Friday, December 31, 2010


It's time once again for that year-end summary. It's been another great reading year with many excellent reads and fewer DNFs than even last year. I finished off quite a few "dead" series and caught up to the current release on many others. I also have discovered some interesting new-to-me authors.

Here's the vital statistics:

Total books read: 198. (Down from last year's 234.)

DNFs (Did Not Finish): Only 5 this year, down from 11 last year. I like to think this means I'm getting better at knowing my reading tastes. It might just be pure luck, though. :)

TOPS and BOTTOMS of the year. I have a separate category for mysteries since that's the genre I read most. This was very difficult!! Lots of excellent books didn't make it into the top ten.

There aren't many bottoms, because if I'm not enjoying a book, I simply stop reading it, and I don't review books I don't finish. So it's not necessarily that the bottoms are horrible--just my least favorite of those I did finish. And these are not necessarily books *released* during this year, just books I've read during this year; I'm often several years behind on 'what's hot' currently.

TOP TEN MYSTERIES: (in no particular order)

1. Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland
2. Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
3. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
4. The Unquiet Bones by Melvin R. Starr
5. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
6. A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan
7. Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson
8. Let the Dead Lie by Malla Nunn
9. The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe
10.Medicus by Ruth Downie
11.Blacklands by Belinda Bauer
12.An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
13.Missing Mark by Julie Kramer
14.Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
15.Christmas Mourning by Margaret Maron

Yes...I know. Math was never my strong suit. :)

TOP TEN "OTHER" (anything not a mystery):

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead
3. Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
4. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
5. Changes by Jim Butcher
6. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
8. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
9. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
10.Sleepless by Charlie Huston


Our Lady of Immaculate Deception by Nancy Martin
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger
The Stolen Blue by Judith Van Gieson
A Fountain Filled With Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Death of an Englishman by Magdalen Nabb
Stalked by Brian Freeman

And for once, I do have an actual New Year's Resolution, and it's one that involves books: I pledge not to purchase any books this year. (I am still going to trade books at, but will not spend actual money for books in 2011.) I'm not sure what kind of odds the bookmakers are giving, but I am DETERMINED.

Roll on 2011! Happy Reading in the New Year, everyone!


Monday, December 6, 2010

December 2010

1. ROSEMARY AND RUE by Seanan McGuire. #1 October "Toby" Daye paranormal. October is half-human, half fae changeling, who has just come out of the pond--having been cursed, she spent 14 years as a fish in a koi pond in a public park in San Francisco. During that time, she lost everything--her boyfriend, her daughter--who was four when she 'disappeared' and now wants nothing to do with her--her private eye business, and she remembers very little of her time underwater. Only the fae world, which time affects differently, still know who she is, although she is trying to make it in the human world. Working nights in a supermarket and living hand-to-mouth in a crummy apartment, October's life suddenly changes forever--again--when she is charged by a dying fae sometime friend to find her killer--and it's a request that Toby can neither refuse nor ignore--it is tied to a curse that will see her dead if she doesn't fulfill the directive. Trying to navigate fae politics and current feuds and alliances, she finds that much has changed even in the short (by fae standards) time she was gone. I enjoyed this quite a lot, although there were a lot of different characters and 'types' of fae to try to keep straight, and the subplots were perhaps a bit complicated for an introductory book. The few main characters were very interesting and well-fleshed though--Toby especially--and I'm definitely planning to read on. B+

2. THE OLD WINE SHADES by Martha Grimes. #20 Chief Supt. Richard Jury mystery set in the UK. This story sucked me in right from the beginning, with a man in a pub telling Jury a story about his friend whose wife, autistic son and dog disappeared into thin air about nine months previously. They had made a trip to a small town in Surrey that had a good private school for autistic children, and where they hoped to move if things checked out well. While she looked at one cottage she was scheduled to view, the estate agent stated she'd never come back to return the key for the second one, which was an unoccupied estate with a spooky history. "But the dog came back," Harry Johnson says, and produces a shaggy mutt called Mungo. Jury, on administrative leave from Scotland Yard, spends several pleasant evenings talking with Harry explaining about his friend Hugh, who became so distraught at his wife's disappearance that he is now in a private psychiatric facility attempting to gain his equilibrium back. Jury quietly (and unofficially) investigates, and of course brings his friend Melrose Plant into things as well. All went relatively well until the ending, which I found to be anticlimactic and rather lame--and I did see the plot twist coming. But still, I enjoy these visits with this set of characters that I have come to know and love over the years. B.

3. AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS by Charles Todd. (AUDIO) #2 Bess Crawford historical mystery set during WWI in England. Bess, a nurse, is escorting several patients back to a care facility in England from the battles in France. While she is at the train station making her own way back to London for a quick twenty-four hour leave, she recognizes a woman on the platform as Mrs. Evenson--the wife of one of the severely burned men she has just deposited. He carried her picture with him all the time, so Bess would be hard-pressed NOT to recognize her. But troublingly, the woman was crying and talking to another man--an officer in the Wiltshire Division. The scene disturbed her, but not as much as reading a newspaper article about her murder several weeks later when back in France--the newspaper was already old, being in a care package for one of her co-workers from home. Police are asking anyone who saw the woman on the day of her disappearance to help with enquiries, and Bess writes Scotland Yard to share her experience. They summon her back to England to speak with them and through other coincidences gets involved in helping solve the case with her amateur sleuthing. I rather liked the first book of this series, but this one I just could not get interested in. Bess seems rather devolved as a character, and it's hard for me to say that I know her very well--she's all over the place with regards to her thoughts, actions, emotions, etc. The mystery was rather obvious and I couldn't say that I felt particularly immersed in the time and place either--some parts felt kind of superficial where it seemed things should have been explored in depth, and other things that I felt were side issues were dwelt upon overly much. The book was competently read, although the reader had a couple of annoying habits--but honestly, I don't think it made a difference to my opinion about the book itself. I finished this, but honestly I think I will just stop here in this series. C.

4. THE WITCH IN THE WELL by Sharan Newman. #10 Catherine LeVendeur historical mystery set in 12th-century France. Catherine is at the home of her brother Guillaume and family when they are summoned to the home of their grandfather near Boisvert--the well is running dry, and there is apparently an old pagan folk story that everyone (but Catherine) in the family knows--all the family is in grave danger unless they can figure out why the well is going dry and stop it. Catherine, an ex-novice and very religious, heartily disbelieves in pagan tales, but feels a strange compulsion and they should be going to her grandfather's, and so she and husband Edgar and their children pack up and hit the road only to be met by several surprises once they arrive. I started out absolutely loving this series, but I have to admit I've grown a bit weary of it for these last few books. It's almost like a love-hate relationship with the books. One minute I'm loving the historical detail and sense of place, the next I want to throw it across the room because the characters and storyline has become so predictable, rehashed and recycled. Tedious. I dunno. It's kind of hard to explain. This is the last book in the series, and while I have mostly enjoyed the ride over these past several years, I was glad to close this final book and call it done. C+

5. THIEF IN RETREAT by Aimee and David Thurlo. #2 Sister Agatha mystery set in New Mexico. Sister Agatha is asked by the Archbishop to go out to a resort and retreat center to catalogue crates of stuff that were stored there (it was formerly a monastery) so that some renovations can occur. There is a secondary purpose to her trek also--the owners of the resort believe that certain religious art works have been stolen and replaced with fakes, but they have no real proof--and the appraiser they've hired has disappeared into thin air. Sister Agatha, who is an extern at the monastery she's a member of--meaning she can interact with the public--has a bit of a rep with the Archbishop and he wants her to help solve that crime while doing her cataloguing. Of course there is a ghost story to go with it, and Sister Agatha herself sees Juanita, the so-called lilac-smelling ghost, one night. Does the ghost have anything to do with the missing (or replaced) art work, though--or is she just an interesting side story? Sheriff Tom Green is also there, attending a workshop for cops, and he is helping Sister keep an eye out--but of course doesn't prevent her from finding the dead body of the appraiser. Part of me likes this quiet, cozy series, but part of me finds it a little too quiet, kind of repetitive in places, and somewhat unimaginative with a cliched set of characters. I've got one more book in the series here, and that one will be my decision-maker as to whether to continue reading the series or not. I'm teetering on the fence at the moment. B-

6. THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB by Alexander McCall Smith. (AUDIO) #11 in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency cozy mystery series set in Botswana. We're off on another journey to Gabarone, Botswana to visit Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr. JLB Matekoni and the rest of the circle of friends. Mma Ramotswe is commissioned by a wife--and then by her husband--to find out if the other is having an affair. The second case comes via letter from America, a lawyer asking her to track down a guide--name unknown--at a safari camp--name also unknown--in the Okavango Delta in the north of the country. A woman has died and left some money to that guide who was very kind to her on her safari trip a few years past. Mma Kutsi's fiance is seriously injured in an accident involving a delivery truck and she must battle his old auntie, who doesn't like Mma Kutsi and attempts to keep her from seeing Phuti. As always, a lovely visit with lots of wise words and warm fuzzies and not a whole lot of "mystery" per se. Very skillfully read by Lisette Lecat. A

7. SKIN by Mo Hayder. #4 DI Jack Caffrey mystery. Jack, still working in Bristol and still reeling from events in the last book, feels he is being watched by the Tokoloshe, an African mystical creature. He's supposed to have moved on to the next case--the disappearance of a popular footballer's wife from a local drug rehab facility--but he can't help but feel that they missed something on the case before, and he continues to pursue leads. Meanwhile, DS Phoebe "Flea" Marley, leader of the dive team--who also recover particularly messy, decomposing bodies--continues to deal with her mentally unstable brother Thom, and feels spooked by a diving incident in one of the old quarries--searching for the body of a young woman presumed dead. The cases merge toward one another and become thoroughly enmeshed when Flea makes a horrible discovery about Thom. I enjoy this series although I've felt these last couple of books haven't been as cohesive as the first couple. There seems to have to be a lot of suspension of disbelief to get on with the story--not necessarily the mystical element, more like the outrageous actions of these two police persons and the totally strange situations they find themselves in. Very violent and gory, which doesn't bother me, except that it does seem to me that much of it is meant simply to shock rather than to further the story along. The serial killer was not very well developed, and there seemed to be a lot of attention paid to some of the minor side characters, yet both of the main characters seem totally adrift and I hope the author will resolve some of this and settle them a bit next time out. B.

8. BLOOD FROM A STONE by Donna Leon. #14 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice. When a black immigrant (probably illegal) is shot to death in a crowded marketplace where he was selling knock-off designer handbags, Guido begins an investigation--which is made doubly difficult by the fact that, since the man and his friends are in the country illegally, no one knows who he is, where he lives, or what the motive for murder could possibly be. Guido calls in a few favors to slightly underground friends around town and locates the man's home, but of course the friends refuse to give any information, being afraid of any police authority based on experience in their home country of Senegal. But Guido finds a stash of diamonds hidden in a box of salt in the man's meager apartment, and thus believes he's found something of a motive--and then his boss, Vice-Questore Patta calls him off the investigation without explanation except, "We're letting this go." Of course that means he's gotten direction from higher up, but why? On a personal note, it's just days to Christmas and Guido is having problems choosing gifts for his family, and Paola and Chiara (his wife and daughter) are on the outs because of a disparaging comment Chiara made about the man whose death Guido is investigating. Excellent as always--I can't believe this is already #14 in the series and that by next year I'll probably be caught up. Love, love, LOVE Guido, his family and Venice! A+

9. THE BLACK TOWER by P.D. James. #5 Commander Adam Dalgliesh mystery. Dalgliesh is recovering from a bout of mononucleosis (at first thought to be leukemia) when he receives a letter from Father Baddeley, an old friend of his father's who asks to see him on a 'professional' matter. He lives at Hope Cottage near the sea and near a privately run care facility for young disabled people called Toynton Grange, and when Adam arrives, he finds that Fr. Baddeley died ten days previously. Of course he's suspicious at first about the death--although the priest had only just returned from hospital after having a heart attack--and he sets out to find what it was that he'd been summoned about. While there, he learns of the presumed suicide of a patient a few days previous to the priest's death and meets a whole cast of strange characters--patients, medical professionals, caretakers and other hangers-on. Something just doesn't set right and more deaths ensue before Dalgliesh can figure out how they all tie together, as of course they must do. I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of this mystery, but it had altogether too many peripheral characters to try to keep straight, and sometimes things happened that just seemed bizarre until I remember that the book was written in the '70's and it's most likely accurate for the place and time. As usual, the plot is the strong suit in James' novels, but her characterizations have definitely improved from the first book in this series. A.

