Saturday, April 21, 2012

30. Murder at the Portland Variety by M J Zellnik

Libby Seale is a seamstress at the Portland Variety creating works of art for the various performers there.  She become friends with the magician's assistant, Vera, and vows to learn the truth when Vera is murdered.  With the help of a handsome reporter, Peter, she starts to dig into the mystery of the young women disappearing from the growing city of Portland.  Libby is pretty non-traditional  for 1894 and Peter is attracted to her intelligence and determination.  Naturally, there is peril as the two come up against some of the most important men in the city.  It's a fun mystery with a budding romance in the background.  This is the first book in the Libby Seale series.  I look forward to reading more. 
Rating:  4

29. A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (audio)

I love Louise Penny's mysteries and I think Chief Inspector Gamache is the ultimate police crime solver.  This is the first time I have listened to one of her books and it was fantastic.  The narrator, Ralph Cosham, has a slight Canadian French accent that brings true realism to the story of a small town near Montreal in Quebec.  I may never say Montreal the same again, it is so much prettier in French.  The narration also brings to life the wonderful and eccentric characters that inhabit the town of Three Pines and provide backdrop to the genius and humanity of Armande Gamache.  These books don't just tell the story of a murder and how it is solved by the crack homocide team of the Surete du Quebec, they also explore human nature and the many ways people connect or not.  Along with the murder of Lillian Dyson, an old ex-friend of Clara Morrow, on the night of her solo art show, the book also follows the struggles of Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache's second-in-command, as he deals with the aftermath of a shootout where he and Gamache were both gravely injured.  I can't wait to read the next book to see if he is able to overcome his inner demons.    Plus, it has been a while since I read the previous books; and I keep wanting to go back and remember things that are referenced in this book.  Re-reading these books is something I look forward to.  Rating:  5

28. Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett always makes me laugh and this book is especially funny.  Three witches from Wyrd Sisters are back trying to save the world from "happy ever after" story endings.  I t seems there is another witch who is making sure that all the stories in the city of Genua end just the way they should, little choice to the actual people who inhabit the story. 

"Servant girls have to marry the prince.  That's what life is all about.  You can't fight a Happy Ending."

Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick have all kinds of adventures as they fly their brooms from Lancre to Genua to help Magrat take over as the fairy godmother to the luckless serving wench about to marry a really creepy prince.  What fun!  Rating:  4.5

Monday, April 16, 2012

27. Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy

I copied this review from Dawn at "She is Too Fond of Books".  A great review from a great blogger.

Back of the book blurb: Sarah Lucas imagined the rest of her days would be spent living peacefully in her rural Vermont home in the steadfast company of her husband. But now, with Charles’s sudden passing, seventy-five-year-old Sarah is left inconsolably alone.

As grief settles in, Sarah’s mind lingers on her past: her imperfect but devoted fifty-year marriage to Charles; the years they spent raising their three very different children; and her childhood during the Great Depression, when her parents opened their home to countless relatives and neighbors. So, when a variety of wayward souls come seeking shelter in Sarah’s own big, empty home, her past comes full circle.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Every Last Cuckoo is about so much more than grieving and coping with loss, although Kate Maloy incorporates these main themes wonderfully into her novel. The characters experience love and loss in many iterations, including the ultimate loss – the death of Charles, husband to Sarah; father to Charlotte, David and Stephie; grandfather; good neighbor; lifelong friend.

We know from the first page that Charles dies; we watch in slow motion as Sarah rushes to him in the woods, alerted to his downed state by the agitation of their dog Sylvie. Maloy intersperses the scenes of Charles’s death as present-tense two-page vignettes throughout the first third of the book; the rest of Part One gives us the history of Charles and Sarah: the families that formed them, the shared history that shaped them, and the stories of the family they created together.

Maloy personifies grief; anyone who has experienced a death or deep shock will recognize these feelings of the reality hitting you again and again:

"Grief slipped away, only to attack from behind. It changed shape endlessly. It lacerated her, numbed her, stalked her, startled her, caught her by the throat. It deceived her eye with glimpses of Charles, her ear with the sound of his voice. She would turn and turn, expecting him, and find him gone. Again. Each time Sarah escaped her sorrow, forgetful amid other things, she lost him anew the instant she remembered he was gone."

The book considers the troubled relationships between Charles and their son David, and between Sarah and their daughter Charlotte. A similar strain is mirrored between Charlotte and her 15-year-old daughter Lottie; Sarah “was a drawbridge, separating mother and daughter until the traffic on their troubled waters could pass.” This talent for meditation serves Sarah well.

Part Two looks at how the family copes, and how Sarah eventually thrives after Charles’ death. Hers is a journey of self-discovery and reflection, stepping outside her normal routines and reaching back into her own experience of “family” to offer something more than she knew she had to offer.

