CBL's Bonus Reads

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CBL's Bonus Reads

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Oct 10, 2011, 10:25pm

I'll be finished with my 11 in 11 challenge soon, but I plan to stick around for the rest of the year. I'll list the rest of my 2011 reads here. I don't think I'm going to create any categories. I'll just read whatever interests me. A lot of my reads will fill in other challenges. I have one book left in my 50 states challenge. I'll read two or three books each month for the Reading Through Time Challenge, and hopefully a few for the Europe Endless Challenge. December will be mostly holiday reading.

Oct 10, 2011, 10:27pm

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

New Orleans, 1833. African American musician and ex-physician Benjamin January discovers a woman's murdered body at one of the quadroon balls leading up to Mardi Gras. January was one of the last people to see her alive. He would prefer not to be involved at all, but since pinning the murder on January would solve a lot of problems for the white authorities, he must find the real murderer to keep himself from being hanged for it. His hunt for the murderer endangers both his freedom and his life.

This first book in Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series was educational as well as entertaining. It was interesting to read about the caste structure in antebellum New Orleans, and the disruption caused by the encroachment of Americans and their value system. There was a surprising plot twist at the end that seemed out of place for 1833, and it caused me to lower my rating. I still enjoyed the book, though, and I've added the next one to my reading wish list.

3 1/2 stars

Editado: Oct 23, 2011, 8:47pm

I'm planning to read several books with a holiday theme in December. Now I'm also planning on books set in or about Mexico since it looks like I'll be spending Christmas there with my sister-in-law's family.

Christmas books:
No Clue at the Inn by Kate Kingsbury
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
Shepherd's Abiding by Jan Karon
The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb
A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

Mexico books:
Dead to Rites by Sylvia Angus
Curses! by Aaron Elkins
The Last Mayan by Malcolm Shuman
Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Oct 12, 2011, 12:52pm

That sounds like a lovely Christmas holiday, Carrie! And a great list of books to go with it!

Oct 12, 2011, 2:36pm

I hope you enjoy your Christmas in Mexico. I would love to travel at Christmas, but whenever I mention it my family looks at me in horror. I guess they aren't ready to cook their own Christmas dinner yet!

I am planning on reading An Irish Country Christmas as well, and I might also add Hercule Poirot's Christmas, as I am always ready for an Agatha Christie mystery.

Oct 12, 2011, 8:18pm

We have friends who go to Mexico every Christmas and absolutely love it. I would love to go with them sometime, but my husband seems attached to going to his mother's house every year...

Oct 12, 2011, 8:29pm

I've spent Christmas in Mexico once before with my sister-in-law's family and I loved it. We spent 3 nights in Cancun, then drove to Merida and stayed several nights in bungalows with a central pool area. Several of my sister-in-law's siblings live in the Yucatan Peninsula, so when my brother and sister-in-law go to Mexico for Christmas, it's usually somewhere in that region.

I need to practice my Spanish before I go. Most of the family members who will be at this year's gathering don't speak English.

Oct 12, 2011, 10:14pm

I'll be spending Christmas with family as well. I think this will be the 4th year that I'm the chef. I'm just glad I love to cook! I'm cooking for Thanksgiving also.

Oct 16, 2011, 8:24pm

Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson

Classics scholar Lionel Casson uses references in classical literature, archaeological remains, and ancient inscriptions to construct a history of the world's earliest libraries. Casson describes libraries in ancient Near Eastern kingdoms, in the Greek world, and in the Roman world. The earliest libraries seem to have been utilitarian, with collections consisting mainly of administrative records, along with a few religious texts.

For the most part, the text is interesting and readable. While the content is useful to subject specialists, it's written at a level that non-specialists can understand and appreciate. The black and white illustrations nicely complement the text. However, I struggled through the descriptions of the dimensions of the buildings based on the archaeological remains. I'm spatially challenged anyway, and it didn't help that the measurements were given in meters rather than yards. Comparisons to familiar buildings of approximately the same size would have been a help to me.

This seems to be the definitive work on ancient libraries, and it should be the starting point for readers with an interest in this topic.

4 stars

Oct 16, 2011, 8:32pm

The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson (audio version)

The Murder of King Tut is intended to be a non-fiction explanation of James Patterson's theory about the mysterious death of the Egyptian Pharaoh, but it reads like a novel. He moves back and forth among three stories: the ancient story, a biography of Howard Carter, and first-person reflections on the inspiration for the book and the process of research and writing. The short chapters usually end with a cliff-hanger to keep the reader's attention engaged. It has more sensation than substance. I'd recommend it for its entertainment value, but not as a serious work of history.

2 1/2 stars

Oct 23, 2011, 9:25pm

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

This is my favorite book yet in the Jackson Brodie series. Once again, coincidences spiral, connecting Brodie with people who need his help. This time, it's 16-year-old Reggie Chase, who is worried when her employer, Dr. Hunter, disappears with her baby. When she can't convince the police that Dr. Hunter is in danger, she turns to Brodie for help. He owes her.

Reggie's character is what set the book apart for me. Reggie is a survivor. She's streetwise, bright, and ambitious, and she finds ways to make herself indispensable to the few people she cares about. I loved Reggie's interaction with Brodie. She's several years older than Brodie's daughter, and the dynamic of their relationship suggests what Jackson's relationship with his daughter could become down the road. One feature of this series is the reappearance of characters from earlier novels. I hope Reggie is one of the characters who will show up again.

