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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Caught Up

I have caught up with my reviews. Yes!

I have several non-fiction books in progress and am still trying to formulate my reading plan for next year. Fiction will still probably be the largest part of it with healthy doses of mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. It is the nonfiction that I'm contemplating right now and with the goal of pursuing some interests with more organization than previously.

Lately, I've had a run of very poor mystery choices, but I will continue to pursue new authors to accompany my old favorites: Reginald Hill, Peter Robinson, Carol O'Connell's Mallory novels, Deborah Crombie, Jacqueline Winspear, James Lee Burke (haven't read one of his in a long time), Jan Burke, Laurie King, Colin Dexter, Minnette Walters, P.D. James, Elizabeth George, P.J. Tracy, and Charles Todd.

New discoveries this year have been Tana French and Robert Barnard. Winners, both!

Oh, yeah, the nonfiction...I've ordered several books about yoga and checked out some at the library. The goal is to study this a little more thoroughly--adding the intellect to the physical.

Biographies -- there was some serious slacking in this category in 2008 which definitely needs to be remedied. I think I'll look for a biography of Richard Feynman first.

Because I enjoyed The Terror, a novel about the real Franklin Expedition, I'm going to look for nonfiction on the subjects of Arctic exploration and the search for the Northwest Passage widening perhaps to other adventurous exploration. I've no problem with mixing fiction with the nonfiction, either, as fiction often leads to other digressive topics. :)

Stefanie at So Many Books (who instigated my reading of The Terror) mentioned that she might order the Nova documentary about the Franklin Expedition. I put it in my que yesterday. :) Another "reading itenerary" in the works!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Mephisto Club

Gerritsen, Tess. The Mephisto Club.

I reviewed The Keepsake, Tess Gerritsen's latest novel, the other day and you may remember that I enjoyed it.

Wouldn't you think that another one would be appealing? Maybe it would have been if I'd read it first, but it was the same formulaic plot. It was, however, the book preceding The Keepsake, so I guess The Keepsake was following the formula, which is--

a) a serial killer
b) several bizarre murders
c) a little supernatural
d) a beautiful young woman of 26 being stalked by the killer
e) the same detectives and medical examiner

There is a resemblance to the Agent Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, but a hurried and more formulaic version.

Also, it would be best to dump the bits about Jane Rizzolo's parents and Father Daniel Brophy, the lusty priest.

So maybe it is time for me to give the mysteries a rest.

Fiction. Mystery/Supernatural/Suspense. 2007. 448 pages.

On Account of Conspicuous

Shamp, Dawn. On Account of Conspicuous Women.

I was all over the place about this book. Loved the title, loved the cover. Read the first chapter and put it down, fully expecting never to pick it up again. Ran out of books, began again. Persisted, and found myself liking the characters after several chapters. Read rapidly and happily until the end, which was disappointingly bland.

The language is full of wonderful idiomatic speech, but so overdone (especially in the beginning) as to become annoying.

For: eventually, some interesting characters; the author has an ear for language; great title; interesting time period; good small town and historic detail; great cover. :)

Against: takes too long to get to the meat of either the characters or the plot; the language is forced--too many too clever sayings, idioms, dialect, and phrases; plots of the different characters never seemed to coalesce in a satisfactory manner; conclusion disappointing and predictable in a bad way.

Bertie completely turned me off in the first chapter, but later, I came to like her a great deal. Actually this was true of Ina, as well, although I kind of liked Doodle and Guerine from the beginning. All of the stories and characterizations kind of dissipated toward the end, though. And the turkey thing should most definitely have been omitted.

Maybe a good editor would have helped produce a better novel. On the other hand, there were parts of the book that I really enjoyed.

Fiction. 2008. 304 pages.

The Keepsake

Gerritsen, Tess. The Keepsake.

A suspenseful tale involving archeology, museums, a stalker, a medical examiner, and a couple of detectives.

