Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Cozies

The Stolen Blue by Judith Van Gieson was touted by none other than Tony Hillerman as a book not to miss. So, of course, when Hillerman speaks, I listen very carefully. And I was not disappointed. I'm going to have to hunt up some more of Van Giesen's work because I loved this book. Claire reynier introduced me to the job of a rare book expert and if I had my life to do over again (God forbid!), I'm pretty sure that would be an area I'd love. Frustrating work, to be sure. But fascinating.

Claire's former professor and mentor calls her to his spread in The Blue, a virtually unspoiled area of New Mexico. He wants to donate his entire collection of books to University of New Mexico's Center for Southwest Research. Claire has a special fondness for the old curmudgeon, who is not in good health. He had hired her for her first job as librarian after graduate school and after her marriage ended recently, helped ensure she got hired at UNM as the head of library collection, responsible for buying rare books for the CSR. Claire is excited both about seeing her mentor and looking over his extensive collection. The joy ends soon, however. The day after Burke signs his will giving the collection to the Center, he is found dead in the snow outside his home. His daughter Mariah, who has only recently discovered Burke was her father, is not only named the principal heir of the Burke estate, but she also admits to helping the man commit suicide. To make matters more convoluted, when Claire returns to the university after Burke's death, one box of the books she had in her truck is stolen. Claire has to discover why the books were stolen, who took them and what they had to do with Burke's death.

Margaret Coel (another favorite author) said this book was an intricate puzzle that kept her guessing. Me, too. It was very well written. Claire is a character I liked and would like to read more about. So maybe in the next day or two, I'll be searching St. Tammany Parish Library for more books by Judith Van Giesen.

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross was an absolutely delightful book! Here's yet another favorite to add to my list. I've got to get supper going now, so will postpone writing anything more. I have to have more time to do justice to Miss Julia.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Long time, no write

I've failed. Surprised, aren't you? LOL! I've just kept putting off writing in my blogs for various reasons, some good, some not. I meant well. I always do. But doing well... Well, that's not my best thing. Follow-through has always been one of my many, many shortcomings.

I have been reading a bit, though. Not so much as I would have liked, but reading a bit here and there, nonetheless. I didn't write down every single title I've read since the last blog entry, unfortunately. But since I'm the only one who gives a hoot, it really doesn't matter. Except to me. That failure thing, you know.

What I've Read:
In August and September, I managed to read some of the Star Trek Gateway series novels. These are crossover novels - there's one for each of the Star Trek series, including a novel focusing on the USS Challenger, a ship introduced in a series of novels taking place between the times between the first two Star Trek movies. The unifying theme involves the sudden activation of interstellar gate planted millenia ago by the Iconians, a species we meet in one episode of the original Star Trek show.

  • First, the Kirk novel: One Small Step. Typical Kirk hero stuff. A fun read.
  • Second, Challenger, Chain Mail. This one was very frustrating to me, because I had not read all the novels in the New Earth/Challenger series and so was unfamiliar with the characters and the situation.
  • Third, Picard in Doors into Chaos. Despite the fact that I adore Jean Luc, this one was not nearly so satisfying as the Kirk book. Troi does get command of a ship, however, and that was nice.
  • Fourth, Deep Space Nine, Demons of Air and Darkness. Another disappointment. I liked DS9, but I did not care for this novel.

    The last three in the series that I hope to read soon:
  • No Man's Land, featuring Captain Janeway and the Voyager crew. I liked the Voyager series a lot. Hope this novel is not disappointing.
  • Cold Wars, the only novel series with characters not be based on an actual Star Trek show. It's part of a series introducing a new ship, The Challenger, and a new cast of characters. I've not read any of these novels yet. I'm sure I'll be lost when I read this one in the Gateway series, but I'll probably read it anyway.
  • What Lay Beyond, which is supposed to tie everything up quite neatly. A long damned time in coming, my friends! Not sure I care any more.

I liked the original concept - at least as I thought it was going to be before I started reading. But I was very frustrated with some of the individual books for various reasons. And frustrated that I had to wait for the last book in the series to wrap it all up. And I STILL don't own that last book!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Law vs Justice

Dixie Flannigan is another new favorite character for me. She's a former assistant district attorney who had been dedicated to bringing about justice. But, of course, in real life in court, law does not always equate with justice. As a matter of fact, too often legal battles leave a lot of justice still to be desired. So, when she gets fed up with the lack of jsut in the justice system from the prosecutor's perspective, Dixie decides to take another tack and becomes a bounty hunter. Having developed and nurtured a reputation as a hard-ass attorney, she takes that bitch factor and now applies it to rounding up those trying to outrun the long arm of the law.

The story begins two days before Christmas and Dixie is in no mood for hunting down yet another criminal making a run for it. But when she finds out that Parker Dann, on trial for killing a child in a drunk driving accident and not even remembering the event, may well be on the run during the holiday court break, she decides to make the trek from Houston to North Dakota in a blizzard to bring him back to finish his trial. Dixie has a serious axe to grind with child predators and she is eager to get this one back to Houston to face the jury and his receive justice for the little girl he allegedly mowed down.

When she does her own investigation before court resumes, however, Dixie is shaken to her core. Could it be that Parker Dann is not guilty of hit and run drunk driving? Is Betsy Keyes' accidental death is linked to the accidental drowning death of her sister Courtney? Is the baby sister Ellie is in danger as well? Dixie has to act quickly to save not only an innocent man, but possibly an innocent child.

I like Dixie. She's doesn't come across to me as a simplistic cardboard character, but is complex and intriguing. She is hard as nails when it comes to criminals and bail jumpers. But she has a soft side for her family and for abused children in general, having been abused herself as a child before having been adopted by a loving family she credits with having saved her life. Dixie's sister, brother-in-law and nephew are fun to read about, too, and I got a kick out of their interactions. They're about the only people on the planet who can get under Dixie's skin. But in spite of that weakness, or maybe because of that love and support, Dixie is a strong woman with a singular devotion to the truth, no matter how painful and unsettling it might be. Besides, I can't help liking anybody willing to stand up for abused children.

Bitch Factor was a little intense, so I'm probably going to wait a bit before getting the next one. But I'm pretty sure I'll be reading Rage Factor and Chill Factor before too long.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Wanda Nell

In Bring Your Own Poison, Wanda Nell Culpepper, waitress and overworked, overstressed single mom, gets involved in yet another murder in Tullahoma. This time she is eyewitness to the death of police officer Travis Blakely at his own bachelor party attended by virtually every other police officer in the area. No one is truly surprised that Travis met a grisly end. He is a very unpleasant, misogynistic jackass who was suspected of having killed his first two wives, although no one could ever prove anything. But that history did not seem to stop one of the town's most beautiful young women from agreeing to marry the cop. Travis' younger brother Gerald becomes the prime suspect for two reasons. One, he had dated the bride and objected loudly to Travis' lewd comments about her at the party. Two, he was found holding an empty vial right after Travis keeled over.

This particular story was a bit complicated. There is a lot going on in Wanda Nell's life besides investigating a murder. She meets an old flame who has changed most unpleasantly, she has to confront homophobic attacks against her son and his partner that cause her pain and worry, one daughter is sick and the other pregnant again and unmarried, Jack propsed to her, and Jack's sister claims she is being stalked by a homicidal cop.