4 1/2 stars

Oct 24, 2011, 10:00am

The series does get better and better. I'm holding off as long as I can on reading Started Early, Took My Dog, but now that Case Histories is being televised, it won't be long.

Oct 24, 2011, 7:37pm

>15 RidgewayGirl: I'm enjoying the Masterpiece episodes based on the series. I thought the first episode was a better adaptation than last night's episode. Somehow the TV adaptation seemed more conventional than the novel.

Oct 24, 2011, 7:38pm

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

Once again murder disrupts Hercule Poirot's vacation. This time, he's in the Middle East. He first encounters the victim and several suspects in their Jerusalem hotel. Mrs. Boynton is more than just the stereotypical obnoxious American tourist. She's a tyrant who takes pleasure in manipulating the lives of her daughter and step-children. In some ways, it's not a surprise when Mrs. Boynton is murdered during an excursion to Petra. Did she push her children too far? Or could someone else in the party have had a motive for murdering the woman?

While some of the plot elements are similar to her other books, Christie adds some different twists. Even though I had read the book before, I had forgotten the culprit's identity, and Christie fooled me this time. The book is full of suspects and red herrings, yet the significant clues were delivered in a way that didn't raise my suspicion. This is a characteristic I take for granted in Christie's mysteries, but it's something a lot of other mystery writers don't manage to do.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 25, 2011, 5:30pm

One thing I really like about the TV adaptation of Case Histories is the sound track. I discovered today that Kate Atkinson has downloadable playlists for Case Histories and One Good Turn on her website. She mentions that she creates a playlist for each book that she writes. Louise Penny talks about doing the same thing on her blog. I wonder how many other authors use music as an inspiration while they write?

Oct 30, 2011, 4:49pm

Orchestrated Murder by Rick Blechta

Detective Pratt's love of classical music earns him an assignment to investigate the murder of conductor Luigi Spadafini. He has plenty of suspects since the whole orchestra has confessed to the murder. Who are they trying to protect?

This book is part of the publisher's Rapid Reads collection, and, as promised, it can be read in one sitting of under an hour. It is more like a short story than a novel. I'm not sure how much the book will appeal to adults who struggle with literacy. Is classical music and its performance a high-interest topic for the majority in the target group? I do think it would be useful for many ESL learners. It also has appeal for crime readers who enjoy reading short stories or novellas.

Music is one of my special interests, and I enjoy reading mysteries that involve the music world. The author is a musician and has written other novels, including one that was shortlisted for the Ellis Award. I'm happy for the opportunity to discover a new-to-me author, and I've already added another of his books to my wish list.

This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 30, 2011, 9:32pm

Since you like books involving music, have you considered reading Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace? I read it this year and it was one of those books that I wasn't sure I loved while I was reading it, but I ended up thinking about it a lot after finishing it. It's a book about a composer whose life parallels Carlos Gesauldo's, a real renaissance composer, told by a music critic. You might enjoy it.

Oct 30, 2011, 10:12pm

>20 japaul22: Thanks for the recommendation! It looks like a book I would enjoy reading. I checked my public library's catalog and they have a copy, so I've added to my library TBR list.

Oct 31, 2011, 2:55pm

Maybe, you'll also like The Secret (Het geheim) by Anna Enquist. Apparently, it's not on LT yet in the English version, but it's available in English through Amazon. It's about a pianist, finding out about her past. Not really a detective, but an introspective read about finding one's roots.

Oct 31, 2011, 8:31pm

>22 Trifolia: Thanks for the recommendation! It does sound like a book I might like. I found a very inexpensive copy on Amazon and it's on its way to me.

Nov 1, 2011, 2:57am

Wow, talking about confidence :-) In case you're interested, here's the link to what I mentioned about it when I read it last year (no spoilers): http://www.librarything.com/topic/92190#2203454

Nov 2, 2011, 9:07pm

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

The bodies of two murdered men turn up in a lifeboat on Sweden's coast. Who were these men, where did they come from, who killed them, and why were they killed? Those are questions that detective Kurt Wallander and his colleagues must answer. The investigation ultimately takes him to Latvia, a country just emerging from decades of Soviet control. As he pursues leads in Latvia, he senses that he's being manipulated, but he's not sure who is doing the manipulating. He's suspicious of everyone, and his life as well as others may depend on who he chooses to trust.

The book has all of the tension of a cold war drama. It was written during Latvia's transition from Soviet control to independence when it wasn't yet clear whose vision for the country would prevail. This is the first book I've read in the series (although I've seen several episodes of the TV adaptation), and some aspects of the book were different than I expected. One thing that surprised me was the absence, for the most part, of strong language. I had mistakenly formed a “tough guy” impression of Wallander from things I had heard about the books. What I discovered instead is a character who thinks more than he speaks.

I listened to the audio version of the book. I thought it was odd that the reader's accent sounded American, yet the English translation uses British English. I noticed that Wallander bought “petrol” rather than “gas”, and he lived in a “flat” rather than an “apartment”. I would have preferred listening to British English read by someone with a British accent.

