Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reading in March and Mystery Pick of the Month

In March I read ten books. I really don't know why I am reading more this year. It is not like I am neglecting other activities. Maybe, in general, the books are shorter.

Again, this month I read a few non-mysteries. I read one book that is categorized as fantasy: The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny. I read two non-fiction books, both from the Book Lust series by Nancy Pearl: More Book Lust and Book Lust to Go. More Book Lust was a reread, but Book Lust To Go was new to me. I had purchased that one specifically to find books, especially mysteries, set in various locations. I enjoyed both of them.

Crime fiction is my favorite genre and I read seven mysteries in March. Only one vintage mystery again this month. One vintage mystery a month is OK, but I do hope to pick up the pace in future months. Of the seven mystery authors, five authors were new to me. Two authors were old favorites: Agatha Christie and Olen Steinhauer.

The mysteries I read this month are:
  1. The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson
  2. Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt
  3. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
  4. Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen
  5. Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland
  6. Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer
  7. A Stone of the Heart by John Brady 
The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. Check out the link here to see the other bloggers picks.

Again I cannot decide on one pick. My favorites this month are the last two books that I read: Nearest Exit and A Stone of the Heart. They are each in one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction. Unfortunately, I have not reviewed either of them yet. 

Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer is spy fiction. It is the second book in a trilogy; the first book is titled The Tourist. I think this book would mainly appeal to those who enjoy spy fiction, because it features the same major themes as most spy fiction: moral ambiguity in the spy's life and the inability to trust anyone.  However, the trilogy also involves a spy with a family, which threatens to affect his ability to be effective in his job.

A Stone of the Heart by John Brady is a police procedural. Like some books of that sub-genre, it goes much deeper and examines the character of the policeman and how his family and his environment affect his ability to do his job. The setting is primarily Dublin, Ireland in the late 1980's. Thus the unrest and violence in Ireland at the time is a part of the story.

These two books both deal with families and relationships, and I enjoy books that combine these themes with a mystery.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mount TBR Reading Challenge: Quarterly Summary

This quarter I have read 15 books that count toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2013. Since my goal is 36 books, I am doing pretty well. The books I have read in January, February, March:
  1. The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself by  K. C. Constantine
  2. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  3. Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough
  4. The Case of the Angry Actress by E. V. Cunningham
  5. The Smoke by Tony Broadbent
  6. The Last Houseparty by Peter Dickinson
  7. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
  8. The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl
  11. Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt
  12. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
  13. Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen
  14. Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer
  15. A Stone of the Heart by John Brady

The book I have had the longest in this group is Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. Several of these books have been in my TBR stacks and boxes for close to seven years, but according to the ID in my cataloging system, this one was around before those. Just don't have the date of purchase for it.

I wish I had read this book sooner. My TBR pile still has other books by this author, and I hope to get to them soon.

My favorite book cover in this set of books is the one for The Case of the Angry Actress by E. V. Cunningham. I love old paperback covers. This is not a vintage mystery, but still quite a nice cover, in my opinion.

From my review:

I enjoyed this book most for the setting in Southern California in the 1960's. The book was published in 1967. I lived in Southern California in the 70's and I remember the smog and how different it seemed from my home state of Alabama.

The Courts of Chaos: Roger Zelazny

The Courts of Chaos is the first book I have read for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

This book is part of a fantasy series, The Chronicles of Amber, written by Roger Zelazny. It is the last book in a five book series about Corwin, a prince of Amber. In a way it was disappointing because it was a slight book, compared to the others in the series. But it was a very fitting ending to the series.

I read The Courts of Chaos because this series is a favorite of my son, and I had read the previous four books earlier at his suggestion. Too long ago, in fact.

A description of the world created for this fantasy series at Wikipedia:
The Amber stories take place in two "true" worlds: Amber, and the Courts of Chaos, as well as the shadows that lie between them. These shadows, including our Earth, are parallel worlds that exist in the tension between the two true worlds of Amber and the Courts. The Courts of Chaos is situated in Shadow at the very edge of the pit of Chaos itself, a seething cauldron from which all that is or ever will be comes from.
Note: I caution you not to read the Wikipedia page about the entire series if you have any interest in reading the books. Wikipedia pages often include spoilers.

