Monday, July 13, 2015

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

This one had been on my reading list for ages, and when I saw my library owned a digital copy I checked it out. It is a delightful mystery told in a nontraditional way, and I enjoyed it very much. A group of young lawyers is alarmed when one of their own is accused of murder while away on a vacation in Venice, and the story unfolds in a series of letters sent by their friend and accounts by other people who become involved.

Our main sleuth and first-person narrator is one Hilary Tamar - and it is never actually stated if Hilary is a man or a woman, which was kind of annoying but kind of fun. He or she is a law professor and, while he or she interacts with the others, acts more as an observer than anything else. This was a really fun read, a sort of Wodehousian mystery novel, with humor and heart, and I was so sad to see that the author has died, and that there are only four books in this series. The writing is truly delightful, and I’m very much looking forward to the next mystery in this series.

Books in the Hilary Tamar series:

1. Thus Was Adonis Murdered
2. The Shortest Way to Hades
3. The Sirens Sang of Murder
4. The Sibyl in Her Grave

Thus Was Adonis Murdered (#1 in the Hilary Tamar series) by Sarah Caudwell (Scribner, 1981)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dead Ice by Laurell Hamilton

It’s hard to believe that this is the 26th book in this series, which I started back when the first one was published in 1993. I continue to care about the characters, and the cast has grown enormously since the early days.

This series started out as one of the first urban fantasy/paranormal series out there, and I will forever be fond of Anita Blake, who is tough but not unbelievably so, and has been through some terrible things yet strives to maintain her ethical beliefs even as more and more difficult choices keep coming her way. I’m not sure that I would be as engaged by these books were I to pick a volume up at random, never having read any of them before, but since I’ve been with them from the beginning, the series has become a part of my life. It just doesn’t seem like summer until I’m sitting outside on my deck on a beautiful day, reading the latest Anita Blake novel.

In this installment, the mystery element involves someone raising zombies, putting their souls back inside the bodies, and turning them into slaves for adult movies. The mystery is pretty thin, and I found it fairly obvious who the perpetrator was. Perhaps Anita is slow on the uptake because of the usual upheaval in her always fascinating personal life. I didn’t really mind - it was Hamilton's usual gripping read with plenty of fun moments among characters I’ve known for decades. I’ll be looking forward to the next one!

Books in the Anita Blake series:1. Guilty Pleasures 
2. The Laughing Corpse
3. Circus of the Damned

4. The Lunatic Cafe 
5. Bloody Bones
6. The Killing Dance
7. Burnt Offerings
8. Blue Moon
9. Obsidian Butterfly
10. Narcissus in Chains

11. Cerulean Sins 
12. Incubus Dreams

13. Micah 
14. Danse Macabre
The Harlequin 
16. Blood Noir
17. Skin Trade
18. Flirt
19. Bullet
20. Hit List 
20.5 Beauty
21. Kiss the Dead
22. Affliction
22.5 Dancing
23. Jason
24. Dead Ice

Dead Ice (#24 in the Anita Blake series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2015)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

Wow! I just loved this graphic novel. Our heroine is a witch who finds herself out of work - the life of witch just isn't what it used to be. She ends up (with help from her familiar/dog) finding a job as the cafeteria lady at a nearby school.

Unfortunately, her secret identity is threatened by one of the students, a girl who needs some witchy assistance. The child threatens to blow the witch's cover if she doesn't do a spell for her. Fun and madcap high jinks ensue.

Great story, delightful characters, surprising plot - what's not to like? The illustrations are fantastic, too - the quirky style and monochromatic color scheme are a perfect fit for this engaging tale. Oh, and the bats. I love the bats! Check this one out. You won't regret it.

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke (Papercut, 2015)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Secret of the Haunted Mirror (The Three Investigators)

This was one of my favorite series when I was a kid - I liked it way better than the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I remember feeling wistful that there wasn't a female main character, but I did like the three boys, and I loved the California setting. It seemed so totally cool to me that the boys could take a bus into Hollywood when they were on a case.  And that they sometimes had a limousine and driver at their disposal! They were so independent and clever, and the mysteries were interesting and evocative.

This one is about a woman who collects mirrors, and when a friend gives her an antique mirror that used to belong to a stage magician, strange and dangerous things start to happen.

