What I’m Reading
So, I read a lot. I mean really a lot. Not as much as I used to (I’ve cut back to two books per library trip from three or four in previous years) but still a lot by most standards. Mainly I read mysteries – spy novels, police procedurals – and the fantasy end of science fiction – not really the unicorns and fairies style of fantasy, but definitely not super-techie sci-fi.
August 20, 2012 – Also noted on the “What I’m Cooking” page, I’m changing the format of this part of my blog to post book reviews in a “category” instead of a separate page. These previous listings will remain here, but new books will appear as a regular post in the main part of the blog.
July 24, 2012 – Today I went to the library and did not check anything out. Gasp! However, we are leaving for Pennsylvania on Saturday, I have a somewhat long-ish (450 pages) book to read, plus several paperbacks I own that I don’t think I’ve read yet. So I decided to wait until we got back to get more from the library. I returned Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris, a book I found because the third in the series was on the new book shelf last week. Written by an American living in Saudi Arabia, this series revolves around a Palestinian desert guide, Nayir – a devout Muslim, he can barely bring himself to look at the exposed eyes of a woman otherwise fully covered – and a Saudi woman who works in a medical examiner’s lab. Together, they solve the mystery of the disappearance of the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy family and both of them end up finding a way to take a slightly more moderate path in life. This book was an interesting glimpse into the life of Saudi Arabia. We all hear a lot about Saudi culture and how women aren’t allowed to drive and so on, but did you know that married couples aren’t even allowed to visit places like zoos together? There are separate times for men and women to be present, and boys over age 10 are considered adults!
The longer book I’ll be taking to Pennsic is by Lindsey Davis, outside of her “Falco” series. Master & God is the story of Gaius Vinius Clodianus, a member of the bodyguard of Emperor Domitian in the first century A.D. just after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. As Domitian descends into madness and his government begins to come apart, Gaius must decide between his loyalty to the emperor, his loyalty to Rome, and his love for Lucilla, a woman of the imperial court. Davis’s writing and historical sense are always right on the money, so I’m looking forward to getting into this one, though I don’t often have a lot of time for reading at Pennsic. We’ll see how the weather is this year…
July 19, 2012 – Back and forth to the library a couple of times since the last posting. It’s been super-hot and we’ve been changing over our internet service, so one day I went just to hang out for a bit and cool of and use the wi-fi to check email. On that trip, I picked up Steven Saylor’s new book, The Seven Wonders. This is the latest in his “Roma sub Rosa” series of mysteries focusing on the main character of Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is kind of a harder-edged and less lucky version of Lindsey Davis’s Falco – older and more world-weary. In this book, we see the young Gordianus, just turned 18 and off on a trip to see the seven wonders of the ancient world with his father’s friend and his own sometime tutor, the poet Antipater of Sidon. Essentially, this book reads as a series of short stories focusing on each of the seven wonders where Gordianus ends up solving a mystery and not coincidentally getting an introduction to sex in a variety of situations along the way (nothing graphic).
Continuing in the theme of the ancient world, I’m currently reading Nine for the Devil by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer. This is the latest in a series of mysteries set in Constantinople at the time of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. The main character is John the Eunuch, the Emperor’s Lord Chamberlain, and we follow him as he negotiates the twists and turns of the intermingled government, religious authority and social issues of Byzantine society. In this current book, Theodora has died and the distraught Justinian insists that she was murdered (she actually dies of cancer) and demands that John discover her killer. In the process, John awaits news of the birth of his grandchild and discovers a plot to return an exiled tax collector to the city.
July 3, 2012 – Made a trip to the library again last Thursday and picked up a couple of books, though nothing off the new book shelf this time. Summer is a tough time for me at the library. Lots of people seem to find time to read and a) don’t return things on time and/or b) take out 6 books where 2 or 3 will do, thus leaving the shelves a little bare. Share, people!
Today I just turned the first couple of pages of Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen. I found this series because they were close to Nigel McCreary’s books. Sometimes browsing the shelves works, though I don’t like the library’s new practice of intermingling all the genres. McFadyen’s main character is a female FBI agent, Smoky Barrett, who has been traumatized by a killer who murdered her husband and daughter. She’s pulled back into work by a new case that draws her out of her despair. We’ll see how it turns out.
And I finished up Julie Kramer’s Missing Mark, the second book in her “Riley Spartz” series centered on a television reporter from Minneapolis always on the prowl for a new story to keep her air time up and her bosses happy. This time, she finds a classified ad for a wedding dress – never worn – and follows the trail to a story of sex and murder (don’t they always go together?). This is basically a “cozy” series – Riley suffers some difficulties but always comes out all right in the end.
June 22, 2012 – After two power outages on Wednesday and Thursday (this one lasting almost 4 hours), I finished City of Dragons in record time. I started Dana Stabenow’s Restless in the Grave on the elliptical Friday morning. This book brings together two of Stabenow’s main characters, native Alaskan PI Kate Shugak and Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell. As usual, the story is full of Alaska scenery and characters and a mystery that Kate will need to solve at risk of herself and her half-wolf sidekick Mutt. This book was a surprise find on the “New Books” shelves at the library, since I wasn’t even aware that it had been published but I’m glad I found it anyway!
June 21, 2012 – Wow, I can’t believe that I actually posted here after a regular post in the main blog! Still it’s been quite a while, so here’s what I’ve been reading.