This is the second book in the series, and there are several references to incidents from the first book in the series. Most readers would probably want to be familiar with the events of the first book before reading this one. I haven't read the first book in the series, but I had seen the TV adaptation, and that was sufficient for me to understand the references to the crime in the first book.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 2, 2011, 9:20pm

In a Monastery Library by Scot McKendrick

This introduction to Codex Sinaiticus is about the length of a journal article. It can be read from cover to cover in well under an hour. The mostly color illustrations illustrate various features of the text and its history. The book was written shortly after the four repositories housing parts of the Codex formed a partnership to produce both a printed facsimile and a digital reproduction of the Codex. I suspect that this book helped with the funding for that project. I'm sure it was useful for educating potential donors. Readers who want to know the basic facts about the Codex will find them here. Readers interested in a more detailed study of the Codex will find good suggestions for further reading in the bibliography included in the book.

4 stars

Nov 8, 2011, 9:57pm

Buttons and Bones by Monica Ferris (audio version)

A weekend in their new cabin at the lake with Lars and Jill Cross Larson and their children sounds like just the thing to take Betsy's mind off of a spat with her new beau. With Betsy along, Jill shouldn't have been surprised when she discovered a skeleton in a hidden trap door underneath the cabin's kitchen. The damage to the skull suggests murder, and evidence indicates that the remains had been sealed in the cellar since World War II. But whose remains are they? The cabin's original owner, who went AWOL during the war? An escapee from a local German POW camp who was never caught? Or is it a missing relative of a subsequent owner, presumed to have run away from home? Are Betsy's amateur sleuthing skills up to the challenge of a decades old cold case?\

Jill is one of my favorite characters in the series, and I've missed her as she's had a more minor role in several of the recent books. Jill and Betsy make a great team. Their research strategy included several types of records I use for family history research, such as property records and newspaper archives. I'm interested in learning more about the German POW camps from World War II, so that aspect of the story appealed to me as well. Some readers may be disappointed that needlework doesn't have as prominent a role in this book as it does in most books in the series. I think this one could be read as a stand-alone, and readers who don't mind reading series books out of order could easily start with this one.

4 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 5:28pm

Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg

In this first book based on the TV series Monk, Mr. Monk takes on a case for a very important client – Julie Teeger, the daughter of Monk's assistant, Natalie. Julie is heartbroken after she learns about the murder of the fire department's dog, who made regular visits to Julie's school. Why would someone want to kill a dog? Monk may be the only person obsessive enough to find out.

Monk is one of my favorite television series. Although I still enjoy watching reruns, I miss having new episodes to watch. The book series offers an opportunity to share new adventures with the characters I love so much. The book is narrated from Natalie's perspective. Next to Monk, Natalie is my favorite character, so this suits me just fine. I wish that Traylor Howard, the TV Natalie, could have narrated the audio version so that Natalie's voice would sound like it should. I think if I had read rather than listened to the book, I would have heard Traylor Howard's voice in my head.

The plot in this book seemed both familiar and unfamiliar. I remembered a TV episode involving a firehouse, but the plot was different. Apparently the book was adapted as an episode in the television series. The book and the TV episode are different enough that neither version will be a spoiler for the other one.

4 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 6:03pm

An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor

Newly qualified doctor Barry Laverty had a successful month working under Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly in the Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo. O'Reilly seems to be ready to offer Dr. Laverty a permanent position in his small practice. However, repercussions from a case gone wrong may damage Dr. Laverty's reputation in the village beyond repair. The results of a postmortem will either condemn or exonerate him. Meanwhile, Dr. Laverty's interest in Patricia continues to grow, but there's a problem. Patricia's got her heart set on winning a scholarship to Cambridge, far away from tiny Ballybucklebo.

This book picks up right where the first book ended. In fact, the action starts on the morning after the last scene in the first book. Several of the patient visits are follow-ups to visits in the previous book. It had been a couple of years since I read the first book, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to read the second one. I had forgotten some of the details that it would helped to have had fresh in my memory. This series is a good choice for readers looking for nostalgic comfort. To get the most out of it, the books need to be read in order and fairly close together.

4 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 6:28pm

A Common Life by Jan Karon

A Common Life is a step back chronologically in the Mitford series. It tells the story of Father Tim and Cynthia's wedding, from the proposal to the honeymoon. Now that the series is complete, readers have a choice between reading in chronological order and in publication order. I'm glad I'm reading in publication order, since this book allowed me to spend time with characters who passed away later in the series, and to remember just how much Dooley Barlowe has matured over the course of the series. If you're new to the series, this isn't the place to start. First get to know Father Tim, Cynthia, and the residents of Mitford in other books in the series, and then you'll be ready to celebrate with them.

4 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 7:10pm

The Quick and the Thread by Amanda Lee

Marcy Singer allows herself to be persuaded by her best friend to leave her corporate job in San Francisco and open a needlework shop in Tallulah Falls, Oregon. Her opening day takes an unexpected turn when she discovers the murdered body of the shop's former tenant in the storeroom. He had just enough time before his death to leave a cryptic message. Even though the message makes no sense to Marcy, the fact that she's seen it puts her in danger. Will she get to the bottom of the mystery in time to save herself from becoming the next victim?

This is a promising start for a cozy series. The characters and setting are appealing. I'm partial to the librarian who is one of the secondary characters in the series. Marcy didn't do a lot of the foolish things that get many cozy heroines into trouble, and she viewed the police as allies rather than adversaries. This is a series I'm sure I'll continue to read.

Readers hoping for a read-alike for Monica Ferris's Crewel World series should be aware that needlework isn't as integral to the plot in this series.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 7:33pm

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

WWI nurse Bess Crawford has a few precious hours to spend in London before returning to France from transport duty. After leaving her patient in a Hampshire hospital, Bess is startled to see his wife with another man in a London train station. She's seen the woman's picture every day, so she can't be mistaken. When Bess learns that the woman was murdered later that day, and that Scotland Yard has no leads in the case, Bess feels obligated to share what she knows with the investigators. Bess was perhaps the last person to see the woman before her murder, and she stubbornly persists in tracking down information that will explain the reason for the murder and identify the killer.