The first five books of The Chronicles of Amber follow Corwin's adventures, and his ups and downs with his family. That is putting it mildly, of course. He has many brothers and sisters and they are often at odds, seeking the power to rule Amber.

The story starts with Nine Princes of Amber, which was my favorite book in the series. In that book, Corwin is on the shadow Earth. The fourth book, The Hand of Oberon, I also liked a lots. The books really do not stand alone, except perhaps the first one.

Why did I take so long to read this conclusion to the series? It is less than 130 pages long. Had I read the book closer to finishing the 4th book, I am sure I would have enjoyed it more. (Although I have read some criticism in reviews that it jumps awkwardly into the story.)

A large part of this book consists of following Corwin on a hellride through the shadows, to get to the Courts of Chaos, to save the world of Amber. He meets a lot of non-humanoid lifeforms. They either try to help him achieve his goal or try to hamper him. There are some interesting philosophical conversations between Corwin and the creatures. When he gets to his goal, which was in question, the events and the final selection of a ruler of Amber brought the series to a satisfying conclusion.

This series is followed by another five books series, which are the story of Merlin's adventures. Merlin is the son of Corwin. I would recommend reading either series closely together rather than separating them by years like I did. The series would be more enjoyable that way.

My commitment for this challenge is to read at least five books during the three months of the challenge (March 21 - June 21, 2013) in the following categories: fantasy, fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. My plan is to stick with books in the fantasy genre. In addition, I will view one of the many theatrical versions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Reviews for this challenge are at this Review Site; stop by and check them out.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird (film)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a movie adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The movie covers one year in the life of two children, Jem and Scout, who live in a small town in Alabama in the 1930's. Their father is a lawyer and is defending a black man against the charge of rape. (My review of the book is here.)

There are differences between the book and the movie. One is fairly minor. The book covers three years; Scout is six and Jem, her older brother, is ten at the beginning of the novel. Both she and Jem mature throughout the book and Jem has moved into puberty at the end, which changes their relationship. The other is that Aunt Alexandra does not appear in the movie. In the book, Aunt Alexandra moves in with Atticus and the children to provide a strong female influence on Scout. She  introduces the emphasis in the South on living within the constrictions of the social mores and one's station in life.

This does not detract from the movie. It just means that the movie looks more at the racial aspects of the South and less at other areas of Southern life. The trial and the build up to the trial are the focus of the movie. I can understand why this decision was made. You can't always include every element of a book and still have a good movie.

I think I would have enjoyed the movie more if I had put more distance between it and reading the book. I kept making direct comparisons and noting differences that would not have occurred to me otherwise.

Nevertheless, I preferred the movie. This was because of my personal reaction to the book and the way the happenings in the book resonated with my own childhood and my personal experiences in that environment, and is no reflection on the quality of the book. The movie presented some of the same ideas, but did not impact me in the same way.

The book concentrated more on racism and its side effects for all involved, and the trial that threatened to tear apart the community. The story in the book focuses more on Scout's thoughts and interior life, her problems with school and having to deal with the concern for appearances in the South.

Neither of the two young actors who played Scout and Jem had had previous roles in movies. They were both from Birmingham, Alabama. I preferred the actor who played Jem (Phillip Alford), although it seems that the role of Scout (Mary Badham) gets more attention. Gregory Peck was, of course, perfect as Atticus Finch.

The DVD set I have includes a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, titled Fearful Symmetry. It was filmed in the late 1990's and provides interesting information. Several actors discuss their experience of working on this film. The screenwriter, Horton Foote, also shares insights about his process of adapting the book to the screen.

In the documentary, residents of the town where Harper Lee grew up reminisce about life in the town (and how much things have changed). The town in the book and the movie is called Maycomb and is based on Harper Lee's hometown, Monroeville, Alabama. The movie was filmed on the Universal backlot in Hollywood because Monroeville in 1962 no longer looked like a Southern town from the 1930's. The Monroe County Courthouse has become a museum. The interior of courthouse used in the film was recreated to look much like that building.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Eye of the Red Tsar: Sam Eastland

Summary from the author’s website for this series:
It is the time of the Great Terror.

Inspector Pekkala - known as the Emerald Eye - was once the most famous detective in all Russia, the favourite of the Tsar. Now he is the prisoner of the men he once hunted.