Currently, I’m in the middle of Robin Hobb’s City of Dragons. This is the third book in the “Rain Wilds Chronicles”, telling the story of a group of newly-hatched dragons and their human keepers, many of whom are social outcasts for one reason or another. In this book, the group have reached the fabled (but ancient and abandoned) city of Kelsingra, formerly home of the dragons of old and their human companions known as Elderlings. We see the dragons continuing to grow and learn to become true dragons and their human keepers learning to make their own way apart from the society and rules they once know. Hobb’s writing is always engaging and keeps me wanting to find out what happens next. I’m pleased to see that this series won’t be ending with just three books as her previous “Liveship Traders” did.
Stolen Prey by John Sandford was the previous book. Once again, Lucas Davenport finds himself in the midst of a convoluted murder mystery involving a Mexican drug gang and a bunch of computer hackers who embezzled 20-some million dollars from the cartel through unofficial bank transfers. Crosses and double-crosses ensue, along with the side story of Davenport getting mugged by a couple of meth users who are also stealing horse manure to supply their magic mushroom-growing operation.
Nigel McCrery’s Tooth and Claw, the second in the series of synaesthetic detective Mark Lapslie covers the story of a serial killer who is working to try to gain the attention and approval of his mother, a criminal profiler (Freudian, much?). Lapslie struggles along with the effects of his disorder as everyday sounds flood him with a wide variety of taste sensations, pleasant or not. Ultimately, his problem helps him find a solution to the crime, though it’s not something that can be widely publicized.
Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam is the latest in the long series of books centering on Gregor Demarkian, a former FBI agent turned consulting investigator in Philadephia. Gregor is kind of a fish out of water in many ways, an old-fashioned g-man in some respects, surrounded by people younger and impossibly more worldly than he is, though he loves them and they love him. In this book, Gregor has to deal with the death of a longtime resident of Cavanaugh Street, the Philadephia neighborhood where he lives, and is investigating a mysterious double murder and fire at an elite, gated community outside of the city. These books fall squarely into the “cozy” category of mysteries as well, since nothing bad really ever happens to the main characters and Gregor always ends up solving the crime satisfactorily at the end.
I love, love, love Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series! The latest book is Crucible of Gold, in which Laurence and Temeraire are restored to service in the King’s Dragon Corps and sent from Australia to South America where Napoleon is feared to be establishing contact with the native groups and their previously unknown dragon populations to shore up his war in Europe. Along they way, they are shipwrecked, captured, endure a long trek overland and encounter a totally new society in which dragons are the rulers and men their servants – the reverse of the European way! As always, Novik’s writing is intense and captivating and the story moves along with pace. No, there aren’t fight scenes and action in every page, but isn’t the progress of the story what counts? Looking forward eagerly to the next in the series, in which Laurence and Temeraire will apparently be going back to China! These books have been optioned by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings moviemaking, and I would love to see them on film, especially with the CGI technology available these days to really capture the sense of flight!
And finally, Robin Hobb’s Dragon Haven, second in the “Rain Wilds” series in which the dragons and their keepers embark on the long journey up the Rain Wild river in search of the lost city of Kelsingra. At first, the human keepers are bound they the strictures of their former society in which they were clearly second-class citizens because of a variety of physical changes brought upon them by the effects of the environment in which they live. The dragons are young and many are stunted in their growth because the relationship that once existed between humans and dragons had degenerated and it had been many centuries since new dragons hatched. With no one to guide their development, they are left to rely on their ancestral memories that may not always guide them correctly.
April 26, 2012 – The last couple of weeks have been busy with the end of another semester, so I haven’t been able to post much, but here is my latest update. Tomorrow I’ll be starting Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich, the 18th book (as you might have guessed) in her “Stephanie Plum” series. At the end of the last book, Stephanie had decided to go off to Hawaii on some free travel vouchers left to her by a recently-dead acquaintance. As she stated, the trip was going to be all about her “lady bits” but we didn’t get a revelation as to whether she was going with her on again-off again boyfriend Morelli or her periodic boot-knocker Ranger. From the synopsis of this new book, it seems that both of the guys ended up in Hawaii with Stephanie and both of them ended up disgruntled when she headed back to New Jersey early. Hopefully, we’ll find out why that’s the case. I’m looking forward to another round of Stephanie and Lula escapades!
Wednesday I finished V for Vendetta by Sue Grafton, from another multiple-volume series – this one based on the letters of the alphabet. Kinsey Millhone is a private investigator in a small town in California, living in her neighbor/landlord’s converted garage. In this book she is hired to look into the past of a woman who appears to have committed suicide by jumping off a local bridge after having been caught shoplifting in a local mall – an act witnessed by Kinsey herself. In the process, Kinsey uncovers a series of small connections between various acquaintances and a local organized-crime boss who turns out to have a heart of gold (of course).
Finally, I read Rita Mae Braun’s Hiss of Death, the latest “Mrs. Murphy” mystery revolving around the life of small town Virginia farmer Mary Minor (Harry) Haristeen, her pets, family, and friends. This is a series verging on the cozy category – there may be some minor mishaps, but the main characters come out all right by the end of the book. Plus, the animals (cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, Corgi Tee Tucker, and a host of horses, snakes, owls, and opossums) are a part of the action of the story, conversing with one another and generally contributing to finding clues and shifting the human characters in the right direction. Really, it doesn’t come off as silly as it might sound… There have been some other reviews of this book calling it a soapbox rant about cancer, and that is the main focus of the story, but it’s not as much of a rant as some have claimed. My main complaint was that many of the familiar characters that are often an entertaining part of the story were only peripherally involved in this plot. Perhaps the author is having to deal with cancer in the course of her own life, but there was a little too much of a focus on it in this book, and not enough of the character that make these engaging reads.
