Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Maisie Dobbs

by Jacqueline Winspear (read August 2006) Rating: 5/5
I had seen this book reviewed on several different reading blogs. All comments were complimentary and since I love a good mystery I decided to give it a try. I was of the mindset that it was written ages ago and was a bit frothy, but not so. This novel was published in 2003, even though the cover makes it look like it came out in the 1930's.

Maisie sets up business as a private investigator in 1929. She starts out with a simple mystery to solve - tracking a wife's wereabouts while her husband is at work. But questions remain. Winespear deftly weaves together the present day mystery with the questions the reader has about Maisie's life prior to 1929. The characters were full-bodied and real - people you want to meet again. Luckily there are sequels and I can't wait to read them.

From the time she was a young girl, Maisie was tutored, first in school and later in private investigating, by Maurice Blanche. All the quotes I marked are advice from Maurice.

"Truths walk toward us on the paths of our questions. As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfrotable the unknowing."

"Stay with the question. The more it troubles you, the more it has to teach you.

"Dawn is an almost mystical hour. A time when the light is most likely to deceive the eye, a time between sleep and waking. A time when a man is likely to be at his weakest. Dawn is a time when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth. It is said, it is darkest just before dawn."

Gentlemen and Players

by Joanne Harris (read August 2006)
I read this novel because of a review on JenClair's blog, A Garden Carried in the Pocket. I read Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange and really did not like it. As much as I disliked that book I liked Gentlement and Players. The story takes place in England at St. Oswald, an exclusive school for boys. Five new teachers are hired for fall term, one of them has a vengeance to inflict on the school. Like watching dominoes fall, the descent of St. Oswald's from an orderly academy with a stellar reputation to a house of dark, hidden secrets starts building momemtum according to the offender's carefully devised scheme.

The chapters were narrated alternately by the 2 main characters: Roy Straitley, the eccentric 65-yr-old Classics teacher and the perpetrator, one of the 5 newly hired teachers. Cleverly, Harris identified who was telling the story with the picture of a chess piece at the beginning of each chapter - a white king piece to indicate Straitley and a black pawn to signify the 'bad guy'.

I rate this book 5 out of 5. Really enjoyed this book.

Thyme of Death

by Susan Albert (read August 2006)
This is the first in a cozy mystery series featuring China Bayles, an ex-lawyer turned small town herbalist. I enjoyed this book and will, no doubt, read more in the series. I don't usually figure out who the killer is, but this one I had it pegged with a third of the book left. There were still interesting twists and turns that made it pleasurable reading.

About rating systems: They need to be qualified. I giving this book a 4 out of 5 rating, but that's a 4 in cozy mystery terms which is not necessarily the same thing as a 4 in good literature terms. That's to say that this book is better than a lot of mysteries and it's provided a 4's worth of reading enjoyment, but I would not put it on the same level as Animal Farm which I would also rate as a 4.
Does that make any sense? I guess I'm trying to say when it comes to books comparisons seem to be between apples and oranges, not apples and apples.

Face Down Before Rebel Hooves (#6 in Susanna Appleton series)

by Kathy Lynn Emerson (read July 2006)
Lady Appleton finds herself embroiled in a treasonous plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. Great cozy mystery. Rating of 4.5 out of 5. This series is not classic literature, but I rate them high because of the enjoyment factor and they are well-written with good plots. Several surprises, too.

Two Little Girls in Blue

by Mary Higgins Clark (read Jul 2006) This was one of Clark's better recent mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Twin 3-yr-olds are kidnapped and held for a ransom. There are several twists and turns in the plot that added interest. Also adding interest, is the compelling bond between twins. I recommend this book for a fast and enjoyable, cozy and lazy read. Rating: 4.

Face Down Under the Wych Elm (#5 Susana Appleton series)

by Kathy Lynn Emerson (read June 2006)
A former mistress of Lady Appleton's late husband is charged with witchcraft and Susanna decides to help her with great peril to herself. I give this book a rating of 4. I am really enjoying this series, it's definitely a step above most cozy mysteries. Emerson writes intelligently and depicts the time period well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross (#4 in the series)

by Kathy Lynn Emerson (read May 2006)
Some interesting twists and turns in this installment. Lady Susanna Appleton must defend herself agains charges of murder. To escape being burned at the stake, she interviews 3 of her husband's mistresses in search of clues to the identity of the real murderer. Emerson brings a real sense of the Elizabethian time period in addition to providing a satisfying mystery.

