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.