April 4, 2012 – And here we go again! Currently, I’ve started reading Mo Hayder’s Ritual, another British police mystery involving the discovery of a disembodied hand. Main characters “Flea” Marley, a police diver, and Jack Caffery, the detective are thrown together to investigate the mystery. The story flips back and forth between the investigation, Flea’s attempts to deal with the death of both her parents, and what so far appears to be episodes involving the person the hand belongs to – a less than pleasant heroin addict who gets involved with a torture scenario as a means of getting money to buy his drugs. It will be interesting to see how the various threads of the story come together.
This morning, I finished Shadow of the Wolf Tree, another “Woods Cop” mystery by Joseph Heywood. I’d swear that at the end of the last book, main character Grady Service had brought an actual bed to his cabin-in-the woods home, but in this one he was back to sleeping on camp pads spread on footlockers. Seems like a little editing is in order. This book was a little better than previous installments, but the story still seemed to wrap up a little quickly at the end. None of the apparent threads that Grady was following ended up having anything to do with who the actual killer was, so the whole thing seemed a little disjointed when it was all finished.
Finally, a historical cozy – Gary Corby’s The Ionia Sanction. Young investigator Nicolaos is commissioned by Pericles, leader of Athens, to investigate the murder of an Athenian statesman. In the process, he buys a girl at the slave market who turns out to be the daughter of a Persian governor, a horse who turns out to be the property of the Persian emperor, and nearly gets himself impaled by a criminal gang in Persian territory. Ultimately, Nico reunites with his girlfriend (whom he’s been forbidden to marry because of her illegitimate status) and foils a plot to lay Athens open to a renewed Persian invasion. This was an enjoyable book, definitely a cozy-style mystery where everything turned out all right in the end. It’s the second in the series, so I’ll have to go back and read the first, but I’m sure it will be enjoyable as well.
March 15, 2012 – Time for another book catch-up session – I’m so lazy! Two weeks ago, I went to the library and lucked out with two books from the new book shelf, though both were from the “express” section – no renewals. First, I read Patricia Cornwell’s new installment of her “Scarpetta” series, titled Red Mist. This book follows on the heels of Port Mortuary, and sadly follow the same pattern as well. I was a little disappointed in Mortuary when I read it – it wasn’t like the previous Scarpetta books, more a stream of consciousness than a sense of storytelling and really little in the way of action. Kay Scarpetta, the medical examiner and forensic scientist main character, seemed to be out of touch with everyone around her and unable to find her mental and emotional footing. Events seemed to happen to Scarpetta, rather than her taking part in them. Unfortunately, that trend has continued with this latest book, and again I had a feeling of slogging through a tedious recitation from a person continually confused by what’s happening around her. Maybe this is what the author intended, but I don’t think it’s as appealing a method as Cornwell’s previous works, which were a lot more scientifically detailed and interesting in an intellectual way.
Following that, I read the new “Anna Pigeon” book by Nevada Barr – The Rope. In this book we get to see the beginnings of Anna Pigeon as we see her later. Freshly widowed from her first husband Zach, Anna has come out west to work as a seasonal employee for the National Park Service and is stationed at the Glen Canyon recreation area at Lake Powell, Utah. Through a series of mishaps and adventures, we see Anna transforming from the bereaved, hapless New Yorker into a tough, no-nonsense survivor and developing the determination to become a law enforcement ranger as we see her in the earlier books. As always, the story is well-written and I followed the characters and the mystery with interest. I was disappointed when the book ended and I’ll look forward to the next one.
Currently, I’m reading Nigel McCreary’s Still Waters, a British mystery involving a detective who suffers from synesthesia – a condition in which (in this case) sounds trigger a variety of tastes that the individual experiences. This is a true neurological condition that comes in a variety of forms. Detective Lapslie is currently on medical leave due to his condition and he lives alone since his wife and children have moved out because of his inability to deal with the noise of a family, but he is called back in to work when a body is turned up in the aftermath of a car accident. The story flips back and forth between Lapslie’s investigation of an old woman’s murder and burial in an isolated woodland and the actions of the murderer, a woman who had been traumatized as a child when her grandmother killed all of her siblings. The writing here is light, but tantalizing enough to keep me interested and following the progress of the story. There are a couple more books following this initial offering and I’ll probably read them as well, if just to see how Lapslie continues coping with his neruological difficulties.
February 27, 2012 – Looks like I’ll be going to the library today or tomorrow since I’ve almost finished up S.J. Rozan’s On the Line featuring New York City private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. This book actually focuses more on Bill Smith, since Lydia has been kidnapped by a former nemesis of Bill’s who has been in prison for the past ten years. We get to see more of Bill this time around, as well as Lydia’s friend, police detective Mary Kee and Lydia’s cousin Linus Wong, computer genius. Bill struggles to follow the clues being left for him by his enemy as he races to find Lydia, with help along the way from Linus, Mary, a local Chinatown pimp and a cast of other diverse characters including Linus’s dog, Woof! These books are always a good read, perhaps a little on the “cozy” side, but focusing on the life of Chinese-American Lydia as she makes her way between the traditional world of Chinatown and being a modern American woman.
February 17, 2012 – Once again, it’s time for a catch-up post to my book list. I’m so bad at this, I know, but what can you do? I know I said before that I was done with the whole Scandinavian mystery thing after reading Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End last March, but this one caught my eye on the new book shelf at the library last week. Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath is written by an English author and the main character is an Icelandic-American detective who returns to Iceland primarily to hide out from the gangs he’s been investigating at home in Boston, but then becomes involved in a murder investigation practically the moment he steps off the plane. I’ve just started this one on the elliptical this morning and so far the writing seems a little halting, but hopefully the lack of a Scandinavian author will improve things as we go along.
