie and Josh Newman, fifteen-year-old twins (now known to the 'The Twins of Legend') with the alchemist Nicholas Flamel battling against the forces of evil, which are spearheaded by the noted magician, Dr. John Dee. Presently in London, Dee continues to send various foes against them, most drawn from the pages of history and/or mythology. This book is very fast-paced, hurtling along from one near-disaster to another with little time for piecing together of any puzzles in between. Meanwhile, on Alcatraz Island, Flamel's wife Peronelle, a sorceress of some note, has to deal with various monsters sent by Niccolo Machiavelli, another of the evil crew, who is looking to settle an old debt with her. The book leaves no doubt that there will be more in the series as it seemed like nothing more than an action-packed interlude on the way to a hopefully somewhat meatier conclusion. (I've no idea how many books are planned in this series.) I enjoyed the book, although the reader is not my favorite. We learned a few things along the way, but most of this was action and not much introspection or puzzle-solving and not a lot of character development. My favorite character in this series, Scatatch, an ancient Celtic warrior goddess (who is now a vegetarian vampire!) was very short on exposure in this book--hoping to see more of her again next time. B+

10. DIES THE FIRE by S.M. Stirling. #1 of a speculative fiction/dystopian series set in a modern world beginning the night of "the Change" when some sort of worldwide, catastrophic event like a giant electromagnetic pulse renders modern technology useless. Everything electrical, battery-operated, or explosive is rendered instantly useless--planes fall out of the sky, automobiles stop working where they are, the lights literally go out all over the world. Mass chaos ensues, and as expected, as the months go by, much of the population left after the initial Change dies from starvation, various diseases and plagues, and eventually from the brutality of other men, with roving bands of cannibals stalking the countryside. A few viscious, power-hungry men setting up mini-empires in various cities, ruling by violence and terror to take what they want and control the populace. But out in the countryside (this takes place primarily in Oregon, with Portland being the demense of the evil Protector) small of people retreat to family farms and try to plan for a future, raising food without electricity, gasoline-powered machinery or modern conveniences. They must also, of course, protect themselves from the ruthless bands of bandits, cannibals, and the Protector's increasingly far-reaching cohorts demanding feudal-like power, tithes of food and service and the like. This story is told primarily from the point of view of two people, leaders of two different such groups, Juniper MacKenzie and Mike Havel, Mike having been a bush pilot whose plane crashed in the episode with the Larsson family his current clients on board--all miraculously survive the crash, and Mike, a former Marine, sets out to keep his charges safe. Juniper was a folk musician and High Priestess of a small Wiccan coven and heads for her cottage in the hills with a few friends when the Change happens. Very hard to put down! Interesting story, and very much looking forward to the next book in this series to see what happens to our friends (and to society!) as time goes on. A+

11. A CARRION DEATH by Michael Stanley. #1 Detective David "Kubu" Bengu mystery set in Gaborone, Botswana. A half-eaten body is found near a waterhole in the Kalahari desert, a disgruntled hyena hovering close by, waiting to see if the humans are going to leave him to his lunch or not. Not! Assistant Superintendent Kubu's first task is to try to determine the identity of the body, which has no hands and thus no fingerprints. No white men have been reported missing, so this is proving quite difficult initially. After a time, however, Kubu has several different possibilities to fulfill the role, and he and his team remain interested when the coroner determines that the man (whoever he was) was murdered. Several different sub-plots to the main mystery seem to intersect with Botswana Cattle & Mining Company (the country's largest company) involved on several scales, and with several more dead bodies piling up along the way. Some of these sub-plots were fairly easy to figure out, as was the main baddie. Detective Kubu (Kubu meaning "Hippopotamus") is a delightful character, a large man fond of good food and wine, proud of his heritage and country and family, and yet pragmatic in recognizing its faults, too. He sings off-key opera, is respectful of his parents, resists his wife's attempts at getting him to diet and delights in having the baboons from the nearby jungle jumping all over the outside of the police station! While I delved right into the cultural details about the country, enjoyed getting to know Kubu, his wife Joy and the other secondary characters, and learned much about several pertinent social issues (diamond poaching and theft, alienation of the indigenous Kalahari Bushmen, etc) it seemed to me that at times the story was burdened with too many different issues and details. It felt crowded, as though the author were trying to cram in as much information and detail about the area, the culture, the food, the climate, the law enforcement possible. It was a lot to digest, and thus was not a book to be read quickly in a couple of sittings. Whether that is the result of the collaborative effort of the two people writing the book and overlapping on some things, or some other reason, I don't know. At any rate, despite it being somewhat bloated, I very much enjoyed the book and do look forward to the second in the series. B+