Maloy writes compassionately about friendship and companionship of “the older generation.” Sarah is both physically and mentally very active, yet she is at odds with her aging:

"… She had lived many thousands of days, so it was not surprising that scenes from an hour here or a moment there should surface at random. Her memories were beads jumbled loose in a box, unstrung. Everything – people, events, conversations – came and went so fast that only a fraction of the beads were ever stored at all. Few were whole, many cracked; more rolled away beneath pressing, present moments and were gone forever. What was the point?"

The novel is full of metaphors, beautiful word pictures that are striking, but not overdone. A few months after Charles’ death, one afternoon finds Sarah sitting at the kitchen table as a snow spring falls. Maloy describes the sounds of the house – the high-pitched breaths of the dogs, refrigerator hum, snow sliding off the roof; then she adds:

"Otherwise, all was muffled inside the house, inside the blizzard. Sarah imagined herself a tiny figure, sitting and sipping tea inside a glass globe. Someone had shaken her life up hard, and now everything was still except for the whiteness falling around."

It was a pleasure to read Every Last Cuckoo and to see just where Sarah’s journey would take her. Maloy’s use of language made it hard to put down; when I was done, my paperback was flagged with dozens of passages I want to re-visit.

You’re probably wondering about the unusual title, Every Last Cuckoo. No, it doesn’t mean crazy, mad, off your rocker. It connects to the brood parasite nature of some species of cuckoo birds; it will all make perfect “aha!” sense when you read the novel! 

I think Dawn captured the essence of this book perfectly.  I loved her quotes and loved this book.
Rating:  5

26. and 27. Relentless . . . I'll Find You by Clair Poulson

Clair M. Poulson served as a law enforcement officer in the neighboring county where I live and is now a Justice Court Judge.  Both of these books are thrillers involving law enforcement against truly evil men. 
Relentless  Erika is  eighteen-year-old who grudgingly goes on vacation with her family to Colorado.  She is taken hostage by an escaped murderer who is truly crazy but very wily.  Most of the book follows the chase around the Rockies while poolice try to rescue Erika as her kidnapper outsmarts them time after time.   Erika relies on her faith and prayer to get her through.

I'll Find You  At the age of six, Jeri witnesses her best friend, Rusty, being kidnapped.  She vows to find him and seventeen years later, she does . . .  he is a convict in a prison.  Again, there is a truly evil man who Rusty met in prison who puts Jeri in peril and only a miracle saves her.

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities in these two stories.  Both are LDS fiction which I enjoyed.  I found them both to be quite gripping and tense and not preachy at all.  Maybe the characgters are a bit too sterotyped . . . the evil characters are so bad and Jeri, at least, is sooo good.  Erika is a bit spoiled  but quickly redeemed.  Rusty was more complex as he tries to remember his earlier life and put the horrifics of his life after his kidnapping beyond him.  All in all, I liked these books.  Rating:  4

Sunday, April 15, 2012

25. Murder in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Geraldine Porter is a retired widow who devotes her time to helping out in the community and creating show-box-sized Victorian shadowboxes.  She serves as chairwoman of the local Dollhouse and Miniatures Fair and soon finds herself involved in the murder of an unknown woman.  Naturally, Gerri finds herself sleuthing despite the warnings of her nephew, a local policeman. 

While I found Gerri to be quite charming, I couldn't really get into this book since miniatures is not one of my interests at all.  I've got too many books to read to get started in a series about this craft.  All in all, I just found this mystery to be cute and just okay.  Rating:  3

Sunday, April 01, 2012

24. Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

From book jacket:

Arriving in the English countryside to live with her mother and new stepfather, Jenny has no interest in her new surroundings--until she encounters things on this ancient estate with ties to another world . . . one darker and older than anything she's ever experienced.  And meets a friend in greater pain than any she has ever known.

Tamsin died more than 300 years ago.  As a ghost, she has haunted the lonely estate without rest, trapped by a hidden trauma she can't remember, and a powerful evil even the spirits of the night cannot name.

And before Jenny can help Tamsin find peace, she will have to delve deeper into the dark world of the night than any human has in hundreds of years, and face danger that will change her life forever.:

I really liked this book.  It starts off with Jenny being a typical 13-year-old brat sulking about her move to England.  There is some comedic, light moments, but things gradually start getting a bit more interesting when  the ghosts appear.  Then interesting become intense and then just plain dark and gripping.  Beagle does a fantastic job with the pacing and drawing you into the ghost story, building up the suspense to a wonderful crescendo of horror and resolution.  While I never felt scared, I was definitely drawn in and could not put the book down when I came close to the conclusion.  Great ghost story.  Rating:  4.75