10. CHRISTMAS MOURNING by Margaret Maron. (AUDIO) In this latest Judge Deborah Knott and clan mystery, it's Christmas time once again and Deborah and Dwight are celebrating their first anniversary as well. A series of fatal car crashes involving young folks has set a bit of a pall over Colleton County's festivities, though, especially the most recent, involving Mallory Johnson, head cheerleader at West Colleton High. By everyone's account, she's practically perfect, so when a small amount of alcohol is found in her blood, everyone is shocked, and her father insists that someone must have spiked her soda pop. Otherwise why would she have crashed on a straight stretch of road in good driving weather? And who would do such a thing? As the town mourns her loss, deeper investigation of course reveals that Mallory wasn't without her flaws, but it takes two more deaths for Dwight to connect the dots. A very enjoyable visit to Colleton County, laced with big doses of family lore and Christmas tradition and history. Great story, and as always, the author tackles social issues along the way and gives you something to think about, although the mystery wasn't too much of a puzzle to figure out fairly well in advance. Wonderfully read by CJ Critt, as always. A+

11. SERVER DOWN by J.M. Hayes. #5 (and so far, the last) Mad Dog & Englishman mystery. Usually the series is set in fictional small-town Kansas, but in this book, part of the story takes place in Tuscon, AZ where Englishman's daughter Heather is attending law school, and where her uncle Mad Dog has driven off to in order to observe a sacred Native American rite. Unfortunately, MD doesn't get to see much of the rite as he is almost immediately attacked and accused of murdering a tribal officer and ends up on the run with his half-wolf Hailey. Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Mad Dog's house is blown to smithereens. He subsequently learns that a character from the online video game he plays called War of Worldcraft--an evil Vampire Wizard named Fig Zit--is the one behind his frame-up and destruction of his home. Mad Dog has no idea how Fig Zit found out who he was in real life or why he would want to cause him harm, but he's certain that's what's happening. Everyone else, of course, thinks he's nuts--not that they hadn't already suspected as much before. It takes the adept play of Mrs. Krause (Sheriff English's office manager), a fairly good WoW player herself, to make the connection. Meanwhile, it's a madcap chase across Tuscon and the Internet with Mad Dog and Heather running into one scrape after another along the way. I really enjoyed this entry in the series, since I myself play World of Warcraft, the game that the author based his spoofy game on. It's obvious he also played the game because so much of his characterization and game play was spot on--and very funny, too. This book was published in 2008, so not sure if there are going to be any more books in the series or not--I do hope so! It would be interesting to continue it on with Heather in the lead role, I think, since Sheriff English played a somewhat diminished role in this book anyway. Wacky, goofy, crazy, much under-recognized and utterly delightful series. A.

12. EXILE by Denise Mina. #2 of the Garnethill trilogy featuring Maureen O'Donnell, a troubled young Glaswegian woman. Still struggling to overcome her past, filled with abuse, drugs and alcohol, Maureen is up in arms trying to deal with the fact that her abusive father is once again back in town. Looking for something to take her mind off her nightmares, she once again gets involved in a murder case when a woman who had been staying at the women's shelter where she works turns up beaten to death in London, stuffed in a mattress and chucked in the river. The natural suspect is the woman's husband, but Maureen has met Jimmy, who is now trying to raise their four children by himself--her friend Leslie asked her to check him out as he is actually her cousin--and doesn't believe he's guilty. So she begins poking her nose in, takes the bus to London to try to retrace Ann's steps to see who she was hooked up with down there, and of course meets plenty of violent and other sundry unsavory characters along the way as well. Bleak and at times painful to read, I nevertheless love this character and the author's writing style. Looking forward to the conclusion of the series in the third book, aptly titled Resolution. I like to think that despite her problems, Maureen is going to be all right. We shall see! A.

13. MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins. (AUDIO) The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy finds Katniss Everdeen working with the rebel forces as the Mockingjay, symbol of rebellion against the Capitol forces. She finds herself being scripted, made up and costumed for video spots much like she was during her time as a Hunger Games participant, and continues to struggle with her sanity as nightmares make sleep nearly impossible. Foremost in her list of goals is to rescue Peta from President Snow in the Capitol, where he has been for weeks being tortured. She knows that no one will be safe until Snow is dead, and she makes it her personal goal to be the one to do the deed. This book was rather slow in the middle section with much repetitive action, and I felt the ending was rather predictable. I can't say too much without giving a lot away, but I will say that ultimately I was pleased with the ending to the book and I think when I've had more time to digest the whole thing I'll like it even more. It gives much food for thought all throughout the series. At any rate, it was a fit ending to a great series. A.

14. THE HANGED MAN by David Skibbins. In this fifth (and so far, last) Warren Ritter mystery, Warren gets involved with helping a friend of his girlfriend Sally. The friend has been accused of murdering one of her clients--she's a dominatrix. So Warren takes up training so that he can get into the BDSM scene and ferret out who might have wanted to frame Therese. Meanwhile, Warren is also trying to protect a set of ancient tarot cards willed to him by his mentor, and there are several people who want to get their hands on them who are after Warren. Warren's bipolar disorder seems relatively in control at this point, and he continues on his journey of self-discovery. I do like this series, but I've tended to notice with these last couple of books that the dialogue and conversations are somewhat stilted and don't sound very natural. Aside from that, I love Warren and his quirky "family" and am hoping for more entries in this series at some point. B+

15. RED HOOD'S REVENGE by Jim C. Hines. Third book in the Princess fantasy series--which I had thought was going to be a trilogy but now I see another coming out next year. Featuring several fairy tale legends as the main cast of the book--Sleeping Beauty (Talia), Snow White (er...Snow) and Cinderella (Danielle), the women on this trip encounter Roudette (aka Little Red Riding Hood) who has spent her life seeking revenge against The Wild Hunt that killed her family. The fairy tales don't get it quite right...the woodsman was the bad guy, and Roudette has 'bonded' with the Big Bad Wolf in such a way that she's a bit other-than-human. Roudette is working now as a paid assassin, and the Princesses must first of all figure out just who has hired her wolfiness, and which of them she's specifically targeted. Eventually they realize it's Talia, and they are off to Talia's homeland of Arathea, where she's sought for killing the son of the current queen who also happens to be the father of her twin boys, who are now under the care of said queen. Can Snow overcome fairy magic in order for Talia to get at the evil fairy who hired Roudette? Not by herself, of course--as always, it's a team effort, with Roudette even helping along the way. I am still surprised by how much I enjoy this series, not being one for girly-girl stories. But these three are anything but your typical girly girls. Great story, easy-to-read writing style and enjoyable fusion of fairy tale, myth and fantasy. Very much looking forward to the next one! A.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 2010

1. TO SHIELD THE QUEEN by Fiona Buckley. #1 Ursula Blanchard Elizabethan historical mystery. Ursula, recently widowed and left nearly penniless, is given a place at Queen Elizabeth's court and ends up involved in political plots and intrigue when she is sent to attend to Lady Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert Dudley--widely known as a favorite of the Queen. Lady Amy is dying of breast cancer--essentially untreatable in that time--and Dudley wants someone there to witness the fact that he does not wish her ill nor is he plotting to kill her so he can be free to wed the Queen. While Ursula is there, Amy Dudley does die in suspicious circumstances, having fallen down the stairs and broken her neck while the entire household was at the village fair--at Amy's insistence. Then Ursula's servant John Wilton is murdered, and she seeks to follow a lead given her by John with his last breath, and THAT leads her to a possible plot against the Queen herself. This was a pretty good read, although I am not overly fond of the Elizabethan period having O.D.'d on it a few years back. I read one of the later books in this series a few years ago, and liked it enough to get this first one, intending to read through the series, but it ended up sitting on my shelf for over five years. I am not going to actively seek to continue the series for now, but at some point I probably will do so. B.

2. THE NOBLE OUTLAW by Bernard Knight (AUDIO) #11 Crowner John historical mystery set in Devon, UK in the 1195. A desiccated corpse is found in an old forge being renovated into a school, and due to the length of time he's been dead, the only thing clear is that the man was murdered--a nail protrudes from his neck. Eventually the Coroner and his assistants track down his identity, but shortly thereafter, two other--fresher--bodies killed and displayed in gruesome ways, are found. The men were all prominent tradesmen, leaders of their respective guilds. And then John's wife Matilda is brutally attacked on her way home from Christmas Mass, the attacker whispering to her that the killings were revenge killings against her brother, former Sheriff Richard de Revelle, and that he'll be getting his soon enough. The finger points most strongly to a man who was declared outlaw at the behest of Richard, who then seized his lands and property, but Crowner wonders if someone is deliberately pointing him in that direction--and then he learns that the outlaw "Nick of the Moor" has a wife who's been staying with family in Exeter and that she is Matilda's new friend from church. Once the Crowner gets to meet the outlaw and hear his story, he is determined to bring his case before the King, or at least the Lord Justiciar. This is the first of this series that I've listened to in audio format, and have quite enjoyed it. The reader is very good, skillfully telling the story and doing an excellent job with a myriad of different voices and accents. The series itself I always find enjoyable, and the author manages to impart a lot of historical detail and information such that I'm learning things without realizing it as the story goes on. Will listen to more of these if the library has them available for sure! A.

3. SMALL GODS by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett tackles organized religion on the Discworld. Need I say more? Hilarious, but also very poignant, too. A.

4. WHITE CORRIDOR by Christopher Fowler. #5 in the Bryant & May "Peculiar Crimes Unit" mystery series set in London. In this episode, acting director Raymond Land closes the unit for a week while the computers and electronics are updated, so Bryant convinces May to accompany him to a spiritualist convention out in the rural west country. The two elderly detectives set off and run into a horrendous snowstorm that leaves them stuck in a ditch and stranded along with dozens of other travelers--one of whom is a murderer, as they discover when they find the body of a truck driver with his throat slashed. Meanwhile, back in London, the unit's pathologist Oswald Finch dies while beginning an autopsy on a young girl, a drug addict who is more than what she seems. His death comes just days before his impending retirement, and the remaining staff must figure out if it was murder (only they have keys and the door was locked!), suicide or a bizarre accident. Communicating with their senior colleagues by mobile phone, DS Janice Longbright must finally begin to put all the teachings of her mentors to work to solve the crime--before a royal visit scheduled last minute by their nemesis, Oscar Kasavian, could derail the unit once and for all. Enjoyable read as always with crazy characters, well-plotted mysteries, red herrings galore, and plenty of laughs. Though I was sad at the death of crotchety old Finch, his demise was an interesting puzzle for the Unit to solve. A

5. THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU by Michael Stanley. #2 in the Detective David "Kubu" Bengu series set in Botswana. This book has Kubu venturing far from home in Gaborone to the north of Botswana to a tourist camp in the jungle where two brutal murders beg to be solved. One of the men killed turns out to be a South African policeman. The other, Goodluck Tinubu, appears to be not what he seems--which was a quiet, well-loved teacher from a school in Mochudi. According to his fingerprints, he had already died once in the Rhodesian war thirty years previously. Since his body was mutilated after death in a way that indicates it was a gang killing related to the political upheavals in Zimbabwe, and since another man staying at the camp left sooner than planned and has now disappeared, it is assumed that he is the killer they're looking for. But as Kubu and Tatwa, the local detective in charge, begin investigating, they discover that some of the camp's other guests are not exactly who they seem to be either, and some have dark secrets of their own. A twisty tale of political unrest, smuggling, and old festering wounds, this book reads much more quickly than its 480 pages would have you think. Great characters, a lot of information--not all of it pleasant, with the history of these African countries--and immersion into the culture without being 'teachy or preachy.' Good mystery too, although I had a gut feeling about the killer. Hope there will be more in the series! A.

