Friday, May 30, 2008

Mystery! Again!

Death Is In The Air and For Whom Death Tolls by Kate Kingsbury: These are #2 and 3 in the Manor House series. This is a mystery series set during WWII. Lady Elizabeth, the lady of the manor in the village of Sitting Marsh, has uninvited guests, a group of American officers billeted in the deserted East Wing of her home. Tensions are high in the village between the American GIs and the British citizens. In Death Is In The Air, a German parachutes into Sitting Marsh, coinciding with a brutal murder. In For Whom Death Tolls, an American GI is found hanging from the bell tower at the church. The mysteries in these novels (beginning with A Bicycle Built For Murder, which I confess I bought only for the title) are fine, but the real fun is in the portrayal of village life and the budding romance between Lady Elizabeth and an American officer. These move at a snail's pace (it's not until book #2 that Earl is allowed to call Lady Elizabeth by her first name), so they're almost like a longer serialized novel. I didn't mind the slowness--it's like popping into a beloved village to see what's going on with my favorite residents. If you're a cozy mystery fan (heavy on the cozy), I recommend checking out this series.

Strangled Prose by Joan Hess: This is the first in the Claire Malloy mysteries, which take place in Farberville, Arkansas. Claire, a widow, owns a bookshop, and ends up coerced into hosting an event for Mildred Twiller, who writes romance novels under the name Azalea Twilight. Mildred and her husband are both professors at Farber College (as was Claire's husband), and Mildred's latest book features barely disguised members of its academic community. When Mildred is found strangled, everyone is a suspect. Claire's daughter Caron and her wimpy friend Inez appear to know something about the murder, so Claire decides to investigate to protect Caron. I think Joan Hess is very funny, and I enjoyed this light, frothy mystery.

Is that Jack Frost?

For an inexplicable reason, I picked up The Candy Cane Murders about the same time I picked up Sugar and Spice (review here, both holiday collections featuring Hannah Swensen novellas by Joanne Fluke, despite the fact that both are Christmas-themed. I've been on a Hannah Swensen kick, reading the whole series (except for Carrot Cake Murder, which I'm waiting to come out in hardback), and I have a bit of a compulsive streak when it comes to series, and I really want to read the whole series, and in order. So publishers love me because they can trick me into buying collections featuring my favorite series characters, which exposes me to other authors with the same publisher. In the case of Sugar and Spice, it didn't work because it was more romance, while I'm more of a mystery gal, so I just read the Hannah Swensen and skipped the rest. But Candy Cane Murders was a big hit with me. Not only was the Hannah Swensen novella a fun diversion with great-sounding recipes, I read on and really enjoyed the Laura Levine entry. I think I read This Pen For Hire, the first in the Jaine Austen mysteries, but it didn't make much of an impression. The novella here, The Dangers of Candy Canes, was really funny and well-plotted, making me interested in trying Levine again. I also kept going and read the Leslie Meier novella, a Lucy Stone story told in flashback. I read several of the Lucy Stones at one point, and I think they're perfectly serviceable cozies, but not my favorites. This novella was surprisingly sweet and if it hadn't been 85 degrees, might have put me in the Christmas spirit. If you've enjoyed books in any of the three series, or are a mystery fan looking for some holiday cheer in your stocking, this book is probably worth picking up.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Giveaway!

This time Heather from Book Addiction is giving away Jodi Picoult's latest book, Change of Heart. I am currently 695 out of 730 to get this one from the library so I would love to win a free copy!! If you're interested, hop on over and post in her comments for your chance to win. If you post on your own blog you get TWO chances! Hence, my post here. :-)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I've been on a mystery kick again!

Through the Grinder by Cleo Coyle: This is the second Coffeehouse Mystery featuring Clare Cosi. The Village Blend has started offering a singles night with speed-dating, and one after another, women who frequent the blend are committing suicide. Or are they? I thought this was a weaker mystery than the first in the series, but we get a lot more development of Clare as she dates Bruce, dodges her ex-husband, and flirts with her cop friend. Coyle persists in thinking that passages from the deranged killer's point-of-view heighten the drama and tension, when in fact, they reek of cheesiness and drive me to distraction. At any rate, I thought this entry was a decent one in the series, although the brutal ending was sort of shocking. I picked up the third, Latte Trouble, but the first paragraphs were in deranged-killer-speak, and I wasn't in the mood, so I went on to some historical mysteries.

