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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Killing Kindness

Hill, Reginald.  A Killing Kindness.

Reprinted by Felony and Mayhem Press, this is #5 in the Dalziel & Pascoe series.  As usual, with Hill's earlier novels in this series, I find it most interesting to observe the development of Hill's style and the evolution of his most familiar characters.  Detective Sergeant Edgar Wield, the third wheel in the triple threat of the Yorkshire Constabulary, is both shockingly ugly and surprisingly lovable.  His character development in this fifth novel is noteworthy as we get a little more insight into his love life.  Wieldy is second only to Fat Andy in my book.

A serial killer, nicknamed The Choker, is targeting women.  To Fat Andy's disgust, the case involves a clairvoyant, a psychologist, and a couple of linguists.  Pascoe, on the other hand, the more modern and liberal half of the team, tries to keep an open mind.

Truthfully, the motivation for the murders wasn't convincing to me, but I enjoyed the novel anyway.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  1980/2009.  277 pages.


 Davis, Lindsey.  Alexandria:  A Marcus Didius Falco Novel.

While not one of my favorite Falco mysteries, the information about Alexandria and the great Library was fascinating.

Falco and Helena, along with their children and Falco's brother-in-law, are visiting Falco's uncle in Alexandria, Egypt.  On their first evening, their hosts have a dinner party and Theon, the Head Librarian is an honored guest.  The next morning, Theon is found dead in a locked room at the Library.

While I found the mystery itself adequate, not enthralling, the historical tidbits were fascinating.  The dissection of Theon by the Alexandria Zoo Keeper is particulary interesting because of the historical data included concerning Eristratus of Chios and Herophilus of Chalcedon who were physicians and anatomists at the Alexandria medical school.  They are both considered founders of modern medicine and performed dissections (and possibly vivisections!) that provided significant information about the workings of the human body.

Hero/Heron was a Greek mathematician and engineer who invented the first steam engine, a windwheel to harness wind power, devices for the theater, a force pump widely used by Romans, and more. 

The relationship between Falco and Helena Justinua remains one of the charming aspects of this series, but the plot was sometimes a bit tedious.

The following links show the importance of Alexandria and its scholars:

Erasistratus of Chios
Herophilus of Chalcedon
Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria

Fiction. Mystery/Historical Fiction. 2009.  338 pages.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Alexander Cipher

Adams, Will.  The Alexander Cipher.

Contrived.  Thought I'd like it because it was an archaeological mystery, but didn't find the characters particularly interesting or the plot involving. 

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  336 pages.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”  Ben Okri

Love this quote...

The Blue Last

Grimes, Martha.  The Blue Last.

I picked this one up at the library because I felt like a reunion with Richard Jury, Melrose Plant, and the other eccentric characters that Grimes has created.

Inspector Jury is approached by an old friend and colleague, Micky Haggerty, who is dying of cancer.  Haggerty wants Jury to prove that during the WWII bombing of London, a baby was switched.  Two young mothers, two babies of the same age.  One mother and child killed by a bomb, one young mother and child survive.  The surviving mother was the Nanny, the surviving baby is supposed to be the child of a wealthy family. 

Despite the difficulties of a case this old, Jury wants desperately to help his old friend.  With the help of his friend Melrose Plant, Jury begins the investigation, which involves two charming children and a dog.  Children and dogs always play a part in Grimes' mysteries, and while they may not be absolutely believable,  the children (and dogs) are filled with personality.

Unfortunately, the mystery itself has a number of flaws, not least of which is Jury's age and preoccupation with his past.  By no means is The Blue Last one of Grimes' better novels.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  2001.  415 pages.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Girl on Legare Street

White, Karen.  The Girl on Legare Street.

A sequel to The House on Tradd Street (which I haven't read), this review copy arrived last week. Melanie Middleton is a realtor in Charleston who is busy restoring the historic house she inherited on Tradd Street when the mother who abandoned her when she was 7 appears on the scene.  Both mother and daughter share psychic abilities, but Melanie's resentment and sense of betrayal keeps her from welcoming the mother who left her over 30 years ago.

Jack Trenholme from The House on Tradd Street provides the romantic angle, and he and Melanie spar repeatedly as she denies her attraction to him.  There is a protective ghost and a vengeful ghost, some curious paintings from the late 19th century depicting young girls wearing identical lockets, a female reporter who has an odd sense of familiarity and an intense interest in the house on Legare Street and its occupants present and past.

