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Monday, May 28, 2012

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

The First Rule of Ten:  A Tensing Norbu Mystery  from Hay House Publishing is the first in a series about Tenzing Norbu, the "Dharma Detective."   Tenzing Norbu is an ex-monk who later joins the LAPD.  Room for some internal conflict there.

Ten eventually makes detective, and initially, enjoys his job, but as the job becomes more and more laden with paper work and desk time, he recalls his early fascination with Sherlock Holmes and the thrill of solving  crimes rather than dealing with red tape.

After being shot during a call to a domestic violence situation, Ten decides that perhaps his destiny lies elsewhere, and he decides to resign and follow his dreams as a private investigator.

Ten's intriguing and unusual background inform both his thinking and behavior.  Since Ten spent his childhood moving back and forth between his mother's home in Paris and  Dharamshala, the Tibetan monastery in India, where he lived with his father--the contrast between the worldly and the spiritual began early.

Enough said.   This detective novel has some unusual twists and introduces characters who will no doubt inhabit the next book in the series.  The authors have created a fascinating protagonist in Ten Norbu and an interesting plot with murder but not gore.  I really liked this one!

Fiction.  Mystery.  Jan.  2012.  312 pages (print version).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Thoughts

I've finished a few more mysteries and have one review scheduled, one in draft form, and one that I haven't even started:

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay.  The protagonist is a PI who is also a former monk.  I really liked this one.

Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason.  One of Indridason's early stand-alone novels (originally published in 1999);  I was not impressed.  It is not one of his Detective Erlendur novels--this one features evil, sadistic Americans.

Cambridge Blue by Alison Bruce.  A British police procedural with interesting characters in DC Gary Goodhew and his superior DI Marks.

I've also recently finished two excellent YA fantasies, but the publishers want  the reviews scheduled for shortly before their release dates.  I can add them to my Once Upon a Time reads, but not to the Once Upon a Time review site because of delayed reviews.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas - to be released in August (my review is scheduled for July)

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier - to be released in September  (review scheduled for August)

It is a bit frustrating to want to share these now and not be able to do so, because both are engrossing reads with great characters.

I've been having one of those manic reading cycles, often starting and finishing a book in one evening.  This is fairly easy to do when reading most mysteries, but then I think of how long it took me to read IQ84 and Cryptonomicon.  And reading most non-fiction is also a slower process.

As Sir Francis Bacon noted:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

I think most fiction falls in the second category--swallowed,  read for entertainment and escape.  They are interesting, but may or may not require much thought, effort, or diligence.
This is where I place the above books.  They provide entertainment, a glimpse into another world, although a fictional one, an offer of vicarious adventure.

Not Cryptonomicon, however; that one demanded not just time, but effort, and sent me researching in a half-dozen directions.  Nor do the classics fall into that second category, the classics give us insight into ourselves, our neighbors, and the world beyond our doorstep.  They are to be read wholly and require digesting.  Definitely the third category.

I was reading this post about building communities and found #6 a great idea!

6. Put up a Book Lending Cupboard. Take a book, lend a book. Collect your old reads and share them with passersby in a book-lending cupboard mounted next to the sidewalk out front. Give it a roof, a door with glass panes, and paint it to match the flowers below.
Or, change the story: read a poem, write a poem. Create a poetry cupboard with poems to share.

Now wouldn't a little lending cupboard be a nice place to visit on a walk?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein

Tilt-a-Whirl is a mystery I first read about on Kay's blog, and so a nod to the lady from Austin for introducing me to a new series that is a little grittier than a cozy, but still retains many cozy elements.

Sea Haven is a tourist mecca located on a small island off the New Jersey coast, and the locals depend on the summer influx of tourists to keep their economy healthy during the rest of the year.  When a highly publicized murder occurs and the murderer isn't caught, the islanders are concerned about their finances as much as anything else.

Enter the newest police department hire John Ceepak, formerly military police, and "summer cop" young Danny Boyle.  Ceepak is a "Boy Scout" and his adherence to his strict code of conduct acknowledges no exceptions.

Although a bit annoying with his Dudley Do-Right personality, Ceepak is a thoughtful and thorough cop and proves a great mentor for Danny Boyle.

The conversation is sometimes stilted and the characters fairly stereotypical, but somehow for this particular sub-genre, it works.