When state police Master Sergeant Bill Warren arrives at the Kountry Kitchen to investigate Officer Blakely's sudden death, Wanda Nell is surprised and pleased to recognize the shy boy she dated back in high school. But Bill is no longer the nice kid Wanda Nell used to know. He bullies Gerald from the get-go and Wanda Nell feels compelled to come to Gerald's aid. She calls Tuck, the lawyer who is also her son T.J.'s life partner. When he arrives at the Kountry Kitchen, Bill makes a vile homophobic comment and Wanda Nell decks him. Later Bill uses that incident, plus threats to her son, to try to intimidate Wanda Nell into changing her testimony to incriminate Gerald. Wanda Nell knows something is fishy with Bill's obsession, so she feels compelled to invetigate that part of the mystery as well.

To complicate matters, Wanda Nell's boyfriend Jack Pemberton pops the question and Wanda Nell surprises everybody, but mostly herself, by saying yes right away. Then she discovers that her daughter Miranda, who has a toddler whose daddy is unknown and long gone, is pregnant again. As if there's not enough things for Wanda Nell to be worried about, Bill Warren starts to threaten her family. Plus Jack's sister turns to Wanda Nell and Jack to help her stop the cop she claims is stalking her.

Wanda Nell Culpepper's life is never easy even in the best of circumstances. She's a widowed single mom who works two jobs as she struggles to make ends meet while raising two daughters and a grandson in a small town in Mississippi. Folks who live on the edge of financial disaster can relate to her constant problems and worries. But Wanda Nell always meets life headon, with courage and wit. I like Wanda Nell. She's somebody I'd want as a next door neighbor and friend. She has a good heart and a good head on her shoulders.

Monday, June 22, 2009

String of Lies

I just finished reading Mary Ellen Hughes String of Lies, the second book in her Craft Corner Mystery series, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I usually like to read series in order, but somehow I missed the first in this series, Wreath of Deception. I plan to rectify that as soon as possible so I can move on to the third book, Paper-Thin Alibi. The books obviously can be read separately since I don't feel as though I missed anything by not having read the books in order. But still, I'll have to read the first one before I can move on to the third. I'm anal like that, unfortunately.

After Jo McCallister's husband died in an automobile accident, she moved to a small town in Maryland and opened an arts and craft store. In this book Jo's Craft Corner is beginning to prosper and Jo is feeling a little more secure. But then she finds that a local developer has been buying up some of the stores on her block. Is hers one of them? Her landlord is out of state and try as she might, she can't get in touch with her landlord to find out. Her attempts to contact the developer personally get nowhere, so she decides she has no choice but to try to catch him at one of his work sites. She finds him there, but unfortunately, the man has been murdered. And to complicate Jo's life further, her contractor friend Dan and his employee Xavier are both suspects. Xavier, a legal immigrant with a pregnant wife who's due to deliver just any day, becomes the scapegoat. If Xavier is arrested and prosecuted, her friend Dan's business will suffer even more as more people cancel their jobs. So Jo enlists the aid of her regular craft group to ferret out the truth.

This is a cozy, so we aren't really expecting terribly complex characters, but Jo and her fellow crafters felt real and they reminded me of some of the folks I knew from my own small hometown. I especially enjoyed her portrayal of folks my age (60+) and older! We're witty, smart, caring, and still involved in our communities. Sounds about right to me!

One of my pet peeves regarding mysteries is the portrayal of a vicious adversarial relationship between the police and the amateur sleuth. Disagreement on the case is believable and mutual disapproval is expected. After all, we know very well that our heroine is not a detective. That's the whole point of a cozy, isn't it? But sometimes the fighting between amateurs and professionals gets downright nasty and not only becomes tiresome and irritating, it interferes with the story. If that happens, I usually quit reading and sometimes drop the author from by TBR list.

That was not a problem with String of Lies, I am very happy to report. I appreciated the fact that Jo wasn't constantly being harangued and/or belittled and demeaned by the police for her investigative efforts. There were the obligatory comments about letting the police do their job, but no serious rancor or disrespect in either direction.

On the other hand, since my dad was a state trooper, I appreciate that the police didn't come off as bumbling idiots, either. I thought this book had a nice balance and I'm looking forward to reading the others in the series.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pre-Printing Press Challenge

Pre-Printing Press Challenge

As I said yesterday, this
Pre-Printing Press Challenge really resonates with me and I'm so glad I came across it. Here are the rules:

  1. All books must have come out before 1440, when the printing press was first invented.
  2. Books chosen for this challenge can overlap with other challenges.
  3. Books can be translated into the language of your choice.
  4. All the books you've chosen must be read by April 30th 2010.
  5. You can read 1-3 books, 4-6 books, 7-9 books or 10 or more books if you're feeling particularly ambitious.
  6. The choice of books is up to you. There are no set reading lists, and you don't have to set one when you join.
  7. Post your blog address where you'll be posting your comments on your choice of books in the comments of this post when you join, and tell me how many books you've chosen. I'll set up a link to participating blogs from here.
  8. Above all, Have fun.

I'm going to start with Eusebius' The History of the Church. A couple of weeks ago I pulled it off my bookshelf and put it in my TBR pile with the firm intention of actually reading the whole thing this summer. I read bits and pieces for various classes when I was working on the master's in religious studies I never got to finish at KU. So now I hope to cross that one off my list.

At the same time, I also pulled out books containing translations of the works of Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich for the TBR pile. My master's focus was women in monasticism, so this challenge should help inspire me to get back to reading and studying. I'm excited about the prospects.

If I were more ambitious, I'd try to read a couple of manuscripts in Greek. But my Greek is a bit rusty! Still, I may put one or two Greek texts on the list at some point even if it takes me til the 2010 deadline to finish even one short document, let alone a complete book.
I may be retired, but the brain still works reasonably well. And research has shown that language study keeps the brain agile.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

100+ Book Challenge

100+ Book Challenge
I'm definitely looking forward to this
100+ Book Challenge. I read a lot of fiction, especially mysteries, but I read a lot of other types books, too: history, spirituality, theology, politics, etc. I feel as though I'm getting 'credit', so to speak, for all the books I read, especially the nonfiction books, even if I don't blog about them or review them.

Here are the rules from J. Kaye's blog:
The 100+ Reading Challenge will be hosted here this year. Here are the guidelines:

1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

4) If you don’t have a blog, please join our Yahoo Groups.

5) When you sign up under Mr. Linky, list the direct link to your post where your 100+ books will be listed. If you list just your blog’s URL, it will be removed.

6) All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.

7) Feel free to post in the comment section or on Yahoo Groups your monthly progress as well as your favorite books that month.


Here's my starting list. They're mostly mysteries since those are already listed on this Book Nook blog.
  1. The Clovis Incident, Pari Noskin Taichert
  2. Assassin: A Lady Grace Mystery, Patricia Finney
  3. Best Served Cold, Jimmie Ruth Evans
  4. Beware False Profits, Emilie Richards
  5. Blessed Is the Busybody, Emilie Richards
  6. Dead in the Water, Connie Fedderson
  7. A Dilly of a Death, Susan Wittig Albert
  8. Dragon's Lair, Sharon Kay Penman
  9. Dying to Sing, Margaret Chittendon
  10. Endless Chain, Emilie Richards
  11. Keepsake Crimes, Laura Childs
  12. Let There Be Suspects, Emilie Richards
  13. Lincoln's Dreams, Connie Willis
  14. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
  15. Queen's Ransom, Fiona Buckley
  16. Roman Blood, Steven Saylor
  17. Shadows in Bronze, Lindsey Davis
  18. Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis
  19. Some Like It Hot-Buttered, Jeffrey Cohen
  20. The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman
  21. Tilt-a-Whirl, Chris Grabenstein
  22. Wedding Ring, Emilie Richards
  23. Wildcat Wine, Claire Matturro
  24. Windows on a Lost World, V. E. Mitchell
  25. The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer, Brian Bates
  26. Work of the Angels, Kat Goldring
  27. String of Lies, Mary Ellen Hughes
  28. Crime Brulee, Nancy Fairbanks
  29. Bring Your Own Poison, Jimmie Ruth Evans
  30. Bitch Factor, Chris Rogers
  31. Tears of the Giraffe, Alexander McCall Smith
  32. Mew Is for Murder, Clea Simon
  33. The Dark Interval: Toward a Theology of Story, John Dominic Crossan

More Reading Challenges!