6. PLAYING WITH FIRE (audio) by Peter Robinson. #14 Chief Inspector Alan Banks series set in Yorkshire. Two derelict boats on the canal burn, with two dead--one body on each boat. It's determined that accelerant was used and thus it becomes a murder AND arson investigation. Both boats were occupied by essentially squatters--one, a down-on-his-luck artist and the other a young drug user and her boyfriend, who was away from the boat that evening. Suspects are many in the early days as Banks and his team, including DI Annie Cabot, sift through the myriad of evidence, interview principals and the like. When another suspicious fire in an abandoned caravan kills another man--someone the artist on the boat knew--they begin to suspect a serial arsonist/murderer. Personally, I thought the bad guy was very obvious, although Robinson does throw out plenty of appealing red herrings. But even so, this was one of the best of this series in my opinion, and I enjoyed the story, the history, and the whole package very much. Skillfully read as usual by Ron Keith. Looking forward to the next and hoping my library has it available in one audio format or another! A.

7. UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE by Barbara Seranella. #7 Munch Mancini mystery set in 1980's Los Angeles, and featuring our favorite female mechanic and ex-junkie. Things are going along well for Munch and her adopted daughter Asia when a blast from the past--Asia's aunt Lisa and her two girls--call and ask to get together. Munch, clean and sober for many years now, is always reluctant to let her past leak into her new, stable life, but Lisa is Asia's blood kin and Asia wants to meet her cousins, so she agrees. When the elder daughter Charlotte goes missing a couple of days later, a distraught Lisa calls Munch as the police don't seem very interested in a Goth-looking fifteen-year-old whom they think ran away. Charlotte was friends with a boy who was killed a few days previously as part of a robbery, and Munch wonders if this had something to do with her disappearance--Lisa is convinced she was abducted, and some threatening phone calls later bear this out. Meanwhile, Munch learns some interesting information about Rico, her former boyfriend who had broken their relationship off when his ex-girlfriend turned up pregnant, as he planned to 'do the right thing' and marry her. I always enjoy a visit with Munch and Asia and Munch's unique perspective on life and this book was no exception. Only one left in the series. :( A.

8. DEXTER BY DESIGN by Jeff Lindsay. (Audio) #4 Dexter series book. Dexter Morgan--the blood spatter forensics expert who works with the Miami police department and also happens to be a cold-blooded killer--is on his honeymoon with Rita in Paris. Of course he's bored silly while Rita is in seventh heaven--until they come upon a strange art exhibit featuring self-amputation as art. 'Jennifer's Leg' depicts Jennifer slowly removing parts of her leg and she appears at the end of the display in the flesh--on crutches, of course. Dexter is enthralled! Upon arriving back in Miami, it doesn't take long for the honeymoon to be literally over as someone is displaying their own 'body art'--corpses with their insides removed, posed and stuffed with various items advertising 'The New Miami.' Dex's sister Sgt. Deborah is in charge of the case and looking to her brother--whom she now knows about--to help with clues. But before they get very far, Deborah is stabbed nearly fatally by one of the suspects and Dexter is on his own--under the too-watchful eye of her partner, Lt. Coulter and the ever present Sgt Doakes. This is the first of the series that I have listened to in audio format and I really enjoyed it--the reader did a great job capturing Dexter's "spirit." Despite the dark subject matter, there were several laugh out loud moments and it was interesting seeing how Dexter would get out of yet another scrape. One of the funnier parts was Dexter's step-kids telling him he was in trouble with Rita, because he was going to be in the "poop van." In actuality, she was fixing a special French dinner, and her atrocious pronunciation had the kids thinking she had said "caca-van" instead of "coq au vin." LOL A.

9. OUT OF CIRCULATION by Jo Dereske. #5 Helma Zukas, librarian, mystery set in fictional Bellehaven, WA. Helma and her good friend Ruth set off on a 3-day camping trip/hike up in the mountains near the Canadian border when they are trapped by a snowstorm in an emergency cabin with several other hikers. Helma is as prepared as she can be with plenty of dried foods and a backpack full of useful things--unlike Ruth, who insisted on hiking in a skirt, of all things. Of course there are dead bodies, guns, suspicious behavior and at least one murderer--but who? And how will Helma keep the killer from suspecting that she may have figured out the mystery long enough for the storm to abate and the group to be rescued? I enjoy this series a lot. Helma is an odd duck for sure--she "seems" a lot older than she is, rather prim and proper and yet she definitely has sense of humor too. It's not often I find a cozy-ish series that I enjoy these days, but this is definitely one of them. A.

10. BLOOD LAKE by K.j.a. Wishnia. This is the sixth (and last) Filomena Buscarsela mystery--at least, there has not been a new one since 2002, which I think is really a shame as this is a great series, with an interesting setting and a unique protagonist. Fil is back in her native Ecuador, taking her daughter Antonia to meet her extended family--although she must be careful as her "real" self is a former dissident, wanted by the police. Back once again to the heat and humidity, the poverty with basic essentials we take for granted in short supply, she still feels the love of her family and friends surround her and wants Antonia to know 'this' part of her homeland. Of course she becomes embroiled in the local and national political scene, and her detective's instincts lead her down some dark paths to confront ghosts from her past that may not spell good things for her future. Although I really like this series, and I love Fil to bits, I found the actual mystery in this one rather predictable--I knew who would be dead before they died, and had a good idea whodunit, too. It was perhaps a bit too long with a few too many side trips, and even a bit too much of the socio-economic inequity angst laid on, but I still enjoyed it much, and was sorry that Filomena's declaration at the end, "The mess I get into when we get back there is a whole other story." is a story that will apparently never be told. :( B+

11. SAVAGE RUN by C.J. Box. #2 Joe Pickett mystery. Joe, a game warden in the Bighorn mountains in Wyoming, is on scene when an exploding cow kills famed eco-terrorist Stewie Woods. It's assumed by the Sheriff that Woods was rigging the explosive himself in one of his infamous protests against ranchers, and died in a case of instant karma, but why is the owner of the ranch, a powerful man with friends in high places, not surprised or even curious about the incident? Joe aims to nail him for poaching a trophy bull elk out of season, but ends up getting sucked back into investigating Stewie Woods' death (and NOT at the invitation of the Sheriff!) when several other noted eco-terrorists end up dead in other freakish accidents. Things get even more complicated when someone proclaiming that he's Stewie Woods keeps calling Joe's house and talking to his wife Marybeth--and he learns that Marybeth and Stewie were high school sweethearts. Enjoyable enough read, but there is just something missing. Not sure what it is--I am not fully engaged with the main character I don't think, there didn't seem to be much in the way of character development since book one, and there also seemed to be a whole string of really improbable things happening and weird coincidences such that it was just outside the realm of being believable. I like the author's writing style and the sense of place is awesome too. I just hope Joe becomes more "real" to me as the series goes on. Hopefully this was just the old 'sophomore slump.' B.

12. HANGMAN BLIND by Cassandra Clark. #1 Abbess of Meaux historical mystery set in early 1380's York. Sister Hildegard, a Cistercian nun and a widow with an inheritance to spend, hopes to procure property from a local lord, Roger de Hutton. She grew up in the area and knew Roger and his family before taking the veil, and being out of the cloister for the first time in seven years and back on familiar ground leaves her with mixed emotions. Things are tense, with many disputes between the serfs, mostly Saxons, and their Norman manor lords, and hints of a new uprising being planned. When there is an attempted murder against Roger during a feast celebrating the birth of his heir, his new nephew, and other deaths follow, Hildegard and Ulf, an old friend of hers and Roger's steward, must seek to solve the crimes to prevent a full-blown riot. Definitely not your typical cozy historical, this book is steeped in realistic detail of life in those trying medieval times, not sparing the reader's sensibilities as the poverty, disparity between rich and poor, and the often violent death awaiting many people is met head on. Plenty of mud, blood and guts and yet it's also got some very interesting characters along with a heroine that I already feel attached to. Glad I have the next one in series waiting. A.

13. A VIGIL OF SPIES by Candace Robb. #10 Owen Archer medieval mystery set in 1370's York--just a few years previous to the above book, in fact! Owen is attending to his employer, Archbishop John Thoresby as he nears his death. The Princess of Wales in bringing her entourage to visit the Archbishop, much to Owen's chagrin, as it's his job as Captain of the Archbishop's guards to keep them all safe. When a young servant of a messenger accompanying Her Grace's party from William Wykeham--ever a thorn in Owen's side--dies on the way, a brief investigation leads Owen to believe it was murder, possibly aimed at the messenger. When inspection of the documents he was carrying prove to be blank parchments, obviously substituted at some point, Owen and the few people he trusts--including, grudgingly, Geoffrey Chaucer--must not only find who took them, but what they contained, and do so discreetly. It more than likely relates to who will be chosen as Thoresby's successor when he dies. More deaths follow and Owen is pitched into despair when he discovers that one of his most trusted men has betrayed him and he begins to question everything. I love this series and really hope the author continues on with it--she says in the afterward that she's got more adventures planned, but it's been almost 3 years now since this was published. Owen and his wife Lucie and their growing family are among my favorites, and I liked this book much better than the last one. Not sure why, but I found this very enjoyable and an interesting take on the author's view of things. It's not always easy to deal with a lot of characters who were real people but she does so very plausibly I think. A+

14. CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris. #2 Nayir Sharqui and Katya Hijazi mystery set in modern day Saudi Arabia. Nayir and Katya have both spent several miserable months not speaking to one another and are thrown together again when Nayir's uncle asks him to find something out from the coroner's office (where Katya works) about a friend who died. Katya ends up assisting a police detective with the death of a young woman who was beaten to death and apparently tortured beforehand. Because of the Muslim religious laws, they must have a woman policeman question the women, and the detective's only available female officer was recently fired for lying about being married. (Unmarried women are not allowed to be policewomen.) The secondary case, part of the story told from the point of view of Miriam Walker, an American woman whose husband works for a Saudi company there, who is thrown into a state of turmoil when her husband disappears. Katya's case intersects with Miriam's dilemma and a whole tangled web ensues. Despite this sounding complicated, it was a very enjoyable book, read skillfully and with an interesting mystery. The only detrimental thing is that it was told from the POV of several different people, and while I understand why the author did it--to help the reader gain perspective of the strict laws and the whole Muslim way of life there through the eyes of many different sub-groups--it was, at times, distracting and didn't really allow for more full development of any one character. That was the only thing that kept me from giving this an A-plus. I do hope there will be more in this series! A.

15. BLOODSHOT by Stuart MacBride. #3 Logan MacRae mystery set in Aberdeen, Scotland. Det. Sgt. Logan MacRae is once again subject to frequently-discussed lousy Aberdeen weather as he is pulled from one investigation to another, caught in a tug-of-war between warring DI's Steel and Insch as he sleeps little, manages to get himself in trouble several times, but eventually solves the crimes. Three equally odd cases--an eight-year-old murderer keeps eluding Logan and his counterparts, a prominent footballer is suspected of rape but keeps slipping away due to lack of forensic evidence, and a man dropped off by an unknown person near dead at the hospital eventually dies and it appears to be the result of some bizarre BDSM practices. I really like Logan and this series but I do find that these books are somewhat repetitive on many levels--the constant reference to the bad weather, the frequent negative descriptions of his superior officers, and reviewing over and over Logan's lack of sleep, state of being hung over, etc etc gets rather old after awhile. Seems like there's a lot of stuff that is "filler" material that doesn't really advance the story. Still--I liked this book and enjoy the series and will continue to read on. A-


I'm working on finishing off a few 'dead' mystery series these last couple months of the year and early next year, so I don't feel so guilty starting some new stuff. Got WAY too many series going...this is a chronic condition of mine though. LOL


Monday, October 11, 2010

October 2010

1. THE STAR by David Skibbins #3 Warren Ritter "Tarot Card" mystery. Warren, formerly known as Weather Underground radical Richard Green, is determined to settle into his new life and not run away again. (Richard Green "died" in an explosion twenty odd years earlier, and Warren Ritter is one of several incarnations he has used since then.) Doing well on his meds for his bi-polar disease and with his computer hacker girlfriend Sally, he is still working on his relationship with his newfound daughter Fran. So when Fran shows up on his doorstep early one morning needing his help--she shares his bipolar gene--he steps in to do what he can. When her husband first disappears with their baby Justin, and later ends up murdered with Fran the primary suspect, he sets aside his job as a street tarot reader for a few days and investigates. He finds another blast from his past, a fellow radical who used to be a member of the Black Panthers. What connection could he possibly have to Orrin's death? And what about Fran and Orrin's minister, whom Warren discovers has a secret past? I really enjoy this series a lot--it's a shame there's only one more waiting. (Hopefully the series will continue, but the last one was published in 2008, so we shall see. The author writes very knowledgably about mental health issues and the treatment/medical system, his characters are engaging, and the mysteries interesting. This one I had sort of figured out, though not the logistics of it til the end. Anyway, another enjoyable entry in the series! A.