Characterization is either lacking or stereotypical and the supernatural plot requires a great deal of "suspension of disbelief."  The book seems to fall in the chic lit/romance/paranormal realm with plenty of elements from each sub-genre. The author believes in "tell don't show" and is afraid you might miss her intentions, so repeats them frequently.

I did like it better White's The Lost Hours, but once again hoped for more.  On the other hand, it is a fast read and all the other blog reviews I read were highly enthusiastic.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Romance.  2009.  335 pages

Monday, November 23, 2009

All the Colors of Darkness

Robinson, Peter.  All the Colors of Darkness.

Robinson is usually one of my favorites, but this Inspector Banks novel was a disappointment. The entire novel seems a departure from Robinson's usual style.

The MI6 angle grated on me for some reason; the murder-suicide plot was convaluted on its own and didn't need the additional complications.  The Banks/Sophia relationship was uncomfortable from the beginning and becomes more uncomfortable as the story evolves.  The musical references have become stale, and yet there are even more in this novel.

I found this novel darker and somehow less authentic in regard to characters and plot.  There seems to be a personal bitterness involved, but nothing rang true for me.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  2009.  356 pages.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Price of Butcher's Meat

Hill, Reginald.  The Price of Butcher's Meat.

This is the installment I missed between Death Comes for the Fat Man and Midnight Fugue.

Although I always enjoy Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series, this is one of my favorites so far.  After Superintendent Andy Dalziel has come through his coma and been released from the hospital, he bows to pressure and goes to a convalescent home to continue his recovery.

Fat Andy is such a larger-than-life character, and not only in physical girth.  His crude and politically incorrect observations are often intentionally startling and usually hilarious.  I adore him in literature, even knowing that I would probably be unable to tolerate him in real life.  He is a modern Falstaff, but one less likely to meet the same fate.

The novel is presented in a different format that includes the emails of an amusingly insightful and satiric young woman and the recordings of the big man himself. Franny Roote makes another appearance which certainly surprised me, but Franny has played a part in quite a few of the D & P novels.

Good characterization as usual, interesting plot, and wonderful use of language.  Even more literary allusions than usual.  I'm not sure how Hill manages to do this without sound pedantic, but he does.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed this book even more than usual.  Hill remains one of the best and most literate authors in the genre of crime fiction/police procedural/mystery.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2008.  519 pages.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Watson, Winifred.  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Thoroughly charming, this little book is has the whimsy of a delightful fairy tale.  Miss Pettigrew is sent to interview as a governess, but inadvertently becomes a life-saver when her future employer opens the door and begs for her help.  The lovely Miss LaFosse draws the middle-aged spinster into the glamorous and somewhat dissolute life of the "bright young things" of the 1930's.

Miss Pettigrew puts aside her niggling moral judgments when Miss LaFosse and her friends not only happily include her, but find her wise and clever and capable of helping solve their various difficulties.  Miss Pettigrew receives a make-over in all senses of the phrase.  Surprised and happy to be seen in such a new light, Miss Pettigrew gives herself over to the enjoyment of the day, feeling much like a modern Cinderella.

I've read many positive reviews of this book and join the ranks of its many fans.  Light-hearted and amusing, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is definitely a feel-good read.

A Persephone Classic--I know that Danielle and Iliana are collectors of these "reprints of neglected classic by C20th (mostly women) writers."

Fiction.  1938/2008.  234 pages.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Now & Then

Sheehan, Jacqueline.  Now & Then.

A review copy of a time travel novel.  I love the idea of time travel, but find it a difficult premise to pull off.  The Time Traveler's Wife, which I read right after it was published, kept me interested, but ultimately left me disappointed.   Outlander by Gabaldon enthralled me after a few chapters, mainly because there was a complete story in the past and the characters were much more than a device.  The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers comes highly recommended, and I think I'll look for a library copy.

Back to Now & Then -- nothing really engaged me, and I was put off by the means of time travel and the back stories of the characters... and I suppose, by the characters themselves.  The conclusion may not have been a conclusion, but if there does happen to be a sequel, I don't think I'll bother.

Oh, and the dog on the front?  Could have been a great asset to the story, but Madigan's role was inconsequential and the cover misleading.

Other Reviews:  Booking It and Dear Author

Fiction.  Time Travel/Fantasy.  2009.  384 pages.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Magician's Apprentice

Canavan, Trudi.  The Magician's Apprentice.

This novel is a stand-alone prequel to Canavan's Black Magician trilogy (which I haven't read).  The novel kept me occupied, but not fully engaged.  The world Canavan has created is adequate in some ways, but for some reason fails to create the involvement one hopes for in fantasy.