I came across a lot of intriguing and very tempting reading challenges while browsing through book blogs. You know how it goes; one link leads to another and then that one to another .... and on and on. I'm having fun reading all the blogs, getting ideas for my own and being challenged to read more!

100+ Book Challenge

I can't remember where I first saw the link to the
100+ Book Challenge, but I clicked on it, got all excited and decided to join in the fun. On this blog I talk mostly about mysteries and other fiction, but I read a lot of other books, too. I like that in joining the 100+ Book Challenge, I feel as though I'm getting 'credit', so to speak, for all the books I read, especially the nonfiction books, even if I don't blog about them or review them.

Pre-Printing Press Challenge

Another challenge I came across that really resonates with me is the
Pre-Printing Press Challenge at the All Booked Up blog by Elena, another person who loves medieval history. The challenge started May 1, so I'm behind -- as usual. Nothing new there, sad to say. But at least I have through 2010 to finish however many books I choose. I'm not sure how many will go on my list, but I've got three in mind already to start with. I've been wanting to get back to studying the history of the early church in particular and women in religion in general. I think this challenge will help keep me a bit better on track.

I'm not really sure how to set up my challenge lists, though. For now I'll just make a separate blog entries in a day or two and then keep updating them. Until I come up with a better idea. I may start a new blog devoted to challenges. Haven't decided. If anyone has any ideas, I'd be thrilled to read them.

Thanks Elena and J. Kaye. These challenges will be great reading.

Summer Lovin' Challenge

Julie D of Jules' Book Reviews has come up with a summer reading challenge that I really like. She's set up a blog called Summer Lovin' Challenge to encourage folks to re-read books we fell in love with and always said we want to visit again some day. Well, this challenge gives us that chance and we get to have a little support and friendship into the bargain. It's always fun to find out what books other people love and adore.

Now to choose my books. Good grief! There are so many to choose from. The first books that leap into my mind are all the Tony Hillerman Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels. I dearly love those books and have been wanting to read them again in order. There are 18 Hillerman books. I'll never get them all read by the end of September, so I have to choose, don't I? Well, what about the first three: The Blessing Way, Dance Hall of the Dead, and Listening Woman. They may well lead to reading the other 15, but that's a chance I'm willing to take! I own most all of Hillerman's novels, but I still have so many books packed away after our last move, that I don't know where they all are. So after I scour my bookshelves to see what I can find, I'll make a trip to the library.

I had already planned to re-read J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this summer since the movie will be coming out in July. I'd like to read it before the movie is released, but if I don't finish it before then, I will definitely read it this summer. That's been my summer plan all along.

Thanks, Jules, for the great summer reading challenge!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UFOs, Alien Abductions and Murder

Well, now I have yet another new favorite author after reading The Clovis Incident by Pari Noskin Taichert. I am not exactly a believer in UFOs, but I do love all things science fiction and generally enjoy stories dealing with aliens, UFOs and abductions. I've been watching UFO type movies since the 1950's and still get a kick out of them. In addition, I'm a big fan of Tony Hillerman and Betty Webb and mysteries set in the Southwest. So when I saw this book on PaperBack Swap, read the blurb about the story, saw that Tony Hillerman said really good things ... well, I just had to order it. And I was not disappointed

When PR professional Sasha Solomon is fired from her job, she's sent scrambling to line up a
new one in short order. She decides to interview for a PR position in Clovis, NM and catch up with her old college buddy Mae King, a Clovis area dairy farmer, at the same time. And she'll save money by staying with Mae. But as soon as the two meet, Sasha finds that there is something terribly wrong. Her old friend has changed dramatically. After Mae takes Sasha on a midnight run out to the dairy farm and shows her a body in one of her stock tanks, Sasha is horrified and worried. Mae not only has no idea who the dead man is or how he got there, she steadfastly and adamantly refuses to call the police. The two go back to Mae's motel room where they argue, drink and pass out. When Sasha awakens the next morning, Mae is gone. So Sasha is left to call the police and try to explain the situation. She now faces possible charges for not having reported the body as soon as she found out about it.

To make matters more complicated, we find out that the murdered man was
a Singaporean aviator who had been a stationed at the nearby Cannon Air Force Base. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the murder, no obvious connection between the aviator and Mae or her dairy operations. And things get even more mysterious when Mae reveals to Sasha that she believes she was abducted by aliens and beamed aboard a spaceship. Add to the mix Mae's strangely behaving children and Sasha's apparent hallucinations concerning the dead man and you've got more questions than most mysteries can handle at one time. But Taichert handles them all beautifully, tying everything up quite satisfactorily by the end of the book.

Sasha is an intelligent, witty sleuth. I gotta go get the next two in the series: The Belen Hitch and The Socorro Blast.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Miss Marple of Botswana

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith was an absolutely delightful book! I adore Mma Precious Ramotswe and can't wait for the second book in the series by Alexander McCall Smith, The Tears of the Giraffes, to arrive in my mail box.

This was not the typical whodunnit. There was no single overarching murder or crime spree that had to be solved before the book was finished. There was, however, a cast of delightful characters, some of whom I am sure will be resurfacing in future books (I've not read any in this series - a failing I intend to rectify ASAP!). And there were plenty of red herrings.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was a wonderful introduction to Mma Precious Remotswe and the country she obviously loves deeply. After an abusive marriage and the death of her baby, Mma Ramotswe returns to her father's home and settles into a pleasant routine, happily spending her days tending to her father and working for her brother-in-law. When her father dies, Mma Ramotswe decides to use her inheritance to establish the first detective agency in all of Botswana to be run by a woman. She knows nothing about being a private investigator, but she has a deep desire to help people with their problems. With her sound common sense and insight into human nature, she becomes a resounding success and gradually builds her little business.

Her first cases are pretty run-of-the-mill PI stuff: wayward husbands, an over controlling father trying to keep tabs on his willful daughter, an ex-employee suing his former employer for the loss of a finger, and the mysterious case of a doctor who is competent one day but a medical disaster the next.
While following the advice of a PI how-to book to solve these cases, Mma learns to rely upon her own instincts and powers of observation.

The one case that runs through the book and touches Mma Remotswe most deeply is the tragic disappearance of a child who is thought to have been the captured and killed by a witch doctor. Although she has not been solicited to look for the child or solve the mystery of his disappearance, Mma Ramotswe is haunted by the tale and investigates the matter, despite people's reluctance to even admit that this
evil sort of magic exists, let alone talk about the particulars.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Questionnaire, Part Deux

3. Why do you read historical mysteries? (e.g., to educate yourself about other times, to read mysteries that are solved by old-fashioned methods rather than technology, etc.)

I've been reading some of the responses to this question in the DorothyL digests and it's been very entertaining. As for me, why do I read historical mysteries? Well, it may have a tad to do with education, because I like history and like learning about different time periods. But I always keep in mind that fiction may well take liberties with facts. I read
historical mysteries mostly because I just like history. My focus in my master's program was the early church, so it just seems natural to read fiction that reflects that. I am fascinated with how people lived long ago. I read historical mysteries not to learn facts about the past, but to get a better idea of the day-to-day lives of all sorts of people at all levels of society.