This is the first novel in the series,  which has been very successful, and it will be interesting to see the series as it develops.  Many authors deepen their characters and plots with succeeding books, and I enjoyed this one enough to want to read the next in the series.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2006.  321 pages.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson

Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire's daughter will be getting married in two weeks, and he and Henry Standing Bear are checking out a scenic location for the wedding in As the Crow Flies, when they witness a young Indian woman fall from a cliff.

Accident, murder, suicide?  Although they are in Montana and out of Longmire's territory, he becomes involved in the investigation.

I've loved the two books in the Sheriff Longmire series I've read, and I'm just as pleased with this one.

Craig Johnson does an excellent job of bringing characters to life, describing the settings, and pulling together tight plot lines laced with both drama and humor.  This is the third in the series I've read, but I want to go back and pick up the earlier books as well.

What I like:  the characters, the humor, the information on Native Americans, the politically incorrect jokes that Indians tell about themselves, the dignity ascribed to certain elders and cultural practices, the friendship between Walt and Henry Standing Bear, the prose, the allusions (although there are fewer in this novel)....

Johnson creates believable characters; whether likable or not, they are never caricatures or stereotypes.  They are uniquely human and treated with respect.

Aided by Henry Standing Bear, and in this book, by the new Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long, Sheriff Longmire investigates Audrey Plain Feather's death, and he carries us with him in the investigation with an adept skill that brings us quietly and easily into his world.

What I dislike:  Nothing.

Oh, and I love the last names:  Katrina Walks Nice,  Herbert His Good Horse,  Audrey Plain Feather, Clarence Last Bull, Artie Small Song.... and Elk Shoulder,  Fire Crow,  Old Mouse,  Bear Comes Out,  Crazy Mule,  Bobtail Horse.

If you haven't read any of the this series,  you're missing something.  If you like Tony Hillerman or Michael McGarrity or other mysteries set in the West,  give Craig Johnson a try.  In fact, of the three (and I like them all), my favorite may be Johnson's Longmire series.

Another one from Netgalley.

Fiction.  Mystery.  May 2012.  print version- 320 pages.  Penguin Group.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

Garment of Shadows features Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes and is scheduled for release in September.

I'm happy to say that I did, indeed, enjoy Garment of Shadows which takes place right after Pirate King (which did not keep my interest).  In fact, Mary disappears from a Pirate King film location and reappears in Morocco.  She awakens in a strange room with no idea of who she is or how she got there.  Ever-resourceful,  Mary acts on instinct when soldiers arrive at the building and makes good her escape.  Since she doesn't know who she is or how she was injured, she isn't sure where to go to find the answers, but she discovers several interesting talents the she possesses (picking locks, etc.), and she acquires a young ally as she moves through the twisting streets and alleyways of Morocco.

Meanwhile, Holmes, unaware that Mary is missing from the film crew of the Pirate King, is visiting a friend and distant cousin in Morocco and learning about the threats of war, about the Rif revolt, Spain's use of poison gas against the Rif , massacres on both sides, and other internal and political difficulties of the 1920's in Morocco.   The historical facts are especially interesting to me as I didn't know much about the politics of this region, but the facts are seamlessly blended with the fiction.

This was a typical Russell and Holmes--fast-paced, good historical information, tightly plotted, old friends, and interesting new characters.  A fun read and a relief after the disappoint of the previous novel.

If you like this series, look for it in September.

This was from Netgalley, and I read it on my Kindle.

Oh, and we've discussed at different times all of the analogues and pastiches of  concerning Holmes and Watson, books, television series, and films, and recently  I discovered a blog by Dr. Watson which is interesting.  This post lists some recent and yet to be released books, audio books,  and some upcoming Sherlock films.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012.  print version- 288 pages.  Random House.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reading and Stitching

Once Upon a Time Round Up :
  1. The Summoner:  Book I in the Chronicles of the Necromancer
  2. Heartless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate)
  3. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  4. Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper
  5. River Secrets by Shannon Hale (The Books of Bayern) 
  6. The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (Vol. 1 of The Rain Wild Chronicles)
  7. Dragon Haven  by Robin Hobb (Vol. 2)
  8. City of Dragons by Robin Hobb (Vol. 3)
I may read another one, but then again, I may not as I'm back to enjoying my mysteries. 

 I have three more reviews scheduled--WooHoo!  I have only two more to do, and I'm caught up with reviews!

Stitching lately has been white on white blocks of various sizes that will be sewn together eventually for a small quilt.  Moving from sorting through various vintage linen pieces and choosing various white fabrics...
vintage handkerchiefs, doilies, napkins, tatting...

to hand stitching together blocks like the one below, adding prairie points to some seams.
Then embellishing the seams with embroidery and adding thrifted  or vintage lace, creating button hole lace, and adding other embroidery.

