Saturday, June 4, 2011

JUNE 2011 Reading

Another month, and still holding fast with my pledge not to buy any books for money this year. I've been working at paring down my physical TBR stacks too, so far having a net loss of about 120 books that I've either read and gotten rid of or else removed and posted at Paperbackswap. I'm also continuing to remove books from my Wishlist and adding them to my library lists.

I am also going to be paring down on my book reviews somewhat, and just making note of what I've read and give a grade and a few brief thoughts, with occasional exceptions. Writing reviews is getting to seem too much like a job, especially when I'm busy and get behind with a dozen or so to spit out...I'd rather spend my time actually reading than trying to coherently tell you what I thought of a book.'s my list for June:

1. THE GHOSTWAY by Tony Hillerman. (AUDIO) #6 in the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee "Navajo" mysteries, although this one featured just Jim Chee. Read by George Guidall, my favorite reader, so it was a delight to listen to. Chee begins to investigate a shooting death, mostly on his own since the FBI is involved and has warned the Navajo Tribal cops off. Lucky for him, he finds that the shooting is related to the disappearance of a Navajo girl that he's already been investigating. Excellent as always. A.

2. THE OTTOMAN CAGE by Barbara Nadel. #2 Cetin Ikmen mystery set in modern Istanbul, Turkey. Ikman, Sgt. Suleyman and their team investigate the death of a young drug addict found in a bizarre locked room in an apartment next to the Topkapi Palace, and the autopsy brings up a number of irregularities that has everyone scratching their heads. Very atmospheric, with an interesting protagonist--how many police stories are written with the main character married with eight children?--and some strong secondary characters, but honestly the mystery itself was almost not a mystery the clues laid out so openly even a caveman could figure this one out. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it though! B+

3. SPILLING THE BEANS by Clarissa Dickson Wright. Autobiography of the television personality who makes up half of the "Two Fat Ladies" which was one of my favorite cooking shows. While the stories and anecdotes themselves were very interesting and worth reading, I found that the book itself was not very well written/constructed with lots of jumping around, rambling, and a general lack of cohesiveness. I liked finding out more about this very amazing woman, but I wished the book had been a little easier to read. B.

4. SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN by Donna Leon. #16 Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery set in Venice, Italy. Guido is called out in the middle of the night because the Carabinieri have done a raid on a prominent pediatrician's home and busted him for adopting a child illegally. The wife called the police since she had no idea what was happening, so Guido's team showed up only to find the invaders WERE the police...but they had not been pre-informed by the Carabinieri of the impending raid, as is standard procedure. The doctor was beaten, the story being that he attacked one of the officers (who had a minor injury) but the severity of the beating belies this. Guido then gets involved with the investigation into an illegal adoption ring, involving foreign women handing their babies over to brokers, who then place the child in homes of people with mega-moola to pay. Once again his superior has warned him off looking too deep, so most of Guido's investigating is on his own and of course ties into another legitimate investigation. Enjoyable visit to Venice as always, with another hot social topic addressed. A.

5. THE FAMOUS FLOWER OF SERVING MEN by Deborah Grabien. #2 in the "Haunted Ballads" series featuring the couple Ringan Laine (folk singer and property restorer) and Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes (actress and theatre troupe leader.) Penny is left a bequest in a will--an abandoned theatre in London--from an eccentric great-aunt she met only once. The theatre is, of course, haunted and as they begin restoration on it and rehearsals for the first play, the troupe members and both Penny and Ringan begin hearing voices in French as well as a nasty stench. This means they need to research to find who the ghost is and how they can get rid of her. Sounds sort of simplistic, but it's really not--it's a very atmospheric, eerie, graphic ghost story tied to the folk song with the same title as the book. As the author owns in her forward to the book, some of the information is historically sound and other parts are made up--it IS fiction, after all. I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured this book, with the author's setting you down right in the midst of wherever she put you at the time and you becoming oblivious to the outside world. Wunnerful! A.

6. BOOKMARKED TO DIE by Jo Dereske. #9 Helma Zukas mystery. Helma's forty-second birthday comes around and leaves her feeling a little out of sorts, especially when Chief of Police, Wayne Gallant, doesn't send a card or gift or even acknowledge the day. Distracted as she is, Helma still has time to investigate the deaths of a couple of Local Authors who have attended a meeting at the library to spotlight their works. She's also busy looking for her cat, whom Helma's friend Ruth managed to lose. Enjoyable visit to Bellehaven and the library as always. A.