I also started a new “band book” last week – Stephen R. Donaldson’s Runes of the Earth, the beginning of what is supposed to be the final set of books in his “Thomas Covenant” series. This book takes up 10 years after the end of White Gold Wielder with Covenant’s now 21-year-old son attempting to gain custody of his mother, who has spent the last decade in a mental institution run by Linden Avery. While I’m still in the beginning parts of the book and have not yet returned to the mythical world of the Land, it’s been a pleasure so far to read something new in this series. Going through the previous six books was a somewhat strange experience – the story is not an easy one to read, and this run-through kept feeling like constantly pushing against the tide – so it’s been nice to start at a fresh point and I’m looking forward to finding out what comes next.
Since my last post, I also read Joseph Heywood’s Death Roe, sixth in the “Woods Cop” series. This was also a more satisfying read than the previous volume, which ended with something of a confused whimper. I sort of lost track of the story somewhere along the way and, though the mystery seemed resolved at the end, I’m not quite sure what happened. Anyway, in this latest book, Conservation Officer Grady Service is on the trail of a company suspected of mixing Michigan salmon eggs with contaminated eggs from New York for sale as caviar. He’s also working through the death of his girlfriend and son but ultimately celebrating the birth of a granddaughter. Once again, we get a look at the fact that the life of a CO and the twisting maze of local, state and federal regulations involved in managing wildlife.
Brute Strength, by Susan Conant is the last book on my list this time around. Part of the “Dog-Lovers Mysteries” series, this book qualifies as a “cozy” mystery – a pleasant little story without a lot of blood or gore, nobody important really gets hurt and everything ties up in a neat bow at the end. This particular series revolves around Holly Winter, dog trainer, her circle of family and friends and the five dogs and a cat in her household. The primary animal characters are Holly’s Alaskan Malamutes Rowdy, Kimi, and Sammy. These critters don’t help solve the mystery as in some other series, but they do often play an integral part in the action of the story and Holly certainly gives them more credit for intellect and initiative than they may deserve! Overall, a nice break from the more serious stuff that I’m usually reading.
January 31, 2012 – So I slacked off on adding to my list here and I’m now on my second book. Currently, I’m about midway through Archer Mayor’s Tag Man, the latest Joe Gunther mystery set in the small town of Brattleboro, Vermont. This book follows closely on the heels of Red Herring, with Joe still recovering from the death of his most recent lover and struggling to find his place after a long career of policing. Meanwhile, someone is breaking into wealthy homes around town, taking nothing except a little food, and leaving a note reading “Tag!” near the sleeping residents. We get to follow both the exploits of the police force to find the so-called Tag Man and the activities of the Tag Man himself who, because of his criminal activities, finds himself in contention with a much more dangerous figure.
Before Archer Mayor, I read Shoot to Thrill by P.J. Tracy. Tracy’s books are set in Minnesota and revolve around the main characters of two police detective partners and a group of high-end computer wizards who end up working together to solve a variety of mysteries combining cyber-crime and often gruesome murder. The characters, particularly the computer wizards, are a little bit predictable – social misfits who escape their troubles in the computer world – but still an interesting read. This book, however, ended with a little bit of an unexpected twist, and an end that the authors had appeared to be leading us toward seemed not to be likely to develop. Perhaps future volumes will change the circumstances?
January 11, 2012 – Snatched from the Express section of the New Book shelves at the library yesterday, Elizabeth George’s Believing the Lie, the latest Thomas Lynley/Barbara Havers mystery. This is a big, fat 600+ page book, so it should keep me busy for a little while. Hopefully not longer than three weeks, though – since it’s an Express book, it can’t be renewed. Lynley and Havers are always an entertaining pair, a British police Odd Couple. Lynley is the upper-crust from an aristocratic family (complete with ancestral title) turned Detective Inspector in Scotland Yard and Havers is his Detective Sergeant, crusty and unsophisticated (though that’s changing somewhat). The story here is a bit more lengthy and convoluted than George’s previous novels and so far there are inklings of several subplots and continuations of subplots from earlier books – will anything happen between Havers and her neighbor Azhar? While these books are not full of action, they are a very satisfying British read.
January 10, 2012 – A new year already, and I’ve just finished my first book – One Was a Soldier, by Julia Spencer Fleming, the seventh book featuring Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and small-town police chief Russ Van Alstyne. After the loss of Russ’s wife in a previous book and Clare’s re-enlistment in the National Guard and deployment to Iraq, the two are finally able to fulfill a relationship that had begun in the earlier novels. Russ wants to get married, but Clare is struggling with her experiences in Iraq and the transition to being home. The novel centers around a group of veterans, Clare included, attending a community therapy group as they work to re-integrate themselves into daily life in their small town. Murder and death intervene, as circumstances reveal a complex web of relationships that touches on just about everyone in the group in unexpected ways. Luckily, Clare & Russ are able to work together, though sometimes at odds with one another, to navigate the mystery and successfully marry each other. Of course, the author gives us a twist at the end that leaves us waiting anxiously for the next book – hopefully soon!