A Late Phoenix by Catherine Aird: Three words: Fun. British. Mystery. I discovered these when visiting my high school English teacher a couple of weeks ago. He had Catherine Aird novels strewn about, and I had never heard of her. A Late Phoenix was published in 1971, so they're not new. I think they're mostly out-of-print, but are easily found either used on amazon or in lots on eBay. Developers start a project at a WWII bomb site, only to uncover a skeleton, a woman not killed in the bombing. C.D. Sloane is assigned the case (along with Crosby, an idiot partner). Sloane is wry, witty, and astute, and he teases apart the threads of the mystery with interviews and even trips to the library. This is a good, old-fashioned detective novel with tight plotting and a bit of humor to lighten it up. I loved it!

A Bicycle Built for Murder by Kate Kingsbury: Along the historical mystery front, I found a used copy of this, Kingsbury's first Manor House novel. She has another series, Pennyfoot Hotel, that is devilishly hard to find (at least at a reasonable price). Anyway, Lady Elizabeth is Lady of the Manor, so when her tenant begs her to help solve the mystery of her teenaged daughter's disappearance, Lady Elizabeth agrees. At the same time, her house has been chosen to house some American troops (did I mention this takes place during WWII? Oops, I forgot, and it's kind of important). And the Major who liaises with her on this matter is really attractive. (Why do mystery novels written in the last 20 years or so HAVE to have a romance angle if the sleuth is a woman?) Kingsbury does a nice job of evoking the time period and Lady Elizabeth is a sympathetic heroine. The mystery is nicely done and the supporting cast enjoyable. I thought it was a good start to the series, and I'll be looking for more. I've read that the Pennyfoot series is actually better, so I'll have to try to find some of them.

Edited to add: I knew I was forgetting something! I also read Withering Heights by Dorothy Cannell, a recent Ellie Haskell mystery. Her first, The Thin Woman, is one of my all-time favorite mysteries. This entry was really quite good! It takes place in a huge old house and gently spoofs gothic mysteries. Ellie, Ben, and Mrs. Malloy head to Yorkshire to return Ben's cousin's teenaged daughter home and manage to solve murder, mayhem, and ghostly happenings while there. If you enjoy cozies and haven't read Cannell yet, order a copy of The Thin Woman used on amazon for pretty much the cost of shipping right now!

I think that's it for now. I'm reading Strangled Prose by Joan Hess, the first Claire Malloy mystery. I read a couple of these a while ago and then kind of forgot about Joan Hess. She also writes the Maggody series.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bobbie Faye Returns

Bobbie Faye and the (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey follows up Bobbie Faye's Very, (very, very, very) Bad Day. This sequel starts up a couple months after the first disaster and many of the same characters appear. Bobby Faye is working at Ce Ce's store one day when her cousin Francesca shows up asking Bobbie Faye to help her find stolen diamonds her mother, Marie, hid somewhere. Francesca's father, Emile, head of a mob organization and the person Marie stole the diamonds from, thinks Bobbie Faye knows where they are at. Within the first several chapters of the book, Bobbie Faye is shot at, kidnapped on the same block by three separate groups of people, and her car blows up on a bridge, taking part of the bridge with it. So you could say the sequel starts off with a bang.

Throughout the book, we get to meet more of Bobbie Faye's crazy family, including her father, she blows up other things, comes near death several times, all while trying to figure out her feelings for Trevor (well those feelings are pretty obvious) and Cam (not so obvious). Bobbie Faye is also accused of murder not once, but twice through the course of the book. Trevor and Cam know she is innocent and try to figure out a way to keep every cop in the state from killing her on sight.

Causey's second attempt with Bobbie Faye does not disappoint. However, I don't think it quite lives up to the first one. A little less time is spent on the action and running around (just a little, there's still a lot of action) and more time is spent developing the relationship she has with Trevor and Cam. There are also a ton of characters in this book, sometimes a little difficult to keep track of. And I didn't laugh out loud quite as much as the first one. With all that being said, I was still highly entertained and liked the ending. I won't give too much away, but we find out a little more about best friend Nina at the end of book. Hmm.....perhaps we're setting up for a third installment?