A very fast-paced thriller that involves a spooky serial killer stalking a beautiful young woman. Maura Isles, a well-known medical examiner, has been invited to be present at an X-ray scan of an Egyptian mummy recently discovered in a private museum. The body, although mummified, is not that of the ancient Egyptian called "Madame X," but that of a much more contemporary young woman.

This discovery unnerves young archeologist Josephine Pulcillo, recently hired by the museum. Then more bizarre discoveries are made, including one found in the trunk of Josephine's car.

It is suspense thriller lite--a fast, entertaining read. The characters are not especially well-developed and the plot is pretty fantastic and in many ways cliched; nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel.

Fiction. Suspense/mystery. 2008. 368 pages.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Barnard, Robert. Last Post.

After the death of Eve McNabb's mother, a letter arrives from someone unaware of May McNabb's death. Puzzling statements make Eve aware that regardless of how well she thought she knew her mother, there are many things that she does not know, including much about her father who died when Eve was small.

Eve finds herself curious and begins trying to discover the truth about remarks the mysterious letter writer has made. With only a blurry postmark to go on, Eve begins by attempting to discover the individual who wrothe the letter, and then finds herself seeking other answers involving both her mother and her father. An interesting twist at the end answers her final questions.

This mystery is not the run-of-the-mill mystery in many ways, but was all the better for its unique approach.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 241 pages.

Another Lovely Christmas

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

As usual, I'm still behind in reviewing books, but I'm trying now to catch up.

One book that I'm currently reading, The Vigorous Mind, is helping me formulate goals for the coming year. This book was send by TLC Book Tours and my review is scheduled for Jan. 20th. I am finding it fascinating reading and am already trying to activate the process in my life. What reader wouldn't want to become more of a Renaissance mind?

Well, more about that later, I guess; I'll include the steps I'm taking (and considering for the future) after I publish the review. The book will certainly be influencing my reading for the coming year; in fact, it already is! I made a trip to the library today and kept The Vigorous Mind in mind :) when choosing my books. There is also that order from Amazon that I made yesterday.

I also picked up Amy Bloom's Away -- a result of this review at A Life in Books.

One of the best gifts I received this year is a book of photographs of my granddaughter Bryce Eleanor's first year. My daughter made it through Shutterfly, and it is a marvelous photographic unfolding from birth to first birthday!

Looking forward to spending 2009 sharing books with you.

Meltzer, Brad. The Book of Lies.

Add ImageHooey. I kept reading only because of the connection with Jerry Siegel, the originator of Superman; however, nothing much could have saved this book. Silly plot, one-dimensional characters.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 334 pages.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! Thank you all for visiting and for commenting throughout the year. The online community is such a wonderful way to share, and I love the book sharing that goes on. I get so many great titles from reading your blogs and have been educated and entertained as a result. Browsing your blogs is always an important part of my day, like a virtual book club with no rules. Drop in anytime, discuss anything, and have a cuppa' while doing it--pretty marvelous, eh?

Peace and Joy and Good Books to all of you for the coming year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Careless in Red

George, Elizabeth. Careless in Red.

I was all set to give up on Elizabeth George after With No One as Witness. However, enough time has passed that I couldn't resist giving her another try, so I guess I've recovered from the fact that she eliminated Helen.

Fortunately, I enjoyed this latest novel. It may not be the best of George, but it certainly is more up to standard than her two previous works.

Thomas Lynley, grieving intensely from the loss of his wife and unborn child, has gone for a very long walk. When the novel opens, he has been trekking stoically along the rugged coast of Cornwall for 6 weeks. His walk comes to an abrupt end when he discovers the body of a young man, who has fallen from the cliffs in an apparent climbing accident.

Lynley is a witness and a possible, although not likely, suspect when it is determined that the young man's climbing equipment has been tampered with. Detective Inspector Bea Hannaford, however, intends to make as much use of the New Scotland Yard's Lynley as possible. I liked Hannaford's character, especially when Barbara Havers shows up and the two work as an interesting pair.