December 29, 2011 – Did you like Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons? You’ll probably either love or hate Charles Brokaw’s books. These are based around a similar premise to Dan Brown’s – smart professor (ancient languages, this time) gets involved in improbably adventurous events leading to a globe-trotting journey in search of controversial buried treasure. Brokaw’s work is lighter than Brown’s and not so smug, and his main character, Thomas Lourds is kind of a horn dog compared to Brown’s Robert Langdon, but they’re fun reads to keep me going on the elliptical in the morning. The Lucifer Code is the second book in this series and sees Thomas Lourds abducted in Istanbul by a shadowy group (aren’t they all?) needing him to translate an ancient inscription in an unknown language (again, aren’t they all?). Meanwhile, Lourds is also being hunted by the CIA for a reason yet to be revealed. The first chapters of the book are filled with flirting, painful arm-locks, gunfire, helicopters and rocket launchers. How can it go wrong?
December 21, 2011 – Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Taken is the second novel featuring Canadian Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef, following up on the previous The Calling. At the start of this second book, we find Hazel flat on her back following surgery to repair an old injury, living in the basement apartment of her ex-husband’s house and being cared for by her mother and her ex-husband’s new wife. With her sixty-second birthday quickly approaching, Hazel is not quite sure what to make of herself. Meanwhile, a pair of tourists fishing on a nearby lake hook what appears to be a body and the local newspaper has begun publishing a summer serial story containing elements that seem to echo the discovery in the lake. Investigation leads the police to a website showing what appears to be a man being held captive in a basement, tied to a chair. Over time, the scene changes to include another figure who seems to threaten the bound man with a knife. The third installment shows words written on the wall in what may be blood. Hazel receives a disturbing birthday “gift” from an unknown sender that seems to be related to the case, but there are no real leads. Inger Ash Wolfe is the pseudonym of an author the publisher claims is a well-known literary novelist, and both of these books have been engrossing and a little chilling to read. I’m looking forward to continuing adventures with DI Micallef!
December 14, 2011 – This morning on the elliptical I started Strike Dog, the fifth book in the “Woods Cop” series set in Michigan’s UP by Joseph Heywood. This book starts out with the aftermath of a bang – we don’t see the big event, just what happens after – as Michigan Conservation Officer Grady Service confronts the deaths of his fiancee and son in a car accident that may be murder. Service of course sets out to find the killer and avenge the deaths of his loved ones and in the process is brought into an FBI investigation of what appears to be a series of serial killings of conservation officers going back over 50 years. Service is fixated on his own losses and solving his own mystery and doesn’t want to be distracted by this other case, except that the latest victim is also a friend and colleague of his, but he’s under orders, so working with the Feds is what he’ll do. At least it keeps him going. I’m always a little aggravated when an author does something like this – a struggling main character finds a place where he/she starts to feel comfortable and struggle a little less and the author introduces a plot twist that takes away that comfort! Yes, I know – moving the story along, keeping tension in the plot and all that, but it’s so disappointing! Plus, Heywood made us care about Service’s son and fiancee in the previous books, so it’s jarring to have them gone…
December 6, 2011 – I stopped at the library last week to pick up an ILL book on 14th-century embroidery (woot!) and check the new book shelves, just to see if anything interesting was there. I happened across Laura Joh Rowland’s new book The Ronin’s Mistress. This series is set in early 18th century Japan during the reign of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and centers around the activities of Sano Ichiro, the Shogun’s sosakan-sama – basically a chief investigator. The actual translation given is “Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People” but, oof, that’s a lot to write! Sano is trying to regain his honor and position in the ongoing court intrigue between him and the Shogun’s Chamberlain, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, Sano’s longtime enemy. The focus of the story is the Japanese tale of the 47 Ronin – a group of masterless samurai who murdered the Shogun’s Master of Ceremonies, apparently in response to their master having been forced to kill himself after an incident in which he appeared to attack the Master of Ceremonies in the palace without reason. The bones of this story are considered true – the two men involved certainly existed, and the 47 Ronin avenged what they saw as the unjust death of their master. However, many questions remain as to what exactly took place between the two men in the palace, why the Ronin waited nearly 2 years to exact their vengeance, and what happened to them in the aftermath. This fictional account presents some possibilities, as investigated by Sano, his wife Reiko and their growing son Masahiro.
November 29, 2011 – time having once again flown by and me being a slacker about posting, I have finished one book and started another! Yesterday on the elliptical I finished David Anthony Durham’s The Sacred Band, the conclusion to his “Acacia Trilogy”. This book brings together all the various threads of the previous novels in a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion of a negotiated peace rather than all-out war (though it’s a peace bought at a surprising price, of course). The four children of the murdered king of Acacia have found their way to adulthood and have learned what it means to serve their people as rulers rather than the over privileged children they once were. Durham’s series is absorbing and well-written, with a wide variety of characters and landscapes that draws the reader’s interest. At times, the action may be somewhat slow, but the thread of the story draws onward.
I just barely started today the first couple of pages of Northwest Angle, by William Kent Krueger. This latest book in the series featuring former police officer/sometime private investigator/constantly struggling father Cork O’Connor is set in an isolated region of Minnesota, just across the border from Manitoba, Canada. The area, known as The Angle, is connected by land only to Manitoba, but is still geographically part of the United States. In this book, we see Cork and his younger daughter Jenny on a father-daughter trip in which they encounter wild weather and a seemingly abandoned baby. Krueger’s books are always a satisfying read, and I look forward to getting into this one on tomorrow’s elliptical ride.