My copy of Bobbie Faye's Family Jewels was an Advanced Reader Copy from LibraryThing. But you won't have to wait long, it will be in bookstores on May 27th!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Couple of Little Things

I forgot to mention that I read On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle, the first in the Coffeehouse series. I had read this and maybe one of the sequels ages ago. It's a decent cozy mystery series with enticing recipes. A few things bug me. It starts out with a prologue from the stalker's point-of-view a la James Patterson or Jonathan Kellerman, which I think is super cheesy. Despite throwing around Italian terms like someone who knows what she's doing, Coyle (or her editor) has used the wrong accent over the 'e' in the Italian word 'caffe,' (It should be the opposite accent of the one over the 'e' in the French word 'cafe,' but I can't figure out how to do diacritical marks in Blogger) and spelled 'baci' (which means 'kisses') 'bocci.' There are other typos in plain old English, typical of this genre's mediocre editing. Despite some annoyances, the book is kind of cute and I enjoyed the coffee information, which I thought complemented, rather than distracted from, the narrative flow. Clare Cosi returns from suburban New Jersey to manage once again The Village Blend, an historic coffeehouse in New York City at the request of her former mother-in-law. You can bet the ex-husband will be around to bug her/be strangely attractive. One morning, Clare arrives at the coffeehouse to find it empty and dark. She finds her employee, Annabel, dead at the bottom of the basement steps. The police are treating the death as a tragic accident, but Clare thinks differently. Also, she thinks the detective is pretty cute. Typical cozy mystery investigating ensues, in more-interesting-than-average-cozy fashion. I'll read the second one, Through the Grinder, soon.

I also read "The Twelve Desserts of Christmas" by Joanne Fluke, one of four novellas in the holiday romance collection Sugar and Spice (available for the cost of shipping--used on I didn't read the other three, which are more typical romance, but I thought the Joanne Fluke story, featuring two teachers stuck with six kids at a boarding school over the holidays, was a cute confection. Hannah Swensen delivers desserts to the group and solves an innocuous little mystery. Most of the recipes are title recipes from previous books, but a couple may be new (I'd have to check Sugar Cookie Murder, which has tons). If (like me) you're waiting for Carrot Cake Murder to come out in paperback, this is a nice little diversion.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bobbie Faye review, redux

Oops, I meant to link to Holly's review of this book, so I'm editing to add that in!

I read THE FUNNIEST BOOK in the history of the world! Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey had me laughing out loud. With a clever, official-looking map at the beginning labeled "Louisiana State Insurance Archive of Bobbie Faye Sumrall Disasters (Southwest Region)," you know you're going to be suspending disbelief. Each chapter has a quote about Bobbie Faye, and the first quote is, "You know how some people are born to Greatness? Well, Bobbie Faye Sumrall woke up one morning, kicked Greatness in the teeth, kneed it in the balls, took it hostage, and it's been begging for mercy ever since," attributed to "a former Louisiana mayor after Bobbie Faye accidentally ran her car into his office, knocking pages of fraud evidence into the street, which helped land him in Federal prison." Those two components at the very beginning could be setting us up for a fun ride or trying to compensate for a lackluster novel. Fortunately for us, it's the first!

Bobbie Faye is having the worst day of her life, and for someone inadvertently attracted to disaster like a moth to a flame, that's saying something. She wakes up in the morning to her five-year-old niece remarking that there's a swimming pool inside. She's caring for her niece while her sister is drying out, as ordered by the courts, and her trailer has flooded because her no-good brother Roy hasn't fixed the washing machine. The Sumralls have been fixtures in Lake Charles, Louisiana ("if someone had labeled it 'home of the hard drinkers who make Mardi Gras revelers look like big fluffy candy asses,' it might have staggered to attention and saluted") for generations, and Bobbie Faye is the latest in a long line of Contraband Days Queens since her mother died, complete with a battered tiara. It turns out that Roy has been kidnapped by someone demanding the worthless tiara, but when Bobbie Faye takes it out of the safety-deposit box (it may be worthless, but she didn't want her sister hocking it for booze), she loses it to bank robbers. She takes a guy hostage and goes in pursuit of the robbers, with the FBI and local police (led by her ex-husband of all people) following closely behind. This is a wild ride with abundant humor, a touch of mystery (who *is* this guy she took hostage? why would anyone want that tiara this badly?), and over-the-top action. Can Bobbie Faye find the tiara, save her brother, keep temporary custody of her niece, avoid mushy thoughts about her handsome hostage, and survive this day? I can't think of anyone who wouldn't compulsively read this one to find out!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Woman in Red by Eileen Goudge

