A new month, and moved in to the new apartment, but still with lots to do to get really settled in. Hope to get a bit more reading done this month than last, though!
Oh...I wanted to add that I finally actually *bought* a book, the first since Dec. 30, 2010! There is a wonderful series by Dolores Stewart Riccio about a small group of Wiccan women, the lead character being Cass Shipton. I read what was then the "last" one a few years ago, but last year, discovered that since then she got a new publisher and there are now FOUR more for me to read! I had them all on my wishlist and if I was ever tempted to stray off my resolution for 2011 and buy, it was this book. But I held out til now. I ordered the fifth in the series (The Divine Circle of Ladies Playing With Fire) from Amazon and hope to be enjoying it very soon! :)
1. COOKING UP MURDER by Miranda Bliss (Kindle) (#1 Cooking Class Mystery) Grade: C-/D+ Trying to find a lighter, cozier series to read at bedtime so thought I would give this, the first "Cooking Class Mystery" a try. *sigh* Like so many cozy series, it ended up being mostly a romance with the main female character doing lots of fantasizing and drooling over the main male character. Very stereotypical characters--Annie (main character) has less-than-perfect looks and low self-esteem due to cheating hubby and recent divorce. Her best friend Eve is a vivacious drop dead gorgeous blonde, and the cooking instructor is a hot guy complete with a sexy Scottish accent. (Can you hear my eyes rolling? LOL) The plot and story just didn't have much depth, a cookie-cutter mystery, just boring and predictable...I didn't hate it or the main character, she was so devoid of character that I just didn't care one way or another what happened. I finished it, but I won't be continuing on in the series.
2. THE TWELVE by Stuart Neville (also published as "The Ghosts of Belfast" in the UK) Grade: A While this book is listed as the first in a series featuring Belfast cop Jack Lennon, he is really only introduced minimally here, and former enforcer for the IRA, Gerry Fegan, is the lead character. Haunted by the ghosts of those he killed during his "career," he has been drowning his sorrows in drink since being released from prison nine years previously. Now the twelve ghosts follow him, imploring him to seek justice for them on those who engineered their deaths, even if Gerry is the one who did the deed. As the Irish factions strive to (at least outwardly) settle things politically rather than with the violence of old, Gerry's destruction of some of the former IRA movers and shakers is very ill-timed, and Davy Campbell, an intelligence agent in deep cover close to the current top man, is tasked with finding and silencing Gerry--permanently. Who will find whom first? Stark, haunting and brutally violent, this is not a book for the weak of heart or stomach. But it is a very good book, sucking you into the story from the first paragraph until the surprising ending.
3. THE STATE OF THE ONION by Julie Hyzy (Kindle) (#1 White House Chef mystery) Grade: B In this first "White House Chef" mystery featuring Olivia "Ollie" Paras, assistant executive chef in the presidential residence, we're introduced to the world of not only cooking but also to the behind the scenes world of working at the White House in a normally lower profile job. Ollie, however, seems to have a knack for getting in trouble and begins the story by clobbering an intruder who got by the Secret Service and guards onto the White House grounds--with a silver frying pan she'd had engraved for her boss Henry, the executive chef who will soon be retiring. Things sort of skyrocket and go downhill for Ollie from there as it turns out the man she clobbered wasn't a real bad guy, but someone trying to warn the President of a plot against his life. Against the backdrop of diplomacy and trade/peace negotiations, Henry, Ollie and the rest of the small permanent staff are trying to plan an important state dinner as well as hosting Ollie's rival for the position of executive chef for her audition day. As usual when I start a new cozy series, I start out with a bit of trepidation, because I simply don't like so many of them. This was not bad--a little too much of Ollie's lamenting her rocky relationship with her sometime-boyfriend because I'm never impressed when a main character's mood or self-esteem is tied to a love interest. But the setting I think was unique enough that I quite enjoyed the story and learning about all the things that go into considering cooking for functions at the White House that you normally wouldn't think about. I will definitely read on in the series, and unless it gets to be too formulaic or too romance-bound, it sounds like a pretty good one.
4. A TRICK OF THE LIGHT by Louise Penny (AUDIO) #7 Armand Gamache "Three Pines" mystery) Grade: A+ Another wonderful visit to Three Pines, although there is much hurt and internal strife among Armand Gamache's homicide team with the Surete du Quebec as they all are still attempting to recover from the devastating attack that left both Armand and his second, Jean-Guy Beauvior, seriously injured. And another body found in Three Pines, in the garden of Clara and Peter Morrow the morning after a party celebrating Clara's solo art show in Montreal dampens things even further. Though not recognized immediately, it's later determined that the victim was a childhood friend of Clara's, which leaves her at the top of the suspect list, at least theoretically. I thoroughly enjoyed this audio production of the book which was well-read, and the story itself was interesting too. Most of all though, I love this series for the village of Three Pines itself and for the eccentric, well-defined characters, and for the ongoing development in the main characters' lives. Definitely among my top ten favorite series.
