Monday, October 26, 2009

103. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

I've said it before so I'll say it again.  Armand Gamache is one of the best crime solvers in the fiction world.  Here's a description from the book that illustrates him and Penny's fine writing.  As a segueway, Penny has just described Gamache's two associates:  "And Gamache?  He knew he was neither the hound nor the hunter.  Armand Gamache was the explorer.  He went ahead of all the rest, into territoy unknown and uncharted.  He was drawn to the edge of things.  To the places old mariners knew, and warned, "Beyond here be monsters."  That's where Chief Inspector Gamache could be found.  He stepped into the beyond, and found the monsters hidden deep inside all the reasonable, gentle, laughing people.  He went where even they were afraid to go.  Armand Gamache followed slimy trails, deep into a person's psyche, and there, huddled and barely human, he found the murderer."  This man is one of fiction's great characters.  Penny also develops fantastic supporting characters.  In this book, the Morrow family (the chief suspects) are far from likeable, but always interesting.  The staff at the Manoir Bellechasse where the murder occurs are also drawn well.  One of the things I really liked about Rule was the delving into Gamache's history with his father, coinciding so well with the family dynamics of the Morrows.  The mystery was not easy to solve, I didn't have a clue; but at the conclusion, I thought it made sense and small clues had been thrown into the story.  Here's another quote from a character counting his blessings that I really want to remember:  "We're all blessed and we're all blighted.  Every day each of us does our sums.  The questions is, what do we count?"  This book is a keeper and I am anxiously awaiting the paperback publication of Penny's next one.
Rating:  4.75

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

102. The Tale of Briar Bank by Susan Wittig Albert

This book is the fifth in Albert's Beatrix Potter mystery series.  They contain interesting tidbits about the famous author who created the Peter Cottontail books.  Each story follows Beatrix as she visits her favorite place, her Holly How farm in Near Sawrey.  A mysterious death occurs and Beatrix helps solve the mystery.  The parts that I don't like quite as much are the conversations of the animals who share the village with the humans.  It's all a little too cute but not over the top.  That is until The Tale of Briar Bank.  More than half of the book revolves around the animals, especially the badgers, and their conversations and ideas of how Mr. Wickstead really died.  The actual facts of his death were actually silly to me.  Plus, there is not enough of Beatrix Potter and the interesting people who live in the surrounding area.  On top of that, the author talks to the reader a lot more than I remember her doing in the previous books.  I found it quite distracting.  On the whole, this book was quite disappointing to me.  I still plan on reading the rest of the series because I'm enjoying the budding relationship between Beatrix and Will, but I hope the animals will play a smaller part in the next novels.
Rating:  3.5

101. Kitchen Privileges by Mary Higgins Clark (audio)

I believe I've only read one Mary Higgins Clark mystery so I'm not sure why I mooched this audio version of her memoirs.  However, I'm glad I did.  It's great when an author narrates her own book because you know that emphasis is placed where she wants it and the lines are read the way they are meant to be.  I was also surprised by Clark's Bronx accent.  It made her seem more folksy and less like the high-powered hoity-toity author that I imagined.  I know she is high-powered and rich and has well-connected friends; but in her memoir, she comes across as likeable and funny.  My mom and I listened to the book as we drove to Salt Lake and back.  There were several incidences where we chuckled and even laughed out loud.  Clark related some great experiences:  some were so sad, others heroic, most all were interesting.  She is a remarkable woman to have gone through all she did, raise five children mostly alone, sending them to college and still hang on to her dream to publish a novel.  It wasn't until the kids were in college because she really hit the big money with her second novel.  And we shared in her elation and joy.  I don't know if I will become a Mary Higgins Clark mystery fan or not, but I do admire the woman and recommend her memoir.
Rating:  4

Sunday, October 18, 2009

100. Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper by Peter Hill

In 1973, Peter Hill is a Scottish, hippy art student had two ambitions as a child:  to be a lighthouse keeper or a marine biologist.  He gets the chance to fulfill the first dream, and this book is the memoir of his six months spent in three lighthouses off the west coast of Scotland.  Hill writes beautiful descriptions of the places he visits and the characters he meets.  Some of the anecdotes he shares are hilarious.  There is a lot of in-depth description of the routine in keeping a lighthouse, which was mostly fascinating.  What really intrigued me was how the people in Scotland responded to Watergate and Vietnam, watching the news and commenting on Richard Milhouse Nixon and Kissinger.   As a high school student, I was truly bored with the news reports of both; so I was amazed at the response of these ordinary people in Scotland.  Another fun aspect of this book was the pop culture of the early 70's.  It was also one part where I lost interest as I am so unfamiliar with the British TV and music scene that Hill discusses so much.  Overall, it was a well-written, informative and fun book that I truly enjoyed, with some points off for profanity.
Rating:  4.75