This was our book club pick for May. I actually did not vote for this one when we were voting on new choices and I thought the description of it sounded really depressing. So I was not actually looking forward to reading this one. However, this is a case of don't judge a book by its cover. I really enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

The book is about a woman, Alice, who spends nine years in prison for running over the drunk driver who killed one of her two sons. While in prison, her husband divorces her and eventually her son does not want to visit her anymore. She gets out and returns to the small town where she grew up. She tries to rebuild her life and get to know her son and family again despite the stigma of being an ex-con. She also meets a new man (Colin) who lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks and is just coming out a downward spiral himself. As if all of this is not difficult enough for her to deal with, her son is falsely accused of raping a girl and finds himself in trouble with the law. mother, like son?

See, I told you depressing, right? BUT, it turns out, it's not quite as depressing as it sounds. And there is a back story interspersed throughout the book about Alice's grandmother and Colin's grandfather. A love story. This book actually somewhat reminded me of a Jodi Picoult book without the extra legal thriller part of it. The whole book is about different relationships old and new. And in the end all the different threads come together. I absolutely loved the epilogue. I think Goudge did a great job writing this and keeping all the characters interesting with a solid story line. It's as long as it needs to be without anything extra. This is definitely not one I would have picked up at the bookstore, but I'm glad I had the chance to read it. And really I had a hard time putting it down!

Honk if you love Percy!

Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan: The fourth installment of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is action-packed, funny, clever, and original, with character and plot developments we've been waiting for since Book 1, The Lightning Thief. Percy is a clever boy (I think he's 12 in book 1) who's been kicked out of multiple schools, has ADHD and dyslexia, and a knack for trouble. In The Lightning Thief, he learns he's a half-blood, the son of a Greek god, and discovers there are others like him at Camp Half Blood. If you haven't read the series, I don't want to give away too many details of the plot of Book 4. Battle of the Labyrinth opens with Percy's orientation at his new school, which is equipped with monster cheerleaders (yes, that's literal) before heading off to Camp Half-Blood, which is in danger like never before. A chunk of this installment takes place in the Labyrinth, the monster-infested, ever-changing maze underneath the U.S. Any juvenile fantasy is compared to Harry Potter these days, and I have to say, I love both series. Percy Jackson is not derivative of Harry Potter, and Riordan manages a fresh and funny take on ancient stories (the Greek myths). I can't recommend this series and this installment highly enough, and I can't wait for Book 5 (and it's very clear there will be a Book 5, though I believe that will be the last).

Edited to add: I went looking for the source of my belief that there will be five books (sadly it's true--next year's will be the last, though the first film will be out next year, too), and discovered a short story that's available on Rick Riordan's blog. Here are the three parts (part 1 is at the bottom of the page). Here's fun bonus Percy!

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews

Okay, after three books, I have to say I quite like Mary Kay Andrews. I think I actually liked Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze a bit better than Deep Dish because I enjoy the mystery component, which is absent from Deep Dish, but Deep Dish was fun Southern chick lit. This one is set partially in Atlanta, too, which is fun when Gina is stuck in traffic on I-285. Hahaha! I'm always stuck in traffic on I-285! Gina has a regional cooking show produced by her boyfriend, Scott, that is canceled when Scott is found sleeping with the show's sponsor's wife. Oops. But it turns out that Food Network...erm, I mean The Cooking looking for a Southern cooking show to add to their lineup. They're in town to look at Tate's kill 'em and grill 'em show (which is called Vittles, a really lame name--Kill 'Em and Grill 'Em would have been better) and decide to take a look at Gina. Soon Gina and Tate are in competition for the time slot in an Iron Chef kind of battle out on an island (yes, really). Tate and Gina go between attraction to each other and competitive dislike, and there's little suspense--if you can't tell they're going to end up together, you've probably never read chick lit before. There's also little suspense on the outcome of the cooking show, though Andrews throws in some unexpected challenges that bring in some laughs. The development of Tate and Gina's relationship from competitors to ready to get married isn't all that fleshed out, but I'm used to that in chick lit. All of a sudden, the man and woman are in love...whatever. I thought this was a cute, breezy summer read, but I'd wait until it's in paperback (it was lent to me, or I wouldn't have read it yet!).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Southern Fried Nancy Drew