November 9, 2011 – I’ll admit to already being about two-thirds of the way through Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey. This is the latest in her series of books set in a fictionalized feudal European society in which France is the nation of Terre d’Ange, populated by people descended from the angelic followers of a son of God known as Elua who chose to remain on Earth rather than live in heaven. The people are beautiful and most are privileged to live lives of great luxury and grace. While these latest books, set several centuries after Carey’s initial “Kushiel” trilogy are not as sexually adventurous as the first books, the stories are still engaging and a pleasure to read. While there are some negative reviews of these books on Amazon, I suspect that they come from people who are a little too conservative to stomach stories in which the main characters live by the precept, “Love as thou wilt.” In this last book, the new main character Moirin travels to Terra Nova, a fictionalized America, to search for the lost Crown Prince of Terre d’Ange. There, she encounters a number of the native Mesoamerican cultures and uses her not-inconsiderable skills (both physical and magical) to serve the will of the gods, both her own and those of the native people. Hopefully, Carey will write more in this series, though I’m not sure where there is left to go after this visit to the New World!
October 31.2011 – A Paradise for Fools by Nicholas Kilmer is the latest in his series involving Fred Taylor, a military veteran turned art…assistant? I’m not quite sure what to call Fred’s job – he works for a wealthy Boston-area art collector who delights in uncovering previously-unknown works by famous artists. Fred does research and legwork, particularly in the more unsavory parts of towns that his employer might not be willing to visit. Of course, there’s often a mystery involved that Fred ends up resolving! This latest book is a prequel to the earlier volumes, and we find Fred just getting to know his employer and beginning a romance with Molly the librarian, both of whom figure prominently in Fred’s future, as he tries to find information about what he believes to be an unknown work by the late 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. These books are not lengthy, but they are lushly written – though they may be short in number of pages, they should be read carefully to capture the nuances of the story, the characters and Fred’s thought processes.
October 26, 2011 – I made a trip to the library on the way to work yesterday to replenish my book supply. I had checked the catalog on Monday night and saw that a book I had been waiting for was available – Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, the latest in her series set in a fictionalized European society. I was hoping it would still be there when I got to the new book shelf, and so it was! I also found a book that I didn’t know had been published, Nicholas Kilmer’s A Paradise for Fools, which really thrilled me because I enjoy Kilmer’s work so much – more on that later, when I start reading it. I also took my chances and picked up a third book, though I don’t normally have a lot of time. All three of these are renewable, though, so I should be ok – as long as I remember to renew them before the due date! I’m holding off on these two because I like to torture myself and save the really desirable books for last. I don’t know which of these I’ll read first when I get to them!
So I’m currently reading The Memory Collector by Meg Gardiner. This is the first in a series of suspense/mystery stories with a forensic psychiatrist as the main character. In this book, the protagonist, Jo Beckett, is trying to solve the mystery of an airline passenger recently returned from Africa who has lost the ability to form new memories, what’s known as anterograde amnesia. Medical scans of the man’s brain indicate some kind of invasive trauma or perhaps contagion affecting his brain and causing his amnesia, but the patient resists medical care and takes off in pursuit of his own answers. Beckett must try to resolve the questions of who he is and what’s causing his amnesia as other cases start to turn up in passengers who were on the same plane.
October 18, 2011 – I started Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride to finish off my elliptical ride on Monday morning. Unfortunately, the library got this book in the trade paperback size instead of a standard hardcover, so it’s about four and a half by seven inches and doesn’t want to open completely. This makes it more difficult to fit behind the handles of the elliptical and get it to sit right. I’m debating taking it back and seeing if I can get a hardcover copy from another branch of the library system, but we’ll see. MacBride’s series, set in the chill granite streets of Aberdeen, Scotland, covers the cases of Detective Sergeant Logan McRae and his routinely twisted interactions with his fellow coppers and mostly completely inept superiors. Haven’t quite gotten to the murder mystery part of this one yet, but no doubt it will be gruesome and McRae will somehow manage to come out on top, though not in such a way that it will improve his lot at the police department.
October 10, 2011 – Started reading Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva this morning. This is the latest in a series of spy novels with Israeli secret agent Gabriel Allon as the main character. Typical of these themes, Gabriel has a tortured past – he regrets many of the things he’s done as an agent, the people he’s had to kill, and he has a nearly catatonic ex-wife who was severely injured in a long-ago bomb blast that also killed their young son. Over time, Gabriel has managed to find a kind of peace with a new wife and has left the Israeli secret service to work full-time as an art restorer in an isolated British coastal town. Unfortunately, as one might expect, world events conspire to drag Gabriel back into the life of a spy as he tries to find the source behind a recent series of terrorist bombings in cities around Europe.
October 7, 2011 – I was afraid I’d have to go back a lot farther than this to update my list here! I’d forgotten that I had done a little updating along the way, despite my lack of regular posting. Since the last time, I’ve read the following:
I just finished Cold Wind by C.J. Box on the elliptical this morning. Box’s books are set around the life of a Wyoming game warden in fictional “Twelve Sleep” county. This always makes me laugh because I went to Girl Scout camp outside of the real town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming when I was in junior high school. I can totally envision the look of the small town and the landscape in the area, including the famous “Hole in the Wall” Canyon where outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hung out. In this book, main character Joe Pickett has to solve the mystery of the death of his not-beloved mother-in-law’s latest husband, ending up with a nicely unexpected twist at the end. A main side character, Nate Romanowski, is also featured in this book, wreaking havoc on evildoers in his own special way, as usual. Let’s just say that reading Nate’s character makes me want to go out and shoot really big guns.
Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris. Lots of folks are probably aware of these books from the HBO series True Blood. I haven’t watched any of that yet, since we don’t have HBO, but I mean to get the DVDs from the library at some point. Eventually, I’ll put a hold on it so I can get the first season. I think I’m not entirely sure I want to watch, though, since I have my own vision of what the places and people in the book should look like and I don’t know if I agree with what I’ve seen of the casting choices. Anyway, this most recent book is in my mind the best Sookie Stackhouse book yet! It’s tightly written and intense all the way through as Sookie struggles with her relationship with vampire Eric and the other people (supernatural and not) around her. Great cliffhanger at the end, where Sookie must make a decision about her own humanity and whether she can deal with the casual way that those around her hand out death and destruction.