Friday, October 09, 2009

99. Seventy-Seven Clocks

This book follows Arthur Bryant and John May in 1973 as their experimental unit, the Pecular Crimues Unit, or PCU, moves to a new location.  PCU and the two detectives quickly become the focus of attention as a bizarre set of murders take place targeting an old English watch-making family.  May is a urbane and GQ kind of guy while Bryant is rumpled and eccentric.  They think differently which has always led to their impressive crime-solving success.  But these particular crimes may be the undoing of the unit as there seems to be little pattern or reason for such wildly odd, almost Victorian murders.  The family's attorney dies with a snake bite, one brother is killed by an exploding watch while the other has his throat slit by a substitute barber, the sister dies from poisoned face powder.  The extended family is gathered together but are critical of the police effort and not cooperative at all.  Through it all, May and Bryant rush around London trying to find clues in outlandish ways while keeping their tempers when dealing with the Whitstable clan.  I really enjoyed the characters of Bryant and May.  Their sarcasm and sensitivity blend so well.  Also, Fowler writes with a great deal of humor which I always enjoy in a mystery.  The description of the watchmaking guild as well as other London locales I've never heard of added to my interest.  I found the whole book to be an engrossing thriller, keeping me involved from start to finish.  My only complaint is that the solution to the crimes is quite outlandish, bordering on Jules Verne type science fiction.  Even so, Fowler wrote it so that it made sense; it just wasn't something I could have figured out on my own.  I just found out my sister has several more in this series so I'll probably be borrowing on in the future.
Rating:  4

Sunday, October 04, 2009

98. Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo

I love the cover of this book, she's so dramatic.  I wonder how many women out there read Jane Austen only to realize that marriage was not necessarily the happily-ever-after Jane wrote about.  Emma Grant did and now she wants to bring Jane down.  A college professor who specializes in Austen, Emma's life is in shambles after catching her husband with her teaching assistant and being accused of plagiarizing same assistant.  Out of a job, broke and desperate, Emma flees to London to find the lost letters of Austen and reestablish  her creditability.  Along the way, she becomes reacquainted with an old boy friend from college who is a college professor and meets a handsome English professor from California.  You'd think she'd be suspicious but she's pretty focused on those letters.  So this book combines romance, mystery and history.  I learned more about Austen than I had known before and enjoyed the mystery and romance aspects.  Along the way, Emma has to face her own choices both past and future.  It was a fun and easy read.  I enjoyed it very much.  Here's a great book quote:  "My life was disaster, but there were still books. Lots and lots of books.  A refuge.  A solace.  Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning."
Rating:  4

Saturday, October 03, 2009

97. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This is the second book in The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I loved the first book and was not disappointed with Catching Fire.  We follow Katniss and Peeta as they return to District 12.  Things are considerably different than before the Hunger Games took place, but there is great conflict between Katniss and Preisdent Snow, the leader of their world.  Rumors of rebellion across the twelve districts are being heard and President Snow hold Katniss to blame.  With her life and those of her loved ones in grave danger, she does all she can to mollify the president and still hold true to her principles.  While some of the action is a repeat from the first book, Collins is able to create different dangers and turmoil to afflict the victims of the despotic ruling class.  There is so much intrigue and suspense that the book is hard to put down.  Plus the story is one that remains in your thoughts.  Katniss is truly a memorable character and I really enjoyed her.  At first, I was a little put off by a repeated storyline but I soon became engrossed in the action.  My only complaint with this book is the abrupt ending.  What a cliffhanger, and I don't even know how long I have to wait for Book Three.  Rats.  These books remind me a bit of a book by Gerald Lund, The Alliance, where a super strong central government, even though much more benevolent than the Capitol, still strives to control all those who are under its power.  It's one of my favortie Lund books and features similar struggles by people who want more freedom in their lives.  Definitely put me in the ranks of all those who are loving this trlogy. 
Rating:  4.75

Friday, October 02, 2009

96. Murder on a Bad Hair Day by Anne George

This is the second book I have read in this series and I liked it even better than the first.  Two people are murdered in different ways; and their connection is the Outsiders art displayed at a local gallery.  Sixty-year-old Patricia Anne attends the gallery opening with her older sister, Mary Alice; and soon become involved with the suspects, possible victims, and investigating police.  It's a good mystery, but the real joy of these books is the relationship between the two sisters.  Their obvious love for each other is couched between teasing, sibling rivalry and memories of long-ago disagreements.  They're great characters and this book is hilarious.  A great one when you want a cozy mystery with humor.
Rating:  4