Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's Hot for February!

This month, we’ll be listing the top 15 books our patrons have put on reserve in February.  Several have yet to be published, even!  Without further ado, we’ll get to the list.
15. Loving by Karen Kingsbury
This is the fourth book in the Bailey Flannagan series and will be published in March.  Fans will want to start with the first book in the series, Leaving.

14.  The Look of Love:  A Piper Donovan Mystery by Mary Jane Clark
This is the second book in the “Wedding Cake Mysteries” by a former daughter-in-law of Mary Higgins Clark.  Her previous series was centered on a fictional news network and the reporters there, which allowed her to draw on her background as a former writer and producer at CBS News.

13. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Although she’s been writing since the 1990s, it’s just been recently that Kristin Hannah has hit the best-seller lists with her well written books that deal with contemporary family relationships. In Home Front, a young couple’s marriage is already in trouble when the wife is deployed to Iraq.

12.  Unwritten Laws by Greg Iles
There’s still no word on exactly when this sequel to The Devil’s Punchbowl will be published.  Iles was severely injured in a traffic accident so the book has been delayed.

11. Left for Dead by J.A. Jance
Jance has several popular mystery series.  This one features former television news anchor Ali Reynolds.

10.  Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke
This is the newest entry in the Hannah Swensen mystery series. Hannah is a baker in addition to be a sleuth, and all the books contain recipes.

9.  Catch Me by Lisa Gardner
Gardner is a thriller writer who does both series and standalone books.  This is the newest entry in the DD Warren series.  The veteran police investigator has just returned from maternity leave when she’s approached by a young woman who believes she’s about to become a serial killer’s next victim.

8.  77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
 The Pendleton was built in the late 1800s as a millionaire’s residence.  From the very first, the people who lived there tended to meet unhappy ends.  Now it’s become an apartment building, and the tenants have no idea just what they’re getting into.

7.  11th Hour by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
The new entry in the Women’s Murder Club will be out in May.

6.  Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb
Eve Dallas returns for her first of two cases this year; the second is due out in September.

5.  Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Word has it that this is the next to last book in the Sookie Stackhouse series.

4.  Kill Shot:  An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn
The long-awaited Mitch Rapp book is finally out, after being delayed for several months.

3.  Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate, especially as we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

2.  Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis
This stand alone thriller from Patterson & Ellis will be published in March.

And the top reserve book is:

Private Games by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan
This is the third in Patterson’s new series about an international private detective agency.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pampered to Death by Laura Levine

 Reviewed by Jeanne
When I first picked up this book, I was just a tad confused.  Granted, that isn’t an unusual state for me, but I couldn’t understand why a Jane Austen mystery would have an orange cartoon cat leaving skull shaped tracks in red nail polish. Then I looked again and realized this wasn’t the historical mystery series with Jane Austen as a sleuth written by Stephanie Barron, but a contemporary mystery with a heroine who spells her name “Jaine.”  It had a cat on the cover so I decided to give it a try.
Jaine is another one of those amateur sleuths who just seems to stumble into a murder everywhere she goes.  This time she’s headed to a spa courtesy of a friend whom she saved from a lengthy stay in the slammer when she proved he wasn’t a murderer.  She has her cat Prozac in tow—in a carrier, actually; Jaine would have preferred having the very vocal feline in a separate trailer, but one must make do.  Besides, Prozac should calm down once they’re both settled in what should be a luxurious suite, lounging the day away while nibbling on delicacies and having their every whim being catered to.
Sadly, it’s not that kind of spa.  It’s a health spa. Guests are supposed to consume no more than 900 calories a day; given that meals seem to be color coordinated in shades of gray, even eating that much would be a bit of a stretch. Naturally lounging is frowned up; healthy workouts are the order of the day.  The only exercise Jaine would be interested in would be a hike down to the local pizza parlor.  Olga and her staff are more attuned to denying creature comforts that supplying them—well, except for Delphine the maid.  She’s quite willing to provide some more nearly edible food. . . for a price.  A hefty price.  Fortunately, she takes checks.
The other guests are a self-centered actress and her entourage, her buff and equally self –centered former co-star, and a star-struck grocery checkout clerk who has apparently made it a point to keep up to date on all the tabloid gossip.  Even worse, they all seem to think exercise and food deprivation is only to be expected.  Obviously, these are not Jaine’s kind of people!
Before Jaine can decide to grab Prozac and make a break for it, one of the guests ends up dead—and not just from the awful food.  The only way to escape is to identify the murderer, so Jaine sets about her sleuthing.  Prozac the cat is a diva who knows what she wants, and is one of my favorite characters.  A sub-plot has emails from Jaine’s parents and the neighborhood association; suffice it to say garden gnomes are involved. Light-hearted, funny and in some cases downright zany, Pampered to Death is a good choice for times when you need a good giggle.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2011 Agatha Nominees!