Like millions of others, he has been sent to the gulags in Siberia and, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, he is as good as dead. But a reprieve comes when he is summoned by Stalin himself to investigate a crime.
Eye of the Red Tsar falls into several categories I like. Historical fiction is a favorite, especially stories set between World War I and World War II. Mysteries set in Russia; I don’t know why but stories of Russia intrigue me. The story is told in alternating sections; one section will focus on the time of the story, the other is flashbacks to earlier times. I have always liked books that use this format and I especially enjoyed the flashbacks in this book.

For at least the first three-quarters of the book, I loved the way the story was told and had no criticisms. I was immediately pulled in by the story and the peek back at earlier days in Pekkala’s life. Toward the end of the book, I began to have reservations and I did not see the ending as fulfilling the promise of the rest of the book.

Some of the characters could have been developed more fully. We know a lot about Pekkala, his experiences and the strength of his convictions, but he doesn’t have a lot of depth. Pekkala’s brother is involved in the investigation, but the relationship and the issues between them were glossed over. Perhaps saved for future books? I did like the characterization of Kirov, the young officer who assists Pekkala. He was formerly in training to be a chef, and cooks for them.

Two of the characters, the Tsar (from the flashbacks scenes) and Stalin, are real historical characters and I was surprised at their depiction. Based on my very minimal knowledge of Russian history, I thought that they would be depicted in a more negative light. There have been complaints from some reviewers that they are depicted too sympathetically. Myself, had the ending been better executed, I could have easily ignored that issue.

Sam Eastland is a pseudonym used by Paul Watkins, an American author who has been publishing novels since 1988. At a post on the Inspector Pekkala Website Blog, he shares an interview he did for a newspaper in Finland. He answers questions about who he based the main character on. At the time he was finishing up the fifth book in the series, and planning to begin the sixth book.

Because I enjoyed this novel for the most part, and I think the author shows a lot of promise for continuing the series, I do recommend this book. If you like historical mysteries, I think it is worth a try, and certainly it has gotten a lot of positive reviews. I borrowed this book from my husband, and he has the second book in the series. With the ease of availability, I will definitely give the series another try.

For other’s views, see these reviews:
At Reactions to Reading, at Murder by Type, and at Mysteries in Paradise.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Deadly Appearances: Gail Bowen

Andy Boychuk is a Saskatchewan politician who has recently become the leader of the Opposition party in his province. There is a picnic to celebrate, but just as he gets up to speak, he drinks some water and falls to the floor. His close friend and colleague, Joanne Kilbourn is nearby and rushes to attempt CPR – to no avail. On this hot summer afternoon, her life changes. Andy's death is clearly murder, and she wants to know who has done it.

Preparations for the funeral introduce us to the politician's wife and the other party members who were his support group. We learn of tragedies that have occurred in both the victim's life and Joanne's life. Joanne has three children, one about to move away to college. She is widowed and lost her husband three years earlier as the result of a senseless act of violence. She decides to step away from politics and campaigning for a while and write a biography of Andy. In searching deeply into her friend's past, she stumbles on secrets and clues to the reason for his death.

Joanne tells this story in first person narrative. She doesn't really function as a sleuth in this book, as she is never actively looking for the murderer. Many people suspect Andy's wife, because of her weird behavior, but Joanne does not believe she is capable of that.

I read this mystery for the Canadian Book Challenge 6. I enjoyed learning about the Saskatchewan area. The politics of that province were an element in the story, but I never caught on to the workings of politics and the government in Canada. Thus I did not understand the importance of some of the occurrences. Or maybe it is just that I have never understood politics anywhere. As in Anthony Bidulka's books about Russell Quant, also set in Saskatchewan, several of the characters have Ukrainian backgrounds.

This almost did not feel like a mystery to me. Sometimes those are the best kinds of novels. There is a death and it is clearly murder. There is an investigation, and the reader knows that long hidden secrets will be revealed. But mainly this is the story of a woman grieving for a friend and a colleague she respected, and dealing with a life turned upside down by the loss. And it was the telling of that story that was most engaging to me.

This book is the first in a series of fourteen books. It was published in 1990 and the most recent book in the series will be released in the US in August 2013. I will be interested to continue the series and see where it takes Joanne.

Links to posts at other sites:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Once Upon a Time VII

The Once Upon a Time Challenge has begun. And I am very excited about joining in for the first time. This event fits in perfectly with my plans to read some fantasy novels that have been languishing on my shelves for quite a while. My son loaned them to me and I have promised I would read some of them this year.