5. WHAT REMAINS OF HEAVEN by C.S. Harris #5 Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery. Grade: A+ Another excellent entry in this historical series set in the 1810's in London. A bishop is murdered, struck down in a crypt that had been blocked up 30 years previously--and when the bishop's body is discovered, another body--also murdered--is found nearby. The Archbishop of London, well aware of Viscount Devlin (Sebastian St. Cyr) and his knack for solving difficult murders, implores him (with the help of his aunt, whom he dotes on) to find the killer. Sebastian is intrigued by the case, given the older dead body too. As he investigates, he discovers some troubling things about his own past and also again encounters Miss Hero Jarvis nosing around the case too--she even had a meeting with the Bishop shortly before he went off to the village where he was killed. This series is well-written, well-plotted, and has engaging characters, as well as a real sense of place and time in history. It's fast becoming one of my favorite historical series although it falls much later in time than my main interest. Highly recommended!
6. THE BODY ON THE BEACH by Simon Brett (AUDIO) #1 "Fethering" mystery. Grade A- First in a series set in Fethering on the south coast of England, featuring Carole Seddon, a fifty-something retired woman. I wasn't sure I was going to finish this when I first started it--Carole started out as an insufferable prig, concerned only with 'what the neighbors think' but after a bit she started loosening up and by the end was almost human. Walking her dog along the beach early one morning, Carole discovers a dead body washed up on shore. She reports this to the police but when they go to check it out, it's disappeared and they obviously think her some hysterical menopausal freak. Together with her new neighbor Jude, a much more relaxed and easy-going person, they begin to investigate where the body might have gone--as well as who it was and whodunit, of course. As mentioned, at first I was dubious about this main character, but by about a third of the way through I actually started to enjoy the story and finished it up in one day. The mystery wasn't difficult to figure out ahead, but that is often the case for me, so not really an issue. The reader was excellent, which helped too. Definitely going to move forward in the series.
7. A DEADLY PENANCE by Maureen Ash (KINDLE) (#6 Bascot de Marins "Templar Knight" mystery) Grade: A Sir Bascot de Marins, Templar Knight, is back in the service of the Templars but not on fighting duty per se--he is the second in command at the Lincoln encampment, and works keeping books and stores in order. It's the slow time after Christ's Mass, when not much trade is occurring due to the weather, so when he is summoned by his former retainer, Nicolaa de la Haye, castellan of Lincoln Castle, to help with a murder investigation, he is happy for the distraction. A young servant of Nicolaa's sister, who has been visiting for some weeks, is shot with a crossbow bolt from a miniature crossbow gifted to Nicolaa by her father when she was a child. The man was quite a philanderer, so it's suspected that perhaps the husband of one of his conquests has murdered him, but further investigation opens up several other possibilities, even including possible suspects in Nicolaa or his sister's retinue. Another well-done entry in this series--it's odd, when I'm reading the book, I find the writing style a little dry at times, and Bascot himself not a very memorable or strong character, but when I'm done, I find I've enjoyed the book very much, loved the historical details, and am ready and eager to read the next in series.
8. OTHER GODS by Barbara Reichmuth Geisler. #1 Averillan Chronicles historical mystery. Grade: C- This is the first of a 2-book series set in mid 1100's England near Shaftesbury and features a convent with the main character being one Dame Averilla, the herbalist/healer for the convent and town. I don't know if she was meant to be the female counterpart of Brother Cadfael, but it certainly didn't come off that way. One of the nuns, Dame Agnes, has recently been having 'fits' where she seems to hear voices and respond to them, she screams, tears her clothing off, etc. and is believed by the sub-prioress, the self-righteous Dame Joan, to be possessed. Averilla believes there may be another explanation but before they can come to a conclusion, Dame Agnes disappears and is gone for several days before the Abbess gives Averilla leave to go searching, since the town bailiff has had no success. I really liked the author's writing style, the historical detail and ambiance...it was very easy to imagine yourself right "there" where the author put you...however, the whole undertone of the book ruined the story for me. It was preachy and churchy and had far too much of the mental self-flagellation and self-blame which Christians indulge in as an undertone....it felt a bit 'off' and despite the fact that I had this and the second in series on my wishlist for several years before acquiring it, I won't be bothering with the second one.