A negative reviewer on Amazon gave Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews a single star and lambasted it with, "If you're craving a Southern fried version of Nancy Drew and her pals, then carry on." Well, obviously my taste is not as refined as this reviewers because while I agreed with her assessment, I thought this book was great fun, even with some flaws, but I love Nancy Drew, too! I would characterize it as Southern Chick Lit With Mystery. Anyway, the story is about Weezie, a divorcee who won the carriage house behind her carefully renovated once-home (which her husband and his new fiancee, the atrocious Caroline, now live). Weezie is a "picker," scouring yard sales and dumpsters for hidden treasures that she can fix up and sell to antiques dealers. Sneaking into an estate sale early to answer a call of nature, she stumbles over Caroline's body and is promptly arrested for the murder. The story is slowed a bit by chapters from the point of view of Uncle James, Weezie's attorney, which were really unnecessary and I can't believe they weren't edited out. Weezie, her best friend Bebe, and Daniel, the attractive chef at Bebe's restaurant, set out to solve the murder themselves and clear Weezie's name. There really wasn't much suspense in this one, but the bumbling crime-solving trio, Southern charm, and insight into the antiques business made it a lot of fun. I recommend this as an excellent beach read.

After reading Savannah Blues, I picked up Savannah Breeze, the sequel, which details Bebe's life following her financial ruin at the hands of a handsome con man (she's distracted by family issues at the time). Apparently, Ms. Andrews has trouble deciding which story she's telling, because in this one, too, there are chapters from a secondary character's point of view--this time, Weezie's. I found this distracting and didn't think it added to the story at all, but other than that, I thought this was even more fun than the first book. Bebe discovers that she is now owner of the Breeze Motel on Tybee Beach (the con man, Reddy, hadn't had time to unload it before splitting), and she decides to make a go of renovating and running the Breeze. With the help of Weezie and the Breeze's on-site manager, the handsome and unrefined Harry, Bebe sets out to get back what Reddy has stolen from her when the police decline to pursue him. Another fun beach read.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Innocent by Harlan Coben

I enjoyed reading Coben's The Woods last year and when I saw The Innocent and Deal Breaker in the Barnes and Noble bargain sale I snatched them up. I've spent the last couple days reading The Innocent and thoroughly enjoyed it!

The blurb on the back of the book does not really give you full insight into the story, which in this case was a good thing. The main character, Matt Hunter, accidentally kills a man when a fight breaks out at a party during college. Matt serves his time in prison and manages to still have a life afterwards with a decent job and wife with a baby on the way. He receives a couple startling photos on his cell phone that make him think he does not really know his wife and he wonders if he can really trust her. Thus starts a journey of discovery that lasts a couple days and is filled with suspense. This book also has short chapters which actually added to the suspense. It switched back and forth between characters' viewpoints leaving you in suspense with one while catching up with another. Eventually all the points of view come together at the end. It wasn't entirely predictable and had a few nice reveals toward the end.

I don't want to say too much and give anything away because I think this story is much better if you go into it blind. I thought it was well-written and Coben unfolds the story very well. If you're a fan of more serious mystery/suspense I recommend this book. I believe I enjoyed it even more than The Woods. And I'm looking forward to reading Deal Breaker which is the first book in Coben's Myron Bolitor series.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Almost time for Percy!

The fourth Percy Jackson book comes out May 6th! Yeah! Camille over at BookMoot had a fun post relating to Percy and included the video below. Just thought I would share because I was amused by it. Don't get me wrong, I still like Harry Potter. :-)