The characters never quite come off the page and the plot builds tension that isn't sustained.  The "war" and the tactics/strategy are a large portion of the book and  strangely insipid.  However, when your armies consist of 100 or so magicians on either side, it is a bit difficult to muster a sense of two countries at war.

Tessia, daughter of a Healer, discovers that she also has magical abilities.  Lord Dakon takes her on as his second apprentice.  Magicians draw magical abilities from their apprentices in exchange for teaching them.  The "good" guys are conscientious about this magical draw; the "bad" guys are not.   Magical powers seem remarkably dull and frequently useless in this book.

In the last 100 or so pages, there is a definite change in direction as the author (evidently) prepares the ground for the trilogy already published.  I didn't find this switch a comfortable one; it seemed contradictory to original characterization and to previous goals.

Fiction.  Fantasy.  2009.  588 pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Midnight Fugue

Hill, Reginald.  Midnight Fugue.

  Midnight Fugue is Fat Andy's journey to regain his rightful place in the police hierarchy after his injury and coma in Death Comes for Fat AndyDalziel has cut his convalescence a little short, and even he has some questions about his abilities, but he is determined to re-establish his prominence in the Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary.

In an attempt to do a favor for an old acquaintance, Andy sees a way to provide aid to another policeman and to get back in the game unofficially.  Events, however, take some unpleasant twists when Shirley Novello is seriously injured and a young journalist murdered.  Andy discovers that the roots lead back into the past as the branches reach toward future political ramifications.

As usual, Hill can be counted on for great characterization and a tight plot (with some satisfying subplots) as well as his customary literate and literary allusions.  I had to check on the allusion to Vicar Bray as I'd never heard of him before, but a couple of allusions to Hamlet, one to Joseph Conrad, one to a character in a nursery rhyme (one of my favorites for some odd reason, Dr. Fell), one to William Blake, more than one to Edwin Muir, and who knows how many I may have missed.  All allusions are perfectly incorporated, an addition to your pleasure if you catch them, no loss to the story if not.  There is also a musical motif running through the chapters headings -- from the prelude to con fuoco poi smorzando.

Andy takes the lead in this novel with Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldie, Novello, and Hat just along for the ride, but that is as it should be as the Fat Man returns after his long coma and recovery.  The novel is shorter than many of Hill's more recent Dalziel & Pascoe novels, but in my admittedly prejudiced opinion, another good'un!

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime/Police Procedural.  2009.  361 pages.

Monday, November 09, 2009

By Heresies Distressed

Weber, David.  By Heresies Distressed.

The third in Weber's Safehold series, By Heresies Distressed allowed me to return to that world  I first visited in Armageddon Reef.  I loved it, but I am a huge Weber fan.

I don't advise reading this series out of order.  I've reviewed Armageddon Reef here and By Schism Rent Asunder here, and they give a bit of the background, but this just isn't a series that would work well without a chronological reading.

This installment deals with several battles as Caleb moves against the enemies who attacked his kingdom, and as usual, Weber is a dab hand at making battle strategy and tactics fascinating.  Sharleyan is busy trying to manage the kingdom of Charis in Caleb's absence.

The Church and State political component continues to interest me as well, but Weber's ability to bring each character (and their are so many) to life is the major factor in making his newest world a real one.

I couldn't decide whether to be disappointed that the story is still not complete or delighted that there is at least one more novel to look forward to.

Fiction.  Science Fiction.  2009.  475 pages.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dante's Numbers

Hewson, David.  Dante's Numbers.

Nic Costa, Leo Falcone, Gianni Peroni, and Teresa Lupo return in this novel, to the delight of many fans of the series.  Hewson seems to have a little difficulty in the opening of the novel (I had a similar feeling in The Lizard's Bite), but once he settles in, the story becomes involving and intriguing.

Falcone's team, originally designated to guard artifacts on the set of a movie about Dante's Inferno, come into conflict with the Carabinierre, who have been assigned protection for the actors.   When the first death occurs right before the movie's premiere, Falcone is frustrated by his team's exclusion from the investigation.  Official exclusion, actually, because his team is making their own inquiries.

Then, when the actor who plays Dante is murdered in a gruesome and voyeuristic manner, the Roman Premiere is canceled and re-scheduled to appear in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, Maggie Flavier who plays Beatrice (evidently there was some license in the movie because it is Virgil who guides Dante through the Inferno, not Beatrice) and Nic Costa have become friends.  When Falcone's team travels to L.A. with the artifacts, Nic and Maggie's relationship continues to develop, and Maggie herself may be the next target.