It's been ages since I've ready any of the books in this series, and I was a little worried they wouldn't hold up to my fond memories of them. But this one certainly did. They are not big on characterization, but the plot is action-packed and the setting was as fun as I remembered.

The Secret of the Haunted Mirror (#21 in the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series) by M. V. Carey (Random House, 1974)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Finnikin of the Rock by Marlena Marchetta

This is the best fantasy novel I have ready since Graceling.  I have read so much traditional/high fantasy in my life that it really takes something different, something gripping that is well written withe complex, sympathetic characters to hold my attention. Finnikin of the Rock has all that and more. While the main character is male, the female characters, particularly that of the mysterious Evanjalin, are strong, inspiring and admirable. This is a gripping tale that pulls no punches, and explores the best and worst of humankind the way only exceptional fantasy novels can.  Highly recommended.

Books in the Lumatere Chronicles:
1. Finnikin of the Rock
2. Froi of the Exiles
3. Quintana of Charyn

Finnikin of the Rock (#1 in the Lumatere Chronicles) by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick Press, 2008)

Also by Melina Marchetta: Jellicoe Road

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

Happy New Year, everyone! One of my resolutions is to be a little more regular in keeping up this blog. Life is so busy these days, but I'm going to try.

This book is the current pick of my elementary-age book club that I've been leading at my library for over a year now (our one-year anniversary was in September). I offer up two choices, and the kids vote for their favorite, and this is the one they picked (over Madelene L'Engle's Meet the Austins, another favorite of mine).

Basically I read the book to the kids (age 9-11), and when the hour is up, I stop reading. If they are enjoying the book, they can check out one from the pile of copies I've placed on hold from around the library system. We don't spend too much time talking about the books the following month - just enough for them to chat about whatever they feel inspired to. I am not one (having taught English) to suck the joy out of books by dissecting them into a tedious compilation of symbols and foreshadowing and theme - it's just a relaxed conversation, if they'd like to have it. At any rate, I read this one to them and, even though it was written in the 40s, I could see that it still captivates after all this time. I remembered enjoying it when I was a child, although I couldn't remember much about it.

The story is about four children, two brothers and two sisters, living in New York City in the 40s. There are a lot of interesting details about life in the 40s - the coal furnace, the war, etc., which the book club children found pretty interesting. The four protagonists range in age from six to thirteen, and the story opens on a rainy Saturday where they just can't find anything interesting to do. One of the sisters comes up with a plan in which each Saturday they pool their allowance money, which doesn't stretch very far on its own, and they take turns using the money to have their own personal adventure - going to a museum, or the theater, or exploring the city.

I could tell that my book club kids were wistfully amazed that these young children were allowed to go off on their own in the middle of New York City (with such warnings as not to talk to strangers, not to get run over, and to talk to a policeman if they lost their way). I remembered feeling the same way reading the book as a child. What fun! Each child decides on his or her Saturday adventure, but they usually end up having a surprise or two along the way, and the adventure turns out to be something they never expected. Enright has a way of painting vivid pictures with her words, something that the book club kids noticed as I read to them, so that some fairly long descriptive passages really held everyone's attention. This is a truly enjoyable classic, and I look forward to rereading the rest of the books in the Melendy Quartet.

Books in the Melendy Quartet: 
1. The Saturdays
2. Four-Story Mistake
3. Then There Were Five
4. Spiderweb for Two

The Saturdays (#1 in the Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright (Henry Hold and Company, 1941)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kitty's Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn

I continue to enjoy this series about radio host/werewolf Kitty Norville, with its interesting long-term narrative arc that carries throughout the series, as well as each individual book's self-contained mystery. In this installment, Kitty is thinking about the use of werewolves in military situations, after having experienced such use firsthand in the previous book. She uncovers some interesting information about Wyatt Earp, and then is called to San Francisco to help out in an apparently unconnected situation involving some vampires.

This series is best read in order, as the characters and their situations change and develop from one book to the next.  There is humor, peril, solid world-building, memorable characters, mystery, and a little romance. I tend to save up these books as I do J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas books, for when I want a dependable, gripping read.