Each year, the attendees of the “Malice Domestic Convention” give awards to the books they consider to be the best traditional mysteries first published in the US in a given calendar year.  “Traditional mysteries”  are defined as books which contain no explicit sex, excessive gore or gratuitous violence.  The works of Agatha Christie are those held up as an example, hence the awards are called “The Agatha Awards.”  The winners will be announced April 28, 2012.  The nominees are:

Best Novel:

The Real Macaw
by Donna Andrews

The Diva Haunts the House
by Krista Davis

Wicked Autumn
by G.M. Malliet

Three Day Town
by Margaret Maron

A Trick of the Light
by Louise Penny

Best First Novel:

Dire Threads
(A Threadville Mystery) by Janet Bolin

 by Kaye George

Learning to Swim
by Sara J. Henry

Who Do, Voodoo?
(A Mind for Murder Mystery) by Rochelle Staab

Tempest in the Tea Leaves
(A Fortune Teller Mystery) by Kari Lee Townsend 

Best Historical Novel:

Naughty in Nice
by Rhys Bowen

Murder Your Darlings
by J.J. Murphy

Mercury's Rise
by Ann Parker

Troubled Bones
by Jeri Westerson

A Lesson in Secrets
by Jacqueline Winspear

For a complete list of all the nominees as well as a list of past winners, visit Malice Domestic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Red on Red by Edward Conlon

Reviewed by Nancy

I have never been a huge reader of crime novels, but when I read a promising review of Red On Red by Edward Conlon I thought it sounded interesting. I put it on hold for myself and waited. 

And waited.

 And waited. 

Apparently the review I read was printed before the book was published, so the wait was a little long.
After a time, I could no longer remember what this book I had on hold was about, and I wasn't sure what had caused me to want to read it. I would look in my library record, see the title, and idly wonder. As time passed, I felt only the mildest curiosity about it. Then the day finally arrived. I checked the book out, and was almost dismayed to see it was a crime novel. Blood, gore, autopsies, hopelessly mean people... these are not really my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot (no pun intended).

I read the first page and was hooked. The story kicks off with a body hanging in a tree in a park, a presumed suicide. On the second page Conlon introduces detectives Meehan and Esposito who work as partners. On the third page the passerby who called the police after discovering the body starts to seem fishy and suspect. So, was it a suicide, or something more sinister?

You get my drift. This book moves along. It contains multiple story lines that are at times confusing, but I suppose that exemplifies how confusing it must be to be an NYPD Detective.

Although he is not officially aware of it, the Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating Esposito, who has a tendency to bend the rules, and Meehan has been recruited by Internal Affairs to spy on Esposito. Esposito, of course, is not aware of his partner's role as a spy. As the story unfolds, this situation is seriously complicated by the fact that Esposito and Meehan become close friends. Meehan was uncomfortable from the start in the role of snitch, but this role becomes unbearable to him as he and Esposito develop a real bond.