I really liked the first book in the series, and I expected this book to be more of the same. However, Bess's character seemed different this time. In the first book, she had a good reason for becoming involved in the investigation. This time, she just seemed nosy, and a bit spoiled by her parents and family friend, Simon. Her relationship with Simon reminded me of Jane Austen's Emma and Mr. Knightly. The age difference between Simon and Bess is similar to that between Mr. Knightly and Emma, and Simon behaves toward Bess much like Knightly behaves toward Emma. I hope that Simon will be the good influence for Bess that Knightly was for Emma.

I plan to continue reading this series, but with lowered expectations.

3 stars

Nov 10, 2011, 7:51pm

Curses! by Aaron Elkins

During the winter break, Professor Gideon Oliver and his wife Julie jump at an opportunity to join an archaeological project in Yucatán. Five years earlier, Gideon had been part of a project at the same location that went terribly wrong. After a rare Mayan codex was discovered at the site, both the codex and the project leader had disappeared. The reopening of the site gave several members of the earlier team an opportunity to redeem their reputations. One of the new team's first discoveries is a Mayan curse on those who would disturb the site. Soon, things start to go very wrong, just as the curse predicted. Do the events really have a supernatural origin, or is someone very human behind them?

I picked this one up mainly for the atmosphere and setting. I spent several days in Yucatán a few years ago, and I'm planning another trip soon. This book gave me just what I was looking for – a decent mystery mixed with adventure and a strong sense of place. Gideon successfully solved the mystery, so I won't need to worry about the curses befalling me on my next visit to Yucatán!

3 1/2 stars

Nov 11, 2011, 1:16pm

>28 cbl_tn: I loved the Mr Monk tv series, too. Since Natalie is in the book, I'm guessing that the books were written after the tv series had begun? I think I need to try this series!

>32 cbl_tn: That's disappointing, Carrie! I'm planning to start this series soon.

Nov 11, 2011, 5:39pm

Ivy, I think the book series began several years into the TV series, and it has continued after the series ended. I think the book I listened to was written shortly before the TV episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing", which was a season 5 episode. I think Julie was 13 in this book, and she was driving by the time the TV series ended. Also, Dr. Kroger was still living. The author of the books was one of the show's writers, so he has a good feel for the characters and their personality quirks.

Nov 12, 2011, 11:23am

Yowzers! That's a lot of books :)

Nov 12, 2011, 11:31am

I've been about 10 days-2 weeks behind on reviewing since my father's illness and death in August/September. I'm finally caught up.

Nov 20, 2011, 5:50pm

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

I read this collection of essays as a companion to the 50 states reading challenge. After I completed a book for a state, I read the essay about that state. Although it took more than two years to read the book that way, I think the pace was suited to the nature of the book. It's the sort of book you periodically dip into,rather than one you read in the span of a few days.

The book was inspired by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration. The editors commissioned essays on each state, instructing the writers to “Tell us a story about your state, the more personal the better, something that catches the essence of the place...The kind of story the enlisted soldier tells his boot-camp bunkmate about back home.” The authors followed these instructions. The only similarity among the essays is their length. The content highlights the diversity that still exists in the U.S.

A few of the essays were so negative that they quenched any desire I might have had to visit that state. Other essays made me want to hop in the car and head for that state to experience what the author had experienced there. My favorite essays include “Georgia” by Ha Jin, “Missouri” by Jacki Lyden, “New York” by Jonathan Franzen, and “Ohio” by Susan Orlean.

There's enough variety in the collection that there is surely something that will appeal to every reader. It would be a great gift, especially for those hard to buy for people on your gift list.

4 stars

Nov 20, 2011, 7:46pm

The secret adventures of Charlotte Brontë by Laura Joh Rowland

It's a good thing I listened to this on audio instead of reading a print book. I'm not generally a book flinger, but had I been reading this one in print, there were several points in the book that would have found me hurling the book across the room. I was tempted to abandon this several times, but my stubbornness kept me listening to the end.

I love Stephanie Barron's series of Jane Austen mysteries based on the idea that Austen's letters to her sister weren't destroyed but hidden. The premise of this book sounded similar, but its execution is very different. Barron sets her Jane Austen mysteries in locations where Austen was known to have been at the time, and her Jane seems to be consistent with Jane Austen's personality as revealed in her writings and by her biographers. I can't say the same about Laura Joh Rowland's Charlotte Brontë. Her Charlotte is impulsive, lacks willpower, and is a poor judge of character. Most of the time I didn't like her very much.

I might have liked this one a bit more if I had read it rather than listened to it. I think the reader went too far with the melodrama. It would have been fine in its place, when the characters are faced with immediate danger. The constant tension in the reader's voice was just tiresome.

There is a second book in this series, but I won't be reading it. One is more than enough for me.

2 stars

Nov 20, 2011, 8:30pm

The Quilter's Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini

The 10th book in the Elm Creek Quilts series tells the story of Sylvia Bergstrom's cousin Elizabeth in the early months of her marriage to Henry Nelson. It's 1925, and Henry has purchased a ranch in California where he and Elizabeth will make their new home. They spend their honeymoon on a cross-country journey, and learn upon their arrival that Henry has been swindled. Their relationship will be tested over the next several months as they work as hired hands on the land they thought they owned. A parallel story at the end of each chapter tells the history of several generations of the original landowner's family.

