It’s #bookmail time! I don’t often get book mail, but I recently won a couple of giveaways, I’m participating in a book tour at the end of the month and a publisher offered me a book I couldn’t resist. So here they are, in no particular order (or rather, in the order I stacked them in, I guess):
Meg Cabot is one of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read anything new by her for a long while—years, actually. I’m not sure why. So when Trish from TLC Book Tours asked me if I wanted to participate in the book tour for Royal Wedding I said, “Yes!!” Trish had some shipping issues on her end—I think she tried to send me the book four times. I’m not sure what happened, but fourth time lucky (and I guess there’s a chance I’ll eventually end up with three more copies as they wander my way from wherever they ended up …).
The nice folks over at Simon & Schuster Canada emailed me to see if I’d like a copy of Hungry Ghosts, the third book in Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series. Know what I love about the publicists over at Simon & Schuster Canada? They seem to have a real feel for my reading tastes; they almost always send books my way that I’m really interested in reading.
Inspector Ramirez is a Cuban police inspector, and the stories in each of the books in the series takes place in both Cuba and Canada. I’ve enjoyed the first two books in the series, and I’m really looking forward to reading this third book.
I won the book of my choice from Book Depository from Andi earlier this year during Dewey’s Readathon. I had SUCH a hard time choosing, which is why I didn’t receive my prize until just recently. I finally opted for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; it’s been in my to-read stacks for ages. I have it in audio, too, so I’m thinking I might try both reading and listening to this one at the same time.
I was SO excited when Kathy (BermudaOnion) told me I’d won the giveaway on her blog for Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Children. I’m friends with Sarah on Facebook and we’ve had some delightful chats on Twitter, but I’ve never actually read one of her books. This one sounds like a lovely read—I’ve been on hold at the library for it for quite a while now, and it will be nice to be able to cancel that hold!
So that’s it for my #bookmail. What books have come into your place recently?
It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel I just couldn’t put down (although, life being what it is, I did eventually have to put it down). I love when this happens, though, because it usually means I’ve got a seriously good read going.
Going into it, I hadn’t realized The Fifth Gospel would be one of those books that are tough to put down. I mean, it sounded like it would be good, but lots of good books aren’t necessarily ones you can’t put down.
Here’s the summary:
In 2004, as Pope John Paul II’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. That same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son. When the papal police fail to identify a suspect in either crime, Father Alex, desperate to keep his family safe, undertakes his own investigation. To find the killer he must reconstruct the dead curator’s secret: what the four Christian gospels—and a little-known, true-to-life fifth gospel known as the Diatessaron—reveal about the Church’s most controversial holy relic. But just as he begins to understand the truth about his friend’s death and its consequences for the future of the world’s two largest Christian Churches, Father Alex finds himself hunted down by someone with a vested stake in the exhibit—someone he must outwit to survive.
I’m halfway through, and while I have a busy week coming up, I’m hoping I’ll be able to grab some time to finish it.
And while the title and the synopsis might make you think, “oh, another Da Vinci Code kind of read”, I’m here to say, no, it’s actually not a Da Vinci Code kind of book at all.
I’ll be writing a review of this one, so stay tuned! I just have to finish it first—and even with all my upcoming deadlines, I’m definitely going to find the time to sit down with this one and finish it.
Die-hard mystery fans often grumble about mysteries with a paranormal twist, because what’s the good of a mystery when you’ve got supernatural means to help you solve it? Susan M. Boyer’s latest instalment in her Liz Talbot mystery series smartly sidesteps this issue; Boyer’s private detective Liz Talbot may spend her days shadowed by former high school friend and now guardian spirit Colleen, but Colleen’s main role is to protect her earthly friend, not flaunt any investigative chops.
Sure, Colleen can read minds, but she can’t read everyone’s minds. And actually, during the course of Lowcountry Boneyard, Colleen proves quite unhelpful in the mind-reading department. She also shows little flair in the mystery-solving department. She’s a guardian spirit, and true to her nature, guard is what she does.
And Liz Talbot does need guarding. Hired by wealthy Colton Heyward to investigate the disappearance of his daughter Kent, who also happens to be the heiress of old wealth on her mother’s side of the family, Liz initially hopes the police’s assessment of the situation is right: Kent simply moved out without telling anyone where she was going.
But as Liz and her partner and lover Nick dig deeper into the investigation, it becomes obvious they are ruffling someone’s feathers. As several suspects surface, from Kent’s creepy and unsavoury twin uncles to her best friend Ansley to her boyfriend and aspiring master chef Matt, it soon becomes apparent that Liz and Nick are in real danger.