Other plot lines involve a serial rapist who is terrorizing the city, a gang war, and Grace, a troubled school girl who will break your heart. On a more personal level, there is the break-up of Meehan's marriage.  

All of these people and plot lines make for a gripping story. Adding to the appeal of the book is the fact that the author, a Harvard graduate, is a NYPD Detective. As an author he is doing more than just imagining a routine day in a detective's life. He lives those routine days so he really knows how to fictionalize them. As I read I felt that I was getting a true picture of what life is like for a Real-Life Big City Detective, and, Gee! Am I ever glad I am not one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

100 Cats Who Changed Civilization by Sam Stall

Reviewed by Jeanne
100 Cats Who Changed Civilization by Sam Stall may not quite live up to its tongue in cheek title, but it is definitely a great way to spend some time.  Some of the cats did indeed have an influence on human civilization  but most wrought change on a much smaller scale. This certainly doesn’t make them any less memorable, delightful or remarkable.  One of my favorite stories is about Oscar who, the chapter heading says, “Sank the Bismarck.”  Actually, it was more that he sank with the Bismarck—although I have to admit that based on what happened afterwards, maybe he did have a little something to do with it.  You see, Oscar was picked up by a British ship where he was dubbed “Unsinkable Sam.” Then that ship was sunk.  Once again, Oscar/Sam is picked up by a ship and —well, that one sank too. Sam was finally put ashore to live out his days in an old mariner’s home. There were some cats I already knew about—brave Scarlett, who suffered life-threatening burns to save her kittens; Dick Whittington’s cat; Mrs. Chippy who sailed on an Antarctic expedition (and was actually a he); CC, the world’s first cloned cat—but others were new.  Some I knew of vaguely, such as Charles Dickens’ cat who snuffed out his candles, but Stall supplied new details.  For example, I knew that Churchill was a cat fancier whose cat attended Cabinet meetings during WWII,  but I didn’t  know that his will stipulated that there must always be a marmalade colored cat named Jock in residence at  his home, Chartwell.  A check revealed that just this last November, Jock V has been moved in.  A young rescue, he’s been making himself quite at home and enjoys jumping into the sinks.
  The book is divided up into categories, such as “Science and Nature” and “Profiles in Courage.” Stall has a sense of humor without being silly, and the stories range from amusing to somewhat sad.  He keeps the stories short, just over a page, and avoids being too sentimental.
  To be honest, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  I’ve read one or two (or sixteen or thirty) similar books, and this one kept me going back for “just one more story.” I may be getting some copies as gifts for friends as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dorothy-L Picks Favorite Mysteries

I belong to a mystery lover's list called "Dorothy-L" in honor of the great Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.  The purpose of the list is to discuss mystery books old and new, with occasional forays into movies, TV and other media as long as the topic is still mysteries.  I've been introduced to a number of new authors this way, rediscovered some old favorites and added to my knowledge of the genre.  Each year, Dorothy-L subscribers are invited to send a list of the best books they've read in the past year, whether or not the books are new.  A wonderful crew of volunteers tabulates the results and produces a list of the top vote-getters.  In reverse order, here's a baker's dozen of top titles:

13. The Queen Of Patpong  by Timothy Hallinan

12. Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

11. Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

10. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

9. Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by C. Alan Bradley

7. Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger

6. The Affair by Lee Child

5. Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

4. Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson

3. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

2. One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

And the book most voted as a favorite was:

1. A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

As you may notice, some authors had more than one book listed as a favorite.  When they compiled the list by number of times an author's work was listed, the winner was again Louise Penny, followed by Julia Spencer-Fleming. The next ten authors were Craig Johnson, Timothy Hallinan, C. Alan Bradley, Lee Child, Tom Franklin, Kate Atkinson, Tess Gerritsen, S.J. Rozan, Michael Connelly and William Kent Krueger.