Many of the other potential suspects are not especially likable; the character of Dellen Kern was a bit over the top, and perhaps her husband should have been committed for staying with her.

Soooo...I found Careless in Red involving, and I had no difficulty hanging in there, but it is certainly not her best.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 640 pages.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Mermaid Chair

Kidd, Sue Monk. The Mermaid Chair.

I really wanted to like this one. Kidd's prose is lovely and there are places that seem to be longing to be read aloud. The plot, however, and the characters seemed too pat. Annoyingly so.

The novel seemed three-dimensional only in the sense of a diorama. (As I wrote that, I remembered that Jessie used the term diorama in an attempt to describe her art). There was apparent depth, but it lacked resonance.

Religious and mythical symbolism is all over the place, and while it is great fun to pick up on symbolism, when the symbolism is spoon-fed over and over, it becomes difficult to swallow.

Was that all that annoyed me? No. The plot itself grated.

[SPOILER] Falling in lust with a monk is one thing, but love at first sight? And a monk? How wonderful that this interlude allowed her to regain her "self" and inspired her art and gave her marriage a new lease on life and somehow leads to an understanding of her mother's penchant for self-mutilation, but only after her self-absorption has kept her from recognizing her mother's increasing desperation resulting in the loss of another digit, and...

Fiction. Romance? 2005. 332 pages.

Water Like a Stone

Crombie, Deborah. Water Like a Stone.

I've always enjoyed the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series, and I enjoyed this one as well. Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Gemma, along with his son Kit and her son Toby, are spending the Christmas holidays with Kincaid's parents in Cheshire.

As usual, however, murder and mystery interfere when Kincaid's sister Juliet discovers the mummified body of a child interred in the wall of an old barn. This is the first of several intertwined complications involving family tensions, manipulation, deceit, and more murders.

The information about narrow boats and the canal systems provide an interesting and informative side note. Of course, atmosphere is always a large part of Crombie's skill in bringing the reader into the story, and this novel fulfills all expectations for narrative and atmosphere, both.

I can't wait for the next one!

Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 407 pages.

Catching Up

I've had a bad cold for the last 6 days, so I've been doing little besides sleeping and reading, reading and sleeping. Coughing, blowing my nose, sneezing, and sniffling. Some whining.

Now I have 4 more reviews to get caught up on! I'm going to get started on these today and see how long my energy lasts.
Olson, Karen E. Secondhand Smoke.

6 words (or less than): Attempts at hard-boiled, foiled.

A beloved Italian restaurant burns down and there is a body inside. Whose? Annie Seymore, investigative reporter is from the neighborhood and on the scene.

I don't know...this one didn't really capture me. Characters seemed a bit cliched, the romance between Annie and Vinnie seemed forced--his lips twitched several times too often.

Fiction. Mystery.2006. 259 pages.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Incomplete Revenge

Winspear, Jacqueline. An Incomplete Revenge.

6 words: A village shares a secret shame.

Now I'm caught up with this series.

Working for James Compton, son of her benefactor, Maisie seeks to discover the origin of some mysterious fires in the village of Heronsdene. The villagers act as if the fires are accidental, but they occur annually in September, and are both deliberate and symbolic.

Winspear seems to be closing out the WWI angle and preparing to introduce increasing concerns about Hitler and Germany. One chapter is closing, and another about to begin.

I did enjoy this book, but found it a bit didactic. The information about the rigid class system of the time seems forced and a little preachy. The same with the prejudice against those who are different (introduced in at least 3 circumstances in this novel). A more subtle approach to these problems would have been better. It didn't have to be spelled out again and again.

One of the positives in this series is that the characters change and grow. They respond to circumstances, to social customs that are in the process of change, to economic pressures, and to the frailties of human nature. Winspear is laying the groundwork for future novels with her references to Germany, various kinds of prejudice, economic depression, and Oswald Mosley.