September 13, 2011 – Wow, I didn’t realize it had been so long since I’d posted anything! I knew I was behind on my books, but I didn’t realize how long it had been. Anyway, last week, I read Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson. Davidson’s books center on a caterer in a small town in Colorado who manages to fall into mystery situations in which she invariably gets herself in trouble. Luckily, in previous episodes she managed to meet and marry a local police detective, so at least she has someone to look out for her when she gets in trouble! These books are light and fun to read – not really any serious mystery or thrill to them – and they typically have some good recipes included. I didn’t pick anything out of this one – nothing really sounded great. Yesterday I started reading Steve Hamilton’s Misery Bay, the latest in his series about Alex McKnight, an ex-cop, sometime private investigator, mostly wanting to be left alone resort cabin owner in the small town of Paradise, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula near Sault Sainte Marie. McKnight is one of those struggling heroes who can never seem to get a break, though he always gets his man in the end. Plus, as we’ve seen in some of the other books I read, I like to read about places that are familiar – I know how long it takes to drive the “Seney Stretch” across the U.P.
August 22, 2011 – Finished Stalking Susan on the elliptical this morning and started Lian Hearn’s Brilliance of the Moon for the last 5 minutes of my ride. This is the third book in the “Tales of the Otori” series in which Takeo and Kaede work together to try to unify their fictional almost-Japan and secure their own places in society. Though I’ve only read the first few pages, the book promises to be as entrancing as the first two volumes and is likely to be full of well-written descriptions and fast-paced action.
August 18, 2011 – Once again, the new book section introduced me to a new series with the latest book. As usual, I resisted the urge to get the newest book and started with the first in the series – Julie Kramer’s Stalking Susan. This series focuses on a television reporter named Riley Spartz and her investigations as she attempts to generate stories that will keep her name in the public view and so keep her employed at the local TV station. In this first book, Riley stumbles on a mystery involving several women named Susan who appear to have been murdered on the same date for several years running.
July 25, 2011 – ish – So I forgot to post when I started the second book I brought home from the library before Pennsic. I think it was about the 25th or 26th. Luckily, Janet Evanovich’s books are fun and easy to read, so I was able to finish it before the end of the week and then dropped them back at the library on Friday when I went downtown to pick up a project a friend of mine had done. Smokin’ Seventeen is the latest in the “Stephanie Plum” series about a Jersey girl trying to make ends meet as a bail agent (bounty hunter). The characters are highly amusing and the stories move along at an easy to read pace, with laugh out loud events taking place. I will say that the best part of this book was that Stephanie finally got to indulge her impulses with regards to her friend/mentor/protector Ranger. Hoo boy! Hot stuff! My own personal thought is that, if there were to be a movie version, Sandra Bullock would play Stephanie and Queen Latifah would play Lula, but I’m stumped on Ranger. Any thoughts?
July 22, 2011 – Finished White Shotgun while on the elliptical this morning and so went to the library to get something new to carry me over next week. Unfortunately, there were two new books that I just couldn’t resist. I had been planning to get only one because we’re leaving for a 2-week vacation at the end of next week. Even more unfortunately, the two books I got were from the “express” shelf, which means they can’t be renewed, so I can’t take them on vacation! I started Buried Prey, by John Sandford. This is the latest in a series centered on the character Lucas Davenport, who started out as a police detective in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The first few books were high on the deliciously creepy factor, but after a while they became more standard police novels. Still enjoyable, and unusual enough to continue to be interesting. I’m hoping to get it finished before we leave, and drop it back at the library next Friday.
July 21, 2011 – I finally finished The One Tree and have just begun White Gold Wielder, the final book of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. These are my “spare few minutes” books that I’m currently reading from my personal collection. This is the sixth book in the series and for a long time was thought to be the end, but then a few years ago, Donaldson started producing what’s billed as “The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” so I’ve been re-reading the first books to prep for the newest ones. In this book, Covenant and Linden Avery have failed to restore the Staff of Law and so must attempt to defeat evil with their own skills and powers.
July 18, 2011 – White Shotgun, by April Smith. This is the latest in a series surrounding Ana Grey, an FBI agent currently on leave and visiting a sister she didn’t know she had in Italy. The sister is married to a man that the FBI suspects is a criminal of some sort, perhaps involved in drugs. Meanwhile, Ana’s nephew is attacked before the start of Palio, the annual horserace that takes place in the city center between Siena’s rival neighborhoods. A mysterious man with no hands is seen outside the nephew’s hospital room, and Ana sets out to unravel the mystery.
July 13, 2011 – Started Running Dark, by Joseph Heywood, next in the “Woods Cop” series. This book is set mainly in the events of 1975-76, when Grady Service was a rookie DNR officer working in the Garden Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula. It looks as though it will shift forward to the present day near the end (I peeked!) but I’m waiting to see what happens between now and then.
July 8, 2011 – Began reading Though Not Dead, by Dana Stabenow. This is one of my favorite ongoing series of books, revolving around the main character of Kate Shugak, an Alaskan Native and private investigator. This book follows immediately on the heels of the previous A Night Too Dark, and Kate delves into the past history of the communities in which she lives and works, unearthing secrets and secret relationships from the early part of the 20th century. As always, Stabenow’s writing is engrossing and I’m 150 pages into the book already, even though I just started it on the elliptical this morning!