The Husband

by Dean Koontz (read June 2006)
Now I can go on with my life. I had this book on hold at the library, but they hadn't even order it yet. I kept choosing easy, slim books to read so that I could hurry and finish them if The Husband should show up. I knew I would want to drop everything else and read it. The time came when all the easy books on my summer reading program were read and still no Koontz. So I picked up the 850 page, small print Outlander and began reading. Sunday my daughter comes come from a trip and hands me The Husband. She bought it for me. Is that about the sweetest surprise ever?! Outlander went on the back burner.

The Husband is in typical Koontz style, except that it started out slower. Though not among my favorites of Koontz novels, I liked it a lot. Easy to read, keeps you turning the pages and wanting answers. I give it a 4 rating (out of 5).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Face Down Among the Winchester Geese (#3 in series)

by Kathy Lynn Emerson (read May 2006)
I am really enjoying this series of murder mysteries that take place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
In April 1563, Susanna and her husband, Sir Robert Appleton, courtier and occasional spy for Queen Elizabeth, are residing in London at Sir Robert's insistence, though Susanna would be much happier at Leigh Abbey, her ancestral home in Kent. A mysterious young Frenchwoman comes calling to see Robert. The next day she is found murdered near a brothel, a goose feather lying close to her body. Intrigued by the slaying of a woman she suspects was mistress to her husband, and determined to understand what her husband is keeping from her, Susanna investigates, with the help of her loyal housekeeper, Jennet, and an intelligent brothel-owner named Petronella. Susanna discovers that the murder is only the last in a series of six, and that her husband is a suspect, along with several other courtiers. Meanwhile, as Susanna noses around, Robert is anxiously working to put into place a scheme of his own, one that his wife's meddling could easily upset.

Darkness Peering

by Alice Blanchard (Listened to May 2006)
A 6-7 hour trip to Cedar City seemed like a good time to listen to a book on tape. Since my mother and daughter, Alyson, would be riding with me, I knew I had to allow lots of time for visiting in addition to listening time. That ruled out the 10-hour audio of Memoirs of a Geisha, which was my first choice. I made a long list from books that have been recommended to me and a list of my favorite authors, then headed to the library. Needless to say, our library, which is fabulous for a rural community, didn't have the ones I was looking for. After skimming the shelves, I checked out Darkness Peering.

It was not the best choice I could have made. First of all, there were lots of expletives (swear words), which I don't like to hear when I'm alone, but listening to them with my mom and daughter made them even more unpalpable. Secondly, the first half of the book was boring.

Murders that occur eighteen years apart in a small Maine town both point to Rachel's brother, Billy. The first murder of a mentally retarded girl, was investigated by Billy's father who committed suicided during the investigation. The murder was never solved. Rachel becomes a police detective and decides to reopen the case. Shortly after a new and horrible murder occurs. This is when the book became interesting.

My recommendation: don't bother. There are other mysteries that aren't so objectionable.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Camel Club

by David Baldacci (read Feb 2006)
I really like Baldacci. Think I'd recommend The Winner or Total Control if you've never read one of Baldacci's books, I think they are better, but Camel Club is good, too.

The Camel Club is a political thriller that opens in Washington, D.C. (well, not quite. The opening chapter is not in D.C.), where we meet four eccentric, once-upon-a-time effective fellows who make up a group they call The Camel Club. Each has some kind of experience and/or brilliance that makes him essential to the small assembly; and each has been successful at one time or another in his life. Now, they are only reflections of what they once were. There's Oliver Stone (his assumed name), Caleb Shaw, Reuben Rhodes, and Milton Farb, conspiracy theorists all. They meet once a month in the middle of the night to discuss recent conspiracy theories and reflect/update those they've held for years. There are other interesting characters introduced in the early pages, including Secret Service agent Alex Ford who's on the downside of his career, and Kate Adams, a Department of Justice lawyer who works as a bartender at night. Go figure that one out! We are also briefly introduced to U.S. President, James H. Brennan, and to National Intelligence Center Director, Carter Gray, among others.

