Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 2011

Well, here it is, the last month of my self-imposed book-buying ban. I can't say I've really suffered much--the Hennepin County Library System is wonderful, and I've still allowed myself books from Paperbackswap, so it's not like I've been totally bereft. There are lots of great books to read for Kindle that are free from the library and the Kindle Lending Library (free with my Prime account) so haven't needed to buy any even for that. I am going to do one last big TBR culling this month and then consolidate what's left on the bookshelves to see how I'm doing space-wise. I'll issue a final report after the first of the year on how I did with paring those TBR shelves down. AND to let you know the first books I actually buy in 2012. :)

Now, on to the reading list for December!

1. CHILDREN OF THE STREET by Kwei Quartey. (Kindle) B+ Second in the Darko Dawson series, with Darko being a police detective with CID in Accra, Ghana. A series of brutal murders of street children in Accra has Dawson chasing down an invisible killer, while he also has to deal with the deteriorating health of his seven-year-old son who has an atrial-septal defect. Very good second in series--I liked it better than the first, am finding Dawson's character more fleshed out in this book and getting to know the secondary characters better as well. I also did not figure out whodunit til nearly the end. Excellent immersion into a culture which is totally foreign to me, something I always enjoy.

2. THE GRAVEYARD GAME by Kage Baker. B+ #4 Company fantasy series. It's really hard to describe this series, about an all-powerful Company from the future who makes orphaned children immortals and sends them into the past to save various relics, artifacts, works of art and the like. Sounds noble, but it's more for the financial benefit of the Company, run by Dr. Zeus. In this book, one of the characters we've met in the first three books, the Botanist Mendoza, has disappeared, and her recruiter, the Facilitator Joseph, as well as her dear friend Lewis (who is secretly in love with her) are determined to find her. Fearing that the Company has sent Mendoza to some unknown facility and deactivated her somehow, they must covertly search, as their actions and speech are monitored by The Company. Sometimes confusing with the forward and backward time frames, the series is otherwise brilliant--you just have to be sure to focus totally while you're reading as small bits of information end up being important later on.

3. THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH by Spencer Quinn. (AUDIO) A #4 Chet & Bernie mystery. Another great entry in this series set in Arizona, told from the point of view of Chet, a failed police academy dog and his partner Bernie Little. Together they are the sum total of the Little Detective Agency, which is always on precarious ground--not because of any failing in the private detection part, but because Bernie's a bit less than a stellar business manager and often too kind-hearted and generous with his time. So when big-time PI company owner Georgie Malouf offers Bernie a permanent job with a substantial increase in pay and benefits, it stands to reason that he'll accept. Right? Wrong. Bernie likes his independence and shows it by accepting a case to essentially bodyguard a woman who is picking up her son from a mountain camp and expects trouble from her ex-husband. And trouble there is, although not the kind they expected. Devon, her son, has disappeared, wandered off the trail, and Chet & Bernie are off to search, only to find the murdered body of the camp counselor who was on the hike with Devon's group. Crooked cops with something to hide end up shanghi-ing Bernie into jail where he finds himself accused of the murder.Meanwhile, Chet finds his way back home, hooks up with Bernie's girlfriend Suzie and...well, you'll have to read it. Or listen. I have listened to all this series in audio format and as long as they continue to be available, will continue to do so. The reader is absolutely brilliant in depicting Chet's "voice" and the tone of the books. I always enjoy these immensely--and then am sorry that I now have to wait so long for the next one.

4. BY A SPIDER'S THREAD by Laura Lippman (Kindle) A #8 Tess Monaghan series set in Baltimore. An Orthodox Jewish man seeks Tess on the recommendation of her uncle (Tess is, despite the name, half-Jewish herself) when his wife disappears without trace with their three children. Mark Rubin can think of no good reason for this, insisting that their marriage was happy, but the police refuse to investigate, finding no evidence of any foul play. Tess finds the going slow at first--Natalie Rubin used no credit cards to make her escape and she seems to have faded into the woodwork. Until the elder Rubin son, Isaac, aged nine, manages to phone Mark briefly leaving a caller ID of a pay phone at a McDonalds in a small town in Indiana. Then Tess's newfound online circle of female PI's known as SnoopSisters swings into action and Tess's digging begins to pay off. Another great entry in the series, which I like because there's just the right balance of personal and professional details and of action and introspection.

5. WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND by Fred Vargas. A #4 Chief Inspector Adamsberg mystery set in France, although this one takes place partially in Quebec as Adamsberg and his close associates go there for a two-week training seminar on forensic advancements. Adamsberg is on the trail of a serial killer who has killed over decades, often spacing his kills by years and then vanishing from the area such that suspicion is not aroused. It's personal for Jean-Baptiste though, as one of the people whom this killer--also a powerful Judge--framed was his brother Raphael, when the boy was barely out of his teens. Now, after a long hiatus, he seems to have struck again--despite having died sixteen years ago! But the Judge knows Adamsberg is on his trail and sets him up for a fall much like his brother's and it will take every bit of the wily detective's cunning--and a little help from his friends--to nab the crafty killer. While this whole scenario seemed to me wholly implausible in many ways, it still sucked me in and kept me interested right through til the end, and I very much look forward to the next book in the series.

6. BLOODSHOT: CHESHIRE RED REPORTS by Cherie Priest. (AUDIO) A #1 in the Cheshire Red series, featuring vampire Raylene Pendle whose alias is Cheshire Red, a notorious thief who's been stealing valuables for decades and is presumed to be a man. Raylene is a lone vampire, not affiliated with any House, and seldom interacts with other vamps. Paranoid almost to a fault, she has several safe houses, multiple identities and almost no one except a couple of very discreet clients have her cell phone number, much less know where she lives. So when she is contacted at her home by Ian Stott, who wants to hire her to steal papers and medical records from a study he was involved in, she is intrigued--and horrified--because the experiments, which were done against his will, left Ian blind, and physical deformities are just not something that happen to vampires. To top it off, the studies were conducted by the U.S. Government which shocks Raylene, as she had no idea Uncle Sam was even aware of the existence of vampires. Raylene goes against all her usual tendencies--which include running and hiding at the first sign of trouble--and heads right into danger to find out what horrible things the government might be intending for vampires--including herself. If she's caught, that is--something Raylene is not going to allow to happen. Excellent first book in this paranormal series, not a cozy "but I'm a GOOD Vampire!" type series at all with plenty of off-color language, adult situations and...well, Raylene isn't exactly a good vampire. Audio version read perfectly by Natalie Ross. Looking forward to the next in series.

7. DEAD CONNECTIONS by Alafair Burke (AUDIO) C- #1 Ellie Hatcher mystery. Singularly uninspired first in series about a NYC detective, pulled from general duty to the murder squad to help with a serial killer who's using an online dating site to choose victims. Ellie Hatcher has a haunted past herself, trying to convince the world that her father did not commit suicide but was the victim of the serial killer he was after and never could catch. While this book was competently written, and wasn't horrible, it felt sort of like an "instant mystery" where you add boiling water to a cup o'noodles and wait for 3 minutes. It is a story, but there's not much meat, the flavor's less than savory and the overall impression is one of "I'll only eat this stuff (read this series) again if there's nothing better." The characters were more like caricatures without any real substance, and I was never very interested in the case, finding it and the characters just blah--including Ellie herself. I believe I will pass on the rest of the series.

8. THE LONE TRAVELLER by Susan Kelly. A #1 Supt. Gregory Summers mystery set in the Thames Valley. It's the summer solstice and the gypsies and New Age enthusiasts have come into town for the faire and celebration at a nearby stone circle. Tensions heat up between the two groups, and between the townsfolk and the travellers, and when a six-year-old girl goes missing, those tensions mount high, and explode once the inevitable happens and the girl's body is found. Summers has all he can do to try to keep the town under control and precious little time to actually work on investigating young Jordan's death. This book captured me right from the beginning, although at first, one aspect of the main character's personal life was a little off-putting--those of you who have read it will know what I mean. But by the end of the book, I felt I knew Greg Summers much better and although I figured out his mystery for him before he did, I am definitely going to be reading on in this series.