The historical novels in this series are usually my favorites, but I didn't like this one as much as the others. Elizabeth was introduced in The Christmas Quilt through Sylvia's memories of her much older cousin. In that book, readers see Elizabeth through the lens of Sylvia's hero worship. I looked forward to reading this book to find out what happened to the cousin Sylvia loved so much. However, the Elizabeth in this book isn't the Elizabeth on Sylvia's pedestal. She's a bit spoiled and a bit selfish at the beginning of the book. She's a Bergstrom, though, and she grows through her adversity. I liked her a lot more at the end of the book than I did at the beginning.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 20, 2011, 9:07pm

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I've enjoyed getting to know budding chemist Flavia de Luce in Alan Bradley's series of mysteries set in 1950s England. This is the best book yet in the series. The de Luce family's financial worries continue. In order to bring in some needed funds, Flavia's father rents most of the manor for use as a location for a film company. The cast and crew arrive just days before Christmas. Meanwhile, Flavia's older sisters have her doubting Santa's existence, and Flavia is concocting a grand scheme to catch Santa in the act. The murder of the film's unlikeable star threatens to halt both the filming and Christmas.

Bradley captures just the right blend of humor, nostalgia, and pathos. It's apparent that Flavia, her father, and her sisters, are still grieving the loss of Harriet, their mother/wife. They're so focused on what they've lost that they fail to appreciate what they have left. Flavia has matured just a bit over the course of the series, and she's beginning to realize that others in her family, and particularly her father, are just as lonely as she is. I think Flavia's daydreams may be contagious. I find myself dreaming that Harriet, presumed dead for 10 years, will suddenly reappear like Doris Day in Move Over, Darling. Meanwhile, I'll keep reading the series to see what new challenges Flavia will tackle.

This review is based on an advance readers copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

5 stars

Nov 20, 2011, 9:45pm

I always love reading reviews for Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. This book is next on my reading list and two good reviews posted here on LT by readers I follow has me smiling happily in anticipation!

Nov 20, 2011, 10:13pm

If you're already a fan of the series I think you'll really like this one!

Nov 21, 2011, 11:51am

>41 cbl_tn: Nice review, Carrie! I'm glad to hear this one is so good! I read (and liked) the first one, but haven't gotten back to the series. Maybe I can catch up next year and read this one next Christmas!

Nov 21, 2011, 3:14pm

Reading State by State must have been a wonderful addition to your 50 States Reading Challenge, Carrie. A great idea.

I also must get back to the Flavia series!

Nov 23, 2011, 12:59pm

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I'm going to a friend's house so I did all the cooking I need to do last night. I made a flan using my Mexican sister-in-law's recipe.

I probably won't get a lot of reading done over the next couple of days except for the audiobooks I'll listen to in the car. Last night I started listening to A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. I've got The Murder of the Century ready to go after that. I'll probably start it on the return trip.

Nov 30, 2011, 5:44pm

The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

I had overdosed a bit on cozy/comfort reads, so the sarcastically witty The Terra-Cotta Dog was just what I needed to add some excitement to my reading. While following a lead that might result in the capture of the head of a criminal organization, Inspector Montalbano ends up discovering a 50-year-old murder from World War II. Montalbano is much more interested in the historical puzzle than in the more recent crimes on his plate, and this frustrates both his superiors and his subordinates.

This book revealed a new aspect of Montalbano's character. He's a reader, and the books he's currently reading, other books he's read, bookstores, and libraries all work their way into the story. In that respect, he reminds me of P.D. James's Adam Dalgliesh and Louise Penny's Armand Gamache.

Although this series is a little coarser than the types of mysteries I usually read, it's one I'm sure I'll return to periodically when I'm in the mood for something a little outside of my comfort zone.

4 stars

Nov 30, 2011, 6:28pm

The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry

The Girls of Murder City tells the story of several women accused of murder and held in the women's section of the Cook County jail in 1924 Chicago. It also tells the story of Maurine Watkins, a rookie reporter who makes a name for herself through her coverage of these women, their crimes, and their trials. Watkins later turned her experiences into the play Chicago, which in turn became the basis for the musical and film of the same title.

I picked this up because of my interest in Maurine Watkins and her background as the daughter of a Disciples of Christ minister. However, the book quickly skims over Watkins's life prior to her arrival in Chicago, as well as her life after writing the play.

The book's structure is a little problematic. Leopold and Loeb weren't girls, yet part of the book focuses on their crime and its media coverage. It's included because this crime became the top news story, forcing continuing coverage of the murdering women out of the top headlines.

Overall, the book seems to be carefully researched and well documented. However, I did spot one error. The author states that one of the women in jail for murder, Sabella Nitti, “would be the first woman ever to hang in Illinois.” Most readers probably wouldn't question that statement. However, several generations of my father's family lived in Lawrence County, Illinois, where Elizabeth Reed was the first woman to hang in Illinois in 1845.

Recommended for readers interested in Chicago's history, true crime readers, and fans of the movie or musical.

4 stars

Nov 30, 2011, 8:23pm

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

I've read several of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but not the novel that started it all – until now. It was interesting to find out how Holmes and Watson met, and to have Watson confide his first impression of Holmes to the reader. Although Watson was initially skeptical of Holmes's claims about his own deductive abilities, his opinion changes as events unfold that confirm Holmes's deductions. The western segment of the novel was a surprise. Readers who like both classic mysteries and westerns are in for a treat!