2. THE SHOTGUN RULE by Charlie Huston. Stand-alone noir about four teenaged boys--brothers George and Andy, and their friends Paul and Hector--each with their own family and personal demons that they try to obliterate with the usual weapons of alcohol, drugs and a concerted effort at appearing not to give a shit about anything. Minor criminals--thieving, smoking weed and drinking, getting by with doing as little schooling as possible, they go up against the Arroyo brothers, big brutes who are more hardened criminals, when their younger brother steals Andy's bike. The foursome sets up the Arroyos so that two of them get arrested, one of them shot in the leg during the arrest--and then the boys waltz in to their place and steal a bunch of their stuff--including weed, some jewelry, and unknown to the others, Paul also lifts a huge bag of crystal meth. They bring the jewelry to an older friend of theirs to fence, and make enquiries about unloading it, (Paul discreetly asking about the meth also) none of them realizing that person he's brought the stuff to was exactly the *wrong* person, which leads down a very slippery slope and into a series of events that will affect them all for the rest of their lives. Brutal and violent as per Huston's usual style, this is an excellent read if you don't mind those things. Gritty, depressing, with realistic dialogue, the story illustrates perfectly how one decision can impact everything else not only in your own life but the lives of many others. Oddly enough, despite the violent nature of the book, the title actually has nothing to do with guns as I assumed it had--it's referring to the rule involved when getting into a car and calling "shotgun!" (Who gets to ride in the front passenger seat.) LOL A

3. DOCTORED EVIDENCE by Donna Leon. While Commissario Guido Brunetti is away on vacation, an elderly woman is brutally murdered in her apartment, struck down several times with a statuette. It was presumed that her foreign maid killed her and stole some money, as she fled the police and was subsequently killed herself when they chased her and she tripped on a train track in front of an oncoming train. When Guido returns, one of the murdered woman's neighbors returns from her own time abroad and reads the stories about the dead woman and comes to the police station with information that more than likely exonerates the woman's maid, who was in the country on an illegal passport and most likely fled because of that. But if the maid didn't kill the woman, who did? There are plenty of suspects as she was a nasty woman, and a wealthy one too. Guido must investigate clandestinely as Lieutenant Scarpa, his nemesis, was in charge of the case and he doesn't believe the neighbor woman or that her evidence has any signficance. But Guido does, so he goes behind Scarpa's back to find the real killer with the help of the station's very capable secretary, Signorina Elettra. Wonderful, twisting plot, great characters, with the city of Venice itself being one of them. Plenty of drool-worthy cooking mentioned, too. Excellent as always. A.

4. A WITCH'S HALLOWEEN by Gerina Dunwich. A collection of stories, folklore, history tidbits, recipes and rituals associated with Halloween, or Samhain as Wiccans and some Pagans know it by. I started this book in September, hoping for once to finish a book about a particular Sabbat in a timely manner so as to glean some information to use for my own celebration--this time I actually did it! Unfortunately the information in this book is pretty basic and there was very little I hadn't heard or read before so I didn't really get much I could use. It would be an excellent resource for non-Pagans or people who are curious about Wicca or Paganism, though. Some of the food/beverage recipes sounded interesting, from Mandrake Wine to "Bread of the Dead." LOL B+

5. LET THE DEAD LIE by Malla Nunn (AUDIO) #2 Emmanuel Cooper mystery set in 1950's South Africa. Cooper, forced to resign from the police force due to the machinations of enemies in the Security Branch resulting from events in the first book, is now working the docks in Durban as a laborer--he's also had his race classification changed to 'mixed-race' which limits his opportunities. While he is doing his regular job he is also working a side job undercover trying to ferret out police corruption for his old boss, Major van Niekirk, who has transferred to Durban. It all goes pear-shaped when he comes across the body of a white slum kid, Jolly Marks, and his old detective's instincts kick in. He is eventually picked up and questioned in the crime, and when his landlady and her maid are also murdered, he is caught literally 'red-handed' and jailed. The Major pulls some strings to get him out of jail, but he has only 48 hours to clear his name by finding the real killer of Jolly and the two women, which leads him on a crazy chase across the seedier side of Durban and surrounding area, even involving a couple of characters from the first book. Once again, the writing style, the immersion into the culture and the times is extremely well done. Deftly plotted, well-written, and with wonderful characters, this series--and I do hope the author intends to write more!--is destined to become a favorite. It's not easy to stare apartheid in the face, but the author does a great job of making it an actual character in the story. The reader for this audio version (Saul Reichlin) did a fantastic job once again with all the different accents and set the tone for the book very well. Excellent! A+

6. MISS ZUKAS AND THE RAVEN'S DANCE by Jo Dereske. #4 Helma Zukas, library mystery set in fictional Bellhaven, WA. Helma takes over cataloguing duties at a Native American cultural center after the previous librarian (although he really wasn't accredited) is murdered--brutally, with a paper spindle shoved through his heart in the Ladies' room, clutching a Barbie doll of all things. Helma naturally feels inclined to investigate Stanley Plummer's death, especially after she has a few scary moments herself. I don't quite know why I like this series so much, but I really do. Helma is not an old woman, but she rather acts like one, sort of staid and stoic and very precise and set in her ways. Yet there is some wry humor that sometimes catches you by surprise and adds a whole different dimension to the story. The characters are well-fleshed and the stories interesting, too. I enjoyed it! A.

7. DEATH ON THE NILE by Agatha Christie (AUDIO) Classic mystery featuring the fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, read by David Suchet who portrays the detective on the TV version. A wealthy young woman in Egypt on her honeymoon is killed in cold blood with a gunshot through the head while she slept. The obvious choice for murderess--her new husband's former fiancee--has an airtight alibi, so it's up to Poirot and his friend Colonel Race to figure out the whys, wherefores, and how it was done. Skillfully plotted as usual, but with rather stereotypical characters--except for the excellent Poirot himself, this was wonderfully read by Suchet with his variety of accents and of course the perfect Poirot. Always enjoyable, and though I had read this years ago, I didn't remember whodunit or how it was done til the reveal. A.

8. FAKING IT by Marianne MacDonald. Last (at least so far) in the Dido Hoare mystery series, Dido being an antiquarian bookseller in London. With her father Barnabas, a retired Oxford professor, her four-year-old son Ben and Ernie, her shop assistant, Dido buys and sells old books. When one of the many book scouts she's dealt with in the past pays her a visit after an absence of a couple of years, he's showing her some run-of-the-mill books when he gets a phone call that upsets him and he then shows her an old looking manuscript that he would like cash for immediately. Dido has him accompany her to the bank--she's very interested in the medieval-looking book--and a few hours later, Gabriel the bookseller is dead, no sign of the cash she paid him. At first glance it looks like a bike accident, but police investigators later determine he was killed elsewhere with the bike 'accident' being staged. Then a strange-looking man starts appearing around the shop and Dido's getting hang-up calls. Barnabas is also very interested in the book and they take photos of it and put it in safekeeping while he researches it to figure out what the value might be so they can sell it for (hopefully) a tidy profit. The strange man is Gabriel's friend from Amsterdam, an American artist, whose shop has just been torched. The police are interested in Ishmael Peters, but Dido just wishes he'd go away. Later she finds out that there are worse people than Peters after that manuscript, and Barnabas learns some disappointing information about it. I like this series and Dido although I have to admit she does some pretty stupid things, which is fairly par for the course for a female amateur sleuth, I guess...wouldn't be much of a story if they did the sensible thing, would there? And while I enjoy the books for the most part, something just rings somewhat false about them, especially these latest few. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it stems partly from the fact that the book veers sharply from providing too much detail in some parts to skimming and leaving out too much in other parts. Much of Dido's day-to-day life doesn't seem to be too consistent with what the mother of a four-year-old boy would be doing, maybe. Not sure. At any rate, this is the last in the series at least for now, but it feels as though it was 'left hanging' so I do hope the author is able to write at least one more to close the book on Dido and family properly. I actually wish she would continue the series but make it about Barnabas, whom I find much more interesting. B.

9. MURDER IN THE MARAIS by Cara Black. #1 Aimee LeDuc mystery set in Paris, France. Aimee is a private investigator who took over her father's business after his death, her specialty being computer espionage. So when she is approached by an old friend of her father's to retrieve an old photograph and deliver it to a woman in the Jewish quarter of Paris, Aimee balks at first. The pay is good for what seems to be a simple job--until she finds the woman she's to make the delivery to dead in her home with a swastika emblazoned on her forehead. Soli Hecht, the old friend, then delivers a large sum of money to Aimee to find her killer--and as she and her business partner Rene are behind on paying the bills, she dives headfirst into this case that has its roots back in the days during the war when many French Jews were carted off to the concentration camps. Why would Lili Stein be killed all these years later? What did she know and whom did it threaten? Aimee must find these answers before her own life becomes expendable to someone who has some very dark secrets to protect. I really got sucked into this story almost from the first paragraph, despite the fact that I really am not a fan of much of anything French. I liked Aimee right away--she's plucky and independent, yet not invulnerable nor infallible either. There's an interesting cast of secondary characters and the story itself was also quite intriguing, even though I figured out the bad guy well before the end. Definitely will be continuing on with this series. A.

10. BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED by Joe Abercrombie. #2 First Law fantasy trilogy. This second book furthers the stories of the motley mix of characters introduced in book one, some of whom think others among them are dead. Scattered to the corners of the globe, traveling in groups on very different missions, our friends experience the travails of war--both open war and impending war. Bayaz (the First of the Magi) travels with Loren Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar and others in search of an ancient magical relic on the other side of the world. Threetrees, Black Dow, Dogman and their crew join Colonel West, who is trying to protect Crown Prince Ladisla and his entourage, who are off to war and totally ill-equipped for it, having led lives at court as spoiled royalty and never been in battle. Sand dan Glokta and his Practicals are off to Durgosta where he is to become Superior Inquisitor of the city and investigate what happened to his predecessor, who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. A very interesting, widely differing group of characters in a stark, unforgiving, war-torn world. Not your usual unicorns and faeries type fantasy, I would call this series more of a dark fantasy, and definitely not for the prim, proper or faint of heart. I really enjoy this series and look forward to the third one, which should tie all these threads together nicely. There was a little bit of the 'middle book' curse to it, in that the book couldn't really end and have a story that was self-inclusive, but it did do a wonderful job of progressing the various storylines along. A.

11. AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE by Jacqueline Winspear #5 Maisie Dobbs historical mystery set in 1931 England. Once again, two cases intersect when Maisie is consulted by James Compton, her benefactor's son, to investigate some incidences occurring in a village where the company is thinking of buying a brickworks. They want to make sure that the area is stable and that there won't be problems if and when they purchase and take over the company. Meanwhile, Maisie's assistant Billy Beale is on his holiday and off to that same area of Kent with his family to pick hops as they do every year. When the young sons of a friend of Billy's working on the farm are accused of theft from the local Lord--who just happens to be the same fellow Compton's are possibly buying the brickworks from--Maisie agrees to investigate that case at the same time as long as she'll be in the neighborhood. Maisie also gets to find out more about a part of her heritage that she has not explored much--her maternal grandmother was a gypsy and they figure prominently in this mystery. I really enjoy this series, more with each book. The mysteries aren't terribly complicated or difficult, but the settings, characters, atmosphere conveyed and the teaching/learning that occurs each book is also wonderful. In this book I learned a bit more about gypsies and also about hop picking in that era. Looking forward to the next! A.

