Monday, February 28, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley, 399 pages

This is the 3rd mystery in the series featuring 11-year-old Flavia, in 1950s England. She is a young girl with a passion for chemistry and poisons, who has a tendency to stumble over dead bodies. These are well-written, filled with lots of science and chemistry, but in a clear way, integral to the plot, (and I say that as someone who didn't enjoy science class in school.) I am always kept guessing, but the plot always makes sense at the end. This book was different from the others in that I kept feeling bad for Flavia with the way she was being raised, or better said, the way she was raising herself. I just wanted to hug her, brush her hair, tuck her in, and tell her someone loves her (yes, that's the emotional mom in me) but it almost interfered with my enjoyment of the book.

A Girl's Guide to Vampires by Katie MacAlister, 388 pages

Joy and her friend Roxy have traveled to Europe and are spending their vacation trying to track down Moravian Dark Ones, aka vampires. These are tortured souls, always men, who are looking for their one true soul mate, the only woman who can save them. Joy is a non-believer, that is until the first night there, when her mind is flooded with images of a tortured soul, drinking human blood. Now Joy must figure out who the mysterious man is that is invading her dreams, mind, and very soul. But she must balance this while dealing with an instant and powerful lust for tall, dark and handsome Raphael and searching for a murderer before the local police arrest her as a suspect.

"A Girl's Guide to Vampires" by Katie MacAlister was a fun, new twist on the vampire story. I read this book when it originally came out and am glad to see the series being rereleased. Katie MacAlister combines tons of steamy sex and seduction with lots of humor, weaved with adventure and mystery to create a fast-paced rollicking, good read. A great addition to the collection for anyone who enjoys romance, vampires, or just an entertaining story.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle, 355 pages

LA naturalist and liberal Delaney and his wife Kyra live in a subdivision in Topanga Canyon. One day he hits illegal immigrant Candido with his car accidentally. Candido refuses help (afraid of INS) and Delaney ends up giving him twenty bucks. Candido has crossed the border with his young pregnant wife America, desperate to make a better life for his family. They must live in a gulch in the canyon until they can earn enough money to get an apartment. The two men will cross paths again and again, but will they ever see each other as they really are.
The library book club read this for January but because of snow had it delayed to the February meeting. I didn't read it in January thinking it looked Steinbecky and put it off. I figured I really should read it so I could talk about at the meeting. I must say I really didn't like this book. Not that it wasn't well written, because it was. But because it made me uncomfortable and challenged my thinking. And who wants a book that challenges you? I like to believe that I am a truly liberal person, but I saw to much of myself in the thinking of the "white" people in this book in their us vs them attitudes. I truly don't believe there will be an easy answer to the immigration issue, but anybody who reads this novel should come to realize that there is no way a wall or fence is going to fix anything, and maybe it's not a black or white issue.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr, 599 pages

Lisa recommended this book to me after I had read Shadow in Gotham based on her review. I love well-done historical mysteries and this novel is one of the best I've read.
A serial killer is stalking 1890s New York City, and Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt (yep, that Teddy Roosevelt) must not only clean up corruption in the police force but put together a group that will be able to outwit and catch this killer. People with mental illnesses at this time where thought to be alienated from society and human nature so experts in mental pathology were called alienists. Famed alienist Laszlo Kreizler and crime reporter John Moore are old friends of Teddy's from college, so they are tapped to head the group. Will they be able to figure out the killer's plans and stop him before outside forces stop them, for good?
This was dark, fast-paced, extremely well-researched, filled with historical characters, and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I'm very glad I listened to Lisa!

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, 256 pages

This book had been reviewed earlier in the blog and sounded really good so I thought I would pick it up. I love the original Grimm fairy tales, children getting cooked, stepsisters getting their eyes pricked out by birds, tons of blood, what's not to like. This is Hansel and Gretel but with them wandering through some of the less famous but still darkly delicious Grimm tales. I especially like the narrator warning you not to let your children read this, not to read it to them, stop reading now! and such. My 9-year-old has been wanting to read the original fairy tales for a while and I told her if she was able to read this I would probably let her. She is only a few chapters from the end and loving the book. If you like your fairytales dark and twisted, you'll want to pick this book up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen, 305 pages

This is the 4th book in the Royal Spyness mystery series. Lady Georgiana Rannoch is 34th in line to the throne but she is a poor heiress. Fleeing the family castle in Scotland for the house in London, Georgiana is living without servants, a lot of heat and much food. But when she is asked by her cousin, the Queen, to represent the crown at a wedding in Transylvania, she figures it will be chance for some fine food, wine and entertainment. Little does she know one of the wedding guests will die almost immediately and Georgiana will be snowed in at the castle with the murderer, ...and a vampire? She must figure out what is going on before she ends the next victim, but of who or what she doesn't know.
This is a fun series that I've enjoyed from book one. Rhys Bowen has written another mystery series set in Wales with a main character named Evan that I really liked so I was glad to see a new book by her. These are always a lot of fun, lots of mystery, humor and a little romance thrown in.