3 1/2 stars

Nov 30, 2011, 8:53pm

Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn

Even though Daisy Dalrymple is the daughter of a viscount, she's trying to earn her living by writing stories about the rich and famous for a magazine. Her first assignment at Wentwater Court is going smoothly until one of her fellow guests is found dead, having fallen through the ice while skating on the frozen pond. Was it a tragic accident, or was the hateful man murdered?

This delightful cozy mystery has an undercurrent of sadness. The series begins in early 1923, just a few years after the First World War. Many of the characters, Daisy included, lost loved ones during the war, and the social conventions are undergoing a transformation. Daisy seems to be ready to move on with her life, and she's thinking more about the future than the past. Daisy had a good reason to become involved with the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death, unlike many other cozy heroines. She was helpful to Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, and the pair worked well together. I could see their relationship becoming similar to that of Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. I'm looking forward to reading more of their adventures.

3 1/2 stars

Dic 13, 2011, 6:58am

This has been a slow reading month so far. I've managed to finish 3 audiobooks while working on various holiday activities (planning music for church, making cookies, going out on shopping excursions, preparing for holiday travel). With a little effort, I might be able to finish a print book this evening...

I'm currently working on an ARC of Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice by David Teems as well as one of my Christmas books, An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor. I finished another audiobook last night, so I'm ready to start the audio version of A Christmas Journey, the first of Anne Perry's Christmas novellas.

Dic 16, 2011, 8:25pm

The Sandburg Connection by Mark de Castrique

P.I. Sam Blackman and his partner Nakayla have been hired to follow the patient involved in a disability claim to look for evidence that she is faking or exaggerating her claim. The investigation comes to a sudden end when the woman dies from a fall in a wooded area on the grounds of the Carl Sandburg home, with Sam in pursuit but too far behind to see what happened. Did she fall by accident, or was she pushed? Could her death be related to the medical claim, or might it instead be related to her academic research project involving Carl Sandburg and his estate? Sam is troubled by the woman's death, and he finds a way to stay involved in the investigation.

While this book will have a regional appeal in Asheville and the surrounding Appalachian region, the strength of the plot and quality of the writing will attract a wider circle of readers, as will the literary, academic, and Civil War aspects of the plot. Carl Sandburg's Connemara estate, a National Historic Site, is so integral to the novel that it would be difficult to imagine the events taking place anywhere else. Readers who have toured Carl Sandburg's home and estate will enjoy revisiting it in this novel, and readers who haven't been there will be planning their trip by the time they finish the book.

This is the third book in this series, but it's the first one I've read. I'm looking forward to catching up on the first two books in the series, and I look forward to more to come.

This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

4 stars

Dic 16, 2011, 9:38pm

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins

If you think the media circus surrounding a sensational murder is a 21st century phenomenon, you'll rethink that assumption after reading Paul Collins's The Murder of the Century. In this case, the century is the 19th, not the 21st. The discovery of parts of a man's body in various locations near New York soon capture the city's attention. Media rivals Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst and their papers make no pretense of objectively reporting the news about the murder. They become active participants in the murder investigation as well as shapers of public opinion.

This is more than just a story about a sensational murder. Collins's account provides both examples and cautions for today's journalists and media consumers. The investigators of the 1897 crime lacked most of the forensic tools available to modern investigators, yet they were able to identify the headless victim, zero in on suspects, and build a strong circumstantial case against the defendants. Despite the technological advances of the last 100 years, there are still cases lacking physical evidence. Collins's book could be used as a case study of a trial based on circumstantial evidence.

Recommended for readers interested in the history of journalism, the ethics of journalism, criminal investigation, or New York history, and for true crime readers.

4 stars

Dic 16, 2011, 10:26pm

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

An act of kindness toward a stranger has unexpected consequences for WWI nurse Bess Crawford. Bess accompanies the injured woman to her home outside of London, intending to continue from there to her parents home well in time for Christmas. When a fellow guest is murdered, Bess must stay until the police allow her to leave. Bess's involvement continues even after her return to service in France, until she is called back to England for a final confrontation.

I didn't like the second Bess Crawford mystery nearly as well as I did the first, so I started this one with a little trepidation. Happily, I soon discovered that Bess was once again the Bess of the first book. In this book as well as the first book, Bess is reluctantly drawn into the mystery for a good reason. In the second book, Bess forces her way into a situation that isn't any of her business, and she came across as stubborn, pushy, obnoxious, and a little spoiled.

The mystery in this book isn't as well developed as it could have been, but I was so happy to have the “old” Bess back that I could overlook that. Bess's personal life hasn't developed much over the course of the series, probably due to its wartime setting. I don't think it's essential to read these books in order. Recommended for readers of historical mysteries, and particularly for fans of the Maisie Dobbs series, which shares several characteristics with this one.

3 1/2 stars

Dic 19, 2011, 10:13pm

A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry

The first of Anne Perry's series of Christmas novellas features Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, a supporting character in Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series. Lady Vespasia is one of my favorite characters from that series, and it was fun to see her in her prime. I wish the story had done her justice. Christmas isn't really a theme in the story. The events just happen to take place in December. The premise is implausible. Lady Vespasia is a guest at a weekend house party. One of her fellow guests commits a major social faux pas, and in order to be restored to society, she must make a journey to the north of Scotland and complete a difficult assignment. Lady Vespasia generously offers to accompany her friend on the journey. For such a short book, it's surprisingly repetitive. It felt like the author kept covering the same ground instead of presenting new information. Recommended mainly for fans of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, who will at least enjoy a glimpse of a young Lady Vespasia.