4. What kinds of errors bug you the most in historical mysteries? What immediately grabs you/turns you off?

I'm pretty laid back, so it would take huge gaffes to turn me off. Like Dan Brown types of major gaffes. Little quibbling details wouldn't particular bother me if the story were good and I liked most of the main characters. But big, important details ... that's another matter altogether.

5. What do you consider to be the cutoff date for a time period to be regarded as historical? (For me it's 1960 since the first president I voted for was JFK and anything after that date is part of my adult life experience, not history; for others that might not be true.)

I've never really thought about it since I focus mostly on late antiquity through the renaissance. But I have read a couple of mysteries set in the 1930s and enjoyed them immensely. I suppose that I'd be willing to call something a historical mystery if it were set in a time period 25-30 or so years from the present. That is, if it were written today and focused on the 30's, 40's, 50's and maybe even the 60's.

6. Do you also read vintage mysteries, i.e., mysteries published in the past that were set contemporaneously? How do they differ from historical mysteries, written in the present day? Which do you enjoy more?

This is another question I've not considered. I'll have to think about it a bit. I've enjoyed Agatha Christie, of course, and a few others. I've never considered them historical mysteries, but I really haven't ever given any thought as to how they differ from historical mysteries. I think it's a matter of intentionality on the part of the writer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Historical Mysteries Questionnaire

There was a questionnaire about historical mystery preferences in a recent DorothyL digest. I thought they made good questions for a blog. Here are the first two. I'll post the others tomorrow.

1. What historical period(s) do you most enjoy reading about: ancient world, Dark Ages, medieval, Renaissance/Elizabethan/Tudor, 18th century, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, World War I era, 1920s, Depression era, World War II era, Cold War, other? If you enjoy reading historicals about cultures other than English/American/European, which are your favorites?

I enjoy reading novels set in ancient times, the Dark Ages, and the medieval and Renaissance periods. The earlier, the better, actually. I mostly lean towards European culture, but as I think about it, those are the ones I've come across via the library and used book stores.
I'm only too happy to learn about novels set in ancient times. I also enjoy reading general fiction set in prehistoric, ancient and medieval times as well.

2. Which books/series/authors from the time periods you enjoy most are your favorites? From any time period? Why?
I have so many favorites from each time period about which I read. It seems sometimes that my favorite is whatever I happen to be reading at any given moment.

Most recently I have discovered two series set in ancient Rome that I am thoroughly enjoying:
  • Lindsey Davis' series featuring 'informer' Marcus Didius Falco and set during the time of the Emperor Vespasian (ca 60BC).
  • Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series featuring the 'finder' Gordianus and set in the 1st century BC.
I've also enjoyed the John the Eunuch series by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, set in 6th century Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Justinian. And I read every single book I can get my hands on by Peter Tremayne (Sister Fidelma of Cashel, 7th century Ireland), Margaret Frazer (Sister Frevisse, 15th century English nun), Peter Ellis' Brother Cadfael series, of course, and Sharon Kay Penman's mysteries featuring Justin de Quincy and set in 12th century England during the time of Elinor of Aquitane. These are just a few of my favorites and I am discovering new ones all the time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Well, that was fun!

I really enjoyed my day reading yesterday, despite the freezer problems and having to do all that cooking. That's why God gave us crock pots. I'm sure of it!

I didn't get to do as much reading as I had wanted, but at least the Read-a-thon gave me the an excuse to sit around and read most of the day. I'm one of those who grew up in a home where reading was considered 'doing nothing' and 'doing nothing' was terribly, terribly wrong. So to this day, I feel really guilty for sitting around and just reading for the fun of it. Come to think of it, I felt guilty reading for school when I was working on a master's in religious studies. Because, you see, a degree in religious studies is useless, especially when you're working on it late in life so that there's no hope of any career moves. Therefore any related reading is not at all a practical way to spend my time and/or money. SIGH! I'm 62. You'd think I'd be over that by now, but I still feel guilty when I read pretty much anything.

What I've Been Reading Lately:

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy
I'm so glad I belong to the DorothyL list. They are a chatty bunch and I have trouble keeping up with all the emails sometimes, but whenever the members praise a book to the heavens, I pay attention. This one was one so praised and I was tickled pink to finally able to get it through PaperBack Swap.

White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras may be petite, but she is big on character and moxie. How else could she have the presence of mind to whack a White House intruder with a silver frying pan when the Secret Service can't even catch the guy. Ollie's occasional patriotic speeches were a little cloying, but that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hyzy kept me entertained and I even laughed out loud a few times, starting with the frying pan incident. I also learned a lot about the nightmare logistics of planning for even the simplest White House dinner, let alone some of the larger gatherings. And the politics of food never crossed my mind before, but now, when I read about visiting dignitiaries, I'll be thinking about cultural, religious and regional differences and the importance of food in those social equations.

Surprisingly, I barely felt even a twinge of guilt for spending time reading this book. I did, however, feel a twinge of guilt for staying up late to finish it, but I got over it. It was worth the guilt.


A Dilly of a Death by Susan Wittig Albert
Susan Wittig Albert is one of my favorite writers. I love herbs and herb lore, so her series hooked me long ago when I first came across Wtiches' Bane at the KU bookstore. I loved the book and rushed out to the bookstore to pick up Thyme of Death. From then on, I tried to read each book as it came out. At one point, I can't remember which book or books in particular, I grew a little tired of China and Ruby so I stopped reading the series for a while. But when I came across this one on PaperBack Swap I decided to order it. I'm glad I did.

I discovered I still like the basic cast of characters: China, her hubby McQuaid, her step-son Brian (but not Brian's lizards and tarantulas - ick!), their dog Howard Cosell and China's best friend Ruby. Ruby's mellowed a bit, which is nice, though she still dresses with delightful flair. In this book, her daughter has recently discovered she is pregnant and she and Ruby are fighting about it. Amy refuses to name the baby's papa and Ruby is determined to sneak around and find out. She's way off base, of course. There's the irony of seeing how free-spirited Ruby deals with her own history repeating itself in her daughter. She had Amy out of wedlock and gave her up for adoption. Apparently I missed the book in which the two are reunited. Suddenly Ruby finds herself giving Amy all the arguments she herself received adn resented from her own parents and family. And, of course, China is caught in the middle, but handles it pretty well.

The only thing I found unbelievable was that no one suspected foul play in the disappearance of Phoebe Morgan, Pecan Springs' Pickle Queen. She was painted as such a control freak over not only her pickle business, but also all her charitable and civic duties. So I find that her absence during the crucial week before the Pickle Festival should have raised everybody's little alarms. People should have been scouring the countryside looking for her body. But other than that, the story is basically well told and the characters believable.

All in all A Dilly of a Death was entertaining and makes me want to make a trip to the library to catch up on what I've missed in China's and Ruby's lives.


Work of the Angels, Kat Goldring
This is my first Willi Gallagher novel, but it won't be my last. I got it from PaperBack Swap, of course. I was intrigued by the notion of a small town high school English teacher as amateur sleuth. The two novels I started for NaNoWriMo feature a retired English teacher as amateur sleuth, so I ordered this book to see how the author dealt with teaching. The novel was set during the two weeks of prep time before the start of school, a situtation with which I am quite familiar. There are all the requisite small town characters. I like the sheriff better than some I've encountered. His speech patterns don't ring true to this Southern gal, but I'm from Louisiana, not West Texas. He's a West Texas version of Columbo who's a lot sharper than he appears to be with his bumbling, aw shucks attitude. And I am so thankful that he's not the typical small Southern town jackass of a redneck good old boy! That would have me throwing the book against the nearest wall. Which would be bad, because I'd damage it and then couldn't re-post it to PaperBack Swap! I like Sheriff Tucker and look forward to meeting him again in other books in the series. I also appreciated the good relations between Sheriff Tucker and Willi. Right now I'm just tired of the mysteries in which the amateur sleuth and the local constabulary are at each other's throats all the time. And as the daughter of a State Trooper, I really hate novels, movies and TV shows in which the cops are always and forever bumbling boobs. Especially the Southern guys and gals.