7. PROPHECY by S.J. Parris. (AUDIO) #2 in the Giordano Bruno historical series set in and around events at Queen Elizabeth's court in the 1580's. Bruno, an excommunicated Catholic monk, works for Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and has infiltrated the home of the French Ambassador to see if he can learn more about a Catholic plot against QE. Along the way, he hopes to do some consulting and studying with Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth's head astrologer, but ends up being too busy to do much work on his book, as the deaths of two of QE's court ladies keeps him hopping. Enjoyable enough read with John Lee doing the narrating, but I didn't like this as well as the first in series. This one was right at QE's court (whereas the first one was somewhat distanced) and I pretty much OD'd on the Good Queen Bess a few years ago, so it was less than enthralling. I do like Bruno as a central character though and will likely continue listening on when Sacrilege comes out next year. B.

8. THE GODFATHER OF KATHMANDU by John Burdett. #4 Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery set in Bangkok, Thailand (and also in part in Kathmandu, Nepal.) Sonchai is called to the scene of a brutal murder, an American film producer/director who was essentially gutted, with the top of his head sawed off and a few bites of his brains scooped onto a plate, partially consumed. (No...this is not a cozy. LOL) This murder mystery takes the back seat to the rest of the goings-on, with Sonchai becoming his boss Colonel Vikorn's consigliere (after Vikorn watches The Godfather) in his drug-running business, thus heading to Kathmandu and meeting an advanced Buddhist scholar who blows Sonchai's mind (or something like that.) I nearly gave up on the book, because at first it is very confusing and scattered. It then turned into a great story during the middle third, and then wandered again, with portions that are hard to understand (lots to do with Buddhist philosophy/belief) and some tangents that are just a little too far out there, even for me, who loves the weird and esoteric. Not sure yet if I will continue this series, but this certainly was a disappointment to me. C.

9. A SECRET AND UNLAWFUL KILLING by Cora Harrison. #2 Burren historical mystery featuring the Brehon Mara. When the unpopular steward of clan MacNamara is found murdered in a churchyard the day after the Michealmas faire, it's up to Mara to determine who killed him and enforce the Brehon laws that have governed Ireland for centuries. A second death complicates matters, but the miller Aengus may actually have been killed before the steward. Mara can't help but believe they are somehow connected, but has difficulty figuring out who had motive, means and opportunity to commit both crimes. Enjoyable historical, very atmospheric and with a strong sense of place and time, although I must admit I felt a bit weary at the end of it all, with Mara having to traipse up and down the roads several times a day on her horse to gather information. I have to admit I wasn't sure who the killer was until close to the end. B+

10. FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Peter Robinson. (AUDIO) #17 DCI Alan Banks mystery set in Yorkshire, UK. An old case resurfaces when DI Annie Cabbot, on loan to a nearby constabulary, determines that the young, wheelchair-bound woman with her throat slashed was not Karen Drew, but none other than Lucy Payne, part of a notorious husband-and-wife team who kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered several teenage girls six years previously. (The events taking place in Robinson's book Aftermath.) Meanwhile, Banks is working on the rape and strangulation murder of a college student in a dark and secluded maze in Eastvale, and a second murder in that case eventually ties together with Annie's case. I enjoyed listening to this audiobook version, although the reader (Simon Prebble) is a different one than previous books in the series, I've listened to him read before and had no problem with the transition. Skillfully plotted, although the solution to Annie's case was very obvious to me. I like Banks and Annie, and it was hard to watch Annie go through some difficult personal problems in this book. Only two more to catch up to current, so now the rationing comes in. LOL A.

11. THE MERCHANT'S HOUSE by Kate Ellis. #1 DS Wesley Peterson mystery. Wesley is newly installed as a DS in Tradmouth, South Devon after working for several years in London. He's greeted on his first day with a murder when a dog-walker finds a body of an unidentified woman, her face bashed in. While he's soon busy jumping right in with the investigation, Wesley has a few personal things to deal with too--his wife's depression over her continued infertility and being a minority in a predominantly white population. There's also a missing toddler case, and Wesley's archaeologist friend Neil's dig, in which they find a centuries-old murdered corpse as well. I found this book to be rather choppy, scattered and somewhat amateurishly written, but that may be because I've read some of the author's later work (her second series) and it's quite obvious that she's matured as a writer over the years. It's a decent introduction, but there seemed to be too much going on in such a short book, and it was definitely not up to par with her later work. If I weren't aware of the later improvement, I'm not sure I'd continue reading this series. C+

12. DEATH OF AN EXPERT WITNESS by P.D. James. #6 Cmdr. Adam Dalgliesh mystery in which he heads north to a rather remote village to investigate the death of the Director of a crime lab. Dr. Lorrimer was much-disliked, with many suspects with motive, but means and opportunity are problematic as he was in the lab building after hours and access was much restricted. As usual, James spends about the first third of the book setting the scene before Dalgliesh even enters the picture, and as usual, the story was brilliantly, intricately plotted with all the clues there, but well-hidden. Enjoyable classic mystery read! A