All the while the ghostly Colleen flits in and out of scenes, sometimes with information, sometimes with warnings. The only thing I found frustrating was the romantic subplot between Nick and Liz, which arises because of information Liz knows only because of Colleen. It seems very clear to me that Liz should tell Nick about Colleen. Maybe it’s just that I feel relationships don’t work well when lies are involved.
Boyer sets the tale of this investigation amidst the many charms of South Carolina. We’re taken through the beautiful streets of Charleston and introduced to the warm, friendly fictional town of Stella Maris. Along the way we also get a taste of Greenville, South Carolina. These are settings that work well with the characters and serve as a solid backdrop to the investigation at hand.
And that investigation is a mysterious tale that charms with its many twists and revelations. In the end, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the denouement, but only because Boyer has created a history filled with transgressions which cry out for justice. While current justice is served, justice for past crimes remain frustratingly illusive. Overall, Lowcountry Boneyard is a good read, a mystery well worth diving into.
Copy for review provided by TLC Book Tours.
Now that I actually have a bit of time to savour the holidays, I’ve been thinking about Christmas reads. Earlier this month, Ruth Anderson from Booktalk blogged about Christmas mysteries for Becca’s Holiday Extravaganza series, and I was so intrigued by the idea of reading Christmas-y mystery short stories, I promptly requested both books Ruth talked about from the library.
They arrived earlier this week, and I’m excited that I will actually have the time to dip into them over the holidays!
The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries is a more recent compilation edited by Otto Penzler. Looking through the table of contents, the stories are organized in the following groups:
- a traditional little Christmas
- a funny little Christmas
- a Sherlockian little Christmas
- a pulpy little Christmas
- an uncanny little Christmas
- a scary little Christmas
- a surprising little Christmas
- a modern little Christmas
- a puzzling little Christmas
- a classic little Christmas
It contains 59 short stories all together, so there’s lots of selection. The first short story I’ll be reading from The Big Book of Christmas is Rex Stout’s “Christmas Party”. it’s a Nero Wolfe story, and it will be fun to head into the holidays with Nero and Archie.
Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey, is an older collection – my copy from the library is copyright 1982 – and it looks like it’s out of print, so check your library for this one (and it looks like there are lots of used copies available). Out of the 26 stories in this collection, 12 of them also appear in The Big Book of Christmas. The first short story I’ll probably read from Murder for Christmas is “Mr. Big”, by Woody Allen – I think it will be fun to read a Christmas mystery by Woody Allen!
Have you read either of these short story collections? Will you be doing any Christmas-y or holiday reading?
I am, unabashedly, a genre reader. I love to read mysteries, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, the occasional dollop of science fiction and every now and then a quirky, funny romance. While I like beautiful prose as much as the next reader, gorgeous prose only takes me so far – if it’s not accompanied by an interesting plot and well-developed characters, it’s hard for me to keep plugging away at it.
When I want beautiful prose for its own sake, I’d much rather turn to poetry.
With Tana French’s mysteries, a reader like me comes away very satisfied. There’s plot, there’s great character development – and then there’s words used so well, so beautifully, so elegantly, phrases and snippets of sentences stay with you for days after you’ve finished the book, lingering in your mind, like a taste of memory, almost but not quite tangible.
French’s most recent book, The Secret Place, doesn’t fail in all three regards: plot, character and writing. Number 5 in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, it’s not necessary to have read the previous books first before opening up this one. There is no main series protagonist the way there is in other mystery series. Instead, the loose thread tying each of the books is the fact that the characters are homicide detectives on Dublin’s Murder Squad, and after the first book, the main character in each subsequent book has been a character who first showed up in a previous book in the series.
The The Secret Place stars Detective Stephen Moran, not yet on the Murder Squad but seeing his chance in this case, and Detective Antoinette Conway, who is on the Murder Squad but with a reputation of not being “one of the boys”, fueled largely by the fact that she is a woman.
The murder takes place at St. Kilda’s, an exclusive all-girls boarding school. Adding a wrinkle to the investigation is the involvement of Holly Mackay, the daughter of Detective Frank Mackay, with whom Stephen had worked previously in Faithful Place. The victim, found dead on the lawns of St. Kilda’s, is a boy from a neighbouring boys’ school.
While the story takes place in one day filled with interviews at St. Kilda’s, each of the interview scenes is followed by a scene set among the students in the year leading up to the murder. It’s a daring structure, and French pulls it off elegantly and beautifully, leaving the reader with a feeling of effortlessness as we are taken back and forth between the two timelines, never confused, never at a loss as to what has happened.
What left me in awe, though, was French’s handling of the characters. In addition to the two detectives, the novel focuses on eight teenaged girls, all students of St. Kilda’s. French deftly brings each of the girls to life, so that even in passages without benefit of some identifying feature, it’s easy to know who the characters are.