I also enjoyed meeting Willi's elderly neighbors, the Tarot-reading white witches who faithfully attend the local Methodist church. What a hoot those two are. They provide a bit of comic relief, but also play an important part in this novel.

I don't have a problem with what DorothyL folks call the "woo-woo" effect in my mysteries as long as it's done well. Work of the Angels does it well. One of the background stories is about the relationship between Willi, who is part Native American and part Scotch-Irish, and her fiance Quannah, a Lakota law enforcement officer who is apparently trying to help Willi get in touch with her Native cultural roots. One of the things I especially liked about this book was the blending of all those cultural backgrounds in helping Willi solve the crime.


That's not everything, but it's all I'm writing about today. Happy guilt-free reading, y'all!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Read-A-Thon Progress

Progress Report (10:00 p.m.)
I watched Law and Order CI and In Plain Sight on TV tonight. What a downer In Plain Sight was! Wish I'd been reading instead. Well, I'm signing off and may start reading The Clovis Incident by Pari Noskin Taichert. Tony Hillerman says she's a skilled and witty writer. Sounds like just what I need right now.


Progress Report (7:41p.m.)
I finished The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but I'm not sure I'm going to start another book tonight. For one thing, I'm tired. For another, I'm hungry. And for the third thing, I'm not missing In Plain Sight on TV tonight.

I was very happy to be able to spend the day reading such a fabulous book. I just loved every minute of it, every word. I'm going to the PaperBack Swap site shortly and see if I can get the others in the series. Hope I have enough credits left to order at least one. I loved the book, but I'm too tired at the moment to write more about it and do it justice. I need time to think.


Progress Report (4:30p.m.):
I'm about halfway through The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and am enjoying every single word. I just took a break to stretch my legs, get something to drink and come check out everybody else's progress. Thanks for the lovely excuse to read all day.


Progress Report (noonish):
I finished Work of the Angels by Kat Goldring. I stayed up til the wee hours reading that last night, but finally had to give in to exhaustion and get some sleep. So after cleaning up and starting the cooking, I read the last three chapters. I must admit, I did not guess who the villain was. I usually can figure it out, but Kat Goldring surprised me. I like that. Now I'm going to have to go find the previous books in the series and catch up on the lives of Willi and Quannah.

I've read the first chapter of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and am completely enchanted. I'm going to go check on the London broils and then get back to Mma Ramotswe.


Checking In (about 10:00a.m. or thereabouts):

Not going as well as I'd planned. But isn't that how life goes sometimes? I've heard it said that life is what happens while you're making other plans. We had some life happening this morning. When hubby got up to feed the kitties (no such thing as sleeping in with kitties, unfortunately), he found that the upright freezer's door was ajar. SIGH!! The meat was not completely defrosted, fortunately. All the packages were still halfway frozen, so there was no worry about contamination. We decided to cook all the meat and then freeze the dishes for easy reheating. Well, at least I won't have to cook anything other than vegetables for our suppers for a few days.

I've spent too much time today reading other folks blogs and making lists of books to add to my TBR wish list. I love blogs, but I gotta discipline myself and go read a mystery or two. Blogs later. Mysteries now.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Tomorrow, June 7, is the first Mystery Read-a-thon. We're supposed to read for 12 hours. Hmm. Not sure I can sit for 12 hours and just read. Well, that's not true. I have done that, most recently with the last Harry Potter book.

Time to do a little pre-reading planning for the day, especially regarding food. Munchies are okay, but hubby's a diabetic, so scratch that idea. We gotta eat right, which means time and planning. So .... I'm thinking we can do fruit, salad and sandwiches. Or maybe hubby won't mind cooking. Or there's always the crock pot. Ah,yes! There are pork chops in the freezer. Add a can of diced tomatoes, a dash of seasoning, turn the pot on and adjourn to my favorite reading spot. Sounds like a great plan to me.

Here are some questions from the Read-a-thon site:

What books do you want to read during this read-a-thon?
I'm thinking I'll start with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I received that from PaperBack Swap recently and am eager to read it. I had heard such great things about the books from the DorothyL mystery discussion group. Then I discovered the HBO series and really got hooked. So naturally I had to order the first book in the series even though my TBR pile is already dangerously high.

If I finish The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency before the 12 hours are up, I'm planning to start on another book I've been eager to read: The Clovis Incident by Pari Noskin Taichert. It just sounds like a fun book.

If by some miracle I finish that, then I hope it's okay to use Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I gotta refresh my memory before the movie comes out next month! Like I said, I'm a slow reader, especially if I'm enjoying a good book.

How many books do you hope to finish?
At least one, maybe two. I'm a slow reader by choice. I really love good writing, so I savor it.

What (if any) breaks do you intend to take?
As needed for the basic necessities of life.

Do you generally read lots of mysteries and thrillers or are the one of the many genres you like?
I read lots of mysteries, but I enjoy any good book with great characters, plots and settings. I like humorous cozies and historical mysteries the most, but I also frequently read police procedurals and thrillers, an occasional political thriller. And I love science fiction, especially Star Trek. I've recently read some mainstream fiction, for want of a better term. I've even been known to read a romance every now and again. I used to be snobby about romances, but discovered some good ones that I really enjoyed and was forced to change my mind. I just love good stories and good writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
In no particular order: Susan Wittig Albert, M.C. Beaton, Emilie Richards, Jeff Cohen, Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, J. K. Rowling, Tamar Myers, Jimmie Ruth Evans (aka Dean James), Betty Rowlands, Sue Grafton, Margaret Frazer, Peter Tremayne, Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, Sharon Kay Penman. I could go on and on and on.

If you could make us all read one mystery or thriller for this read-a-thon, which one would it be and why?
Oh, good grief! Just one? I have a hard enough time choosing something for myself to read at any given time. Coin tossing is frequently involved. So I guess I'd pick a writer who may not be so well known but who IMHO deserves to be. But I'll have to think about that recommendation for a bit. There are so many good writers who definitely need more exposure. See the favorites list above.

Do you prefer series or stand alones?

I really love series, but stand alones are okay, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Trailer Park Mystery Treat

Revenge and Justice

Best Served Cold, Jimmie Ruth Evans
This is the third in the Trailer Park Mystery series by
Dean James, aka Jimmie Ruth Evans. I really enjoy this series. Wanda Nell is a person I'd like to know. Although I've never been a single parent and have never lived in a trailer park, I can still relate to her struggles to maintain her dignity and her own sense of herself in a small town in the deep South. The fictional Tullahoma, MS reminds me a lot of Columbia, LA, especially the various characters, warts and all. James (writing as Jimmie Ruth Evans) doesn't glorify small towns, nor does he commit the unforgivable sin of ridiculing southern characters. They simply are what they are, without gross exaggeration or caricature. I deeply respect that. Their struggles, jealousies, friendships, squabbles and politics make me ever so slightly homesick sometimes. And make me glad not to live there anymore, too. Odd feeling, that.