July 1, 2011 – Bad Boy, by Peter Robinson, the latest in the long series of “Inspector Banks” mysteries set in the small English town of Eastvale and its surroundings. British police stories really are the best, and Inspector Banks is a complex, engaging character surrounded by well-written supporting characters.
June 24, 2011 – Started Chasing a Blond Moon on Wednesday, the third “Woods Cop” mystery by Joseph Heywood. This one involves a dead Michigan Technological University professor and someone who seems to be stealing bears from DNR culvert traps. The story was engrossing enough, but there were some loose ends that didn’t seem to get wrapped up. No solution to the “stolen” bears, for example. Overall, still a good story, and it’s fun to read about places I’m familiar with from the Michigan landscape.
June 10, 2011 – The Last Secret of the Temple, by Paul Sussman – a mystery dealing with the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70. The majority of the action shifts between a Palestinian reporter working in Jerusalem and a police detective in Egypt who is investigating the death of a mysterious hotel owner who appears to have killed an old Jewish woman 15 years earlier and has been secretly conducting his own excavations of Egyptian archaeological sites. This turned out to be surprisingly engrossing by the end of the book. I’ll have to look for some others by that author, though he doesn’t seem to work in a series with the same character the subjects appear to be similar – historically based but set in the present.
June 3, 2011 – Started Grass for His Pillow, by Lian Hearn. This is the second book in the “Tales of the Otori” series and follows Takeo further after the overthrow of the evil overlord. The three countries are in chaos as everyone wonders who will be the next leader to take charge. The story alternates between Takeo’s travels with his new-found relatives in a group of spy/assassins (Ninja?) known as the Tribe and following Kaede, the girl Takeo loves, as she struggles to make her way as an independent woman in a world largely dominated by men.
May 17, 2011 – Since I didn’t get to the library on Friday after all, I went yesterday and got the second book by Lian Hearn and the second “Woods Cop” mystery by Joseph Heywood, titled Blue Wolf in Green Fire. I just barely started it today, but I’ll get into it tomorrow on the elliptical machine in the morning. No doubt, this will be another pleasurable read, focusing on locations in Michigan’s northern regions. I have to say, though, that I hope the main character stops going out of his way to create trouble for himself!
May 12, 2011 – Once again I’m posting at the end of what I’m reading – bad blogger, I know! This week I’ve been working on Across the Nightengale Floor, by Lian Hearn. This is set in a fictional almost-Japan during the feudal era and centers around a young boy who survives the massacre of his mountain village by an evil overlord (of course). Takeo is rescued by a noble lord who is as good as the other is evil and who adopts Takeo into his family. Takeo learns that he actually comes from a fabled tribe of assassins and has many mysterious abilities. The story was more engaging than I had expected, and I’m hoping to finish it today and get to the library to pick up the second book in the trilogy.
May 4, 2011 – I’ve been reading Red Herring since Monday, after I made the Hubs stop at the library on Friday before we went to Ohio. Archer Mayor’s books centered around a group of police officers and investigators in a small town in Vermont are engaging, interesting and a pleasurable read. This one involves the use of some fascinating technology at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
April 22, 2011 – Finished Ice Hunter on the elliptical this morning – nice read, good and straightforward with likable characters and a satisfying end. Started The Atlantis Code, which my mother turned me onto. Seems to be a DaVinci Code type of thing, but that was entertaining enough, so we’ll give it a go!
April 15, 2011 – Just barely started Ice Hunter, the first in a series of mysteries featuring a northern Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officer. Yay, home state subject with familiar locations!
April 13, 2011 – Almost finished The Wounded Land at band on Monday, but have just a couple of pages left to go.
I’ve been reading A Season for the Dead for about the past week now. It’s definitely a more conventional mystery than the last, and right up my alley with an art theme. Set in Rome and focusing on an Italian policeman who loves art, with a killer reenacting the martyrdoms of the saints.
March 28, 2011 – Still working on The Wounded Land during band rehearsals, but getting close to the end. Haven’t picked up How to Squeeze a Lemon in a while, but it’s buried under the pile of tests next to my end table.
Just started Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End. Scandinavian novelists seem to be all the rage right now and this one caught my eye at the library the other day. It’s a dense book and it may take me a while to get through it. I finally finished about a week ago and I’m kind of disappointed with the ending – finished with a whimper and not with a bang, as they say. I think I’m cured of the Scandinavian mystery bug.
March 17, 2011 – Right now, I’m reading two and a half books. I say two and a half because there’s one I really only pull out for a few minutes at a time.
Caveat Emptor, by Ruth Downie – a mystery set in the time of the Roman Empire with action mainly taking place in the British province. The main character is a former army medic who has (of course) various trials and tribulations that end up with him solving mysteries, typically with the help of his native Briton, former charge, now wife. Third in the series so far. This is my current “reading for pleasure” book – mainly I get to read when I’m on the elliptical machine in the morning!
The Wounded Land, by Stephen R. Donaldson – a more semi-classic sci-fi book published in 1980. This is part of a series with an alternate universe theme – again, not really elves and unicorns but a more difficult series of books that deal with major themes of love and friendship, hope and despair. This is the book currently living in the tote bag I take to band rehearsal. I pull it out when the director is working at length with another section of the band, so I only get to read a page or two at a time.
How to Squeeze a Lemon – a book of kitchen tips and techniques. Along with How to Break an Egg, something my mother found before Christmas that she thought sounded intriguing. I pick this up every so often when there’s nothing much else going on. Some helpful tips, but nothing really earth-shatteringly new so far.