Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 2012

Happy spring!

1. THE DRAGON MAN by Garry Disher (KINDLE) (#1 Inspector Hal Challis mystery) Grade: B+ First book in a series featuring Detective Inspector Hal Challis in the peninsula region southeast of Melbourne, Australia. A series of killings of teenaged girls first raped and then brutally killed, their bodies dumped in various locales near the Old Peninsula Highway has police baffled, and it's Challis's job to work with the local force to see the killer behind bars. The killer is also taunting them, sending letters to a local journalist denigrating the police. A good first entry in a promising-looking series, although I did find it a bit draggy in the middle with a rather abrupt ending. Too many different problems/issues with too many of the local cops were addressed, I think, making the midsection have a sort of scattered feel to it--and then some of those issues were sort of left hanging. I did figure out the killer well in advance so that wasn't a surprise. Still, it was a good story with some characters I liked very much and also very atmospheric--you definitely knew you were in Australia!
The one issue I have with this Kindle version of the book was the horrible formatting. Often there were missing quotation marks around dialogue, words misspelled, lack of spacing between point of view changes--sometimes occuring without even a new paragraph! Lots of lack of spacing issues. VERY annoying, and if I had paid for this book rather than checking it out from the library, I would have complained loud and long to Amazon. It was really REALLY distracting! I've seen other books with an occasional formatting problem with the Kindle version, but this one takes the cake!

2. SCARLET by Stephen R. Lawhead (#2 King Raven historical fantasy trilogy) Grade: A+ Second in this historical fantasy trilogy with the author's spin on the Robin Hood legend. This book focuses on Will Scatlock, aka Scarlet, who actually seeks to become a member of Rhy Bran's group. Told primarily from his point of view as he sits in prison awaiting execution dictating his memoirs and the tale of how he came to join the group of supposed outlaws to Odo, a monk-scribe who is writing them down. While telling this story to Odo, Will has a lightbulb moment when he realizes the significance of a chest with some pricey items--a jeweled gold ring, a pair of white leather gloves and a letter--that was in with other things that the group stole. Odo has been talking to him as well, and at the mention of the fact that there are two Popes at present, both vying for the recognized Papacy, Will's brain lights up. Now he must figure out a way to get this very useful information to Bran and the group--he figures even if he must swing from a rope, some good should come out of it. Excellent as was the first, this bears re-reading at some point and will stay on my Keeper shelf.

3. BLOOD OF THE WICKED by LEIGHTON GAGE (KINDLE) (#1 Chief Inspector Mario Silva mystery) Grade: C- First of a series set in Brazil and featuring Mario Silva, a chief inspector with the Federal police. He is sent into a remote area to investigate the assassination of a Catholic bishop and gets tangled up in several other investigations dealing with long-lived strife between the rich landowners and the Landless Majority. A violent, brutal book which doesn't bother me per se, but it felt like some of the violence was placed just for shock value. I wanted to like this book--I have heard good things about the series and South America is one of the world's areas that I haven't visited much so was hoping for a series based there that I could latch onto. Alas, it has taken me almost 2 weeks to read this book which is usually a good indicator of how much I like--or dislike--a book. I can't actually say I didn't like it...I can't think of anything really bad to say about it. It was okay, I guess. I just could not get interested in it. At all. I don't think I will be continuing the series.

4. NANNY OGG'S COOKBOOK by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs. Grade: A A hilarious compilation of recipes, Discworld gossip and folklore featuring Nanny Ogg, one of the Discworld's most notable witches. Most of the recipes actually look quite good, although I will need to do some conversions as they're written in UK measurements--which is only to be expected, and I will have to pick up some frogs so I can not add them to the Frog Pills. From the delectable sounding "Sticky Toffee Rat Onna Stick" to the "Knuckle Sandwich" and "Mrs. Gogol's Clairvoyant Gumbo," there's a good variety of sweet, savory, meat and meatless dishes, including my favorite simple recipes "Bread and Water" and "The Librarian's Recipe For Banana." This will be staying on my Keeper shelf with the rest of my Discworld collection--and I do intend to open it again and actually try some of this stuff. :)

5. THE DIVINE CIRCLE OF LADIES PLAYING WITH FIRE by Dolores Stewart Riccio (#5 Cass Shipton "Circle" mystery) Grade: A+ Fifth in a series featuring Cassandra Shipton and four of her friends who loosely form a Wiccan coven and get up to all sorts of adventures in Plymouth, Massachussetts. In this book, an arsonist is setting fires where animals are present--a stable, an animal shelter, etc.--and Heather, the rampant animal rights activist among them is on the brink of getting out her black candles if the firebug isn't found. Cass has some visions/dreams of the arsonist but not clear enough to narrow it down to one person, so the women set out to mundanely investigate two men whom Cass thinks are definite possibilities. When one of the circle members' husbands dies as a result of another fire, their mission turns hugely personal. I love this series and was dismayed when the author lost her publisher (I think that was the reason it stopped) after the first four books. I thought it was over. After an absence of several years, lo and behold, early last year I discovered that there were now three more, and another published since. I was ecstatic! Except that I was early on in my year-long "book buying ban" of 2011, so I had to wait til this year to buy this book--and it was the first one I purchased, too! These women--quite different in age, personality, the type of life they have, etc--have become my friends and it was wonderful to visit with them again, despite the pall of tragedy hanging over them. These are the most accurately depicted "real life Wiccan/Pagan" books I've read, not treating it as a 'paranormal' that also includes vampires or faeries and the ability of witches to twitch ones nose and have stuff happen. LOL Anyway, welcome back Cass, Fiona, Heather, Deirdre and Phillipa and their extended families.

6. THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina (AUDIO) (#2 Alex Morrow mystery.) Grade: A    Second book in Mina's trilogy featuring Alex Morrow, a DS with Strathclyde police. Now five months pregnant with twins, Morrow struggles with trying to keep an even keel at work lest anything she say or do be written off as 'hormones talking.' A young woman is brutally murdered in her home, found at the bottom of her stairs with her face stomped in such that she's barely recognizable. In her kitchen, hundreds of thousands of euros are found under a false bottom in the kitchen table and Morrow and her team must not only solve her murder, but also figure out where the money came from. During the initial investigation, Morrow runs across a childhood friend, Kay Murray, who was a caregiver for the young woman's mother in the home, and she and her family come under suspicion, although Morrow herself doesn't believe Kay had anything to do with it--it's her boss, DI Bannerman, who seems anxious to wrap up the case in the most convenient way. Morrow also struggles with her relationship with her brother Danny, a local tough who followed in their father's footsteps as a gang boss. Another excellent entry in this series, with lots of subplots and twists and turns, and an ending that leaves you feeling unsettled and wondering just what it was that really happened. Expertly read by Jane MacFarlane. Looking forward to the next one!

7. THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK by Fred Vargas. (#4 Commissaire Adamsberg mystery.)  Grade: A
Another excellent entry in this cerebral mystery series featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg of the Serious Crimes Unit in Paris. Adamsberg is so far beyond the norm when it comes to policeman, I suspect he would resemble the bumbling Colombo of American TV fame. His mind is always wandering, off in the clouds, and yet his methods always get a result in the end. Half his crew worship and adore him and allow him free rein and obey his orders to the letter. The other half are just waiting for him to make a big mistake and they scoff at his preposterous suppositions. As per usual, two cases tie together--Adamsberg is called incidentally to a rural area where stags are being killed and their hearts cut out, meat left to rot. Meanwhile, murders are being done that make Adamsberg suspect an 'Angel of Mercy' serial killer, a visiting nurse who dispatched her patients so they would no longer suffer. Everyone thinks she's in prison, but Adamsberg drops the bombshell to his crew that she escaped a few months ago. Meanwhile, a New Recruit has joined the team, a young man who lived one village over from Adamsberg's birthplace in the Pyrenees. And Adamsberg is learning now to distance himself from Camille, the previous love of his life and who bore Adamsberg's son Tom. I thoroughly enjoy these very "different" sort of mysteries, although some of the things that happen in them are really unbelievable. As long as you can suspend your disbelief, they work fine. Very much looking forward to the next one!

8. CRUEL SISTER by Deborah Grabien. (#4 Haunted Ballad mystery) Grade: B+    The origins of another folk ballad (Cruel Sister) come to light when Ringan Laine and his girlfriend Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes greet Penny's long absent brother Stephen and his wife, who are building a home on the Isle of Dogs. Stephen wants Ringan to 'authenticate' the historical feeling they want the home to have (besides being in a folk band, Ringan also does period restorations on the side.) Ringan almost immediately has a strange feeling at the property and sees and hears things that apparently happened centuries earlier involving a brutal murder--and it appears to be one twin killing her sister over the love of a man. Getting the research team on the case, they discover that these teenage girls were from Scotland, in London in advance of Henry VIII's marriage to Ann of Cleves, and one of them was a goddaughter to King Henry as well. As the mystery unfolds, Ringan gets drawn deeper and deeper into the events of 1540 until Penny fears he is going to disappear altogether. I really enjoy this series and find Ringan, Penny and their circle to now be old friends. I will say that this being the fourth one in the series, I've marked the grade a bit lower as I'm finding the premise to be a bit formulaic with very similar happenings in each book, lots of repeat descriptions of various trance-like states that either Penny or Ringan go through which are accompanied by much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth until the ghosts are dispatched. That said, I find the historical detail and the way folk songs originate to be very interesting, and will happily read the fifth and last in the series. 