9. THE MIND'S EYE by Hakan Nesser. (#1 Inspector Van Veeteren mystery) (AUDIO) Grade: B.Another of those very oddly-written Scandinavian mysteries, this one featuring Inspector Van Veeteren, a toothpick-chewing, somewhat plodding man ten years from retirement and wishing it were sooner. When teacher Ava Ringmar is found drowned in her bathtub, her husband becomes the prime suspect--he found her when he woke from a drunken stupor in the morning and doesn't recall a thing, although he protests his innocence. Months go by, the jury finds him guilty of manslaughter by reason of insanity...and then he is murdered in the mental hospital where he's incarcerated. Van Veeteren, who had doubts in the first place about the man's guilt, must now go back and revisit the original crime. While I really enjoyed the reading of this book, I got the impression the author thought he was going to surprise everyone with the plot twist that revealed the killer. I had figured out who the bad guy was, why he killed Ava and the whole thing by about 1/3 of the way through. The only thing I didn't see coming was the killer getting into the hospital to kill Ava's husband. As many of the Scandinavian mysteries are, this one was a bit dark and gloomy, but I still liked it and I think as long as I don't read or listen to them too close together, I'll continue to enjoy them.
10. KISSING THE DEMONS by Kate Ellis (#3 Joe Plantagenet mystery) (KINDLE) Grade: B- A fast-paced mystery, the third featuring DI Joe Plantagenet and DCI Emily Thwaite in fictional Eborby, UK. When new DNA evidence comes to light, Joe and Emily are asked to look discreetly into a prominent politician's possible involvement in the disappearance of two girls a dozen years previously. The fresh murder of a college student keeps them headed in another direction until they realize the old case has ties to their current one--and possibly an even older murder committed decades ago in the house where the college girl lived. I like this series and the writing style is very easy to read, and I like the way the author generally ties an old historical case to something currently going on. But I am a lover of strong, interesting characters and the characters here seem a bit "stuck" at the moment, without much real development in their lives...they're sort of bland, and there really aren't any recurring secondary characters who get more than a passing mention either. The mystery wasn't difficult to figure out, and a bit of warning--there is a bit of the ghostly supernatural present here too, so if you're not a fan of that woo-woo, beware. I'll continue reading the series, but it's not what I would call a favorite.
11. HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne (#1 Iron Druid Chronicles urban fantasy) (AUDIO) Grade: A+ I listened to the audio version of this book and thought it was just excellent! Modern urban fantasy full of lots of old Celtic and Norse gods and legends, this opening entry introduces us to Atticus O'Sullivan (not his real name, ha ha!) a Druid who is more than 2100 years old. Living as a twenty-something occult bookstore owner and mixer of herbal teas and potions, Atticus lives in an Arizona college town, trying to blend in while more or less hiding out from an old Celtic God who wants his magical sword and to finally kick his butt to the next world, preferably Hell. He has some strange allies from the pages of myth and legend, as well as some pretty cool real-life characters, including his Irish Wolfhound Oberon, whom Atticus can communicate with telepathically. I really loved this book--the tone is similar to Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, so yeah--smart alecky and wise cracking and decidedly irreverent, which means I'm probably going to like it. LOL Very smoothly written, easy to listen to with engaging and well-developed characters...definitely a winner and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series. Also very well-read with Luke Daniels at the microphone.
12. HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens (classic) Grade: B Classic tale of Victorian England with all the social injustices occurring as the Industrial Revolution geared up and the class struggles between the haves and have-nots. It's told from the point of view of several people, some the factory owners and others the downtrodden workers and other inhabitants of Coketown, the fictional city Dickens bases his characters in. It took me about 30 pages or so to warm up to the book--once I realized it was meant to be sarcastic and humorous I did better with it, and actually quite enjoyed it in retrospect even though I "assigned" it to myself as sort of a have-to-read book--I'm trying to read more classic literature this year. There were some difficulties with the language at first but again, once reading it for awhile I got used to it and it was easier to understand.
13. SKINWALKERS by Tony Hillerman (#7 Leaphorn/Chee mysteries) (KINDLE) Grade: A I'm pretty sure I read most of these early books in the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries, but it's been many years and I don't remember much for details. I enjoyed this one a lot! Leaphorn and Chee are just getting to know one another as they investigate several deaths that are somehow connected, but they can't quite get a handle on how or why. Leaphorn also believes the attempt on Chee's life--someone pumped three shotgun blasts into his trailer where he should have been sleeping--is tied in as well. As the pieces begin falling into place, Leaphorn realizes that he must track Chee down before he heads into a seemingly unrelated meeting about a Blessing Way sing that could end Chee's life. Great characters, wonderful sense of place and interesting mystery.
NO MARK UPON HER by Deborah Crombie
BURIED by Mark Billingham
EYE OF THE RED TSAR by Sam Eastland