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo, 437 pages

This is the story of 3 men, Fleisher the former cop and customs agent, Bender the forensics artist, and Walter the profiler who started the Vidocq Society. This is a club in honor of the original French detective who was the inspiration for the first detective story. The members are the best in the field of crimefighting who meet once a month for a gourmet meal and a cold case. They have solved many crimes over the years that have baffled authorities.
This was a interesting read, though a little choppy at times, jumping from case to case and back and forth. If you like true crime, this is a read you'll want to pick up. What was really neat was reading about a couple of cases that I remember seeing on Unsolved Mysteries.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos, 154 pages

This books covers the history of sugar, how it influenced trade and slavery, and determined foreign policy. Cari recommended this book and I'm glad she did. I'm a fan of the show Modern Marvel on History Channel and this reminded me a lot of it. I love learning about stuff I had never even thought about, and I had no idea of how much sugar had affected the world. Next time you put some sugar in your coffee, give a thought to the blood, sweat and tears that lay behind it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Miss Piggy's Guide to Life as told to Henry Beard, 113 pages

Miss Piggy is one fabulous pig, and she has written a book to share her tips to a great life. With chapters covering Beauty, Entertaining, Manners, Finance, Exercise and Diet, you can be as amazing as Miss Piggy. One of her tips includes skipping those heavy artichokes and having a light pastry, since it weighs less it's better for you, right? This was a Valentine's Day present from my husband that had been laughing and remembering why I enjoyed the Muppets so much.

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff, 385 pages

Lisa read and reviewed this book a couple of weeks ago, and made it sound so interesting that I had to pick it up. Boy, am I glad I did. It's a mystery that takes place in 1905 New York, when the initial phase of studying the criminal mind was starting. The author did an amazing job of re-creating New York, with an wonderful eye for detail. This book reminded me of others by one of my favorite mystery writers, Will Thomas. I am looking forward to Stefanie's next book, which I told should be out in May.

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn, 307 pages

Henry VIII has been unlucky in love; a Spanish queen that is set aside due to her barreness because of God's anger, a teasing beauty sent to the chopping block, a quiet queen that dies in childbirth, and a plain princess that "withers" the king's interest. Now Henry has fallen for his pure English rose, Katherine Howard. But Katherine Howard is far from pure, and will she be able to navigate the dangerous waters of Henry's court without him realizing this. Childhood friend Cat Tilney is called to serve the new queen. With cloths of gold and gems surrounding her Katherine seems impervious to all gossip, but that can always change. Cat just wants a happy and long life with her love Francis, but that may not be what the future holds.

I love English history and especially Henry VIII's family, so I was excited to see this new novel. "The Confession of Katherine Howard" did not disappoint. Suzannah Dunn did a superb job of bringing to life this intriguing time period, filled with captivating characters that seem larger than life. By telling the story from the viewpoint of a childhood friend, a woman's view of the changes sweeping England's church and goverment makes for interesting reading. For anyone who enjoys Carolly Erickson and Allison Weir, this is a definite must read. "The Confession of Katherine Howard" is a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

Wiener Dog Art by Gary Larson, 111 pages

Sometimes you just want a fun and mindless read (or browse) and Gary Larson always deliver. Even though he's retired, I can still read his comic books over and over. With his unusual look at people and animals, he can deliver a wallop in just one picture. My only hope is that he will blow through all his money and start his comic strip again!

Too Sinful to Deny by Erica Ridley, 344 pages

Susan Stanton was the toast of London society, until she crossed her parents and is banished to distant cousins in Bournemouth, a tiny town along the far coast of England. From the first moment, Susan is plotting ways back home, when she isn't distracted by the darkly handsome Evan Bothwick. Evan must determine who killed his brother, while hiding his smuggling from the local authority. With mysterious dangers threatening them both, flaring passions, and ghosts that demand help, this Evan and Susan must find the answers they seek without losing their lives.

"Too Sinful to Deny" by Erica Ridley is full of promise, passion, and an interesting plot. Unfortunately, it's a little confusing, with unbelievable characters. I initially thought I was missing some chapters in my book since the back story is not fully developed. Evan seems more upset by his attraction to Susan than his brother's death. No one seems upset by the wives that have been mysteriously muted on their wedding nights by the local lord, and the current wife chained up in the basement. If you want a mindless read that is fast-paced, and don't require it to make much sense, you'll love this book.