My favorite parts were not those with Nic and Maggie, however, but with Teresa Lupo and her friendship with twins Hank and Frank, retired firemen.

Lots of cinematic allusions particularly to Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  386 pages

Saturday, November 07, 2009

WWI Reading

Trench Literature -- Reading in WWI from ABE Books.  What were the ordinary soldiers reading during the first World War?  Trench Literature is an interesting article that gives some of the titles that the men in the trenches read.

How to Buy a Love of Reading

Gibson, Tanya Egan.  How to Buy a Love of Reading.

 From Publishers Weekly: 
Egan's debut, an odd blend of young adult melodrama and unsuccessful metafiction, winds itself into knots of empty story lines. Recognizing that their dullard daughter, Carley, needs an academic boost, Gretchen and Francis Wells hire author Bree McEnroy to write a book to Carley's specifications. Though Carley's love for reality television and Bree's fondness for self-conscious literary tropes should, in theory, unite to make a delightful story-within-a-story, it is often neglected or underwritten. Meanwhile, the cardboard secondary cast floats around Bree and Carley: there's Hunter, Carley's crush, whose alcoholic rakishness, we are assured, masks a poet's interior; Carley's social-climbing mother and philandering father; and Justin, Bree's college chum, who has become, on dubious merit, a literary star. Carley and Hunter's friendship is jeopardized by both his addictions and her unrequited adoration, and Bree and Justin reconcile. Plagued by thin, when not wildly inconsistent, characterization from the start, the narrative's tendency to flit from character to character without revealing anything memorable or insightful further blurs the point. Unfortunately, there isn't enough heart to redeem the dopiness.

I do agree with the above excerpt and didn't really want to bother with thinking about how to review this long indulgence myself.

I read it all...with my inner-critic on high volume the entire time.  Rich people are all shallow and/or mean-spirited?  May be...I don't know anyone who is the category of rich that these characters dwell in.  I hope there are those who live in that world who retain some common sense and a remnant of humanity.

The book is too, too clever and pretty empty.

Fiction. ? 2009.  389 pages.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Haunting Bombay

Agarwal, Shilpa.  Haunting Bombay.

The story of the Mittal family is a ghost story, but not a Western ghost story.  Thoroughly grounded in the atmosphere of Bombay (now Mumbai) and Hindu myth and religion, the ghost is both a supernatural and psychological phenomenon.

I found myself intrigued for a while, but as the story began to spin wider, I was less enchanted.  I've tried to figure out why that was so, but haven't successfully determined just what went wrong for me.

Essentially, it may be that my idea of a ghost story and of myth are so Westernized that the differences made it difficult to suspend disbelief.  As I've mentioned before, I'm not a great fan of magical realism and some of that quality is present in the book.

The writing and characterization are quite good, but the consequences of the original death spread so wide, with so many ripples, that Pinky's story is drastically diminished.  She becomes a device rather than a character.  Maji, the grandmother, has a role that rises and falls and ultimately offers the explanation.  She might deserve a book of her own.

I did enjoy the novel, and there was no way that I'd have abandoned it, but in the end, I didn't love it.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Psychological.  2009.  359 pages.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

To Serve Them All My Days

Delderfield, R. F.  To Serve Them All My Days.

OK -- I loved this one.  I liked it much better than God Is an Englishman because this is about a teacher, and I have some experience in this area.

David Powlett-Jones is invalided out of WWI, injured and suffering from shell-shock.  Despairing over the cost of the war in human lives, unable to control his shaking hands, he nevertheless accepts a job teaching history at Bamfylde School.  At Bamfylde, Davy eventually finds the healing his wounded spirit needs and a sense of being useful and of belonging to something important.  He also discovers that he is a born teacher.

The novel, with all of its wonderful detail, begins at the tag-end of the first World War and continues through the second.  Delderfield manages to involve the reader with all of his wonderful characters and give an overview of those years that includes the very personal effects on individuals and a wider historical and political perspective.

The book is comforting with its view of human nature--flawed, but with hope for improvement.  Delderfield doesn't avoid all of the tragedies of life, and there are many in the novel, but he has an optimism, a faith in mankind that buoys the reader.

I loved it.  Repeating myself, I know, but it's true.  I will re-visit Bamfylde, Davy, Algy, Howarth, and all of the men, women, and boys that populate these pages.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me this review copy!

Fiction.  Historical.  First publ. 1972.  Republ. 2008.  594 pages.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reviews Done and Scheduled

:) I've finished all my reviews and have 5 scheduled for the next several days.  By then, of course, I will have finished more books.  Well, I will if I stay in this reading mode. 