And moving on to other embellishment techniques like ruching draped with French knots and bullion knots.

And puffy tufts--and more embroidery, of course.

I'm having fun with this!  There are five blocks in progress, and I move from one to another.  There is no telling how long it will take to fill almost every square inch of space on the five blocks.  

Reading and stitching--two of my favorite activities.  And some gardening, although it is really getting to hot and humid for much of that.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd

My favorite Dickens novel is Bleak House, so it isn't much of a surprise that The Solitary House caught my attention...and held it.  From the first page, I was definitely hooked by the language of Victorian London so reminiscent of  Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins.  The inclusion of some of the characters from Bleak House added to the fun.

Charles Maddox is the young detective who takes an assignment from the well-known lawyer Tulkinghorn, even though he has reservations about both the man and the assignment.  At the same time, he is working on a case for another client in which he is attempting to locate the client's grandchild who disappeared some sixteen years previously.  Maddox persists in searching for information about the infant, although he knows the chances of locating the grandchild are slim--at best.  Of course, from the beginning we suspect that the two cases will eventually be intertwined.

The plot is rather slowly developed, as is typical of Victorian novels, but I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of 1850 London and the unhurried revelations/clues.  Since I like Dickens and love Wilkie Collins (not the usual order of things to prefer Collins, but I love mysteries and Collins did them so well) the detail and language were not off-putting to me, but this may not be the case for some readers who may prefer a faster pace.

The omniscient narrator was sometimes beneficial and sometimes annoying--kind of an amalgam of the 4 ghosts from A Christmas Carol.  At times I appreciated the Victorian style of including the omniscient (or mostly so) narrator, and at times the voice was intrusive and distracting and, well, annoying.

 I don't like the tendency to make crimes more horrific (there is a character who presages Jack the Ripper) and more sordid than would have been included in a Victorian novel-- although beneath the surface of the prudish Victorian culture, there was definitely a great deal of sexual misconduct that spanned the social hierarchy from top to bottom.

My preference is always for the development of characters, the discovery of clues, the search for motivation, and the process of  solving the mystery rather than descriptions of the crimes themselves.  Unfortunately, the current predilection is to make the crimes increasingly gruesome and bizarre and to dwell on those aspects rather than untangling a mystery.

Charles Maddox is an intriguing  character and not  completely likable; he is a flawed individual with a number of secrets --some of which remain only hints of a prurient nature, some are gradually revealed.  His great-uncle Maddox, the famous thief-taker who has been young Charles' mentor provides a means of viewing Charles from another angle.  As the elder Maddox slips into dementia, Charles' care and concern for his great-uncle show Charles at his best.  When lucid, the older man is able to provide information and advice that aid in the investigation, and I'm sorry that his role was so limited as he was one of the more interesting characters in the novel.

The plot doesn't work all that well for me, and the conclusion has several points that bothered me a bit, but I will certainly read Shepherd's next novel to see if she reveals some of Charles' secrets that she held back on.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012.  352 pages.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill's Secretary is a debut novel introducing Maggie Hope, whose parents were British, but who was raised in America.  Maggie arrives in London in 1939 to settle her grandmother's estate and sell her grandmother's house.  In September of that year, Britain declared war on Germany, and Maggie, who has made friends decides to stay and aid the war effort.

Winston Churchill  replaced Chamberlain as PM in May of 1940, and when one of  Mr. Churchill's secretaries is murdered,  Maggie is able to fill the opening, which puts her in a unique position at the heart of Britain's decision making.  Although Maggie is a mathematics whiz who postponed her entry to M.I.T. to settle her grandmother's estate, her skills are not needed in her current position...which is not to say, of course, that they will not be employed in the novel.

The historical information is interesting, and MacNeal's research as far as secretarial duties includes the memoir Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Elizabeth Layton Nel and a correspondence with Mrs. Nel.  She also cites works by other Churchill secretaries and Churchill's own memoirs of the period in the Historical Notes at the end of the novel.

The inclusion of IRA activity and links between the IRA and Nazi sympathizers and undercover agents operating in Britain was interesting.  There were, however, some historical inaccuracies that bothered me, especially concerning MI5.

Murder, spies, secret codes and code breakers, a little Bletchley Park, the Battle of Britain and the nightly bombing, the safe guarding of St. Paul's Cathedral by the Fire Watch...