Books in the Kitty Norville series:
 1. Kitty and the Midnight Hour
2. Kitty Goes to Washington 
3. Kitty Takes a Holiday
4. Kitty and the Silver Bullet
5. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
6. Kitty Raises Hell
 Kitty's House of Horrors
8. Kitty Goes to War
9. Kitty's Big Trouble
9.5. Kitty's Greatest Hits (short story collection)
10. Kitty Steals the Show
11. Kitty Rocks the House
12. Kitty in the Underworld
13. Low Midnight
14. Kitty Saves the World

Kitty's Big Trouble (#9 in the Kitty Norville series) by Carrie Vaughn (Tor, 2011)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tempt the Stars by Karen Chance

This is one of my current favorite series, and whenever a new book comes out, I'm always very excited to get to it - but want to wait as long as possible before I give in and read it, because then I'm stuck waiting for the next installment to be published.  I enjoy this series in particular because it features supernatural elements that are fresh and unusual - such as the heroine's ability, as Pythia, to time travel and influence the time stream - as well as some more typical elements - such as vampires - that are presented in a fresh, unusual, interesting way. Not the same old, same old, which is always nice.

This book proceeds at the usual breakneck pace, full of adventure, peril, humor and new insights into Cassie's world and the characters there. The structure of the novel didn't feel as unified as usual - there are many loose ends and unexplored things that will, presumably, be addressed in future installments. I did enjoy the trip to the demon realms and seeing a new side of Pritkin, and it was great to see Cassie coming to terms with her powers and her responsibilities. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book. Fans of Laurell Hamilton and Patricia Briggs would be likely to enjoy this series, too.

Books in the Cassandra Palmer series:
 1. Touch the Dark 
Claimed by Shadow 
3. Embrace the Night
4. Curse the Dawn

5. Hunt the Moon
6. Tempt the Stars
7. Reap the Wind

Tempt the Stars (#6 in the Cassandra Palmer series) by Karen Chance (Signet Select, 2013)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint

This book is a retelling, with quite a bit more detail, of the story in the picture book A Circle of Cats, and happily it also is graced by Charles Vess's lovely illustrations.

Our heroine is 12-year-old Lillian, who is bitten by a poisonous snake. The wild cats of the forest, who care about her because she is always kind to them, manage to save her life - but the only way they can succeed in doing so is by turning her into a kitten. The book tells of Lillian's quest to turn back into a girl and be reunited with her grandmother, who is heartbroken by Lillian's unexplained absence.

I enjoyed this book, as I do all of de Lint's stories, particularly its evocative atmosphere, a tale steeped in folklore and magic. The illustrations are gorgeous - and I was lucky enough to see some of the original artwork in person when I attended the World Fantasy Convention just a few weeks ago. This lovely book would make a great read-aloud or children's book group choice.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint (Hachette Book Group, 2013)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist

Four teenage girls live on a tiny, isolated island. One is blonde, one brunette, one ginger, and one has black hair; but other than that, they are identical. Veronika, the redhead, narrates the story, telling how the girls' days are spent the same peaceful way, taking lessons from their teachers, two adults who are the only others who live on the island. They take walks around the island, carefully noticing the tiniest details about everything they encounter, talking with their teachers and among themselves until it is time for them to go to sleep - which entails the simple matter of their teacher pressing a button behind their ears.

Life passes in this way, full of sameness and predictability, until May, a girl who washes up on the beach following a shipwreck, appears in their lives. May has a lot of questions about the girls, the imperative for absolute secrecy that surrounds them, and she makes them think about things they have never before considered, first and foremost that their life on the island isn't as safe and peaceful as they have been led to believe.

This is a fascinating story, particularly in the way that it is told from Veronika's limited point of view. The reader only knows what Veronika sees and thinks, but there is so much more happening that it is necessary to draw inferences from Veronika's words and try to understand things that she cannot yet comprehend. It is an effective means of storytelling, but some readers my be a little frustrated at the end of the novel because there are so many unanswered questions - which would make this a good choice for a group read. There is a lot to talk about here.

I do not know if Dahlquist has plans for a sequel, but there is certainly a lot more of this story that could be told. I plan to include this book among my summer reading choices for next year, when I go to schools to book talk possible reading choices. It should appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic fiction as well as to those who enjoy a thoughtful character-driven story.

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist (Dutton Books, 2013)