Stone has a tent near the White House where he watches what goes on there. His goal is to find out the "truth" of things. He believes the American people have been denied that most desirous of tenets. On the evening of the beginning of this story, the Camel Club meets as arranged, but in the course of their meeting they unwittingly see a terrible crime committed on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Now, they must decide what to do about it...and I'm only on page 70! More later.

October 29, 2005: It's later. Life sometimes gets in the way of finishing a good book, but it's been worth three nights up too late to do it in this case.

The Camel Club members find themselves in the middle of a mess, having witnessed the murder of a Secret Service agent. Another Secret Service agent, Alex Ford, angers his superiors by deciding to investigate the death further than they had planned for this intended puppet. Stone and Ford end up working together to find out what's going on as a myriad of characters come and go, some with nefarious plans up their sleeves (there may even be a traitor in the club). It seems there are traitors everywhere and it's one of those times when one doesn't know who to trust. If you are into political intrigue, conspiracy theories, espionage, terrorism and/or assassination plots and all-around political paranoia, you will love this book. It is also very clearly and very well written. I can only say I hope there are many more Stones and Fords around than Captain Jacks and, well, others.

Forever Odd (#2 in the Odd Thomas series)

by Dean Koontz (read Jan 2006)
Another wonderful mystery from my favorite author. Odd Thomas is a very likeable character. If you're looking for an intense mystery, this one should satisfy. Read Odd Thomas first, though.

from Publishers Weekly:
Besides having an unusual moniker, 21-year-old Odd Thomas (whom readers first met in Koontz's 2003 novel of the same name) has some very unusual powers, chief among them his ability to see the dead. He can see, feel and talk to them, too (though they don't talk back: "Perhaps they know things about death that the living are not permitted to learn from them"). These days Odd is still hosting the ghost of a morose Elvis Presley, still grieving for his dead girlfriend, Stormy, and still worrying about his very fat friend P. Oswald Boone, whose cat, Terrible Chester, likes to pee on his shoes. Late one night, Odd is summoned by the ghost of Dr. Wilbur Jessup to the Jessup home, the site of a gruesome murder. Dr. Jessup is the father of Odd's best friend, Danny, who is afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones. Odd finds Dr. Jessup's body, but Danny is missing. Since Odd has what he describes as "psychic magnetism," he can follow an invisible mental trail, which in this case leads him to his endangered friend. After he finds Danny in a spooky, burned-out Indian casino, it is Odd who becomes the quarry. The beautiful and stunningly evil Datura, aided by two frightening minions, wants to use Odd for his supernatural abilities-and then kill him. Odd's strange gifts, coupled with his intelligence and self-effacing humor, make him one of the most quietly authoritative characters in recent popular fiction.

Locked Rooms (#8 in the Mary Russell series)

by Laurie King (read Jan 2006)

After departing Bombay by ship, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are en route to the bustling modern city of San Francisco. There, Mary will settle some legal affairs surrounding the inheritance of her family’s old estate. But the closer they get to port, the more Mary finds herself prey to troubling dreams and irrational behavior–a point not lost on Holmes, much to Russell’s annoyance.

In 1906, when Mary was six, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and a raging fire that reduced the city to rubble. For years, Mary has denied any memory of the catastrophe that for days turned the fabled streets into hell on earth. But Holmes suspects that some hidden trauma connected with the “unforgettable” catastrophe may be the real culprit responsible for Mary’s memory lapse. And no sooner do they begin to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the Russell estate than it becomes apparent that whatever unpleasantness Mary has forgotten, it hasn’t forgotten her. Why does her father’s will forbid access to the house except in the presence of immediate family? Why did someone break in, then take nothing of any value? And why is Russell herself targeted for assassination?