9. THE QUEEN OF PATPONG by Timothy Hallinan. A+ #4 Poke Rafferty mystery set in Bangkok, Thailand. In this fourth Poke Rafferty mystery, the story is all about Rose, Poke's wife. A man from her past recognizes her in a restaurant as Poke, Rose and their daughter Miaow are dining and threatens her. The usually unflappable Rose turns into an instant basket case, claiming she thought he was dead--and that she had killed him! Eventually she tells her story from the beginning to her family--from when she was Kwan, a seventeen-year-old village girl until she became Rose, a dancer, bar girl and prostitute. This is a very typical story for Thai girls from outlying villages who come to Bangkok and become workers in the booming sex trade industry. Poke knew of Rose's former occupation of course, but nothing about Howard Horner, whom Rose took up with years previously, thinking they were going to marry. There is not much to be said about this book that "WOW!" won't cover. This has quickly become one of my very favorite series for a whole lot of reasons and I had been hoarding this book for months before I couldn't take it any more and had to read it. Now I just hope the author has the next one in the wings for publication SOON...so I can hoard that one for awhile. LOL

10. INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS by Imogen Robertson. (Kindle) B+ First of a series set in 1780's Sussex, UK and featuring Gabriel Crowther, a gentleman who relinquished his title and is now mostly a recluse and a 'man of science' and Harriet Westerman, who runs the manor next door while her sea captain husband is away. Mrs. Westerman finds a murdered body on her land and having read a paper Mr. Crowther wrote about evidence at murder scenes, seeks him out immediately. This leads to an extensive investigation which is tied to the missing heir of Thornleigh Hall (another neighbor of theirs). Eventually a couple of other murders yield more clues as the pair investigate, since the local squire seems to be in Thornleigh Hall's pocket and isn't much interested in the truth. I freely admit that this is not my favorite historical time period, so I started the book with a bit of a jaundiced eye. The characters and the story were interesting enough to get me into it right away though, and the writing style is easy to read and well-constructed. The only reason I don't give it five stars is that it did bog down a bit in the middle and was a bit overlong--I'm not sure all the detail about Captain Thornleigh's past and flashbacks to years previous were really necessary. The mystery itself was fairly easy to figure out but I still really enjoyed the story and will definitely read on.

11.EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES by Marcia Muller. (AUDIO) B+ First of the Sharon McCone series in San Francisco, this was published in 1977, which is the year I graduated from high school, so it's OLD. LOL The book has Sharon, a P.I. working for a law cooperative, looking into first a series of vandalism and property attacks in a small neighborhood to the murder of one of the proprietors, an older woman who ran an antique shop. Because Sharon had inside information about the locals from her investigation, she 'independently assists' the police with their inquiries. A little bit dated, which is only to be expected from a 35 year old book, but I enjoyed it anyway...in a time when detection meant going to the library for research, not turning on a computer, and when you didn't have a cell phone to ring the police when you were in trouble. This is the first time I've read this author and I will definitely be continuing on with the series--I like Sharon already and the tone of the writing is middle of the road--neither dark and gory nor sweetness-and-light cozy. It will be a LONG time until I can catch up, too...there are many many books in this series, so obviously a few other people liked it too. :)

12.DEATH OF THE MANTIS by Michael Stanley (Kindle) B. In this third mystery set in Botswana, Assistant Supt. David "Kubu" Bengu is settling into life as a new father when an old friend of his, a Bushman that he knew in childhood, calls him about a murder case in the Kalahari which has resulted in the arrest of three Bushmen for the crime. Bushmen are by nature non-violent and although Kubu is loathe to get involved, he feels that he owes his friend at least a look-see, so he leaves his struggling wife Joy and baby daughter for a trip to the desert country. He begins to see immediately that his friend is right--the detective in charge of the case has made up his mind that the Bushmen are responsible, and thus remains closed against other possible suspects. Kubu points out several inconsistencies and a lack of hard evidence results in the Bushmen being released--followed, of course, by more deaths. I love the characters in this series--it's more realistic and true-to-life than the super-cozy Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series, set in the same general locale. The immersion into the culture is very interesting, and the perspective changes generally enhance the storyline too. But this book was not quite up to par with the others, I didn't think. The bad guy was very obvious to me early on (those clues seemed almost circled in red!) and there was a lot of extraneous and repetitious prose; I really felt that a hundred pages could have been lopped off without losing the story at all.