This event is hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. Carl has a wonderful blog. I thought that adjective might sound worshipful, but one definition is "inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration" so it definitely fits. Carl is a versatile reader and reviewer. He covers science fiction and mystery and fantasy and movies.

Check out the post for Once Upon a Time VII with rules and sign-ups and check out his other posts, too.

A brief description of the event from that post:
This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Friday, June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.
My goal is to complete Quest the Third. For this quest, I will read at least five books in any of the above categories during the three months of the challenge. In addition, I will view one of the many theatrical versions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (I am sure I will watch the 1935 movie with James Cagney and Dick Powell, but that is not a requirement.)

The basic list that I will be working from is:
  • The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • The Black Company by Glen Cook
  • Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams
  • Daemons are Forever by Simon R. Green
  • Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  • 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis: Graeme Donald

This book is a compendium of words or phrases in everyday usage which have a military origin. The author,  Graeme Donald, "has been researching the origins of words, nursery rhymes, superstitions and popular misconceptions for years", per his publisher, Osprey Publishing.

I love to read about words and their derivations, and this book threw in some history too.

Some of the words are fairly obvious, such as "blitz" or "barrack," although even with the obvious terms, background information is supplied that is interesting and enlightening. Others are not so obvious, such as "thug." This word was brought back to England by soldiers who had served in India and had exposure to ritualistic killers in the Thuggee cult.

These are some that were of particular interest to me:
Umbrella name for disparate terror groups.
As with so many other Arabic terms, such as "algebra," "alcohol," and "alcove," the definite article "al" is incorporated into the word in Western Usage, and Al-Qaeda means "The Base." Whether that means a military base or something more abstract such as a principle or an ethos is unclear. It is also uncertain whether the term was first used by terror groups of themselves and subsequently picked up by Western intelligence, or whether it was a Western coinage.
Of course, most people have heard of Al-Qaeda. I was never quite certain of what exactly it referred to. Now I know why.
Writing system for the blind.
In 1819, a young French artillery officer called Captain Charles Barbier de la Sierra became frustrated by the difficulty and dangers of trying to read orders at night without lighting a lantern and attracting enemy fire. He devised a code of embossed night-writing, which failed to attract any interest in military circles. However, Louis Braille (1809-52), a teacher at the French National Institute for Blind Children, saw the potential for Barbier's system of dot-clusters to revolutionize texts for the blind, which until then had been presented as rather clumsy raised letters.
I have also read another reference book by this author: Loose Cannons: 101 Myths, Mishaps and Misadventurers of Military History. That one had lots of facts about World War II history that were very interesting to me. Both of the books are small format and not too long. They are entertaining books that also educate.

My son discovered these books by Graeme Donald. He has also read The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln: and 44 other forgotten figures in history by this author.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Body in the Library: Agatha Christie

From the synopsis of the book at the official Agatha Christie website:
Dolly Bantry wakes in her beautiful home in the quiet village of St Mary Mead; everything is perfect until the shocking discovery of a body in the library. Who is the murdered young girl and who could possibly have killed her? Suspicion falls on Dolly’s husband, a man with a reputation as a flirt, who swears he never met the young woman – but why was she found in his library?
I read the first novel in the Miss Marple series (Murder at the Vicarage) in January. In that book, published in 1930, the story is told in first person narrative, by the vicar in St. Mary’s Mead. This second novel featuring Miss Marple was not published until twelve years later, although there was a book of short stories published in 1932.

In this novel, Christie uses the third person. Although I preferred the use of first person narrative in the first book, it would not have worked well for this one. The action starts in the Bantry's home, Gossington Hall, where the body is discovered. The police are called in and begin their investigation. The action moves to the Majestic Hotel at Danemouth, where the victim worked and was reported missing.

Dolly Bantry’s concern for her husband causes her to call in Miss Marple for help. Both of them know that it would hurt him to be suspected and shunned by the villagers, which will inevitably happen if they never catch the murderer. Even Sir Henry Clithering (retired from Scotland Yard) comments on Miss Marple’s ability to hone in on the culprit in such crimes.