In Best Served Cold Wanda Nell's baby brother Rusty returns to Tullahoma, attitude and all, and shortly afterwards, the murders begin. Of course, Rusty is implicated and Wanda Nell has to try to prove he is innocent. The title implies that revenge is the big motive for the murders. Well, revenge is important, but to the plot in general and I appreciate that even the title is a red herring of sorts.

This is the first time we've met Wanda Nell's brother and I immediately dislike him. He grows on me, though, as the story progresses and I most imagine that is James' intent. By the time the story is concluded and the murders solved, I like Rusty very much and have started feeling some motherly concern about him.

I have some quibbles with the plot, though. If I mention them, I'll probably give away the plot, but since no one reads my blog, it's not as though it matters. I find the characters believable, especially the red-neck good old boys who are full of themselves because of their small town political connections. They are the children of the big fish in the local pond. The sense of entitlement of those in power, no matter how small the pond, never really changes. Only the venue. So it comes as no surprise to learn that certain of the "in" crowd did something heinous and got away with it through parental intervention. I have no problem believing that part of the story.

What I have a problem believing is that so many people in a small Mississippi town give a hoot in a whirlwind about a gang of well-connected rapists ravaging a poor black girl. Not way back when the crime happened and not in the present. I just don't believe the community at large, and especially the legal community as portrayed in this book, would all band together to seek justice for the victim. That's just not the reality of anywhere in the US, not just the South. Maybe that's just my cynicism, but there it is. I guess that is my own prejudice, but it's not as though it's not based on certain real experiences.

As a bleeding heart liberal, I appreciated the story. As a feminist who's been concerned about women and sexual assault for well over 30 years, I truly and deeply appreciate that this novel doesn't shy away from the devastation this crime caused and that the author felt compelled not only to cry out for justice, but to see to it that it was delivered via the legal system, not via violence. And I appreciate that the story ends with justice being provided, the bad guys losing face in their community, and long-estranged family members being reunited with hope for the future. But all that's fiction. I like happy endings. I just don't believe this one is true to the reality of the South as I see it. I like it very much. I just don't believe it would really happen, sorry to say.

That being said, I'm looking forward to the rest of the books in the series so I can find out what happens to Wanda Nell, her newly outed gay son, her daughter who had a bi-racial child out of wedlock, the "good" daughter who causes no one any problems (surely that can't last, can it?), the newly discovered bi-racial nephew, etc. That's a load of problems for further novels to delve into and I'm eager to see how Jimmie Ruth Evans deals with them.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back to the Future --- and the Past

More time travel via the printed page:

Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis
  • I had a little trouble getting into this book, but once I did, I loved the main character, Marcus Didius Falco, an informer (private eye in modern parlance) during the reign of Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) and the supporting cast. Marcus rescues a Sosia Camillina from her would-be kidnappers and in the process of investigating, uncovers a conspiracy in the trading of silver ingots, known as silver pigs. Falco falls head over heels in love with Sosia, even though she is the niece of a senator and therefore totally out of his league. After she is murdered, Falco is hired by Sosia's uncle to investigate and he finds himself volunteering to serve as a slave in the silver mines in Britain. There are lots of twists and turns in this whodunnit. It is well plotted and well written, with realistic characters and a good bit of humor. I'm definitely going to be looking for others in the series. I ordered Shadows in Bronze, the next book in the series, from PaperBack Swap already.
Dragon's Lair, Sharon Kay Penman
  • This is the third in Penman's medieval mystery series set in the 12th century during the time of Elinor of Aquitane. Since I loved the other two books,The Queen's Man and Cruel as the Grave, I was quite eager to read this one. I was not disappointed. Richard the Lionheart, eldest son of Queen Elinor, is in an Austrian dungeon being held for ransom. Elinor has been collecting payments from her followers, but one of the payments vanishes without a trace in the wilds of Wales. Justin de Quincy, known as the Queen's man, is sent to find the ransom and hurry it to London so Elinor can get Richard released. Meanwhile we learn that Richar's brother John is plotting with France's King Philippe to keep the ransom from being paid so John can seize the crown for himself. De Quincy's investigation into the theft of the ransom puts him in the middle of Wales political struggles.
Queen's Ransom, Fiona Buckley
  • Ursula Blanchard is a lady-in-waiting in the court of Elizabeth I who has a talent for solving mysteries. Elizabeth I is trying to keep civil war from breaking out in Franche. When she learns that Ursula will be traveling to the Loire valley with her former father-in-law Elizabeth gives her a letter with the instructions to deliver it personally to Catherine, Queen of France. Ursula's relationship with her former father-in-law was never good to begin with even when her husband had been alive. And now it gets stormier with her father-in-law as well as other members of the entourage behaving suspiciously. When she meets her estranged second husband, Matthew de la Roche, things get worse. The book takes place during a time of great religious upheaval, Protestant versus Catholic. Ursula and her servants are Protestant, while Matthew is Catholic and is being hunted to be captured and returned to England to be tried for treason. After the letter is presented to Queen Catherine, Ursula's servant is arrested and charged with an attempt to poison the Queen. Ursula must scramble to prove her servant innocent and secure a ransom to buy her release.

Wildcat Wine, Claire Matturro
  • I just finished reading this one last night. It started out a bit slow. I was in a cranky mood, so maybe that's why I didn't warm up to it right away. But Matturro soon got me hooked and I even laughed out loud a time or two. She's got her southernisms and southern attitudes and mannerisms down pat. I hate, loathe and abhor fake Southern accents and characters. The main character, attorney Lillian Belle Cleary, a successful corporate trial attorney, is a real Southerner. She's sort of a female version of Monk, the Defective Detective, in that she is also obsessive compulsive, won't eat anything that's not organically grown even if it means she starves, is afraid of toxins, and cleans and recleans every inch of her house when she's frustrated, which is quite often. But she definitely has better social skills than Monk. Just when Lillian's preparing for oral arguments on behalf of her psychic client who's been sewed for malpractice by a woman who thought she had been abducted by Martians, her former lover and friend, a pot-growing ex-hippie, drops in and life gets a bit crazier than usual. Somehow Dave manages to get mixed up in the middle of two murders and Lillian has to figure out the truth. I didn't guess the real culprit until nearly the end of the book. I love Lillian, her secretary and the single-dad sheriff who once pulled up Lillian's okra plants to pacify the neighbor who swore they were pot. I believe Wildcat Wine is the first in a series featuring Lillian. The blurb on the back of the book says that Matturro "has a wicked sense of comedic timing." And that is so true. Sometimes humorous mysteries are either groaners or just plain silly and stupid. This one is intelligently done so that you feel the humor just arises naturally. Nothing seems forced or set up to get a cheap laugh. I really respect Matturro's comic ability.
Tilt-a-Whirl, Chris Grabenstein
  • Another series I'm going to have to check out. This book came highly recommended by the DorothyL mystery list and I'm glad it finally became available via PaperBack Swap. Somebody else snapped it up immediately after I re-posted it. I'm going to be on the lookout for the others in this series. And I'll probably ask the St. Tammany Parish Library to buy copies.
Some Like It Hot-Buttered, Jeffrey Cohen
  • What a great month for reading. Here's yet another writer who can really write comedy! Some Like It Hot-Buttered is one of the best humorous mysteries I've read in a very long time. It's funny, it's witty, and it is very well written. It has loads of references to classic comedies, most of which I adore as much as the main character, Elliot Freed. Elliot bought a vacant theater to refurbish so he could fulfill his dream of a theater dedicated strictly to comedy. Unfortunately, a patron dies from poisoned popcorn, threatening to destroy Elliot's dream. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read Some Like It Hot-Buttered, but I will most definitely not wait too long to seek out the next two books in this great series.
Dying to Sing, Margaret Chittendon
  • This one wasn't horrible. But it wasn't all that great either. I'm not really sure why I didn't take to the characters. I liked the main character reasonably well. Charlie is a thirty-something divorcee who sank her life savings into the country western tavern called CHAPS, located between the San Andreas and Hayward faults. That is significant because the book starts off with an earthquake which reveals a skeleton in the flower bed. There are plenty of "characters" in the neighborhood, but I never really warmed up to any of them. I did not hate the book, but I'll not be rushing out to secure the rest of the books in this series. I didn't think the solution to the crime was all that believable and that is pretty unforgivable in spite of all the lovable and not-so-lovable characters introduced. Maybe a little later I'll check the series out again. But the blurb from the second book starts off with male characters harassing Charlie and Charlie does not kick them in the balls! She doesn't ever yell or sock them in the eye or anything like that. And it's not as if Charlie is the shy, retiring type. Nor is she afraid of losing her job since she's a part owner of CHAPS. So why put up with that crap! Now, honey, THAT'S unforgivable! I don't mind sexiness and flirtations, but sexual harassment is a whole other matter altogether.