13.THE ROUGH COLLIER by Pat McIntosh. B+ #5 Gil Cunningham mystery set in 15th century Glasgow and environs. Gil and his bride Alys are off to visit his mother in the country and while there his expertise is sought when a corpse is found in a peat bog by peat cutters. At first they think it's a local who's been missing for a few weeks, but later it's determined that the body has been there much longer. However, Gil is curious as to why the hue and cry hasn't been officially raised about the man who's been missing some five weeks, and further investigation uncovers a lot of different reasons why he may have disappeared. I really enjoy this series and the immersion into the culture of the place and time, the only drawback continuing to be the repeated use of the vernacular in the dialogue, which at times makes it difficult to understand since there isn't even much resemblance to modern-day Scots slang. I've had to stop and look up words that I'm not able to sort out even with context--which is distracting from the story itself. I don't mind learning new things, but most of the words I'll never have need of again so it seems a bit pointless. I complain about this every time and still I read on though--I do like the the characters and series otherwise and would give it 5 stars if it weren't for this one issue.

14. THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES by Agatha Christie. (AUDIO) A The very first Hercule Poirot mystery, narrated by the actor who does the TV character of Poirot, David Suchet. Reading Agatha Christie is always a treat for me--I love her characters, and she was a master at plotting, as I never can figure out whodunit. Well, rarely--and usually if I do, it's a guess at best. This one was no exception, even though I did read this book years ago. There are so many of them, the plots get mixed up in my head. Anyway, if you've never indulged in an audio version of one of these books, I would highly recommend them!

15. MOM, WILL THIS CHICKEN GIVE ME MAN BOOBS? by Robyn Harding. C- Autobiographical account of the struggles of a whiny Canadian woman with trying to be "green" and live an eco-friendly life. I guess I was just expecting more hints and tips--or even some real INFORMATION about living a green life rather than just a long-winded justification as to why she didn't/couldn't/wouldn't do certain 'green' things. She tried to be funny, but the humor was forced and most of the time didn't even elicit a smile from me. She mostly sounded like a spoiled brat whose sole purpose was to appear to be a certain way to people around her. It was guilt trip after guilt trip as she showed how she didn't keep up with the Greens in her efforts, followed by a big shrug and "Oh well, I did try, and at least I'm not a crazy nutball like the real tree huggers." Whatever. If this hadn't been my bathroom book, read in small chunks over many weeks, I doubt I would have finished it.

16.SLASH AND BURN by Colin Cotterill. A+ #7 Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery set in 1970's Laos. Dr. Siri really wants to retire from his post as the national coroner of Laos. He's only just recovered from near-death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and since he's over seventy, he figures he deserves to spend a few years relaxing with his wife. But he gets roped into one last job on a junket to northern Laos looking for the remains of a missing American pilot. Accompanying Siri--at his insistence, via a little blackmail of Judge Haeng, his nemesis--will be his wife Madame Daeng, his nurse Dtui and her policeman husband Phosy, his morgue assistant Mr. Geung, his good friend Civiali, a few Lao officials and a bunch of American officials, including a delightful American girl who was raised in Laos by missionary parents who serves as their interpreter--since the Judge's nephew who is the 'official' interpreter doesn't actually speak English. When one of the American contingent ends up dead--a supposed accidental suicide--the niggling thought Siri's been having that the whole trip is a set-up comes to the fore as the pieces fall into place and he begins to sort things out. Another wonderful adventure filled with wry humor, outstanding characters and a unique perspective on life. Can't wait til the next one!

And here I am...3 hours and 10 minutes from the end of my self-imposed book buying moratorium. Happy New Year and roll on 2012!