He tells Conway Jefferson, who has called him in to help out with the investigation:
"Downstairs in the lounge, by the third pillar from the left, there sits an old lady with a sweet, placid spinsterish face, and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it as all in the day's work. Her name's Miss Marple. She comes from the village of St Mary Mead, which is a mile and a half from Gossington; she's a friend of the Bantrys, and where crime is concerned, she's the goods, Conway."
An interesting aspect in amateur detective mysteries is how much part the policemen play in the story. In this one, we get a lot of the back and forth between the various police officers, and are in on how the case is progressing. Miss Marple comes into the story later and sort of ties it all together. I think I like that more than amateur sleuths who are on their own. (Of course, it mainly depends on how well the story is told, in either case.)

I had inklings of who the culprit was about midway through, but was never sure. So far, I have found that Christie usually keeps me guessing until the end. Another mystery was how (and why) the body shows up in the library, and that was handled very well, also. Overall, another enjoyable read for me.

I  read this book for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, hosted by Mysteries In Paradise. If you are interested in joining in, here are instructions on how to do that. Links to other reviews for this month will be found here.

Also submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge (Serial Killers). Per Wikipedia:
The novel was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 10 May (Volume 213, Number 45) to 21 June 1941 (Volume 213, Number 51) with illustrations by Hy Rubin.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Forty Words for Sorrow: Giles Blunt

Description from the back cover of my paperback edition:
In the quiet Canadian town of Algonquin Bay, a frozen body has been found in an abandoned mine shaft. She is quickly identified as Katie Pine, a teenager who had disappeared months ago. At the time, Detective John Cardinal insisted that Katie was no ordinary runaway. His relentless pursuit and refusal to give up on the case got him demoted from Homicide. But now the Canadian police force wants Cardinal back on the case -- with a new associate by his side. And as these two untrusting partners gather evidence of a serial murder spree, a pair of sociopaths are closing in on their next victim...
There are two quotes on the front cover: "One of the finest crime novels I've ever read." (Jonathan Kellerman) and "The most horrifying story since The Silence of the Lambs" (Los Angeles Time). Both of these quotes are true (in my opinion) and they illustrate my problems with the novel. It was a compelling read but I often wanted to put it down and give up on it, due to the explicit nature of the descriptions of the crimes.

All the characters were well-defined, not just the main characters. A lot of police procedurals is visiting people for interviews, and all of those people seemed real, with their own problems and lives.

I enjoyed the setting. I read this book for the Canadian Book Challenge 6. The book is set in a small community in northern Canada. The author was raised in a similar town. Per the Wikipedia article about the author:
Blunt grew up in North Bay, and Algonquin Bay is North Bay very thinly disguised — for example, Blunt retains the names of major streets and the two lakes (Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing) that the town sits between, the physical layout of the two places is the same, and he describes Algonquin Bay as being in the same geographical location as North Bay.
For me, this book was much too graphic. The story is the hunt for a serial killer, and the descriptions of the crimes went into too much detail for my taste. There was one section on torture devices that I had to skip over.

Here we have another policeman with angst and family issues. The portrait of John Cardinal is so good that I really did not mind. He is not really damaged, he just has made mistakes and has a lot on his mind. I actually sympathized with his family issues, and felt they made the story stronger.

I have read criticisms that this is not really a whodunnit but a "whydunnit". To a certain extent this is true, although for at least the first third of the book we do not know the identity of the culprit. However, I like whydunnit style of mystery, so that worked fine for me.

I found this to be a very well-written novel with interesting characters, and I enjoyed most aspects of the book. I recommend it to any reader who likes serial killer thrillers and doesn't mind the graphic violence. And even if you don't usually go for that kind of book, I would give it a try. This book won the Silver Dagger awarded by the Crime Writers Association in 2001.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Loyal Servant: Eva Hudson

This book is a political thriller, not the type that I usually consider my first choice. I initially decided to read this book because it had a strong woman as protagonist. The setting is present day London, also a plus.

This book grabbed me and held my interest from the beginning. Unfortunately, I had to read it in too many chunks, and toward the end I stayed up too late to finish the book because I had to know how it ended. For a first novel, I thought it was very well done.

There are actually several strong women characters, but Caroline Barber and her family are definitely the focus of the book. Caroline has a job in the Ministry of Education and has access to sensitive data. She becomes a whistleblower for a government cover-up due to her strongly-held convictions. The story makes the reader ask questions about how much we owe to others, and how much we should risk to right wrongs.