2 1/2 stars

Dic 20, 2011, 10:54pm

I know it's early, but I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I'll be away from home and probably without Internet access for a week. I'm heading to Mexico to spend Christmas with my brother, sister-in-law, and SIL's family. I'm taking plenty of light books with me for beach reading. My packing list includes:

The Last Mayan by Malcolm Shuman
Dead to Rites by Sylvia Angus
The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Mystery Bred in Buckhead by Patricia Sprinkle

I haven't decided whether to take the ER book I received today, The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney. It's a pretty hefty paperback ARC, and I'm not sure I want to pack anything larger than a mass market paperback.

I've got quite a few books on my e-reader so I don't have any worries about running out of things to read. I hope to read at least two:

A Wee Christmas Homicide by Kaitlyn Dunnett (downloaded from the public library)
Rebel Fire by Andy Lane (NetGalley ARC)

Dic 21, 2011, 1:01am

Merry Christmas, Carrie! The warm sun in Mexico and a stack of light mysteries sounds wonderful. Have a great time!

Dic 21, 2011, 8:22am

Merry Christmas! Have a wonderful holiday!

Dic 21, 2011, 9:30am

Merry Christmas and enjoy the sun and sand of Mexico!

Dic 21, 2011, 12:59pm

Merry Christmas, and safe trip!

Dic 21, 2011, 7:51pm

Happy Holidays,Carrie. Reading books on a warm beach sounds lovely, enjoy.

Dic 30, 2011, 5:48pm

Thank you for all the Christmas wishes. I arrived home from Mexico last night after a wonderful holiday with my Mexican family. My sister-in-law's 8 brothers & sisters have adopted me as one of their own. Seven out of the nine brothers & sisters, in-laws, nieces & nephews were together for Christmas. Most of us stayed in a large rental house in Chicxulub, on the gulf coast about a 10-minute drive east of Progreso. The beach wasn't a good one for swimming, but there was a pool at the rental house, and the kids spent a lot of time there. I enjoyed participating in my SIL's family traditions, and she introduced one of ours - Christmas stockings. Everyone seemed to enjoy the new addition to the holiday. (I'm not sure how they explained to the youngest child, still a Believer, why Santa brought her a stocking this year when he hadn't done it in the past.) I didn't get a sunburn, but I did come home with quite a few mosquito bites. I've already been invited to join them again next year in Veracruz, when they'll also celebrate their father's 80th birthday on the 23rd.

I did a fair amount of reading on the trip. I finished three books: A Wee Christmas Homicide, Dead to Rites, and The Last Mayan. The last two books are set in the Yucatan Peninsula, so it was fun to read them while I was there. I didn't read as much in the airport or on the plane as I usually would since I wasn't by myself most of the time. I was luckier than my brother & SIL yesterday. There was a lot of fog in Houston yesterday morning, causing delays that extended throughout the day. After a couple of rounds of musical chairs with the gate, my flight finally left about an hour later than scheduled. My brother & SIL's flight to Dallas was cancelled. They were supposed to leave Houston within a half hour of my flight, but they still hadn't left by the time I reached home. They were rerouted onto an evening flight to DFW, and then they had to take a taxi to pick up their car at Love Field. One of their bags didn't make it, and for some reason the airport personnel wouldn't let them file a baggage claim. They were going to call the airline's 800 number today. I haven't heard yet if their bag made it back home.

Dic 30, 2011, 5:55pm

Some LT humor. I just checked my list of new recommendations, and topping the list is The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito.

Dic 31, 2011, 4:23pm

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

It's the Christmas season in 1964, and young Dr. Barry Laverty has been in his first practice in Ballybucklebo for several months now. He's more at ease with the patients and with his mentor, the colorful Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly. Christmas in the small Northern Ireland town, with all of the seasonal good will, would be perfect – if only Barry's girlfriend, Patricia, would come home from her first semester at Cambridge. While Barry fears his relationship with Patricia might be coming to an end, Dr. O'Reilly is contemplating a new romance with an old flame.

Patrick Taylor's Irish Country series is uplifting, yet never unrealistically optimistic about life. While most of the time the patients quickly recover from minor illnesses or injuries, there are also patients whose prospects are grim. Young Dr. Laverty is gradually realizing how satisfying it is to provide comfort for those who suffer and to celebrate with those who rejoice.

It's best to read this series in order, since each subsequent book in the series contains spoiler information about events in the previous books.

3 1/2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 9:45pm

Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon

Big changes are in store for Mitford as the end of the year approaches. Everyone knows that Percy and Velma Mosely plan to close the Grill and retire at the end of the year. No one knows that the owner of Mitford's bookstore plans to close the store at the end of the year, leaving store manager Hope with a big decision to make. As Christmas approaches, Father Tim launches into a secret project to restore an old nativity set. After a lifetime of working with words, Father Tim finds new joy in working with his hands. As he works, he reflects on his childhood Christmases.

Most long-running series eventually seem to include a Christmas story. Sometimes these can seem contrived. This one works. It's a gentle read that captures the spirit of Christmas in a small town, yet it also advances the story arc of the series. I think it would probably work as a stand-alone, but I think it will be appreciated more by readers who are already familiar with the characters and their personalities as they have developed throughout the series.