12. BAD FAITH by Aimee and David Thurlo. #1 Sister Agatha mystery set in a cloistered monastery in New Mexico. When the monastery's chaplain collapses and dies during a Mass at the monastery and it's later determined by the coroner to be poison, the sisters are the obvious first choices for suspects. Sister Agatha is one of only two externs--nuns who deal with the outside world--and she is absolutely certain that it wasn't anyone within the cloister who would harm the priest they all revered. When the local sheriff--an old flame of Sister Agatha's from school days--seems determined to disrupt the cloister's life and routine, she is just as determined to investigate and find the real culprit so they can get back to normal. I did figure the mystery out well in advance, but wasn't sure of the whys and wherefores, just knew 'who' had done it. I wasn't sure I'd like this book--in fact I started reading it because I was looking to do a bit of a culling from my TBR. But even though it's in a religious setting and there are parts where I tended to roll my eyes, mostly I was just able to see Sister Agatha as a human being. I think she had me hooked in the first chapter when she revealed her name for the old, rickety, frequently-broken-down car the monastery owned--the Antichrysler. LOL! Anyway, it was an overall enjoyable book and I likely will read at least a couple more in the series to see if my enjoyment continues. B+

13. MURDER ON BANK STREET by Victoria Thompson. #10 Gaslight mystery featuring widowed midwife Sarah Brandt in early 1900's New York. Sarah's friend Det. Sgt. Frank Malloy continues the investigation into Sarah's husband's murder several years previously, chasing down leads obtained in the last book. He believes the killer was the father of one of four women that Dr. Brandt had been working with before his death, trying to cure an odd disease called Old Maid's Disease--an obsessive mental disorder that causes women to imagine great love affairs where none exist. Frank learns some disturbing information that he's not sure if he wants Sarah to know about, given that it paints Dr. Brandt in a less than glowing light. Maeve, the young woman that Sarah has taken into her home to be nursemaid to her adopted daughter Catherine, is determined to help Malloy solve the crime and actually tries to get herself hired as a servant into one of the homes Malloy is investigating. Of course Sarah really cannot chastise her, since she's gotten involved in many of Malloy's investigations in the past. It was good to finally have the murder of Dr. Brandt solved and will be interesting to see how the series proceeds. It's obvious that Sarah and Malloy should end up together, but despite that romance side to the series, I find it's not as pervasive as in some series and it doesn't really bother me much. A-.

14. CHANGES by Jim Butcher. (AUDIO) #12 Harry Dresden Paranormal series, and a very apt title. Harry's life is definitely *full* of changes in this book. The first is that he receives a call from his former girlfriend Susan informing him that their daughter (whom Harry didn't know existed!) has been kidnapped by Duchess Ariana of the Red Court Vampires for some nefarious purpose. Susan is a half-vampire/half-human who went out of Harry's life years previously when she was bitten and took up with a group of like-minded people fighting the Red Court. Harry and Susan put together a team to get Maggie back from Ariana and are thrown into a maelstrom of trouble coming from many fronts. Within a short period of time, Harry's office is blown up, his home burned down, and he makes some alliances and some discoveries about his ancestry that leave him reeling. Excellent entry in this most excellent of paranormal series, perfectly read by James Marsters who captures the very essence of Harry and his friends and life. Left with a terrible cliffhanger, I'm very anxious to get to the next in the series when it becomes available. A+

15. THE TATTOO MURDER CASE by Akimitsu Takagi. Mystery written in the late 1940's and set in 1947 Tokyo. The main character, Kenzo, a doctor who is furthering his studies, attends a tattoo showing with both men and women displaying their artistic full-body (and totally illegal at the time!) tattoos. He meets and becomes enthralled with the young woman who wins the contest. He has one steamy night with her, and when she summons him in a letter a couple of days later, saying she fears for her life, he goes to her home at the appointed time the next morning only to discover her dismembered body in her bathroom--which is locked from the inside. Amazingly, the entire torso, with the most intricate of the tattoos, is missing. Also, one of Kenzo's university professors--a man who is obsessed with collecting the skins of people with tattoos to save them for display--arrives at the same time. The solution couldn't be that simple, could it? Of course not. Kenzo's older brother happens to be the chief of detectives for the Tokyo police, so he is called in on the case and he and Kenzo end up working on it together--and Kenzo conveniently doesn't mention his relationship with the woman. Over the course of months, the brothers eliminate one suspect after another, and then the woman's common-law husband and her brother both end up murdered as well. It's not until Kenzo's brilliant friend is brought into their circle to work on the problem that the who, how and why becomes evident as the very complicated plot unfolds. This was a very different sort of mystery in many ways, with the Japanese culture at that time and the whole 'tattoo community' playing a major factor in the case. In other ways though it was a classic 'locked room' mystery, and I enjoyed it very much. This book sat on my shelf for over five years, and of course I do regret not reading it sooner. Will definitely seek out more work by this author! A.

DNF: A GHOST IN THE MACHINE by Caroline Graham
JOURNAL OF A PLAGUE YEAR by Daniel DeFoe (audio)

The problem with both of the DNFs is that they were mind-numbingly boring. I did give A Ghost in the Machine a full 100 pages, but it was overblown, overly-detailed, and I just didn't care about the characters or the story...and as it was 500 pages long, reading another 400 pages just wasn't an option.

CURRENTLY READING: TO SHIELD THE QUEEN by Fiona Buckley (#1 Ursula Blanchard historical mystery) and listening to A NOBLE OUTLAW by Bernard Knight, one of the Crowner John historical mysteries.


Monday, September 6, 2010

September 2010

1. LOVE IS THE BOND by M.R. Sellars. #6 Rowan Gant Investigation, in which the dominatrix Mistress Miranda makes her first appearance. In this book, it's Rowan's wife Felicity who is vulnerable to negative energies/spirits as she begins channeling the spirit of Miranda, with her personality and even her soft Irish lilt changing to Miranda's southern accent. Rowan is troubled, wondering whether the body of his wife in possession of Miranda is the one who brutally murdered her sex slaves or if she is just soaking up those energies enough to change her from the loving wife he knows to a prickly, domineering sex kitten that he doesn't. It's always a pleasure to read books that treat the Pagan/Wiccan paths as real and valid and not necessarily 'paranormal' although I have to say in these most recent books, it does seem a bit over the top--which the author admits himself. There's little charm of the first few books with the details of Pagan beliefs & celebrations, assisting friends from their coven, etc. This is mostly just running from one problem to the next, Rowan with his headaches and Felicity getting weirder as Miranda takes over her personality. I'm gong to keep reading, as I have the next three books in the series here, but this has ceased to become one of my favorites. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I prefer a book/series with a little more substance and a little less gratuitous sax & violins. :) I've also come to dislike books that end on a cliffhanger where you have to read on to the next book to know what happens. Progression in a series is fine, but each book should have a story that wraps up at the end too. C+

2. HARDWARE by Linda Barnes. #6 Carlotta Carlyle mystery. Winter's approaching in Boston, and someone is beating up cab drivers. Carlotta, who drives cab part time to help pay the bills when her PI business doesn't do well enough (which is most of the time) is approached by two different people to investigate--an official in the local Hackneys association, and her boss and friend Gloria, who is part owner of G&W cabs. Gloria isn't sure whether someone is targeting just her small company or cab drivers in general, and can't quite figure out what they would stand to gain by intimidating drivers. Is it something personal or something to do with the politics of the cab medallions--the license issued by the city to own and run a cab, of which there are a fixed number. Meanwhile, Carlotta's on-again, off-again lover Sam Gianelli, son of a mob boss though not involved in mob business himself, has been spending a lot of time away from Boston in recent weeks and Carlotta's wondering why. Sam owns the other half of G&W, and would prefer that she not investigate at all, which also puzzles her. He also insists that she needs to get into the computer age and introduces her to an old friend who gets her set up with a state of the art system for next to nothing. Once again, Carlotta's puzzled as to the motivation for this move. I've come to really enjoy this series a lot and this one was quite enjoyable with an ending I didn't expect and more plot twists than I could count. Very much looking forward to the next in the series. A.

3. SCARED TO LIVE by Stephen Booth. #7 Ben Cooper/Diane Fry police procedural mystery set in the Peak District of the UK. Two major cases are plaguing the local cop shop--a house fire that killed a mother and her two children, determined later to be arson, and thus murder, and the professional-style killing of a sixty-ish reclusive woman in a small neighboring village. No one really knew Rose Shepherd, as she'd moved in just 10 months previously and 'kept herself to herself' as they say. Her history and paper trail was very brief, but Ben Cooper knows if he can find out where the enigmatic woman came from and who she was, he will find a motive for her murder. Diane concentrates on the fire, believing that if she can solve such a grisly, heart-wrenching crime, it will be a big feather in her cap towards promotion. Ben is in the beginnings of a relationship with a crime scene technician, Liz Petty, and also has to deal with his brother Matt's worries about the inheritability of schizophrenia, which their mother suffered from badly. I really like this series--the author does a great job of setting the scene in the beautiful Peak District, and I quite enjoy Ben Cooper's character. Diane Fry bugs the hell out of me, but she is at least consistently done. The one thing that I find sets my teeth on edge is that the dialogue at times sounds stilted and unnatural, the characters using each others' names in conversation when they are the only ones in the room and could only be talking to each other, for example. Who does that? But aside from that one flaw, Booth's stories always read and flow easily, although I figured the ending plot twist out about 2/3 of the way through so it wasn't much of a surprise. A-.

4. A MURDEROUS PROCESSION by Ariana Franklin (AUDIO) #4 "Mistress of the Art of Death" mystery featuring female physician Adelia Aguilar in 12th C. England. This time, after a two-year hiatus, Adelia is sent to France by King Henry II--who is essentially keeping her daughter Ally hostage with his wife Eleanor to ensure that Adelia does as she is asked--to accompany his daughter Joanna and her wedding party. Of course, he has a secret motive aside from sending a physician to look after Joanna's health--he wants her to keep an eye on Excalibur, the sword they rescued from Glastonbury Tor in the last book. He's hidden it in a plain looking relic but knows that any number of people seek it and the power they believe it wields, including his brothers. So Adelia, Monsur (her Moorish assistant, who must pose as the doctor because women aren't allowed to practice medicine in medieval England) her lover and Ally's father (Bishop Rowley) and a host of others cross the channel. What Adelia doesn't realize is that Scarry, an evil man from a previous book who is stark raving mad and bent on revenge, travels with her and seeks nothing more than her downfall and death. Skillfully read by Jill Tanner with a variety of accents and a good pace and tone, the audio version was quite enjoyable to listen to, although I think this one meandered a bit more than the others have. and I found myself getting impatient at the detours, some of which seemed totally unnecessary. I'm also a little dismayed at the romance hum that's kicking up in the background. *sigh* B.

5. MENDOZA IN HOLLYWOOD by Kage Baker. #3 in the "Company" series, which is a time-traveling sci-fi fantasy series set pretty much everywhere in history. Mendoza, a botanist, travels through time collecting plant specimens that are going to become extinct to save them in a repository for Dr. Zeus, Inc., aka The Company, an all-powerful entity from some time in the future. Human children, usually orphaned, are chosen and made into immortal cyborg-types and perform these various feats for the Company all over the world in various times. Mendoza is in 1863 in this book, in the place where Hollywood will eventually be built. Encamped with several other Company staff in the still-desolate Hollywood Hills, Mendoza comes across a man who is a dead ringer for her former mortal lover, Nicholas Harpole. This man proves to be a British spy who is attempting to take over Catalina Island for some reason. Since Mendoza already knows what happens in the future, and since history cannot be changed, she knows that he never becomes famous and that England's attempted takeover fails--but she has to live through it to find out how and just what happened. Disobeying Company orders to help him, she puts herself in mortal danger although she knows this is a misnomer because she is immortal. The book is Mendoza telling her story under the influence of Theobromos (chocolate) which is akin to a mind-altering drug for the immortals. I enjoy this unconventional time travel series and was very sorry to hear that the author died earlier this year of cancer. Now I will have to portion the rest of the series books out to make them last! A.

