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.