The more questions they ask of Mary’s past, the more people from that past turn out to have died violent, unexplained deaths. Now, with the aid of a hard-boiled young detective and crime writer named Hammett, Russell and Holmes find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them through the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent’s marriage and the tragic car “accident” that a fourteen-year-old Mary alone survived–an accident that may not have been an accident at all. What Russell is about to discover is that even a forgotten past never dies…and it can kill again.

A great series. I would suggest starting with book one: The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Naked Once More

by Elizabeth Peters (read Feb 2006)
This was the first Elizabeth Peters book I've read. I really enjoyed it and will probably read more by this author.

This book is the sequel to "Die For Love," starring the incomparable Jacqueline Kirby (first seen in "Seventh Sinner") who is now a bestselling author who previously did two historical romances (which she can't stand). Now she is being approached for one of the biggest book deals in history: Write a sequel to the historical/romance/fantasy epic "Naked on the Ice"--and yes, that is the real title. The author of "Naked," the cult figure Kathleen Darcy, is supposedly dead by suicide, having vanished into the wilderness seven years back, despite being a bestselling millionaire.

Jacqueline gains the book deal, but must now deal with the rising specter of murder. She suspects strongly that Kathleen Darcy was being targeted for death via "accidents." Among her suspects are Kathleen's toad-like half-brother, St. John Darcy; Kathleen's ex-lover; the hack historical-romance writer Brunnhilde; the violent male rival; the married hunk whom "Naked"'s hero was physically based on; the deformed woman who has an almost obsessive fascination with Kathleen; and a sprinkling of other former friends, enemies, and relations...

What happened to Kathleen? Did she really commit suicide, or was she murdered? Is she alive, possibly? And what possible reason would anyone have to want her dead--money, love, revenge? Jacqueline intends to find the truth -- but what if she gets in the murderer's way?

Lincoln Lawyer

By Michael Connelly (read Feb 2006)
California defense lawyer Mickey Haller, runs his office out of his Lincoln Town Car. Mickey doesn`t worry too much about the actual guilt or innocence of his disreputable clientele. Instead, he prefers to concentrate on locating the loopholes in the prosecution`s case and keeping an eye on his bottom line. Mickey`s priorities undergo a radical shift--too late, perhaps--when he manages to land a rich client accused of assaulting a woman at a bar, and discovers that the apparently slam-dunk case has an extremely unpleasant price tag attached to it.

Mickey has always wondered if he met a truly innocent man would he recognize it. With this case he thinks he's met that man.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Devil's Corner

by Lisa Scottoline (read Mar 2006)
I was disappointed that this book didn't include the Rosato & Assts. Law Firm, but I got over it real soon. This was probably the her best work yet, but I do look forward to more books with the girls.

Assistant U.S. attorney Vicki Allegretti and her partner arrive for a planned meeting with a pregnant informant only to be met by two armed teenage boys. Vicki's longtime partner is killed as is the informant. Vick resolves to solve why the meeting went bad and who was behind the murder. Her search leads her to a run-down section of Philadelphia called Devil's Corner. She is aided in her quest by Reheema Bristow, who has her own reasons for helping Vicki.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Face Down on an Herbal (#2 in the Lady Appleton series)

by Kathy Lynn Emerson (read Apr 2006)
Susan Appleton is an intelligent and independent women who has published an herbal. Because of this in 1561 Queen Elizabeth commands Susanna to help Lady Madderly write her own herbal. Susanna's husband's half -sister Catherine joins her to Madderly Castle where they find out that Lord Glenelg, a Scottish nobleman, who was visiting Lord Madderly's castle, was murder in the library. A few weeks later, Lady Madderly is murdered. Sir Robert Appleton arrives from Scotland where he has been engaged on a diplomatic mission for the queen. He informs Susanna that there is suspicion of forgery and treason connected with Madderly castle. He has to journey back to Scotland to gather information, while Susanna is left to solve the murders.

Susanna and Robert have an arranged marriage which is not unusual for the time period. He resent her intelligence and resourcefulness and she prefers him to be away from home. Robert also has a great resentment towards Catherine, who could cause problems for his reputation at court.

Would I recommend this series -- At this point I definitely would. I'm really enjoying it. The first book in the series is Face Down Upon the Marrow Bone Pie.