There's a really fascinating range of authors and subjects!  Louise Penny is a Canadian author who writes about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the homicide department in Three Pines, Quebec. Julia Spencer-Fleming's books are set in Miller's Kill, New York where ex-Army chopper pilot Clare Fergusson has taken up a post as as priest at St. Alban's, the Episcopal chuch. Craig Johnson's books take us to the American West where Walt Longmire helps deliver justice. Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty thrillers are usually set in Bangkok, Thailand, where the ex-pat American is making his home.  C. Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce is a precocious eleven year old in 1950s England with a penchant for chemistry and mysteries.

 Lee Child has been topping the best seller list with his Jack Reacher books for years, and soon Tom Cruise will be playing the ex-military man in a movie version of One Shot. Tom Franklin's first book was a collection of short stories entitled Poachers, the title story of which was chosen as for the anthology Best Mystery Stories of the Century. He's since done three standalone novels which cross several genres, but most have a Southern setting.    Kate Atkinson has been getting much buzz lately for her series with Scottish detective Jackson Brodie; "Cold Case" was the name of the PBS series which aired recently.  Tess Gerritsen's books inspired the series "Rizzoli & Isles;"  her most recent book is The Silent Girl. S.J. Rozan has won just about every mystery award around for her books. Her series characters are Chinese-American Lydia Chin and her partner Bill Smith who are  private investigators in New York.  Michael Connelly is a former crime-beat journalist who has written three very popular mystery series with characters Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller and Jack McEvoy. The recent movie "The Lincoln Lawyer" was based on one of the Mickey Haller books.  William Kent Krueger uses the Minnesota landscape to great effect in his Cork O'Connor mysteries.  Cork is a former Chicago cop who retires-- or tries to retire--to the backwoods area in this series that features strong and memorable characters. 

The complete list of authors and titles is here:  Dorothy-L picks for 2011

If you love mysteries, but haven't read these authors, give them a try! Their work covers a wide assortment of sleuths, settings and even time periods.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Grey Expectations by Clea Simon

"Don't bother me.  I'm reading."

Reviewed by Jeanne 
Things finally seem to be looking up for graduate student Dulcie Schwartz.  She’s settled in with her boyfriend Chris after her own apartment was destroyed and things are good between them.  Her new kitten Esme is becoming dearer to her every day, even if she does like to nip.  Dulcie still gets a word or two of comfort and wisdom from her dearly departed cat, Mr. Grey, although he insists on being cryptic.  Best of all, she is finally making some progress on her thesis about The Ravages of Umbria, an incomplete gothic novel written in the eighteenth century by an unknown author.  Dulcie is determined to try to identify her and try to discover what happened to this courageous, free-thinking woman.  Dulcie’s so obsessed that she’s begun to dream about her.
A frantic phone call turns everything upside down.  Dulcie’s friend and fellow student Trish calls to say the police have been by to question her and that she’s suspected of homicide.  In her efforts to help, Dulcie finds people sometimes aren’t who they claim to be, that books may be haunted, and a valuable clue to her mystery author may be hiding in plain sight.
This is the fifth in the Dulcie Schwartz series and for me, it’s the most successful.  Simon has found the perfect tone—voice, if you will—for Mr. Grey and Esme, and given Dulcie some much needed stability in her life.  She feels more comfortable with herself.  Having a ghostly guide is a problematical thing in most books; either our heroine (it’s usually a she) keeps fighting the idea or else serves as a deus ex machina to clear up plot lines.  Having a ghostly guide who’s a cat may sound just too precious for words, but it’s handled very well.  Mr. Grey, while offering a word or two, believes kittens, be they human or feline, need to find their own way in the world; he tends to limit his comments to general instructions, such as “Things are not always as they seem.”  Mostly he is there for a bit of psychic moral support which Dulcie needs after a life of near-rootlessness and abandonment by her father. I especially like the dynamic in this book between Mr. Grey and Esme, who have brief conversations; he treats Esme much the same way he treats Dulcie.
Equally pleasurable is the parallel that runs between Dulcie’s life and that of her unknown author.  Dulcie is so close to the work that she doesn’t see, leaving the reader to feel a bit like Mr. Grey, knowing that we see something Dulcie can’t. The cast of characters, especially Dulcie’s New Age mother, are likeable.  English majors will identify with Dulcie’s frustrations in researching and proving her thesis, but non-academics won’t have any trouble following that aspect of the book.  In fact, I’m beginning to become as curious as Dulcie as to who this author might have been!
In short, this is a good solid mystery which is fun without being silly, and which melts my cat lover’s heart whenever Esme and/ or Mr. Grey are on the scene!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nevermore: Believing the Lie, Gilead, D.C. Dead, Rules of Civility