Still in post-tornado clean up, but it gets dark early, and I'm reading for hours every night. 

More on University Presses

As both a student and a former teacher, I relied on the University Press for research in any number of areas. No matter how specialized the topic, somewhere a UP had books on the subject. When I was in Austin this summer to get my yoga teacher training, one of my classmates was an editor for the University of Texas Press.

Naturally, we discussed books! Everything from our interest in Reginald Hill mysteries, to the more scholarly publications she was responsible for editing, to the future of books in general. We talked about E books and Kindle--of course, both of us want the feel of the book in hand and find it difficult to believe that "actual" books will ever disappear.

One thing she mentioned, however, made an impression on me. University Presses are having many of the difficulties of small book stores--competition. Amazon and B & N provide such easy access and low prices, which is wonderful in a way; but they have also contributed to the demise of many small, locally owned book stores. According to Allison, they are a bit of a threat to the UP system as well. I wish we had discussed this more fully, but we could only talk during our short breaks and often picked up on a new conversational thread after interruption.

Publishing books for specialized interests is not a profitable enterprise. For example, including all those lovely photographs for art books that are not going to be best sellers is an expensive undertaking, but publishing books on lit crit is also expensive and the audience is relatively small.

After my last post about University Presses, I did a little research on the topic. Here is a little information from the Association of American University Presses:

University presses are publishers. At the most basic level that means they perform the same tasks as any other publisher -- university presses acquire, develop, design, produce, market and sell books and journals, just like Random House or Condé Nast. But while commercial publishers focus on making money by publishing for popular audiences, the university press's mission is to publish work of scholarly, intellectual, or creative merit, often for a small audience of specialists.

University presses also differ from commercial publishers because of their place in the academic landscape. A university press is an extension of its parent institution, and it's also a key player in a more general network -- including learned societies, scholarly associations, and research libraries -- that makes scholarly endeavor possible. Like the other nodes in this network, university presses are charged with serving the public good by generating and disseminating knowledge. That's why the government has recognized our common interest in the work of university presses by granting them not-for-profit status.
Many of the books university presses publish, then, are meant primarily for scholars or other people interested in certain concentrated fields of research. Thousands of these books (generally termed monographs) have been published, on topics ranging from the meaning of gambling in nineteenth-century America to the changing nature of Balinese gamelan music. Monographs are generally sold in hardcover editions to libraries, and increasingly in paperback editions so that they may be used as supplemental reading in college courses.
Though scholarship is central to the mission of university presses, most also publish books of more general interest. That might mean narrative history, or poetry, or fiction translated from other languages. As commercial publishers increasingly turn away from books that are deemed unlikely to make a lot of money, university presses have found new fields to publish in -- and new audiences for their books. Because university presses are located all over the country, they also specialize in publishing books about the culture and history of different parts of America that attract less attention from commercial houses. You'll find general interest titles from university presses alongside the bestsellers at your local bookstore.
If you are interested in what your local UP might offer, check this link to the AAUP, and click on your closest UP.

Previous posts: In Support of University Presses and Sky Train (from the University of Washington Press)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Baker Street Letters

Robertson, Michael.  The Baker Street Letters.

I've enjoyed a lot of Sherlock Holme's take-offs, so the title interested me.  Reggie Heath, a London solicitor, leases office space at 221B Baker Street only to discover that written into the lease is the obligation to manage and respond (by form letter) to all correspondence addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

Reggie's brother Nigel, in charge of this chore,  comes across some recent letters relating to a letter written 20 years earlier from an eight-year-old girl.  A theft, a murder, and Nigel's unplanned flight to Los Angeles, all lead to Reggie's following his brother to find out what is going on.

This novel is the first in a planned series, but has a way to go before being able to sufficiently capture faithful readers.  An interesting premise, but ... the mystery has several scenes that feel repetitious and is average in characterization and narrative.

Will I try the next one?  Yes, many series take some time to warm up, and I'm hoping that will be the case here.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  277 pages.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Thanks for all the encouragement!   It is much appreciated.  Clean up is on-going.  Yesterday, I kind of ran out of steam and read most of the day.  Ahh, the escape offered by a good book!  Several reviews to get caught up on, but much more clean-up to do first.

Tree through the bedroom window.

The following pictures were taken Friday morning.  The water had begun to go down, but we were still cut off except for trucks and vehicles with a high wheel base.  Although the tornado tried to lift our roof...3 brick walls leaning one way or another and gaps between roof and wall, you can see that a few houses down, they lost their roof completely.