Killer Smile

by Lisa Scottoline (read Jan 2006)
A wonderfully engaging and fast-paced mystery involving an American/Italian man who was interned in Montana during WWII. Mary DiNunzio (of the Rosato & Associates Law Firm) represents the man's estate. Mary becomes deeply involved in this case of a man who died in the internment camp, so much so that she takes a trip to Montana in her search.

I wrote down one quote from this novel. It is said by the secretary at the camp's museum: "If you can't be brave be determined. And you'll end up in the same place."

I have really enjoyed the books that I've read by Scottoline. I will definitely be watching for more of hers.

Dead Ringer

by Lisa Scottoline (read Feb 2005)

Philadelphia lawyer Bennie Rosato and her law firm, which consists of four young female associates (characters from previous Scottoline novels) and one very pregnant secretary, are rapidly going the drain. This is largely due to their major clients going bankrupt in this slow economy. Teetering on the verge of a total financial collapse and in misery from being on a curse diet, no one is more surprised than Bennie when a class action lawsuit drops into her lap like manna from heaven. Even though she’s never handled anything like this before, Bennie’s associates have full confidence in her near perfect record of courtroom victories, and they together take on this case. When Bennie’s wallet goes missing, none of them realize that it’s simply a herald that things are about to go from bad to worse.

Soon Bennie is realizes that her evil twin sister Alice is back in town and intent upon ruining her good name and reputation, and this rapidly escalates into something vastly more sinister. With time and money running out, Bennie struggles to continue working at her best while maintaining her cool, looking after and encouraging her fledgling associates, and holding her law firm afloat. When murder most foul is committed, a shaken but determined Bennie dives headfirst into solving it, little realizing that her enemies are only increasing in number. And when Bennie Rosato decides to fight back, no one is safe, least of all her enemies.

It’s a characteristic of Lisa Scottoline’s novels that they have a determined female lawyer as the heroine who works hard, surmounts insurmountable obstacles and in the end emerges shaken but triumphant. So is the case with this novel, too, which reunites many characters from Scottoline’s previous novels. It’s fun to read about a character like Bennie Rosato, who’s imperfect enough to be totally convincing, who gets worked up enough to be really believable, and yet who's resilient enough to emerge victorious. As Dead Ringer progresses, we see Bennie and her associates almost inundated by seemingly unconnected catastrophes, we wait with bated breath as Bennie struggles to turn the tide, and we sigh with relief and joy when they finally manage to do so. It’s to Scottoline’s credit that she succeeds in repeatedly getting her readers utterly involved enough in her devious plot twists and wonderful characterizations as to forget that it’s just a book they’re reading. This book ties up some loose ends and concludes things very satisfactorily.

Dead Ringer can be classified in many different ways - as a riveting legal thriller, as a compelling family drama, and as a deeply rich and emotional saga involving many complex characters. No matter which way you take it, it’s a must read.

I didn't write this review. I know it's hard to tell! It was written by Rasmi Srinivas for Curled Up With a Good Book, a fun website with lots of book reviews.

Courting Trouble

by Lisa Scottoline (read Feb 2005)
Newly hired to the Philladelphia law firm of Rasato & Associates, Anne Murphy decides to spend the 4th of July weekend in New Jersey getting ready for her first big trial. She will be defending a big-money client on sexual harrassment charges. On Monday morning when she reads about her own 'death' in the newspaper, she immediately realizes that the girl watching her cat was shot in the face and the media had a case of mistaken identity. She decides to remain dead in order to catch the killer.

This is the first Scottoline book I read. I'm definitely going to be reading more. I enjoyed meeting the ladies of the Firm: Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, Judy Carrie and, of course, Anne Murphy. A great mix of characters.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

An Instance of the Fingerpost

Angels in the Gloom (#3 in the Reavley Family WWI Series)

by Anne Perry
Find review at Angels in the Gloom.

Shoulder the Sky (#2 in the Reavley's WWI series)

by Anne Perry
Reveiw can be found at this link: Shoulder the Sky

No Graves As Yet (#1 in the Reavley's WWI series)

by Anne Perry
I filed this book under general fiction, even though it should be under mystery/crime. Follow this link to the review: No Graves As Yet