The story is well-plotted, leaving you wondering for much of the novel as French plants suspicions here, there and everywhere. French also adds a touch of possible magic in a “is it? isn’t it?” way that is pure magic in itself, adding yet another layer to an already beautifully intricate story. It’s just a touch of magic, and to my mind, is a perfect fit for those short wonder years of teenaged girldom, where so much around us is touched with possibility and potential.
And as for the writing … When I first started reading The Secret Place, I wanted to jot down lines that sent shivers down my spine. After a while, though, I realized if I did that, I’d end up writing down most of the book. You can flip to almost any page at random in The Secret Place and find some bit of description that will linger on in your mind. You can almost taste that year at St. Kilda’s, the way the girls’ lives are intertwined as I can only imagine must happen within the confines of a boarding school, how they’ve grown, matured, deepened.
I just flipped through to a random page in my ebook copy, and this is what popped out at me:
“None of them would ever have imagined what they had brushed up against; what other selves, other lives, other deaths were careening ferocious and unstoppable along their tracks, only a sliver of time away. The grounds are pocketed with clusters of girls, all blazing and amazed with inchoate love for one another and for their own growing closeness; none of the others will feel the might of that swerve as the tracks switch and their own power takes them barreling into another landscape.”
This kind of writing occurs throughout the novel. A beautiful read with an enjoyable, engrossing mystery. I’m looking forward to the next Tana French book!
Earlier this year I played “catch-up” with Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series. I read several of the books in the series that I’d missed, ending with Bones of the Lost … and decided I wouldn’t read another book in the series again.
Maybe it was the effect of reading so many of the books back to back, but I just felt so tired of Reich’s Tempe rushing into danger in much the same way the heroines in old Victorian novels did. There’s smart and impulsive and then there’s smart but impulsively dumb. When a smart main character like Temperance Brennan deliberately rushes into danger without any sort of preparation (you know, little things like making sure you have your cell phone with you, or letting someone know where you’re going), it just doesn’t sit well with me, even if things do turn out fine in the end. So I kind of said to myself, “never again.”
For weeks it sat on my desk. Eventually, the temptation proved to be too much. The thing with Reichs is, her plots tend to be good, solid plots. Interesting plots, in that page-turning kind of way. So I picked the book up and began to read it – and I’m glad I did.
in Bones Never Lie, Tempe discovers a link between two child murders, a link which digs up a part of her past. The new evidence from the new murders suggests that serial killer Anique Pomerleau, whom readers first met in Monday Mourning, has relocated to the States and is on another killing rampage.
Aside from the obligatory “protagonist looks in the mirror and describes herself” scene that tends to find its way into Reich’s novels, I enjoyed Bones Never Lie. Admittedly, I kept waiting for that scene where Tempe recklessly dashes into a danger hot zone with no preparation and no backup in order to somehow end up saving the day, but this time around, while she did dash, she did it with foresight. She did it smartly. Yes, she was smartly impulsive!
So despite my initial reluctance to read this book, I ended up gulping it down late into the night, turning page after page as quickly as I could. The entire story, from beginning to end, was more than satisfactory, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the Temperance Brennan series.
Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.
This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.
I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.
I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.
A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)
When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.
These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)
What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!
It’s been quite a good reading week for me – I got through several books, including three “page turners”!
I categorize a book as a page turner if it’s one I just couldn’t put down. Sometimes I do have to put a page turner down, but it’s usually because I realize if I keep reading, I’ll be finishing right around the time I normally get up in the morning. This, as you all probably know so well, is very hard to pull off when you’ve got work and kids calling for your attention in the mornings. (I imagine you’ve all, like me, given the all-nighter the old college try a few times and realized those college times are long gone, right?)
I used to think page turners were, by their very nature, usually thrillers – it’s almost implicit in the name (but really only applies to well-written thrillers) – but for me they can actually be any genre, as my page turner week proves. And for me, a page turner doesn’t mean a book that flies along at a frenzied pace, with the author throwing one plot point after another at you without any time in between to rest (or, ahem, for character development). I find such books utterly exhausting and rarely finish them.
So how did my page turner week go?
First up: Divergent!
Yes, I finally read a YA dystopian! And I have now given up my bias against dystopian novels. It occurred to me as I was reading Divergent that a dystopian novel is really just a fantasy set on a devastated Earth. I love both fantasies and urban fantasies, and now I can add dystopian novels to the list.
This opens up a whole new world to me, so to speak.
Divergent was a definite page turner. I figured out early on that the place was heading towards war, but reading about Tris’ journey as her world progressed to that war was just so much fun. So many exciting things happened, but all very well-paced. And some nice twists at the end. I’m now looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
So after I finished up Divergent, I had to decide what to read next. I’d recently been contacted by a publicist who sent me an ebook copy of D.J. Donaldson’s Louisiana Fever. The book, which features medical examiner Andy Broussard and psychologist Kit Franklyn, is the fifth in the series, but I had no trouble getting up to speed with things despite never having read the first four novels.