6. DRAMA COMES TO PRIOR'S FORD by Eve Houston. #2 in the Prior's Ford series, which is what I'd call a sort of cozy-ish Scottish village soap opera. Set in the fictional village of Prior's Ford, the series is about the live of various villagers--their ups and downs, joys and sorrows and struggles through life. In this book, a famous actress rents Willow Cottage for a year (while the newly-widowed owner is on a year-long trip around the world.) Meredith Whitelaw is "resting" away from the London spotlight after having been killed off in a TV series, and gets involved with the Prior's Ford amateur drama group to the delight of some and the dismay of others. Jenny Forsyth and her husband Andrew take in Jenny's long lost stepdaughter Maggie when her aging grandfather becomes ill and her grandmother must devote all her energy towards nursing him. Helen Campbell starts a new career as an "agony aunt" for a local newspaper. Fliss and Hector Ralston-Kerr begin using the money they were given last book to get their manor home in repair and working for the first time in years. This isn't the sort of book I normally read and was surprised at the end of the first one how much I'd enjoyed it. This one was much the same. At times cheesy and too-sweet, yet very endearing; a nice, calming read which makes a welcome change from some of the bloody, harsh mysteries I read. Looking forward to the next one! A.

7. THEREBY HANGS A TAIL by Spencer Quinn. (AUDIO) #2 Chet and Bernie mystery, Chet being a dog and Bernie his person, a down-on-his-luck PI in Arizona. The Little Detective Agency (Bernie's last name is Little) is thrown a bone by a local cop friend, doing bodyguard work for a woman and her valuable dog who is set to appear in a major dog show. The woman has received a threat against Princess, but after meeting Bernie, unshaven and hungover, and Chet, very much a mutt, the Countess Adelina declines to hire them. Within a few hours, both Princess and Adelina have been abducted, followed shortly by Bernie's sometime-girlfriend, reporter Suzy Sanchez. The whole world of dog shows and competition is foreign ground to Bernie, and he just can't imagine someone risking kidnapping charges to put the doggie competition out of the way, so he and Chet seek employment from Adelina's husband, an Italian Count who seems more worried about his dog than his wife. Because of Suzy's involvement, they would be on the case anyway, but money is always tight so someone bankrolling expenses would be a good thing. As they look into those who would stand to gain if Princess and Adelina were out of the way, Bernie finds the puzzle pieces just aren't fitting together right. Are one or more of the Count's employees involved? A rival dog owner? Or even some corrupt cops? Told from Chet's point of view, this is a delightful narration of the story, and still 'works' although with this one I did notice a fair bit of repetition of phrases as Chet describes his state of mind, how he 'almost was remembering' or 'didn't know what that meant, but...' So I do think the author needs to be careful with the next one in the series not to make it too much of the same thing. But I definitely did enjoy this one! A.

8. THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING by Nancy Pickard. Jody Linder has spent the last 23 years learning over and over that it doesn't pay to get too happy, because happiness is always followed by events that will snatch it away. Her father was murdered during a violent thunderstorm when Jody was three years old, and her mother disappeared, her body never found. Everyone knows it was Billy Crosby, local drunk and wife-beater, who killed them, revenge for perceived slights from Jody's grandfather, the big money rancher in rural Henderson County, Kansas. And he's been sitting in prison for 23 years, convicted of Hugh-Jay Linder's murder. He never would tell where Laurie's body was buried and Jody obsesses that perhaps her mother is alive somewhere out there still. And now, Billy Crosby has been released, his sentence commuted because there were some irregularities with the investigation--evidence not reported, brought up for review by Collin, Billy's son who has become a lawyer. Jody and her whole family--her grandparents, uncles--indeed, the whole town of Rose is in shock. When Jody actually begins talking to people, she realizes that some of the townspeople--including her current lover--have doubts about Billy's guilt in the murder and that everyone has protected her from these doubts ever surfacing over the years. Now her entire world seems to be unraveling, and Jody's just not sure where her life is headed. I really, really loved this book--it was virtually unputdownable--until the last fifty pages or so. I can't say more without spoiling it, but the ending was so disappointing, cobbled together and...well, lame for lack of a better word, that it dragged my impression of the book down immensely. B-

9. THE HAND OF JUSTICE by Susanna Gregory. #10 Matthew Bartholomew medieval mystery in which the Cambridge scholar/physician becomes the official Corpse Examiner for the University, specifically for Brother Michael, the senior proctor. More physicians have come to Cambridge, easing the pressure on Matt so he no longer needs to run here and there treating everyone and struggle to do his teaching at Michaelhouse college. A war is heating up in Cambridge--aside from the usual "town and gown" conflicts, there are rival mills vying for business. When two bodies are found mangled in the wheels of one of them, it's believed at first to be a horrible accident, but Matt in his role as corpse examiner finds that each body has a nail rammed into the mouth and up into the brain, which was the cause of death. The two were locked in the mill and there was no one else there, so how did they die? Matt and Michael both are convinced that two young men who had been convicted of murder but received a pardon from the King and were released have something to do with it--but how to accuse them without being charged with treason themselves--for surely to question the King's judgment is treason. Before long, other bodies and attempted attacks muddy the waters further as the author takes us on another long and convoluted trek through medieval Cambridge with all the political and religious posturing. Truly, these books seem to get longer and more twisty with each one, and I find myself skimming quite a lot because they just get off track and too wordy. I love the characters and the author's sense of place and time, but they could easily be at least a hundred pages shorter (each is about 500 pages of small print) without losing any of the story. B.

10. SEEKING THE DEAD by Kate Ellis. #1 Joe Plantagenet police procedural set in the fictional Eborby in Yorkshire, UK. Joe is a DI who has suffered a number of losses in his relatively young life--widowhood only a few months after marrying, his cop partner Kevin's death in a shooting that also injured Joe. A serial killer seems to be on the loose, one who is particularly cruel--abducting his victim, restraining them, putting them in a coffin and letting them suffocate to death--and then displaying them in a rural churchyard location. Joe and his new boss, DCI Emily Thwaite, can't seem to find a connection between the victims, but a secondary case involving a pub frequented by Goths and suspected of being the site of black magic rituals seems to tie in somehow. Joe receives a call from Kevin's widow in Leeds, asking him to check in on their daughter Carmel, who unwittingly plays a role in the investigation. Joe doesn't know Emily very well yet, but he senses that she is troubled, and he's right--the DCI is carrying a rather dark secret of her own. Excellent first in series with engaging characters, interesting historical features tied in to the current-day investigation, adept plotting and a good pace with a balance of character development and casework. Very much looking forward to the next in series and will definitely have to try the author's other series as well! A.

11. A PRAYER FOR THE DAMNED by Peter Tremayne. The umpteenth in the Sister Fidelma series set in 7th c. Ireland. Fidelma and Eadulf's wedding ceremony is postponed by the murder of an odious abbot who had come to Cashel specifically to protest their wedding, being a proponent of the Roman way of thinking which demands celibacy for the Christian religious. But Ireland has no such rules, and Rome does not have an official ban on marriage among the religious either--and Abbot Ultan had other reasons for being among the highest ranking political and religious people in the land, all gathered together at Cashel. But before he can make much more than a stir, he is stabbed to death and Fidelma, who is also a high-ranking lawyer besides being a religieux, is asked by the man accused of the crime to defend him. While Fidelma can find no one with a kind word to say about Ultan and motives are everywhere, no one but her client was seen leaving the abbot's room minutes before his death. As usual, Fidelma and Eadulf work together to solve the crime, and of course more bodies join the abbot's along the way before Fidelma reveals all at the end. Enjoyable visit to Cashel as always, if somewhat predictable. B+

12. BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer. (AUDIO) In this stand-alone mystery, Steven Lamb, an unhappy twelve-year-old boy living in a small town in Somerset, UK, spends his spare time digging up the nearby moors. He's hoping to find the body of his uncle Billy, whom he's never met because Billy disappeared 19 years previously when he was just eleven. Presumed to be the victim of a notorious serial killer/pedophile, Billy is sill mourned by his mother and sister--Steven's gran and mother, with whom he lives a miserable existence, Billy's disappearance coloring everything in their lives a dull gray. He thinks that finding Billy's body will give the adults in his life a sense of closure and allow them to actually get on with being a normal family. Arnold Avery, stuck away in Longmoor prison, has never admitted to Billy's abduction and killing as he has six of the others, so Steven, who's been doing a lot of reading about serial killers, undertakes to write him and simply ask--but must play a cat-and-mouse game to get his letters through the censors who read the letters to and from prisoners. Avery, who has spent years making nice so he can hope for some sort of parole, has his interest piqued by the letters written by "S.L" and is glad for something to occupy his thoughts and time. As events begin spiraling out of Steven's control, the ending seems to be a bit inevitable, but leaves you sitting on the edge of your proverbial seat just the same. Told from the point of view of both Steven and Arnold Avery, this is not a book for the squeamish or faint of heart. But it's very well done, and excellently read, too. I hope to read more by this author in the future! A.

13. LABYRINTH by Kat Richardson. #5 Harper Blaine paranormal mystery set in and around Seattle and magical environs. Harper is learning more about herself, her connection to the shadowy world of the Grey--that in-between place where mythical and magical and ghostly beings reside--and also about her father, his death and his role in her current state as a Greywalker. Returning from London and barely having time to drop her suitcase, Harper is chucked into a state of high alarm with Edward, the head vampire in the city having been kidnapped, and Wygan, the Pharaohn of another type of vampire, setting traps for not only Harper, but some other Grey characters she would prefer not to have to deal with. But she finds she must cooperate with them to find out what she needs to know and bring Wygan down once and for all while still keeping her boyfriend Quinton and her other mortal friends safe, too. Action-packed, careening from one crisis to the next and with a cliff-hanger ending, I found it sometimes confusing and difficult to keep up with everything in this book, partly due to Harper's new abilities and status in the Grey, I think. It would have been nice to have more of a break from the action with some rest for Harper and a chance to get to know her human side better. The last two books were great, but I kind of feel like I lost the thread somewhat in this one. B.

14. TIN CITY by David Housewright. #2 Mac MacKenzie mystery set in and around the Twin Cities, MN. Mac works as a private investigator but due to having his own financial resources, often takes cases without a paying client. In this book, Mr. Mosley, and old friend of his father's, asks him to look into what could be causing the demise of the honeybees in his hives. Mac hires a research assistant to a friend of his at the University to go out and take soil samples--and when she ends up getting shot at by an unknown farmer, Mac pays the farm a visit and ends up embroiled in a case of a rogue mafia don and a rogue FBI agent having a power struggle. The problem is, Mac's friends end up getting in the crossfire, with Mr. Mosley dead and his lawyer's wife attacked. Determine to find the man who killed Mr. Mosley and bring him to justice, Mac passes himself off as a journalist from South Dakota doing a story on the city of Hilltop, a small enclave that seceded from the suburb of Columbia Heights. The FBI agent resides there temporarily and Mac wants to find out what he is up to in the hopes that he will be led to the mafia guy, whom he believes is responsible for Mr. Mosley's death. As much as I enjoy the writing style and the wonderful local color and ambiance, I find this story, much like the first in this series, to be too fantastical to be believed. Far too many coincidences, and the main character has an almost super-hero list of friends who will go to no end of trouble to do very big, very strange favors for him. I mean, it's almost laughable at times, and I found myself snorting and mumbling, "yeah, right!" because it was one extremely-unlikely situation after another. Still, I did mostly enjoy it and liked the little history lesson about Hilltop as well. B.

15. BREWED, CRUDE AND TATTOOED by Sandra Balzo. In this great fourth Maggy Thorsen 'coffee house' mystery, an unexpected spring snowstorm leaves Maggy and several other tenants from the strip mall where her coffee shop Uncommon Grounds is located totally stranded and cut off from the outside world. So when the owner of the mall, Way Benson, is found stabbed in the back and his head mutilated by a snowblower, the suspect list is pretty small, since the opportunity for an outsider to have done it is minimal. Maggy, who's already seen her share of dead bodies, starts asking questions, trying to think like her boyfriend, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, who is nowhere around. Just about everyone who knew Way had good reason to hate the man, but trying to find someone who had not only motive but means and opportunity as well isn't going to be easy. And things get even more complicated when Way's ex-wife is also killed. I am really enjoying this series a lot. It's cozy, but an edgy, funky kind of cozy where 'adult themes' and the occasional four-letter word aren't swept under the rug. Maggy has a wicked sense of humor and I find myself liking her very much--she's sort of a fish out of water, since the suburb she lives in is a gossipy, high-class enclave and Maggy is struggling to make ends meet and isn't so worried about what the Joneses think of her. I think I especially liked this entry in the series because the boyfriend wasn't around so the romancey bits which I often find annoying weren't there at all in this one. I have to admit that the little bit of 'love interest' in this series isn't ever intrusive though, and it doesn't take over the whole story line, so kudos to the author for that, too! A mystery that's actually a mystery instead of a romance in disguise! Imagine that! A.