Windows on a Lost World, V. E. Mitchell
  • I took a break from mysteries and history to delve into a futuristic adventure via a Star Trek novel. It was a fun side trip which involved some speculation about alien cultures and just how alien they can be, as well as speculation about non-verbal modes of communication. As usual, Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise crew figured it all out and saved the day. I think only one Red-Shirt died in this book. Pretty amazing considering how nasty the alien culture was. Well worth the time IMHO. Of course, I'm a trekkie and just about anything Star Trek is pleasing to me.

Lincoln's Dreams, Connie Willis
  • Long time ago in what seems like another life, I read a lot of science fiction, especially feminist science fiction. And of course I discovered the amazing talent of Connie Willis. This book was published in 1987 and I must have bought the paperback version around that time. But for some reason, I put it to one side and just never got around to reading it, especially after I quit reading so much science fiction. But in going through my book shelves to find books to list on PaperBack Swap, I came across this book and decided now was a good time to read it. Wow! I'm blown away once again by Willis' talent. This book was not easy to read simply because it was so emotionally compelling. Annie is a young woman who is convinced she is dreaming Robert E. Lee's dreams. Jeff Johnston, a historical researcher for a best-selling Civil War novelist, gradually comes to believe her. How else can she know so many arcane details about Antietam and Gettysburg and Arlington and Lee's family life? An amazing book. Wish I were a good enough writer to express just how much I loved this book. Makes me want to get back into feminist science fiction again. I know I have a few such novels lurking in the hidden corners of various book shelves and book boxes. Maybe it's time to hunt them down and read them.

Wow, that was quite a pile of books! Traveling from the 1st century, to the 12th century and up into the 15th, then jumping several hundred years to the 21st, then toggling back and forth between the Civil War and the present, and finally blasting off into whatever century Star Trek represents! Lots of fun, lots of good stories, great characters, excellent plots. Lots to think about.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Traveling Through Time

I've read three historical novels over the last few weeks. The first was a mystery, Roman Blood by Steven Saylor, set in Rome in 80B.C.E. I've never read anything by this author before, unfortunately. I will definitely be reading more by him in the future. Roman Blood is the first in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series and features a sleuth named Gordianus the Finder. In this book, Gordianus is hired by none other than the famous Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero who is about to argue his first case before the courts. Cicero's client is Sectus Rosius of the town Ameria who is accused of the crime of murdering his father. The plot is quite intricate,but not too confusing. The story was well paced and I like almost all the characters I was supposed to like, suspected those I'm pretty sure I was supposed to suspect and distrusted most everybody with money and status. Some things never change, do they? It was to Saylor's credit that even though I knew Cicero was to win his case since he's a historical figure and we know he had a brilliant career, there were times when I just could not see how he could win even when he managed to rouse the fury of Roman dictator Sulla.

Saylor has a talent for characterization and his portrait of ancient Rome and the complexities of its various levels of societies was fascinating. I know this is fiction and the portrayals of famous historical figures requires a certain amount of freedom of interpretation from the author. In another's hands, the characters might well have been portrayed quite differently (see Sunne in Splendour discussion below). But Saylor convinced me that all these people were quite real, even the nonhistorical ones. Actually I liked Gordianus, his slave Bethesda and Cicero's slaveTiro best, as I suppose I was supposed to. They seem quite believable to me.

Next time I get to the library, I'm bringing another Saylor book home with me.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman brought me forward in time to England, 1459, and another story of political intrigue. This novel told the story of Richard III quite differently from the way most of us have learned it from Shakespeare and others. It was quite a thick book and with my short attention span I was a bit afraid I'd not be able to finish it. But I stayed up way too late way too many nights reading. Even though I knew that this novel could not possibly have a happy ending, I read it anyway. I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, Sharon Kay Penman is completely 100% responsible for my fascination with medieval England, especially the late 15th and early 16th centuries. I thought that was nigh on to impossible to do, but I have been reading and researching online since I started reading this book. That alone should let anyone know beyond a doubt just how fascinating this book was. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a work of fiction, that Penman's characterization of Edward IV and his little brother Richard were just that - part of the process of creating fiction, albeit from historical sources. I hated all the folks I was supposed to hate and later began thinking about winners writing history and how what we read as gospel about historical figures might not be so gospel-ly after all. Anyway, this book, like the other Sharon Kay Penman books I've read, was well worth the time. I'm already hooked on her mystery series, and now I'm hooked on her other novels as well.

So next time I get by the library, not only will I be bringing home another Steven Saylor Roma Sub Rosa mystery, I'll be bringing home Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept, the first in her trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane.

The third historical novel moved me up a mere century to 1569, the time of Elizabeth I. Assassin: A Lady Grace Mystery is actually a young adult novel by Patricia Finney (using the nom de plume Grace Cavendish, the main character). Since I had read Karen Harper's The Fyre Mirror, I was fascinated with this period and was eager to read something else featuring Queen Elizabeth I. So I did a search on PaperBack Swap and ordered this Lady Grace book. I'm not sorry I did. I really enjoyed it. It is definitely a children's novel, but like all really good children's fiction, the tale is so well told that anybody of any age could read and enjoy it.

Lady Grace, age 13 and an orphan, is one of Elizabeth I's favorite handmaids. Elizabeth has decided it's time for Lady Grace to choose her future husband. Someone needs to look after the properties her parents' left her when they died and in this time period, that means a husband, for the most part. So at the Valentine banquet, Lady Grace is to choose one of three suitors for her hand. Things are complicated when one spurned suitor is found murdered with the knife he had given Lady Grace. The man she had chosen was implicated and will probably be hanged for the crime if Lady Grace doesn't find out who the real murderer is.

I enjoyed the author's style and approach to telling the story as much as anything. Finney used the motif of Lady Grace's daily journal. I don't normally care for first person accounts, but this one worked so well I frequently forgot to grouse.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Suspects and Profits

In Let There Be Suspects, book 2 in the Ministry Is Murder series by Emilie Richards, Aggie Sloan-Wilcox has to deal with yet another murder. This time in her very own house. At Christmas. With a house ful of guests right there. Aggie's free spirited mother had invited herself and Aggie's two sisters to Aggie's house for the holidays. Trouble is, she forgot to mention that to Aggie, so not only does Aggie have to prepare for the Christmas open house for her husband's congregation, she also has to deal with keeping the peace in her newly extended family. To make matters worse, Junie springs a surprise guest on Aggie and her two sisters: Ginger, their former foster sister. This is not a happy family reunion. Old, unresolved resentments rear their ugly head and Aggie's sister Sid and Ginger get into a fight at the Christmas party. When Ginger later turns up dead in the parsonage dining room Sid is the prime suspect. Aggie, of course, feels compelled to prove her sister's innocence and find the real killer.