13. THE FOURTH ASSASSIN by Matt Beynon Rees. #4 Omar Yussef mystery. These are usually set in Bethlehem, where Omar works as a teacher, but he is in New York this time to give a talk to the UN about education in the refugee camps. Upon arrival, he goes to visit his son, but finds a decapitated body at Ala's apartment, a body that turns out to be Ala's roommate and Omar's former student. Ala is subsequently arrested and Omar is frantic to get him released. Bethlehem's police chief is also in NY providing security for their President at the UN conference, and the two of them set out to investigate, encountering the usual political corruption and violence along the way. I'm not usually fond of series books that send the main character on a road trip away from their home base, but this one works pretty well, putting Omar Yussef in the Little Palestine area of New York. The story is well-told, but it's hard to read these without feeling a great sense of sadness and anger at the mess we've made of our world. I do hope the author plans to continue the series--Omar is a strong character with flaws that make him very believable and I've come to be very fond of him. A

14. STILL MIDNIGHT by Denise Mina. (AUDIO) #1 Alex Morrow mystery set in Glasgow, Scotland. Alex is a Detective Sergeant who ends up working a botched kidnapping case in which the sixty-year-old Amir Anwar is taken rom his comfortable suburban home by an amateurish group of thugs. Problem is, the kidnappers seem to have gotten the wrong guy--they were after some guy named Bob. Mr. Anwar is a Ugandan political refugee who owns a small corner shop, not someone you'd expect to have a two million quid ransom lying around. The case looks to be a big one and Morrow is disappointed when her rival of the same rank, golden boy Grant Bannerman, is given SIO for the case and she has to take orders from him. Morrow also deals with personal demons that make just doing the day-to-day of her job none too easy. Wonderfully read by Jane MacFarlane, this book kept me listening for hours at a time and not wanting to stop. Gritty and fast-paced with interesting twists and turns, and I look forward to seeing what Alex gets up to in her next adventure. A

15. FLASHPOINT by Linda Barnes. #8 Carlotta Carlyle mystery set in Boston. Carlotta, a licensed PI, is hired by an elderly woman in a rent-controlled property--one of the few remaining in the Fens neighborhood--as a security consultant. When the seemingly paranoid and batty woman is found dead by Carlotta upon returning with her new locks and equipment, Carlotta is then hired by a wealthy music-business owner to see if the woman was his great-grandmother. Interesting, fast-paced read with snappy dialogue and the always-interesting characters, although with a fairly obvious murderer. Enjoyable. B

16. HAVE MERCY ON US ALL by Fred Vargas. #3 Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg mystery set in Paris. In this atmospheric thriller, a history scholar reports to the police that someone may be about to unleash the plague on Paris. Someone has been anonymously posting messages via a town crier in one of the neighborhoods, and the scholar finally pieces together where the messages are taken from. This news coupled with someone painting bizarre-looking 4's on doors in a few neighborhoods has Adamsberg worried, and sure enough, it's not long before their first victim turns up--not dead of plague, although they are meant to look like it. More bodies begins to incite widespread panic as Adamsberg and his team hunt down leads. A very interesting mystery with a very interesting main character. A

17. WINTERSMITH by Terry Pratchett. (AUDIO) #3 in the Tiffany Aching sub-series of the Discworld fantasy novels, in which Tiffany, a witch-in-training, attends the Black Morris dance (signaling the beginning of winter) and accidentally dances with the Wintersmith who subsequently thinks she is the Summer Lady and sets out to make himself human so he can woo her. Tiffany, meanwhile, also has to deal with her current tutor, Miss Treason, dying and having her sort-of friend and fellow trainee Annagramma take over Miss Treason's cottage as a full-fledged witch, displacing Tiffany to the tutelage of Nanny Ogg up Lancre way. And of course all the while the Nac Mac Feegle are in the thick of things protecting their 'wee big hag,' with Tiffany's blue cheese wheel Horace donning a kilt and joining them. Brilliant is about all I can say, though it's not nearly enough. A+

18. HELL IS EMPTY by Craig Johnson. #7 Walt Longmire mystery in which Walt ends up mostly alone in the high reaches of the Bighorn Mountains as he plods after a prisoner, a ruthless psychopath who escaped in a prisoner transfer gone horribly wrong. Alone with his thoughts, fears, and possibly some strange Native American spirits, Walt isn't sure what's real and what's not. I will say that so far this is my least favorite of the series--not because of the large amount of so-called 'woo woo' ('paranormal/spirit activity') but because one of the big strengths of this series--the wonderful secondary characters--were largely missing, as was the banter and interaction between Walt and his friends, family and co-workers. I fully respect the author's right to fiddle around and make each book unique in its own right, I'm just saying I didn't like this one as much. I rather felt the same way about the one that took Walt out of Wyoming to Philadelphia, as that one was missing another important character in the series--the Wyoming setting. What can I say--I likes what I likes! B

Current reads:

19. AMONG THE MAD by Jacqueline Winspear