16. MEDICUS by Ruth Downie. #1 in the Gaius Petreius Ruso historical mystery series set in Roman-occupied Britannia. Ruso, a recently-divorced doctor who has moved from his family home in Gaul to an army outpost in Deva (modern-day Chester, UK) and stumbles immediately into a mystery, with the dead, naked body of a young woman brought into his surgery. Most of her red hair has been lopped off, and he's curious not only about her, but about her killer. When he discovers that she was a "dancing girl" from one of the local bars and that another woman who worked there has disappeared, and no one is investigating, he takes an unofficial but widely-known interest and begins nosing around. All this while attempting to deal with long hours in his duties as a doctor/surgeon, a slave girl he purchased who has a bit of an attitude problem and is unable to do anything because of injuries that need healing, a roommate (in a rather run-down, filthy home) who is vying with him for the position of Chief Medical Officer--a job Ruso badly needs so he can send his family money and avoid their farm going under, and a host of other little problems. Poor Ruso! He's made the mistake of being someone who cares and seems to get slapped down for it time and again in a series of unfortunate events. The story is written in an engaging style with plenty of wry humor and well-developed characters. The only regret I have is that this book sat on my TBR stacks for way too long--but I am glad to have the next two waiting for me. Excellent! A+

17. KITTY GOES TO WAR by Carrie Vaughn. In this eighth series book featuring Kitty Norville, werewolf and radio talk show host, Kitty is asked by the military to help round up some soldiers who were also werewolves--members of an elite group specifically turned werewolf by their commanding officer in an attempt to develop a 'super soldier.' Recently returned from Afghanistan, now only three of the unit remain, the rest having been killed off by the dominant male, and they are headed for Denver right into Kitty and Ben's territory. Kitty hopes they can be helps, and with the help of her pack, will assess them to see if they can be rehabilitated back into society or if they are too far 'gone wolf' and would pose a danger to the public. She also is dealing with a lawsuit from the owner of a national chain of convenience stores that she is investigating, since a lot of hinky things seem to happen at those stores. Kitty's callers on The Midnight Hour keep calling with examples of weird goings-on at Speedy Marts all over the country and she (with help from Cormac, now out of prison) hopes to nail down just what Harold Franklin is up to. I enjoy this paranormal series very much--the stories have substance and aren't just thinly veiled romance/erotica in disguise but are more paranormal mystery. Kitty and Ben are married and obviously do have a sexual relationship and that's talked about both in human and werewolf terms, but it is not the focus of the stories. The writing style is smooth and easily read and the characters very engaging, too. One of my favorite series! A

CURRENT READS: THE STAR by David Skibbins, LET THE DEAD LIE by Malla Nunn in audio, A WITCH'S HALLOWEEN by Gerina Dunwich.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


1. MISSING MARK by Julie Kramer. (AUDIO) #2 Riley Spartz 'amateur sleuth' mystery set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Riley is an investigative television reporter trying to come up with an interesting story for the upcoming "sweeps week" when ratings are even more important than usual. Perusing the want ads in the newspaper, she sees an ad that piques her interest: "For Sale: Wedding dress, never worn." Intrigued, she answers the ad on the pretense of wanting to buy the dress to learn why the bride-to-be never got to wear the dress. It turns out she was left at the altar, the groom vanishing into thin air about six months ago, and yet Riley is wondering why no one has made much of an effort to find him. She comes clean to Madeline Post, the bride, and confesses to her real purpose, and convinces her that doing the story might bring new information about where Mark, her fiance, may have gone. When Riley starts investigating, she finds a lot of interesting secrets about the groom--and the bride, and several other people. Her boss isn't really interested in the story, and wants Riley to focus on covering the kidnapping of a huge lake bass from the Underwater Adventures park at the Mall of America. A radical animal rights groups supposedly is taking credit, but that smells fishy to Riley. It's hard to get into details without giving too much away here--but suffice it to say, this was an awesome book! I am not a fan of the TV news--or news in general really, and much of the reason for that is explained in this series by the author who used to be a TV news producer herself. It's sad that so much of what passes for news is drivel designed to increase ratings rather than actually report newsworthy things. That said, I really like Riley, and the author is an obvious native to the area as the whole book is soaked with the ambiance of Minnesota. I think even if you don't know the Twin Cities, you'll still like this, though. While I guessed at the bad guy fairly early on, there were a couple of plot twists I didn't see coming at all. And I learned something too, about a subject I'd never heard of before, "face blindness." How odd! Anyway--read it! Great book! Or even listen to it like I did. The reader, Bernadette Dunn--who was a new-to-me narrator--did a spectacular job! A+

2. VEIL OF LIES by Jeri Westerson. #1 Crispin Guest "medieval noir" mystery set in 1380's England. Crispin is a fallen knight, set to be hung for being part of a treasonous plot against Richard II. He was given a last-minute reprieve; his life was spared, but he was stripped of lands, property and title and now makes a living on the mean streets of London, living hand to mouth and shunned by those of his former class. Known as 'the Tracker,' he investigates, finds things, tracks people down and cobbles together a bleak living with tiny living quarters above a tinker's shop. Despite his fall from grace, Crispin has little sympathy for those of the lower classes that he's now forced to hobnob with, and still believes he is above them, and of a better class. It's now eight years after his disgrace. When Crispin is asked by a wealthy cloth merchant to follow his wife and find out if she's cheating on him, he takes the case though it's only his empty pockets that make him do so. When he returns to report the wife's infidelity and collect payment, Crispin finds Nicholas Walcote dead--murdered by stabbing. The local sheriff is called in, and as in most private eye cases, bumbles through, making headway only by listening to Crispin's observations. When the widow--whom Crispin learns was once a chambermaid before marrying her master--wants to hire him to find a religious relic that her husband was said to have hidden, he is reluctant, but a fat coin purse persuades him otherwise--and he is intrigued by Mrs. Walcote, as well. Eventually links are shown to international trade sabotage and a plot against the government. I really enjoyed this book--the writing style was easy to read, the characters very interesting, and even though Crispin could be somewhat of a butthead at times, I ultimately liked him too. Lots of great historical detail--sometimes even a bit too much...I am not terribly interested in fashion, whether it be modern or historical, and this book did have a lot of descriptions of the clothing, which I admit to sometimes skimming a bit. Otherwise--great! A.

3. EVIL UNDER THE SUN by Agatha Christie. (AUDIO) One of the Hercule Poirot mysteries, read by David Suchet, who plays the detective in the TV series. Poirot is on holiday, at the English seaside in August. No one quite believes he's not there working on something, though. And of course when the body of beautiful former actress Arlena Stewart Marshall turns up on a deserted cove, many suspects--including her husband and her lover--come to the fore as Poirot helps the local police with their inquiries. But nearly everyone who had a motive and large enough hands to strangle her has an ironclad alibi--including being in Poirot's company at the time of the killing. So who did the dastardly deed and how? Suchet is a delightful reader, getting a variety of accents, from Poirot's himself (of course!) to various English regional accents to an American Texas drawl. No one plots a mystery better than Christie, and though I had read this book many years ago, I'd forgotten how it was done, so it was delightful to listen along as the story unfolds until finally Poirot unveils the secret at the end. Wonderful stuff, and will definitely be getting more of these to listen to. A+

4. THE FLANDERS PANEL by Arturo Perez-Reverte. A meaty, rich and literary mystery set in Spain. Julia, an art restorer, has become infatuated with the painting she's currently working on, The Game of Chess painted by one of the Flemish masters, Pieter Van Huys. (The artist is real, the painting fictional.) In the painting, two men play chess while a woman in black reads a book in the background, and Julia discovers a hidden inscription via x-ray, in Latin which translates to 'Who Killed the Knight?' Does the inscription refer to the man in the picture--a knight who was indeed killed by a crossbow some months after the painting was done--or the chess knight? Julia's intrigued by the story the painting tells and begins researching its history, when she receives a card with a chess move on it. Her friend and mentor, Cesar, an older antiquarian collector, helps her locate a chess master, Munoz, who assists Julia in replaying the chess match backwards to see if they can determine who 'took' the knight in the game. When an art historian (and former lover) Julia asked to look into the painting ends up dead in suspicious circumstances, Julia becomes frightened but also more drawn into the intrigue. I liked this story, although it was (like most heavy literary mysteries) slow-going in places, and also liked it despite the fact that I don't play chess--I think it would be much more interesting to someone who does, as the book came illustrated with diagrams of the various moves which meant essentially nothing to me. I was surprised at the ending as I had someone else altogether in mind for the bad guy, and the book was quite suspenseful as it went on. It wasn't a book I was crazy about but was quite good and filled the bill as the "something different" I was looking for when I picked it up. B+

5. THE WINDS OF CHANGE by Martha Grimes Number umpteen in Scotland Yard's Chief Superintendent Richard Jury series. Jury once again teams up with Melrose Plant--this time posing as a "turf specialist" at the estate of a wealthy man where an unknown woman was found murdered. Cmdr. Brian Macalvie has called Jury in and he goes willingly, believing there may be a connection between the murdered woman and the murder of a young girl in London. There is a question of a pedophile ring, of cases of mistaken identity, and as always, deceit and treachery. Jury is still recovering physically from the gunshot wound he suffered a few months ago, but his brain is as active as always, making connections that others don't see. I love the characters in this series--after reading so many of them, they have become dear friends, although I still find it a bit ludicrous that Jury has Melrose posing as all these weird 'specialists' in fields he knows nothing about. This mystery was actually quite intriguing and I was sucked into the story from the beginning. This was one of the better recent entries I've read--some have been rather disappointing but this was back on track, if a bit predictable. B+

6. THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN by Susan Hill. First in a police procedural series set in the fictional UK town of Lafferton. Although it's billed as a "Simon Serrailler" series, we barely get to meet this Chief Inspector and nothing is told from his point of view til the very end. We spend most of our time with his new DS, Freya Graffham, newly installed, a transfer from the Metropolitan Police in London. She's looking for a little peace and quiet and time away after a brief but disastrously disheartening marriage. When the owner of a small care home for dementia patients calls in at the police station to report one of her employees missing, Freya investigates briefly and gets a feeling that something is 'off' about the disappearance. When a second person, a young depressed girl also vanishes, her boss gives the go-ahead for a more in-depth investigation and Freya discovers several other missing people from the town that have as yet gone unexplained. They are of both sexes, a variety of ages and backgrounds, and seemingly have nothing in common. We know what's going on, as some chapters are written from the POV of the person who has taken these people--we just don't know who he is, although I did guess that about halfway through. It's still very interesting to watch Freya and her DC make the connections, often relying on intuition as to what clues are important.
The story itself is wonderful with great details about the town and surroundings, the settings, and Freya's life. There's a surprise ending that takes your breath away, and some parts of the story and some characters that don't have a whole lot of connection to the main problem, but are interesting nonetheless. What threw me off is the publisher's calling this the "Serrailler" series...for unless we actually get to see Simon Serrailler in action more next time, to me it would be best just called the Lafferton series, as we're introduced to many other characters that we know much better than Simon. Although he's intriguing, he's still nothing more than a cardboard cutout of a character at this point. A.