Her characters have been molded by one war and its aftermath; they will soon be forced to respond to the encroaching shadow of a second war.

Looking forward to the next in this series.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 320 pages.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pardonable Lies

Winspear, Jacqueline. Pardonable Lies.

6 words: Three mysteries for price of one.

As I've said before, I enjoy Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries. Winspear develops the characters well and allows them to change and grow. In this novel, Maisie has 3 cases: a young girl accused of murder, a father who wants proof that his son died in the war, and a friend who wants to know the circumstances surrounding her brother's death during the war.

Maisie, a nurse during WWI, has suffered emotionally from her war experiences and must confront some of her demons when two of her cases require her to travel to France where she served in a field hospital. In addition to the emotional stress of revisiting the region where she experienced war's horrors, Maisie finds herself at odds with her mentor.

Winspear does an excellent job relating the devastating effects of WWI on the British and, in this novel, the French. Both countries are still, 13 years later, dealing with the suffering and loss inflicted by the war. Winspear also manages to slip a 4th minor mystery that I will leave as a surprise, but that involves the psychic phenomenon that occured during that period.

Fiction. Mystery. 2005. 352 pages.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Works Abandoned, Works in Progress

I have been reading, even if I haven't been blogging about books. I've also been busy over at Bayou Quilts making all kinds of fun and mostly useless things--moving from one project to the next without any kind of plan.

I have tried to read 2 ARCs that purport to be novels for those who love Jane Austen. Wrong. If you've read Jane Austen with all of her wit and sparkle and charm, the characters in The Ladies of Longbourn by Rebecca Ann Collins and Mr. & Mrs. Fizwilliam Darcy by Sharon Latham will be recognizable by name only. I couldn't read very much of either.

I do have an ARC of Jane Austen Ruined My Life that I'm hoping will be much better. It is a contemporary novel about an English professor; I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Just finished a Maisie Dobbs and am in the middle of another one. I've enjoyed the previous Maisie Dobbs mysteries, so it is no surprise that these two please me. Have also finished my first Annie Seymore novel, but it didn't appeal to me as much as I'd hoped. Will review these 3 soon. I hope.

Also in the process of reading Ilium by Dan Simmons, but it isn't speeding along. The beginning with all of the gods, goddesses, and myth hooked me, but the shifting between 3 stories and time periods isn't holding my interest as well as The Terror, which I couldn't bear to put down.

And finally, the biography of Dr. Joe Slowinski, The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge is also in progress. Slowinski was a biologist who discovered many previously unknown and unidentified species of snakes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Simmons, Dan. The Terror. 6 words: Engrossing. Cold. Starvation. Horror. History. Myth. Based on the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845, The Terror is the name of the novel, the name of one of the ships, and a description of the experiences (both real and fictionalized) that the men who embarked on the search for the Northwest Passage endured in their arctic exploration. The ships H.M.S. Erebus and the H.M.S. Terror, captained by Sir John Franklin and Francis Crozier and crewed by 126 men, are caught in an ice pack for two years. Temperatures reach as much as -100; the long Arctic night begins in August; food is dwindling, as is the coal supply, and much of their canned food is contaminated; many of the crew begin showing symptoms scurvy; and if those conditions aren't bad enough, there is a creature stalking and brutally killing the crew. Dan Simmons has created an absolutely riveting novel with incredible historical detail. This is a novel that I will not forget. Thanks again to Stefanie of So Many Books whose review first caught my interest! I wrote a little about the novel here, as well. Nova made a documentary of the expedition. This slide show gives some great background. Click on the small pictures above the slide show to continue through segments 2-5. Dan Simmons has created an absolutely riveting novel with incredible historical detail. This is a novel that I will not forget. Fiction. Historical Fiction. 2007. 766 pages.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Broken Window

Deaver, Jeffrey. The Broken Window.

6 words: Cousin framed; serial killer at large.