I think the main reason I enjoyed this one so much was because it involves a virus. Plots revolving around viruses – either biological or computer – are among my favourites. Throw in a medical examiner and it was more or less the perfect concoction for me.
Louisiana Fever was originally published in 1997 and I gather it’s just been released in ebook format this year, but I didn’t find the book to be dated at all.
Part mystery, part thriller, Louisiana Fever was a fun read and well-paced – the events were not so fast-paced you were left too exhausted to turn the page. The happy endings – especially in Kit’s case – did stretch credibility somewhat, but still, it was all very nicely done.
And finally, my last page turner of the week:
What a wonderful, funny, quirky read! Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple, takes the epistolary narrative to new heights. Made up of emails, official documents, even a hospital bill, interwoven with a bit of narrative by Bee, Bernadette’s daughter, this is a lovely novel with many twists that had me guessing right to the very end.
And did I mention it’s such a funny read? I actually laughed out loud at various points in the book.
I’m so glad I picked up this novel. I’d borrowed the ebook version from the library – I’d put a hold on it a while back (which means I must have read someone’s lovely review of it somewhere, but I can’t find any mention of it in my Evernote account so I obviously forgot to make a note of the review the way I normally – well, okay, sometimes – do). I had three days left before it would disappear off my iPad forever, and when I refreshed my memory as to what it was about – an epistolary narrative! a woman who outsources her life to a virtual assistant in India! (oh, and I checked the library’s site and saw there were 81 people on hold for it – I admit, that was a big motivator, knowing I would have to wait in line behind 81 people before I’d get the chance to read it again) I decided to read the first few pages just to see how I’d like it.
Well, since it’s listed here as one of the page turners this week, you already know how those first few pages went. Let’s just say they flew by, and before I knew it, I was halfway through the book. I finished it with a smile, and all I can say right now is – if you haven’t read it yet, you really should give it a try. A very enjoyable, fun, quirky read.
So that’s been my week of page turners. Have you read any page turners recently? And what do you think of books that clip along at a frenetic pace? (I just want to see if I’m the odd one out, in my feeling of exhaustion when I read such books.)
I woke up from a dream that’s been driving me nuts all morning. I have very vivid dreams, and in about half of them, I’m more of an observer, watching events unfold. It can be like watching a movie, and I’ve dreamed many thrilling, blockbuster movie types of dreams.
But never one like the one I had this morning.
One of the characters (let’s call him Bob, just to give him a handle, although he was utterly nameless in my dream) was a detective. And he was investigating the murder of someone. The murder took place in a room filled with about ten people. The room looked like the library in an English manor house. And of course, none of the people saw a thing.
Bob suddenly finds himself back in the same room where the victim died, among the same crowd of people, attending the same kind of cocktail event in which the first victim died. And he’s peering down at the spot where the victim met his end, and suddenly I see his expression change. Something’s flashed through his mind. He knows something! And then BAM! He’s murdered too.
Enter detective no. 2. Let’s call him Lawrence. (He too was nameless in the dream. In fact, everyone was nameless.) Lawrence is now in charge of investigating both murders. He spends some time peering at Bob’s lifeless body, then there’s a fizzy bit (which felt absolutely normal in the dream) and suddenly, just like Bob, he’s back in the room, and it’s filled once again with the same group of people.
And Lawrence is standing where Bob was, examining the spot where both victims died, and I see the same flash of sudden understanding in his face. I mean, I’m prickly all over with his knowledge – except that I don’t know what that sudden knowledge is!
Lawrence straightens up, and my attention is drawn to this auburn-haired woman standing at the other end of the room.
And then I wake up.
So frustrating! Since the dream presented me with no information about motive, or even the identity of the first victim, there’s very little to go on. No forensics evidence – I don’t even know how the victims died. All I know is that the auburn-haired woman is (maybe) the culprit, but I don’t know how she did it.
The questions! What did both Bob and Lawrence see? How did Lawrence know it was the auborn-haired woman? Was it even the auborn-haired woman? And if it was, how did she kill both men in that room, in front of all those people?
I angsted over this all morning and the only thing I could come up with was the not-very-credible idea of a golden hairpin that shoots self-dissolving micro darts filled with a deadly poison. Which might have worked if 007 had been involved in the dream, but Bond was nowhere in sight. No, this one was a classic kind of mystery story.
I think maybe it’s a sign that I’ve been reading way too many mysteries lately.
Any ideas, anyone? And have you ever had a mystery dream, either with or without the solution? This is my first. Despite the frustration of not knowing whodunnit, I did quite enjoy it!