7. A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD by Julia Spencer-Fleming. #2 Rev. Clare Fergusson/Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne mystery set in Miller's Kill, NY. When the local medical examiner is badly beaten up, followed by savage beating to a video store owner, Clare begins to suspect the attacks as hate crimes against homosexuals and is frustrated when Russ won't alert the public to be extra wary. Russ fears the public panicking, or other hate mongers perpetrating copycat crimes. But when a third man--a developer in the area to build a luxury spa complex--is killed, and Clare finds the body, in her shaken state, she makes a passionate statement to a reporter about the connections, angering Russ beyond words. She decides to redeem herself by looking more closely into the developer's dealings, and in the process does some really unbelievably stupid things, putting herself in harm's way several times. Now, I love this author's writing style. It's smooth and easy to read and the dialogue is natural and believable. I like her sense of place and I even like both Clare and Russ as individuals. The mystery I figured out fairly early on, but I often do, so that wasn't a huge problem. What I find hard to swallow are first, the continual stupid, precarious situations Clare puts herself in (a tipsy minister searching the bedroom of the host of a party she attends, who then ends up jumping out the bathroom window when he comes into the bedroom...after she's hidden there listening in on a long conversation between him and another person??) and second, the relationship between her and Russ and the continual sexual tension. If that is going to continue book to book to book, I am just plain not going to continue reading the series. He's a married man. She's a minister, and while celibacy is not a requirement of the Episcopalian church, she even says herself in this book that if a minister isn't married, chasteness is the expectation. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but there's nothing I dislike more than a hypocrite. So to continue to play up this part of the relationship to me just seems unwise and would be annoying (to me anyway) to no end. Kill off the wife or something. Have Clare leave her post. But please don't continue on as they are. Still undecided if I will continue reading or not--as I said, I like the writing. I just get really tired of romance masquerading as mystery is all. C+

8. DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER by Elizabeth Zelvin. #1 Bruce Kohler mystery. Bruce is an alcoholic who finds himself waking up from a blackout in the detox center in the Bowery in New York--which is considered to be pretty low. Especially since it's Christmas. The first couple of days go by in a fog, but Bruce remembers finding the body of an old man who was known to be dying of cancer in the laundry room at the detox. Bruce strikes up a friendship with a younger man named Godfrey Kettleworth, a moneyed man who must've fallen quite far to be where he is now--although he still teasingly introduces himself as God. Known as Guff to the few people whom he calls friend, he returns from his New Year's pass and dies a few hours later in a series of horrible convulsions as Bruce looks on. It's easy to write these deaths off as the natural sequelae of alcoholism, but things just don't seem right to Bruce. His childhood friend Jimmy (also an alcoholic, though sober now for several years) and Jimmy's girlfriend Barbara, also with addiction issues and now a counselor, have distanced themselves from Bruce and his hurtful alcoholic escapades over the years. But when he visits them, they both see something different in him and believe this time he may actually be serious about sobriety. Barbara encourages Bruce to look into the deaths of these people--and they later learn through the grapevine that there's been more deaths than usual among the detox client community in other facilities, too. But was Guff's death a personal matter relating to his many relatives that he'd alienated over the years? Bruce makes his tentative steps through sobriety in an effort to find out. Loved this book--loved the characters, the information about addiction and recovery and the real sense of place the author gives to New York. I've never been there, and don't really want to go, but she paints such a great picture of it that I feel I don't really have to! A.

9. WITCHES ABROAD by Terry Pratchett. #12 in publication order of the Discworld humorous fantasy series, this is a re-read for me of one of my favorites in the series in which the witches--Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick (oh, and don't forget Greebo!) are off to "foreign parts" to try to stop an evil godmother from making people play parts in the usual fairy tales. Hilarious and yet with plenty of poignant observation about life (and DEATH) as usual. Wonderful! A++ as always.

10. HOLLY BLUES by Susan Wittig Albert. #18 in the China Bayles "herb shop" mystery series. Pecan Springs is getting ready for Christmas, and China is glad to see an upswing in business at Thyme & Seasons. The poor economy has hit small businesses hard, especially businesses that sell non-essential items, so belts are beginning to tighten a bit in the McQuaid-Bayles household. They are also adjusting to having China's niece whom she and Mike have adopted since the death of her half-brother. This will be Kate's first Christmas with them, and China wants it to be special. So obviously when Mike's crazy ex-wife Sally--mother to Brian, his teenage son--shows up at the shop, China's not thrilled. Still, in the spirit of the season, she invites Sally, who is once again down on her luck and in trouble, to stay with them over the holiday--much to McQuaid's displeasure. When China makes the invitation, she doesn't realize just how MUCH trouble Sally is in--but of course she finds out before too long. I started out listening to the audio version of this book and had to set it aside after about 5 chapters and switch to the print version, which I thankfully had on hand. The reader's voice and reading style just annoyed me, plus her voices were terrible and hard to distinguish one from another. The book takes place in Texas and as far as I remember, most of the main characters are native Texans, and yet Ruby was the only one with even a hint of a Texas accent, and it was so overdone and fake sounding it grated on my nerves. I think my enjoyment of the book was somewhat lessened by remembering that voice even when I switched to print. It was a fairly typical visit to Pecan Springs, and I liked the visit with old friends. I will definitely stick to the print version of this series in future, though! B.

11. SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR by Fred Vargas. #2 in the Chief Inspector Adamsberg series set in France. A large wolf is killing sheep in the mountains of France, and when Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg hears about it on the news, his interest is piqued, as he grew up in the Pyrenees and is familiar with wolf lore. When a woman is killed in her sheep barn, supposedly by the same wolf, his interest heightens, as he knows wolves don't typically attack humans. When he notices his lost love, Camille, on the news report in the village where the attack takes place, he follows the story more closely. Camille, meanwhile, is on a quest of her own to find the wolf--and the man she and her lover, a Canadian wildlife researcher--believe is controlling it. Rumors spread about him being a werewolf, but that doesn't put Camille off as she travels from village to village with the shepherd and the adopted son of the woman who was killed, trying to find the man. When another human is dead, attacked the same way, Camille finally breaks down and calls Adamsberg and asks for his help since the police are not really involved in any way at this point--they believe that Suzanne was killed by a wolf, and thus there is nothing for them to investigate. Very intriguing book written in a unique style. Although I had an inkling about the bad guy fairly early on, I had no idea of the whys and wherefores, so it was still quite interesting. Adamsberg is a unique character and I much look forward to reading more in this series. A.

12. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie (AUDIO) My umpteenth re-reading--but first listening experience--of one of my favorite mysteries of all time, and a classic from the grand dame of mystery. The Orient Express, a train heading out from Istanbul, is trapped by a snowstorm in the mountains of Yugoslavia. A man is killed--a man who, a few hours previously, had tried to hire Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to find the person who was after him. Poirot had told him he wasn't interested but then is asked by the head of the railway company (who happened to be on board) to investigate the man's death. Which Poirot does with his usual flair and cunning mind. Excellent book, and wonderfully read by David Suchet, who portrayed Poirot on the TV series. He does the other voices brilliantly too. A+

13. THE MERMAID'S MADNESS by Jim C. Hines. #2 in the Princess light fantasy series featuring Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella (aka Snow, Talia and Danielle.) While attempting to make a yearly gift to the undine (merfolk) the royals of Lorindar find out that Lirea, daughter of the king of the undine, has killed him in a coup and is now out to conquer the human race as well. The undine attack and Queen Beatrice is stabbed with a magical knife that sucks her soul out, leaving the shell of her body barely alive. The three princesses venture off to an isolated island where Lirea's grandmother, a powerful sorceress, is living in exile, hoping that she can undo the magic of the knife and reunite Bea's soul with her body. Dangers and treachery lie ahead for the three young women as the story unfolds. I like this series, although I had my doubts--since it was billed as a sort of fairy tale Charlie's Angels. But it's mostly fairy tales with a darker twist and a very interesting backstory--happily ever after being somewhat of a myth. Looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, and then to see what interesting concept the author will come up with next. A.

14. THE FOURTH WATCHER by Timothy Hallinan. #2 Poke Rafferty mystery set in Bangkok, Thailand. Poke comes face to face with a ghost from his past--his father, Frank Rafferty, who left he and his mother and moved to China when Poke was sixteen and whom he's not seen since. Frank is in trouble, and he thinks Poke may be as well, simply by virtue of his kinship. A well-connected Colonel Chu is after Frank, and he is a ruthless man who stops at nothing to get what he wants. When a North Korean counterfeiting scheme affects Poke's girlfriend Rose's housecleaning business because of some fake bills her business partner received from the bank, he must deal with a nasty US agent investigating the counterfeit bills on top of his father's reappearance--and the discovery that he has a full-grown half-sister too, it's about all the poor man can handle. On the up side though, Rose finally accepts his marriage proposal, but they have to get these two intersecting problems sorted out before they can begin to make any wedding plans. All I can say about this book is WOW! It's almost unputdownable--although of course I had to reluctantly do so, as work tends to get in the way--a real rollercoaster ride through Bangkok and it's seedier side as Poke tries to deal with these two urgent, life-threatening situations without getting any of his friends and family killed or jailed. I absolutely love Poke and his family, love the author's writing style and the ambiance he is able to create just by stringing a few words together. I have the third book in the series here waiting for me, and I'm sure it's not going to be too long before it calls my name. A+

15. THE ELIXIR OF DEATH by Bernard Knight. #10 Crowner John mystery set in medieval Devon county, UK. When the dead bodies of Thorgils, a ship's captain and his crew wash up in the mouth of the river along with their battered ship, Crowner John first believes it's a case of straightforward piracy. But further investigation makes him think that something else is afoot, and he's right. There's another plot against King Richard, set up by none other than Prince John--with the help of John's brother-in-law, former Sheriff Richard de Revelle. They've brought an alchemist to Devon from Outremer to work with a local alchemist in an attempt to turn base metals into gold that John can then use in his efforts to overthrow his brother from the throne. Since Thorgils is the husband of one of John's former mistresses, he feels honor-bound to get to the cause of his death, and before long, the vicious murder and decapitation of a manor lord with a similar stab wound to Thorgils' begin to make the tenuous connection between the two crimes--John and his crew are off across the county asking questions and gleaning information over pots of ale in local taverns. On a personal note, Thomas, John's defrocked clerk, is reinstated by the church and apologized to for wrongfully removing him from the priesthood, having been falsely accused of raping a young female student. And John is once again trying to balance his time between his duties as Crowner, his mistress Nesta at the Bush Inn and his loathsome wife Matilda. Enjoyable as always, with great characters and a wonderful sense of place and time. A.

16. TEA TIME FOR THE TRADITIONALLY BUILT by Alexander McCall Smith. #10 Ladies No.1 Detective Agency cozy mystery set in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi investigate a local football team at the behest of their owner who can't understand why such a talented team has suddenly stopped winning. He thinks someone has been paid to throw games and he wants the Ladies to find out who it is. Meanwhile, Phuti Radiphuti, Mma Makutsi's fiance, unknowingly hires her arch enemy, Violet Septholo to work as a saleswoman in the bed department at his Double Comfort Furniture Store. Mma Makutsi is certain that Violet is after her fiance, but knows she is likely to drive Phuti away if she says anything. She and Mma Ramotswe puzzle out how to approach the situation. And it's a sad day for Mma Ramotswe, as her tiny white van finally coughs its last breaths and must be replaced by a medium-sized blue van. A great visit as usual, not much of a mystery, just some wonderful characters and an ambiance that can't be beat. A.

17. THE CALLING by Inger Ash Wolfe First in the Hazel Micallef mystery series set in small-town Canada. Hazel is a Detective Inspector in a small town and she's been clamoring for years to get a "real" chief at their station but has been constantly put off by the higher-ups, saying no one more senior is needed since major crime is so rarely a problem. She's sixty-one, nearing retirement age, has a chronic back pain problem and likes her booze rather too much, and lives with her elderly (but still spry) mother, who is the former mayor. When an elderly citizen of the town is found murdered in her home, and brutally so, Hazel begs to differ about the lack of need for more assistance. Delia Chandler was dying and it's believed she invited someone into her home to help with an assisted suicide, but that the person then took things to another level. The killer was very meticulous and left very few clues to go on. Another killing not too far away a couple of days later makes Hazel think they are dealing with a serial killer, even though there are notable differences. Hazel again appeals for help and is turned down, so she musters what forces she can and begins investigating--not always strictly following procedure--and to her horror, discovers that this killer has been working his away across Canada from the west and that his likely victims number in the double digits over the past couple of months. As the investigation continues with Hazel's renegade style dictating the course, Hazel tracks the killer but also gets herself in some hot water with the higher-ups. I did see the plot twist at the end coming, but this book was excellent and virtually un-put-down-able. Hazel was well-fleshed and an interesting character from the get-go, and the killer as twisted and strange as they come. Very much looking forward to the next in series and getting to know Hazel's friends and family better too. Highly recommended! A+

Current reads: Listening to A MURDEROUS PROCESSION by ARIANA FRANKLIN in audio from the library. In print, reading LOVE IS THE BOND by M.R. Sellars and HARDWARE by Linda Barnes.