9. SACRILEGE by S.J. Parris (AUDIO) (#3 Giordano Bruno historical mystery) Grade: B-/C+    Third in this series featuring Giordano Bruno, an ex-monk with radical ideas who has been pursued for heresy, he now works for the French ambassador and is secretly an agent of Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. Sophia Underhill, the young woman Bruno protected in the last book and whom he was in love with, finds him and implores him to clear her name, as she is accused of killing her magistrate husband. With Sophia disguised as a boy, they are soon are off to Canterbury with Walsingham's blessing--since he's going to have Bruno doing his own investigation into a possible plot against the Queen, which leads to him investigating a possible revival of the cult of Saint Thomas A. Becket, who was himself murdered in the Canterbury Cathedral in the 12th century. This book was probably better than I gave it credit's just that I seem to have stumbled upon a large number of Elizabethan books lately, and everyone and his brother seem to be spies for Walsingham, so I was not as enthralled as I might have been. It was not really a "thrilling" book as advertised--the culprit was rather easy to deduce, and I found Bruno's constant mooning romantically over Sophia to be rather tiresome and a convenient excuse for his not picking up on the rather obvious clues left by the author. The reader (John Lee) was good though, and he did a variety of accents very well. 

10. NO GOOD DEEDS by Laura Lippman. (KINDLE) (#9 Tess Monaghan mystery series) Grade: A   Ninth book in Lippmann's wonderful Tess Monaghan series in which we get to know her boyfriend Crow a little better. Crow brings home a homeless black teenager for dinner and invites him to stay the night and help him find shelter the next day. Lloyd Jupiter thinks he's hit a gold mine with the crazy white people who would let a common thief and scam artist like him into their home. During dinner, Tess ascertains that Lloyd seems to know something about the death of a prominent district attorney a few weeks previously, but before she can get more information, Lloyd tries to steal Tess's car and crashes it, running off into the night.Meanwhile, Tess digs up some new information that leads her to believe Lloyd is in danger and Crow, feeling guilty, tries to find him and help him. After an interview Lloyd gives to one of Tess's journalist contacts, she is visited by an odd mix of agents--FBI, DEA and one of the murdered attorney's colleagues--who try to bully Tess into giving up her 'anonymous source' or face ruin.Another fast-paced ride through Baltimore and environs as the author once again explores an interesting side of life in that city, this time the disparity between the mostly white "haves" and the mostly black "have nots." Only two more to catch up to the most recent book--I shall be sad if there isn't another waiting by the time I get there!

11. THE CHESHIRE CAT'S EYE by Marcia Muller (AUDIO) (#3 Sharon McCone mystery) Grade: B+   Third in this series featuring San Francisco PI Sharon McCone. Sharon discovers the body of a client and old friend who had asked to meet her in a house he was in the process of restoring. She is then hired by the man who owns the house in the hope that she can solve the crime and clear the name of his business. The investigation then leads back to another murder three years previously in the same house, and a missing Tiffany lamp, a valuable stained glass featuring characters from Alice in Wonderland. As Sharon starts digging up dirt on the people involved with the Victorian preservation business, she discovers that many people had a motive for one or another of the murders, and that she likes a lot of the people and doesn't want to believe they had anything to do with it. On a personal note, her relationship with Lt. Greg Marcus also deepens, although as always during the investigation they rankle each other mightily. Considering the age of this book, it has stood the test of time surprisingly well and I look forward to getting to know Sharon even better as I continue the series. The reader (Laura Hicks) had a calming voice and read the book competently, although her male voices all tend to sound somewhat the same.

12. HUNTING THE WITCH by Ellen Hart (#9 Jane Lawless mystery) Grade: C+   #9 in this series featuring Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless. Jane, still injured both physically and psychologically from the attack she suffered in the last book, is trying to recover and make some decisions about her relationship with Julia, who is still encouraging Jane to give her another chance, despite the lies and secrets between them. Even now, Julia speaks of "having a talk to clear the air" but it never seems to happen--and when Jane is attacked by a man with a gun at Julia's cabin, she's even less inclined to be forgiving. Meanwhile, Patricia Kastner, a young woman who has shown an interest in Jane, gets tangled up in a murder that happened at the Winter Garden, a hotel she has purchased and is hoping to renovate. The murdered man also has ties back to Julia, as Jane discovers when his wife (who had her husband followed by a PI) seeks Julia out demanding answers. Jane begins turning to alcohol more and more to help her sleep and also deal with the pain from her injuries, and her friends are all concerned about her. This was another book that I did not particularly like--another with too much stress on the "relationship drama"--it was okay, and I know that in real life, people go through rough times, but seeing Jane in this state is somewhat distressing, perhaps because I do think of her as a friend. I hope she is on the mend soon and back to her old self.

DNF: MURDER OFF THE BOOKS by Evelyn David (boring!) and MURDER PASSES THE BUCK by Deb Baker. Just...ugh.


AUDIO:THE VOWS OF SILENCE by Susan Hill (#4 Simon Serrailler mystery)

KINDLE:THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths (#2 Ruth Galloway mystery)

PRINT: THE KILL CALL by Stephen Booth (#9 Ben Cooper/Diane Fry mystery)