The Nevermore Book Club discussion opened with Jud discussing Gilead by Marilynne Robinson which he described as an “American Gothic.”  An elderly minister is writing his memoir for his young son, so that the boy will know more about the person his father is and the forces which shaped him.  He describes his parents and grandparents as well, so the tale covers three generations and a wide swath of American history but does so in a quiet way.  This isn’t a sweeping epic but more of a meditation and consideration of a life. Several members of the club had read this book and all agreed it was a fine read.
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George has Inspector Lynley called in to investigate the death of a drowning victim. He in turn calls in Simon and Deborah St. James who set about investigating the deceased’s family. Our critic felt that the book had too many plot threads—some four different plot lines running through the same book-- and was too wordy. Also, the author separated some of the usual characters, which meant a certain lack of interaction.  The book just bogged down under the weight of all the stories and characters.  She added that while the book was still called “An Inspector Lynley Mystery,” she felt there really wasn’t enough Lynley.
The latest Stuart Woods novel, D.C. Dead, has Stone being summoned to Washington by President Will Lee to undertake an operation that can’t be entrusted to a government agency.  Holly Barker returns as well.  Our reviewer said the book got off to a good start but that he didn’t buy the ending. 
Rules of Civility  by Amor Towles  follows the fortunes of three young people in 1930s New York.  Katey, the daughter of Russian immigrant parents, is determined to work her way up in society, while Eve is a free spirit. Tinker Grey is a banker with a somewhat mysterious background.  The book was praised for the way it portrays the glittering New York scene of the time, with nightclubs, jazz, witty conversations, and sophistication.  Our reviewer compared it to The Great Gatsby, and thought it a wonderful book.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout

reviewed by Gena

Pierre and Marie Curie are names that it is easy to see without any association to human beings. They bring back memories of grade school science classes and quizzes I'm sure I flunked. Then later, as a student in France, they became names I associated with streets or the occasional school. It was all dry, boring history having something to do with science that I didn't understand.

It was on this trip to France where my kneejerk reaction to their names started to change. I started to notice something: "Marie." The streets weren't just named after a faceless, white, male scientist from a hundred years ago. This was a couple, and that couple included a woman at a time when women were not particularly welcome in science. Curiosity overtook me, and I started to read more about the Curies.

When I first heard of Lauren Redniss's graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, I wasn't sure how I felt about their lives presented as a love story. I suppose they were still a little dry and serious to me, so I put off reading it. Then I found it at my library on a day when I was willing to give it a try, and I'm glad I did.

This is a dense graphic novel. You won't find word balloons here. Redniss's art is sparse, but it conveys incredible emotion. Since Pierre's life was much shorter, this is ultimately a novel about Marie, and the story goes on well after Pierre's untimely, heartbreaking death. The pages portraying his death and Marie's life immediately afterward are brutally effective and reduced this jaded reader to tears. This episode is followed by a large photo of Marie at the front of a class full of disturbingly identical male students. She was given Pierre's teaching load at the Sorbonne after his death, thus making her the first woman to teach there. The only text on the page with this photo is Marie's reaction: that someone was stupid enough to congratulate her.