Bothersome:  Maggie seems a little too modern for the time period and her mathematical brilliance didn't quite gel for me.  Some of the characters took up time, but did nothing to really advance the characterization of other characters or the plot.  The mystery concerning the death of Maggie's parents (can't say much because of spoilers) didn't ring true in many ways.

On the whole, the novel is a light, enjoyable read, but by no means as good as Winspear's series about Maisie Dobbs or the Charles Todd novels about Ian Rutledge.  The characters are not as well developed, the writing isn't as smooth, the events and history are not as well blended.  The second in the series is Princess Elizabeth's Spy due out in October.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012.  384 pages.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Two and a Half Reviews

I'm back in  mystery and mayhem mode.

Beneath the Shadows by Sarah Foster is a Netgalley read.

"In this thrilling gothic suspense debut by Sara Foster in the tradition of Rosamund Lupton and Sophie Hannah, a young mother searches Yorkshire's windswept moors for the truth behind her husband's mysterious disappearance." 

 I didn't find is suspenseful and the characters were one dimensional.  Awash in details that didn't further the plot or the characterization.  I love the setting on the Yorkshire moors, but the rest, not so much.   (Release date June 5)

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton, another Netgalley read.  

 "When a rash of suicides tears through Cambridge University, DI Mark Joesbury recruits DC Lacey Flint to go undercover as a student to investigate. Although each student’s death appears to be a suicide, the psychological histories, social networks, and online activities of the students involved share remarkable similarities, and the London police are not convinced that the victims acted alone. They believe that someone might be preying on lonely and insecure students and either encouraging them to take their own lives or actually luring them to their deaths. As long as Lacey can play the role of a vulnerable young woman, she may be able to stop these deaths, but is it just a role for her? With her fragile past, is she drawing out the killers, or is she herself being drawn into a deadly game where she’s a perfect victim?" 

Bolton can do suspense.  I like and dislike exactly the same things I've noted about her earlier books, great tension and rushed conclusions.  Her plots are kind of out there, and the heroes always have to deal with evil, not just murder, but creepy, spooky, gruesome evil. Bolton does keep my nose in the book whatever criticisms I may have; she skillfully builds tension and keeps the reader on edge...even after you know exactly where things are going.  I also liked seeing Dr. Evi Oliver from Sacrifice take a role in this one.  (Release date June 5)

The Receptionist (an ARC from Algonquin) by Janet Groth is a memoir of Groth's years as a receptionist at the iconic New Yorker.  It starts out well and has two very interesting chapters about John Berryman and Muriel Sparks.  She drops a lot of names, as she had contact with some very important literary figures, but the chapters on Berryman and Sparks are much more detailed.  Unfortunately, the book slows down, and although I have only about 70 pages left, I haven't picked it up again.  I will finish it...eventually.  (release date June 26)

I've more than completed the Once Upon Challenge journey I chose, but may continue to read a few more in the fantasy/fairy tale genre.  I also watched Red Riding Hood with Gary Oldman, but it was pretty bad.

All I really want to read at the moment are mysteries.  :)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

I thought Hush would fit into the Once Upon a Time challenge, but it doesn't really, although the inspiration for Napoli's YA novel has its source in the Icelandic Saga of the People of Laxardal.

Using the names and the general circumstances of Melkorka's fate as recorded in the saga, Napoli embellishes the tale of the Irish princess taken by slave traders and purchased by an Icelandic chieftain, Hoskuld.  After her capture, Melkorka refuses to speak and is considered a mute, but when her child is two years old, Hoskuld hears her speaking Gaelic to her son.  Those are pretty much the bare facts from the saga, and Napoli uses her imagination to spin a created history around Melkorka's life.

Napoli has done an excellent job of using historical facts from the early 900's to add details to her version of Melkorka's history and creating the world in which Melkorka would have lived-- including the plants that produced the dyes for clothing, social and religious details of the time, fear of Viking raids, etc.

However, while Hush does create an interesting and historically accurate picture of Ireland in the early 10th century, most of the book is set on the slave ship or on Hoskuld's ship and feels rather placid, especially given the circumstances. The story line never offers much excitement or suspense.

I enjoyed the book; it was interesting, and yet the pace is slow--not necessarily a bad thing, but there are few surprises and little suspense.

Fiction.   YA / Historical Fiction.  2008.  340 pages.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Dragon Haven and City of Dragons by Robin Hobb (once upon a time challenge)

Dragon Haven is the second in the Rain Wild Chronicles.  Only fifteen of the sea serpents that ventured up the Rain Wild river to make their cocoons have survived, and all of them are imperfect, deformed or misshapen, arrogant, and angry at their fate.  Thanks to Mercor, the dragons have managed to manipulate humans into sending them on their journey to the ancient Elderling city of Kelsingra.