12. THE TALE OF HILL TOP FARM by Susan Wittig Albert. (AUDIO) #1 in the Beatrix Potter historical cozy mysteries set in early 1900's Sawrey, UK. First of a very cozy mystery series centering on Beatrix Potter (author of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books) beginning when she bought Hill Top Farm not long after the death of her beloved fiancĂ© (and publisher) Norman Warne. The mystery here centers around the death of one of the villagers and Miss Potter and the village’s animals along with her own menagerie eventually solve the crime. I don’t think it’s easy to take a real historical figure and base a series of books on them, but from the admittedly little I know of Beatrix Potter, it seems that the author has done a remarkable job. The book is very cozy and told partly from the point of view of Beatrix and partly from the POV of various animals, and knowing this, I elected to ‘read’ the audio version, which actually worked well for me. The reader was wonderful, doing a variety of voices and accents very skillfully and captured the soul of the book well. I’m not sure I would read these in print—they’re just TOO cozy for my usual tastes and even in audio, the always “prim and proper” tone of the English village of the day did wear on my nerves after awhile—but I did enjoy this in audio and most certainly will listen to more of them. B+

13. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. (AUDIO) Very interesting tale of a toddler whose family is murdered but escapes the killer’s knife by wandering out of his house into a nearby graveyard. His mother’s spirit briefly visits the graveyard and asks two ghosts, Mr. & Mrs. Owens, to take care of her son, and they do, calling him Nobody Owens (“Bod” for short.) They need help raising him since they aren’t allowed to leave the graveyard and the living and the dead almost never interact, but a creature called Silas—who is neither living nor dead—agrees to help by procuring food and acting as Bod’s guardian and liaison with the outside world. And so Bod grows, living in the graveyard, interacting with spirits and ghosts, very much loved and feeling cared for, although he does realize he is somehow different. A variety of spirits and beings educate him as he grows. Eventually he knows what happened to his family and begins to look forward to the day when he will meet the man Jack who killed them. It’s hard to give a synopsis of the book without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that it was an excellent story, and wonderfully read by the author himself. A definite gothic feel, at times scary and macabre, at other times poignant and tender, this is a must-read (or must-listen if you can!!) for all but the very young. A+

14. DYING LIGHT by Stuart MacBride. #2 DS Logan MacRae Scottish police procedural set in Aberdeen. Logan, still trying to recover from the shame he feels associated with events at the end of the last book, doesn’t get fired like he anticipates—instead, he’s charged to work with DI Steel’s team. He’s not sure which is the worse fate; Steel, a chain-smoking, shrewd, crude and lewd woman whose squad is known as the Screw-Up Squad, sees Logan (a former hero) as her way to promotion and glory. He ends up doing much of her dirty work, dragged in to work off-shifts and days off on a serial killer case, much to the chagrin of his new love interest, fellow copper Jackie Watson. Dark, gritty and violent, this was a good story, but it was hard to believe some of the odd coincidences, and also to fathom how someone like DI Steel ever got as far as she did up the ladder with all the shortcuts she took and blatantly ignoring sound procedural practice. I like Logan, but he just seems to skitter from one disaster to another—which is, I suppose, what makes this noir. B+

15. ALANNA: SONG OF THE LIONESS (THE FIRST ADVENTURE) by Tamora Pierce. First of a children's fantasy series, this is the story of Alanna, a pre-pubescent noble girl who conspires with her twin brother Thom such that they each get sent where they want for training—she wants to be a warrior knight and he wants to be a sorcerer. Alanna changes her name to Alan and heads off to the castle for knight’s training in Thom’s place and he heads for the convent to begin training his magic Gift. This is made possible by a father who is a scholar with his head in his studies and somewhat indifferent and inattentive to his children. Of course trouble starts brewing the next year when “Alan” begins developing into a woman, but she is determined to find out what her dreams and visions of the black city mean. While this was an okay story, the writing was just a bit too simplistic and “young” for me. It only took a couple of hours to read, and while I think it would be a good story for children, I don’t think it’s a series I will pursue. B.

16. A DUTY TO THE DEAD by Charles Todd. First in a new historical mystery series featuring Bess Crawford, a nurse during WWI. As we meet Bess, she is on an empty hospital ship, Brittanic, heading back to England, when it hits a mine and sinks. During the fracas, her arm is broken and then injured worse, and thus must be taken off active duty. During this time, she decides to finally assuage her conscience and visit the family of a solider she'd grown close to who ultimately died and left her with a message for his brother that she promised to deliver in person. Arthur Graham's family lives at Owlhurst, a small manor village in Kent, and she sets off to deliver this message to his brother Jonathan. But while a guest in the Graham home, Bess becomes drawn into the family intrigue centering around Arthur's older brother Peregrine, who was committed to an asylum at the age of fourteen after murdering a servant girl. As Arthur's message consists of "Tell Jonathan I lied. I did it for mother's sake. But it has to be set right," she can't help but wonder if it has something to do with Peregrine's situation. As she asks more questions of the villagers who knew the family at the time, she becomes more involved, almost obsessed, with making certain Arthur's wish is carried out, to the point where her own life may be in peril. I very much enjoyed this book--the story was excellent, the characters well-drawn, and the spirit of the times were heartily embraced, and the mystery remained so til fairly close to the end. I look forward to reading more about Bess and her adventures. A.

17. FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH by Caroline Graham. #5 DI Tom Barnaby British police procedural. Once again a small English village is the setting, as Alan Hollingsworth is found dead--at first believed to be of a suicide, his wife Simone having disappeared a few days previously, ostensibly to visit her sick mother, although her mother had been believed dead for many years. Then the thirty-year-old daughter of one of the Hollingsworth neighbors disappears, something totally out of character for her. DCI Barnaby and his Sergeant Troy begin investigating, gleaning information from all the nosy neighbors and trying to sift through to find the important bits. Was Alan done in by a former business partner that he'd swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is the beautiful Simone's disappearance voluntary, or was she abducted? Neither were well-liked, but neither were they seemingly the types to incur strong hatred. Through many twists and turns, the mysteries are eventually solved, although not to Barnaby's satisfaction, as it's mostly speculation on his part. I did figure out the main part of the mystery about halfway through, but the hows and whys were a bit muddled til the end. Enjoyable, but perhaps a little TOO long and twisty. B+

#5 Kitty Norville paranormal series. Kitty, a werewolf, and Ben (formerly her lawyer, now her fiance and pack mate) finally get fed up with planning a big traditional wedding and decide to get married in Las Vegas, much to the chagrin of Kitty's mother. They plan on combining business with pleasure by having Kitty do a live version of her radio show, The Midnight Hour, at a theatre in Vegas. However, things start falling apart when Kitty is asked by Rick, Denver's Vampire Master, to carry a message to Vegas' Master, Dom. It gets worse when the happy couple arrive at their hotel only to discover that there is a gun convention taking place at the hotel--and Ben recognizes several Hunters--as in, werewolf and vampire hunters--in the crowd. Then there's magic shows featuring real magic and an animal act featuring several lycanthropes. Kitty begins to wonder if her show will ever get done and begins to wonder at the wisdom of their Vegas wedding plans--which were made to simplify everything--and when Ben is kidnapped hours before the ceremony is to take place, she begins the search for him in a state of near-panic. Does their wedding ever take place? You'll have to read it to find out! Another good entry in this paranormal series, although this one did seem a little fragmented and scattered compared to previous books, not quite as good. Looking forward to the next one, though! B+.

19. THE MISSING INK by Karen E. Olson. #1 Tattoo Shop mystery featuring Brett Kavanaugh, owner of the Painted Lady tattoo shop in Las Vegas. Brett gets involved in a complex case her brother Tim, a Las Vegas police detective, is investigating when it's determined that a missing girl was last seen in her shop. She'd come in to ask about getting devotion ink with her fiance's name on it, made an appointment to get the tat, then never showed. The odd thing is, her fiance's name was Bruce Manning Jr--son and heir of a wealthy businessman, known as Chip to his friends--but she wanted her tattoo to say Matthew! Soon the news is splashed with photos of Elise Lyon, missing bride-to-be of Chip Manning--but she had used the name Kelly Masters when she made the appointment at The Painted Lady. When a woman is found shot dead in a car near the airport--and HER name ends up being Kelly Masters, things begin to get really confusing. Soon Brett is in the puzzle up to her pretty little tattooed neck. I liked this book okay--I've enjoyed all of Olson's books in her other series--but this one wasn't exceptional. I like her writing style--it flows, it's easy to read. But this book was cozier than her other series, and in fact had many of the elements of "just another cookie cutter cozy mystery." You have a main character with a quirky job or hobby, you have a set of slightly freaky friends or secondary characters, and you have the main character doing unbelievable things that no sane person would do which continually puts her in jeopardy. And yes, one of those things was withholding evidence from the police, even though one of the police in question was her brother. The concept is great! As a tattooed woman, I felt it certainly had promise. I learned some interesting things. But Brett's character just didn't seem to have much depth, and the whole package didn't quite measure up--possibly because Olson's other series IS so good, I had high expectations. I will read the next in series, but I have become very disillusioned with cozies in general and it is going to have to be an improvement over this one, and Brett is going to have to develop some meat to her character and quit doing such dumb things if I'm to continue beyond that. B-

Current reads: VANISHED by Kat Richardson, WHITE NIGHT by Jim Butcher in audio.