Even after the love promised in the title has ended, the story goes on and becomes even more fascinating. Pierre was not the end of Marie's romantic life. Some time later, Marie began a relationship with one of Pierre's younger, married students. This resulted in a huge scandal and nearly caused the Nobel Prize committee to bar her from accepting her award, but, of all people, Albert Einstein came to her defense and encouraged her to accept anyway. The rest is history (although very interesting history that you will learn if you read this book!).

Redniss's art mixes photo collages and print materials to show not only the Curies' life stories but the consequences of their work that we still live with today. Stories of the "Radium Girls," the Manhattan Project, and other radioactive tales interweave with Marie's own life as the discovery that made her famous slowly eats away at her health and that of her daughter Irene, who also followed in Marie's steps as a scientist.

Radioactive is an amazing tale and a surprisingly long read for a graphic novel that will tug your heartstrings all the way through. While it is not a quick read, it is something you will be eager to get back to, and unless you are a student of science history, you may still be surprised at what comes next.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Traveling Tea Ladies, Killer Sweet Tooth & Great Romance!

Review by Jeanne

Books can take you away to exotic locales, sometimes in such detail that you almost feel you have been there in person.  On the other hand, there is often a special thrill in reading a book that describes places with which you are familiar: you know that road, or that building, or that little town. You know how the sun looks rising over that mountain. Here are two new mysteries which use Southwest Virginia and/or East Tennessee as a setting:
Long time friends Amelia, Cassandra, Sarah, and Olivia are known as “The Traveling Tea Ladies.”  They’re based in Dogwood Cove, Tennessee (which sounds a great deal like Johnson City) where Sarah owns a tea shop and Amelia and her husband own a coffee, herb and tea supply business.  In The Traveling Tea Ladies:  Death in Dixie, the four end up in Jonesborough in response to a distress call from Lucy, another friend and tea shop owner.  A rival tea shop has just opened up and the owner’s stated objective is to put Lucy out of business.  To make matters worse, this new owner is a relative of Sarah’s boyfriend—a not very nice relative, but a relative all the same.  It really isn’t a surprise when she turns up dead, but now Lucy is the chief suspect.   The book is written in a casual, friendly style and local landmarks are mentioned frequently. As an added bonus, the book is set during the National Storytelling Festival.  Author Melanie O’Hara-Salyers owned a tea shop in Johnson City and is a true aficionado.  The book includes recipes (the Treasure Island Rum Raisin Scones sound fabulous!) and tips on brewing tea. This is actually the second book in the series; the first was set in Dallas.  A third book is planned.

Killer Sweet Tooth by Gayle Trent brings back Daphne Martin, a cake decorator who seems to attract murder in the same way that honey attracts flies.  This time Daphne has a friend with a dental emergency, but when they arrive at the office the dentist has been murdered.  Hearing a noise, Daphne grabs the closest thing she can find to a weapon:  a giant prop toothbrush.  The policeman who finds her wielding the “weapon” is less than amused.  Just when it seems that Daphne’s day couldn’t get any stranger, she goes home to find Elvis waiting for her.  It seems he wants a cake—in the shape of a pink Cadillac, no less.  Trent has a good sense of humor and it shines through here to good effect.  There’s a lot of local color without being condescending and the writing flows well. The book is set in “Brea Ridge, Virginia” which is nestled in Washington County, Virginia.  This book also includes recipes.  There are two other Daphne Martin books:  Murder Takes the Cake and Dead Pan.  (Note:  Trent also writes the Embroidery Mysteries under the name Amanda Lee.  These stories revolve around Maggie Singer, owner of a needlework shop in Tallulah Falls Oregon and reluctant sleuth.  There are currently three books in the series which started with The Quick and the Thread.)

Last but certainly not least, Doris was a guest on Daytime TriCities talking about romance books. She did a wonderful job! You can see (and hear!) her suggestions by clicking the following link:  Doris on Daytime Tricites