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.