4 1/2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 10:06pm

No Clue at the Inn by Kate Kingsbury

When the new owner of the Pennyfoot Hotel (now a country club) has to be away during the Christmas season, he calls on former owner Cecily Sinclair Baxter and her husband to manage it in his absence. His manager has just died in a tragic accident, and there is no one else he can trust with the responsibility. The Baxters invite their former employees to spend Christmas as guests at the Pennyfoot, and all are looking forward to a reunion. Cecily suspects that the former manager's death might not have been an accident, and she can't resist snooping. A subsequent murder confirms her suspicions, and Cecily's interference has unexpected consequences.

This was my first experience with the Pennyfoot Hotel series, and I wasn't impressed. I didn't care for the heroine, and I felt sorry for her husband. Cecily seems impulsive and careless of the effect her actions might have on others. She relies on intuition rather than logic to solve crimes, and her intuition is often faulty. I'm not sure I'll continue with this series.

2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 10:32pm

A Christmas Visitor by Anne Perry

The joy of a much-anticipated Christmas reunion turns to sorrow after the head of the family's sudden death. His grieving widow calls on her godfather, Henry Rathbone, for his support. Unexplained circumstances lead several family members to suspect murder, and they're all sure they know who is responsible. When Rathbone hears of the circumstances, he shares their suspicion of murder, but questions their conclusion. Rathbone must sort out a complex question of inheritance in order to discover the truth about his friend's death.

Henry Rathbone is a minor character in Anne Perry's William Monk series. Henry's methodical investigation into the legal issues surrounding the death show that his aptitude for legal matters is equal to that of his barrister son, Oliver. I like Perry's William Monk series better than her Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, and I liked this Christmas novella better than her first one, which featured a character from the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series. I'll definitely include more of Perry's Christmas novellas on next year's holiday reading list.

3 1/2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 10:49pm

A Wee Christmas Homicide by Kaitlyn Dunnett

When Liss MacCrimmon discovers that tiny Moosetookalook, Maine, has the only supply in New England of the season's hottest Christmas item, she convinces the other business owners to participate in a festival that will draw shoppers to the town. When one of her fellow shop keepers is murdered, Liss ends up in the middle of the investigation.

Once I was able to overlook the improbability of the impromptu town festival, I enjoyed this Christmas cozy. I like Liss, and I enjoyed the references to other mystery writers and the tongue-in-cheek references to the kinds of situations cozy heroines like Liss find themselves in. This series is one of my favorite discoveries of the year, and I look forward to reading about more of Liss's adventures.

3 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 11:06pm

Dead to Rites by Sylvia Angus

When fellow tour group members begin to die in circumstances mimicking ancient Mayan rituals, avid mystery reader Mrs. Wagstaff puts to use the knowledge she has acquired from reading mystery novels. I enjoyed the references to various mystery writers and fictional detectives. However, most of the characters in this novel were either caricatures or simply underdeveloped. I read this while on vacation in Yucatan, and most of the action takes place near Chichen Itza. Reading the book “on location” will be the most memorable aspect for me. I didn't like the book well enough to search out any of the author's other books, but if another one crosses my path, I'll probably read it.

2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 11:29pm

The Last Mayan by Malcolm Shuman

Archaeologist Alan Graham returns to the Yucatan, after a 15-year absence, to spend time with his girlfriend, Pepper, who is a team member on a dig. Alan is haunted by memories, both good and bad, of his ex-wife, who he met there many years ago. While some things are as he remembers, other things have changed during his absence. In particular, the drug wars have reached this formerly isolated part of the world. Alan is initially skeptical when one of his colleagues tells him of his unconventional theory of pre-Columbian visitors to the Mayan world. Alan discovers evidence that might confirm his colleague's theory, but will he survive to analyze it.

The Alan Graham mysteries have a bit of an Indiana Jones feel to them. The books have a lot of historical details and deduction, but they also have plenty of adventure and physical danger. Like his protagonist, Malcolm Shuman is an archaeologist with experience in Mexico, and it shows in his writing. Since I've visited the Yucatan Peninsula twice and I have extended family and friends who live in the Yucatan, I've intentionally sought books set there. This book has the most authentic sense of place and character of any that I've read. I've enjoyed all of the Alan Graham mysteries, and, sadly, this appears to be the last one in the series. Recommended for readers who enjoy mysteries in exotic settings or with an archaeological theme.

3 1/2 stars

Dic 31, 2011, 11:44pm

The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

After Sylvia Bergstrom Compson and Andrew Cooper's impromptu Christmas wedding, they must break the news to Andrew's daughter, Amy, who was opposed to their engagement. How will she take the news? As Sylvia and Andrew honeymoon in New York, Sylvia remembers long-ago New Year's, the resolutions she made, and the lessons she learned. She particularly remembers the rift with her sister, Claudia, and resolves not to make the same mistake with Amy.

While I liked reading about the New Year's traditions in various countries, I felt like a lot of the book repeated content from earlier books in the series. It didn't serve to advance the series in any way. I think readers could safely skip this one without missing anything important to the overall series story line.

3 stars

Ene 1, 2012, 1:34pm

It sounds like you had a lovely holiday, Carrie, and read some good books as well. I need to get back to the Patrick Taylor and Kaitlyn Dunnett series.

Happy New Year!

Ene 1, 2012, 4:49pm

Thanks Ivy! Happy New Year to you, too!