My one quibble with the story, about midway through the book, was why the author was not providing more background on Carolyn's children and why Carolyn was not paying more attention to what is going on in her own household. Later, I decided that some answers are provided, and to a certain extent, the reader is left to decide this on their own.

I will admit that the very thrillerish ending seemed unrealistic. But to me, all thriller endings are unrealistic. I think it would make a great movie. Don’t want to say more than that. Regardless, I was enthralled to the end.

I discovered this book through Sarah at crimepieces, who recently reviewed the next in the series at her blog. Her review of this book is here.

This is the second e-book I have read this year. Still not loving the experience, but very glad we got the Kindle.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Detective: Parnell Hall

This is an easy review to write. I liked this book from beginning to end. And the more I find out about the author, the more I like him.

Stanley Hastings is a private detective, but really he has never done any detecting. Nor does he have any confidence in his ability to do so. What he does is pursue leads for an ambulance chaser lawyer.

So, when he is offered a real job, by a guy in trouble with drug dealers, he turns him down. And then, he inevitably gets involved in the case.

This is the second private detective novel I have read in a row, and both had humorous elements. This one is definitely intended to be funny.  I enjoyed Detective more for the story and Stanley's character. It is told in first person, which I like. Stanley has a lot of good luck, but he also has a lot more skill than he realizes.

Based on the bio at Mystery Writers of America, Parnell Hall is a versatile and interesting person. In addition to writing books and screenplays, he is an actor, and he has been a private detective.

At Mystery Fanfare, there is a video he put together which is very entertaining.

I would never had read this book if my husband had not discovered the series. Parnell Hall also writes the Puzzle Lady series, and my assumption was that I was not going to like anything he wrote. There, I have revealed my biases. I avoid cozy mystery series with a theme. This has caused me to miss good series (well, at least one) in the past and I should know better, but that bias is still there. (So if anyone has some suggestions for good, well-written cozy series with a theme that I may have mistakenly missed out on, please let me know.)

He discovered the book via the Kindle app, and that is a plus for buying an e-reader. I still am not really comfortable reading in e-format, but we sure have found a lot of new and old authors that way. He liked the book so much he bought a reasonably-priced hardcover edition, and also a hardcover of the second novel in the series, so you can see the Kindle is not keeping us from buying books.

Would I recommend this book?
Yes, with caveats. If you like light, humorous books and you don't mind strong language and somewhat graphic violence. There is not a lot of violence taking place on the page, but some of the crimes are unappealing. We are dealing with particularly vicious drug dealers here.

Will I read more of this series? Again, yes, with caveats. From reviews and descriptions of the books that I have read, I get the impression that Stanley doesn't change much over the series. I generally prefer growth and / or change in a series. I will definitely pursue this series, but if there is a lot of sameness to each story, I will put some time between each one. Which is fine, I have a lot of books to read.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reading in February and Pick of the Month

In February I read nine books, a very good reading month for me. I am reading more this year (so far). Again, this month I read a few non-mysteries. I read one book that is categorized as military science fiction: Old Man's War by John Scalzi. I read a classic of American literature: To Kill a Mockingbird. And I read an entertaining and informative non-fiction book: Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis: The Military Origins of Everyday Words and Phrases. I haven’t written a post for that last book, but I hope to find the time to do so, because it is a very good resource of interesting facts about words and history.

I have read six mysteries. My list includes only one vintage mystery this month. I read books by three authors that I have never read before (Mosley, Hall, and Bidulka).

The Last Houseparty by Peter Dickinson
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka
Detective by Parnell Hall

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. Check out the link to see the other bloggers picks.

I liked every mystery I read this month. But I did have two that stood about the rest.

Crooked House is an amazing Agatha Christie novel, with an ending that is surprising and shocking. It has so many aspects that I like: the setting, post-World War II, in London; a strong woman in a primary role; interesting characters. But it is Christie’s skill with the plotting that makes it very special.

The Tourist
by Olen Steinhauer is the start of a trilogy by an author I was already impressed with. This book is a spy thriller set in the present day; Steinhauer’s earlier books were part of a historical mystery series. I am happy to say that I enjoyed this book as much as his others.

So I split my vote for favorite mystery of the month between the two. I just can’t put one above the other. They are so different.