Lincoln Rhyme's cousin is arrested for murder and the evidence seems conclusive. Although Lincoln has some unresolved problems with this cousin who used to be his best friend, he agrees to look into the situation.

What he discovers is that not only has Arthur been well-and-truly framed, but that there are a number of other murders in which the evidence seems incontrovertible and the accused are convicted of crimes they did not commit.

The murderer uses sensitive computer information to make sure that an innocent person is convicted, and so he proceeds, two victims at a time. Strategic Systems Datacorp--a huge datamining company--has some of the answers.

The really scary part is that the information-gathering and identity theft portions of the novel are well researched and the possibilities of corruption extend far beyond what I could have imagined.

This novel is absolutely unnerving--not so much the Lincoln Rhymes narrative, but the possibilities. Identity theft has frightened us all, but the sheer volume of information available about each of us and the ways that information can be manipulated is truly chilling.

Deaver lists several Web sites at the end of the novel for readers interested in knowing more about the right to privacy. He also mentions (and quotes from) No Place to Hide by Robert O'Harrow, Jr.

Here is the quote from No Place to Hide that opens The Broken Window:

"Most privacy violations are not going to be caused by the exposure of huge personal secrets but by the publication of many little facts.... As with killer bees, one is an annoyance but a swarm can be deadly."

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 414 pages.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Still Waters

McCrery, Nigel. Still Waters.

6 words: Someone kills old ladies; takes identities.

Although McCrery has written other novels, this one is the beginning of a new series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Mark Lapslie, who suffers from synaesthesia. His condition is so severe that he has been on disability leave and has been called back to work early to head up this case.

What was originally thought by the police to be just a one-off murder appears to be the work of a serial killer...and a woman. Or are the powers that be already aware of the serial aspect?

This was really quite an intriguing novel--with some interesting psychological twists. Warning - I found the Prologue quite disturbing, but that gruesome element is not repeated, although this is never a "cozy."

Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 275 pages.

The Grift

Ginsberg, Debra. The Grift.

6 words: Psychic counselor suddenly gets genuine visions.

I love the cover and the combination of grift (a swindle, a scam) with gift (in this case, psychic ability). Isn't that perfect for a novel about a psychic?

The book itself, however, I found disappointing. Marina's attitude toward her "clients" (well, even the clients themselves) became a source of irritation. The plot didn't hold together for me either. Started quite well, but I couldn't muster much concern for any of the characters, and by the time Marina actually develops a psychic ability...well, not even "seeing things" can move the novel out of anticlimactic mode.

Fiction. 2008. 329 pages.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Recycle, Review

Student Hacks gives 10 ways to recycle old books and links to the instructions. My favorites are the secret hiding place in a hollowed out book and the floating book shelf.

I have 3 books to review, but can't drag myself away from the current read. I'm close to finishing The Terror by Dan Simmons. Thanks to Stefanie of So Many Books whose review instigated my choosing this one on my last trip to the library. I already had Simmons' Drood on my list when I read Stefanie's review, and now I will be looking for more Dan Simmons. Oh, yeah.

I've learned a great deal from this book including that a Welsh wig is a knitted cap: " By the eighteenth century, the woollen cap worn by the ordinary sailors in the British Navy had changed to the Welsh Wig which was described as a round knitted cap which may have originally been the 'Monmouth cap'." [from The Isca Morrismen]
I've also learned about the horrors of scurvy and that Holland tents were still being used in arctic exploration in 1875, and much more. I've been completely absorbed by it -- alternately entertained, educated, horrified...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


How sad to realize that one of our most active book bloggers is no longer with us. There have been tributes all over the web since Dewey's husband posted about the sudden silence on The Hidden Side of the Leaf.

We all operate within our own little spheres--isolated in fact, but connected in spirit to the rest of the blogging community. Book bloggers enjoy a meeting of minds, minds attuned to a particular topic, and we are often unaware of the real-life circumstances beyond our shared interest in books.

Dewey's presence was largely felt and will be largely missed...

"Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf." Toni Morrison