Humans:  Captain Leftrin and Alise's relationship develops, Sedric struggles with his secret purposes for the journey; Thymara's physical changes are challenging and frightening.

Dragons:   Mercor's wisdom continues to aid the dragons through their hardships on the journey; Sintara is as egoistical and vain as ever; Relpa, originally without a keeper, bonds with Sedric and becomes much more interesting, not the brightest dragon in the bunch, she has a sweetness and innocence that helps Sedric become a better person.

In  City of Dragons, both dragons and keepers explore their new environment which is across the river from the fabled city of Kelsingra.  Unable to dock the live ship Tarman on the Kelsingra side of the river, visiting the city to awaken its magic is difficult.  Although there is more game for feeding the dragons, with one exception, the dragons are still unable to fly, so the keepers are still busy hunting to keep their dragons fed.

More story lines are being developed--hopefully, to be resolved in the next book.

If I had not expected the same quality as previous trilogies by Hobb, I wouldn't be disappointed in this series.  I found the books enjoyable, just not as good as her previous works in this fantasy world.

Whew!  I've had the heading for this review for nearly two weeks; I'm glad to have it done.

Fiction.  Fantasy.   2010 -528 pages and 2o12-352 pages.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (Once Upon a Time Challenge)

I had planned to read Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb with Kailana, but last week, I couldn't resist beginning the series.  I'd finished Cryptonomicon, River Secrets, and A Rising Thunder and wanted to immerse myself in some dragon lore.

Years ago, I read Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy and fell in love with Robin Hobb's (Megan Lindholm) fantasy.  I went on to read The Farseer trilogy and then The Tawney Man trilogy.    Eagerly awaiting each new installment.

Later, Hobb developed two more series that didn't engage me much, and there was a long drought without her fantasy.   I was more than eagerly awaiting this series.

The Rain Wild Chronicles is most closely related to the Liveship Traders and even allows brief cameos of Althea Vestrit, Brashen Trell, Paragon, and Tintaglia.  Reyn Khuprus, Malda Vestrit, and Selden Vestrit are also present in the Rain Wild Chronicles, but have smaller roles that may be expanded later.

Because!  This is not a trilogy!  In a few days, I'd gone through Dragon Keeper, and Dragon Haven, and was more than half-way through City of Dragons when I realized that there was no way Hobb could conclude this story line in what was left of the book.  Groan.  I thought I could get the whole kabob in one go...but no.  I'll have to wait.

Back to Dragon Keeper.  At the end of the Liveship trilogy, the dragon Tintaglia was leading the sea serpents up the Rain Wild River, to their hatching ground.  When they arrived, the serpents used the mud of the Rain Wild to form cases, a kind of mud chrysalis, from which they would eventually emerge as dragons.

When the time for their emergence arrived, everyone was eager to see the return of dragons to their world.  The length of time the prospective dragons had spent as sea serpents, among other factors, unfortunately had terrible consequences, and the young dragons that broke free of their shells were deformed and puny things that were unable to fly or to feed themselves.

The Rain Wilders fed the young dragons poorly and treated them as useless things for five years.  Feeding the dragons became more and more difficult, and they began to fear the dragons would not be content to satisfy their hunger with the handouts provided.  The dream of dragons returning to the world had become a nightmare.

A dragon conspiracy led by a golden dragon with more memories from the past deceives the Rain Wilders into thinking that it is their idea to send the dragons (along with dragon keepers) on a journey to the fabled Elderling city of Kelsingra.

I enjoyed the book and rushed headlong into Dragon Haven and then to City of Dragons, but I have to say that none of the Rain Wild books have the same quality of characters and narrative pace that the other series set in this world have.

It is a good fantasy series, but not on a par with the Liveship Traders or Farseer trilogies.

Fiction.  Fantasy.  2011.  528 pages.


I used the following quote years ago as part of a workshop presentation for the National Endowment for the Humanities and found it again on The Drawing Board blog.
"I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighborhood  . . . .  But the world that contained even the imagination of F√°fnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril." -- J.R.R. Tolkien (from his essay "On Fairy-Stories")
I've just finished reading the first three books in Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles and the above quote is a perfect introduction to the series:  Dragon Keeper, Dragon Haven, and City of Dragons, which are part of my reading for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.