There's a lot of humor, warmth and wisdom in this book. I was a little surprised, however, that there weren't more family flare-ups with a house full of in-laws, but the characters' personalities were basically realistic, allowing room for a little fun and spoofing, of course. I love the way Richards deals with Teddy's six-year-old theological misgivings. In any other family, that child would be in for some serious therapy down the line, but Aggie, Ed, and Junie work together to help Teddy reach conclusions appropriate for her age.

Beware False Profits has Aggie's Mom taking up permanent residence in Emerald Springs. At the end of the last book, Junie had decided to buy the Victorian that Aggie and her friend Lucy are remodeling. So now they have to try to speed the process upu and remodel the house so Aggie's mom can move in and open a quilt shop. I'm glad Junie is in Emerald Springs. She's such a free spirit that you just know there's plenty of room for tension to develop between Aggie and the Tri-C Women's Society. However, Junie has such an outgoing personality, that she wins everybody over.

I had just a little trouble getting to the real story in this book. I loved the beginning! It was hysterical, but confusing insofar as I could not easily determine early on how the disappearance of a parishioner who had a secret life performing as a female impersonator related to the central murder. But Richards wove that story in beautifully and it was worth hanging in until things became clearer.

The book started out with Aggie and Ed taking a much-needed vacation from family in New York. But they are not going to be allowed to really relax, now are they? Ed gets a frantic call from a church member whose husband had supposedly been at a business meeting in New York and was several days overdue back home. Joe Wagner, faithful church member and director of Helping Hands food bank, is such a stalwart, responsible man, that Ed and Aggie agree to give up a little of their vacation time to try to find out what happened to him. The trail leads to the Pussycat Club and the revelation that Joe had not been attending a conference every month for the past several years as his wife and everybody else in Emerald Springs thought, but had actually been performing as a female impersonator! How in the world are Aggie and Ed going to break the news to Joe's wife?

Back in Emerald Springs, Hazel Kefauver, the wife of Emerald Springs' mayor and Helping Hands board member from hell, falls dead during the annual fundraiser. The missing Joe becomes an absentee suspect since he had such an adversarial relationship with Hazel. Hazel's husband, a notorious womanizer, is also a suspect and he begs Aggie to help prove him innocent. So now Aggie has two mysteries to solve. Eventually the two stories merge beautifully and we find out how Joe wound up belting out Cher's old standards at the Pussycat Club as well as learning who murdered Hazel. Very enjoyable. I may have to read this one again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

In honor of Mardi Gras, here's a quick little review about Keepsake Crimes, the first of Laura Childs delightful scrapbook mysteries set in New Orleans. This cozy was a fun read for me. We've been in Slidell, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, for a few years now and I've fallen in love with the area, especially New Orleans, warts and all. I've been searching out books, especially mysteries, set in and around my new home.

In this book, the protagonist Carmela Bertrand, owner of Memory Mine, a French Quarter scrapbooking shop, comes face to face with murder. As she and her friends are watching the Pluvius parade, a float stops right in front of them and a body is handed down. An autopsy subsequently shows that the well-known and powerful Jimmy Early Clayton was poisoned and Carmela's ex, who dumped her just a few months before, is now looking to her to help prove he did not do this dastardly deed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially its descriptions of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people, restaurants, food, sights and sounds of a great American city. Carmela is someone I think I'd enjoy knowing and if she really had a shop in the French Quarter, I'd be one of her customers. She's suffering from the loss of the great love of her life and being so cruelly dumped, but manages to find the inner strength to create a good life for herself. I like women who are strong enough to let their vulnerabilities show, so I'll be reading the rest of the books in this series. I am especially looking forward to the later books in the series which deal with New Orleans post-K (that's post-Katrina for those who don't know the local shorthand).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ministry Is Murder

Ain't that the truth! At least it is in this delightful cozy series by Emilie Richards. The main character is Aggie Sloan-Wilcox whose husband Ed was recently called as the new minister for the Consolidated Community Church (Tri-C for short) in Emerald Springs, Ohio. Ed, a scholar at heart, accepted the position because Emerald Springs has a small liberal arts college where he hopes to be able to spend time doing his research.

In the first book, Blessed Is the Busybody, Aggie is spending her time getting the family settled into their new surroundings, taking care of her two daughters, the serious kindergartner Teddy and popular teenager Deena, and trying to get along with the new congregation. Tri-C's Women's Society board, however, is makingher life a little more difficult than necessary. Especially since board members feel free to pop in and make decisions about everything to do with the parsonage, including what flowers and shrubs she should grow. Women's Society President Gelsey Falowel in particular bears a grudge against Ed and seems determined to find a way to get rid of Ed. The situation does not improve when the naked body of a woman Ed had been counseling is discovered on the parsonage front porch just as the Women's Society is inspecting the lawn.

As you would expect, Aggie is strictly instructed not to go poking her nose into this mess. But, as you would also expect, with her husband's job and her family's stability on the line, how can she stay out of it? She enlists the aid of her new best friend Lucy to solve the murder, clear her husband's good name, and secure her family's future in Emerald Springs.

I really like Aggie and her whole family, kids included. Emilie Richards draws the family and tells the story with a quirky sense of humor.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Emilie Richards

One of my new favorite authors is Emilie Richards, who writes romance. mainstream and mystery novels. I lucked up on Endless Chain, one of her Shenandoah Album novels, on a sale table at Books a Million. As a former high school Spanish teacher, former junior high Sunday School teacher, wife of a former Baptist minister of music, and a current quilt enthusiast, anything having to do with any of those areas will catch my attention. This book hit more areas of interest in one fell swoop than just about anything else I've ever read.

The gorgeous quilt on the front cover caught my eye right away since my little mental radar goes haywire when quilts are anywhere near. Then after reading the blurb's promise of a story line about a church's struggle to establish an outreach program to the newly arriving Hispanics in the community, I knew this was a story that this liberal Democrat who was barely surviving the horror years of Bush II's imperial presidency could really relate to. There was no way I could leave the store without that book in my possession! And I was not disappointed on any level. I loved it, loved the characters, loved the quilting, loved the locale, even loved the church. I stayed up until the wee hours finishing it and did not regret the loss of sleep.

After reading Endless Chain, I scurried to my computer to find out more about Emilie Richards and her books. I was hoping she had at least written a series featuring these characters. Not only did I discover more books in the Shenandoah series, but I was thrilled to find out about her Ministry is Murder mystery series featuring a minister's wife as amateur sleuth.

While I love quilting, quilts and stories about quilters and quilts, I also have a soft place in my heart for stories featuring churches and clergy, providing they are realistic and respectful. And I adore mysteries! So I ordered Blessed Is the Busybody, the first book in that series, from PaperBack Swap just to see if I'd like it. I did. Since then I've ordered and read Let There Be Suspects and Beware False Profits. I'm planning to head to Books a Million or B&N or Borders really soon to pick up the February's addition to the series, A Lie for a Lie. I'm actually going to pay full price for that one instead of waiting til it becomes available at PaperBack Swap or ordering it through interlibrary loan! That says a lot, because I'm notoriously cheap!

So now, I'm hooked on both series series with no regrets. And sooner or later, I'm going to read her stand-alone novels as well. Emilie's written a whole bunch of romance novels, as well. I don't normally read romance, but I may make an exception for Emilie Richards.