I wouldn't recommend this book. By the second chapter, it was a struggle to finish it, I only did so because it was one of my review books and I had to. This is the second book by this author that I've read and both of them made me think that maybe chapters had fallen out of my advance reader's copy until I looked at the page numbers. Nope, the chapters were there, plot and character development were just missing!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Death of a Six-Foot Teddy Bear by Sharon Dunn, 290 pages

This is the second book in the Bargain Hunters Mystery series. These ladies are devoted to finding sales, clipping coupons and never paying retail. This was a light murder mystery with Christian overtones. It was a fun read but not one of the best I'd ever read. If I'm really bored and out of books, I would pick up another one, but otherwise it wouldn't be on my list.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman, 270 pages

This was basically a series of short stories all involving one town over 200 years. It was odd and sweet, quirky and disturbing, a really good read. I have only read a few of Alice Hoffman's books and every time I think "Why don't I read more by her?" Then I get distracted, and forget about her until I discover a new one, read it and remember how much I like her books. My mistake was starting this book last night at 8pm. The next thing I knew, it was almost midnight and I had finished the book. I recommend not starting this unless you have some free time or the next day off.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, 290 pages

This book covered world history through beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. From beer featuring in the agricultural settling in Mesopotamia and Egypt, coffee setting off religious debates in the Arab/Muslim world, tea influencing British policy in China and India, wine being the drink of intellectuals in the Greek and Roman civilization, whiskey/rum funding the slave trade and Coke spreading democracy through the world, this book covers it all. Chris in Reference recommended this to me when I mentioned that my family is hooked on the tv show Modern Marvels (imagine a whole hour devoted to how lunch meat is made) and I glad he did. If you love a lot of history, fun facts and a compelling read, you will want to pick this up. I will be quoting facts from this for a long and probably annoying time.

Top Dog Marmaduke at 50 by Brad Anderson, 160 pages

This was a collection covering 50 years of Marmaduke comics. Brad Anderson talked about how he got started, his process and some of the history behind the comics and it showed strips from the various decades. As someone who owned a big, goofy dog, this was a book that had me laughing the whole time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Backstage Stuff by Sharon Fiffer, 290 pages

This is the 6th book in the Jane Wheeler murder mystery series. Jane is a picker, someone who goes to garage and estate sales, looking for goodies to resell. Jane also has a penchant for falling over dead bodies. This is a fun series, fast-paced, and humorous. Plus, it even has a wooden dummy for a suspect. For anyone who watches Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, or American Pickers, this would be a good series to read.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wicked River, The Mississippi When It Las Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin, 270 pages

I told my husband that I have very eclectic tastes in reading. I have read 3 murder mysteries, a historical biography, 2 re"vamped" classics, and now a book about nothing but a river! This book covers the Mississippi basically in its heyday of the 1800s. I had not realized just how much the river changed year to year before it's course become completely controlled by man. This book also covered the people who made the river home and the settlers along it. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that camp meetings (religious revivals) would attracts thousands of people and usually descended into orgies of passion. Much different from camp meetings now! If you like nonfiction books that present a lot of information in a entertaining way, this is a great read. I will never look at the Mississippi the same the next time I drive over the bridge in St. Louis.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The War of the Worlds, Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies by H.G. Wells and Eric S. Brown, 308 pages

Martians have landed and they aren't nice, friendly aliens. The strange creatures are intent on demolishing all human resistance but they aren't the only things threatening all mankind. The spaceships have also brought a plague that turn the dead into flesh-eating zombies. It's a race to see which will destroy the world first!

This is another fun and bloody entry in what can be called re"vamped" classics sweeping the literary world. What classic can't be improved by adding werewolves, vampires, mummies, or in this case, zombies? Eric Brown has done a great job interweaving zombies into H.G. Wells timeless classic. I will be recommending this to anyone who enjoyed "The War of the Worlds", zombie fiction or just a fun read.

The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston, 303 pages

Elizabeth Tudor is about to be crowned Queen of England, but the night before her coronation, she is brought to her mother's tomb to learn about an ancient evil that is threatening her country. Mordred, son of King Arthur, is an immortal vampire, determined to rule with Elizabeth as his queenly consort. Elizabeth must summon all her powers if she has any chance of resisting his seductive plan.

I am a fan of vampire fiction, Queen Elizabeth, and English history, so "The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer" by Lucy Weston was the perfect storm of a book. This combined the exciting story of Elizabeth's early days of queenhood, with the dark betrayal of Mordred against his father, intertwined with seductive vampires. The characters stayed true to history, with the addition of the vampire storyline contributing in a believable plotline. I am anxiously awaiting the next book in what promises to be an entertaining series.

Finished Off by Rebecca Kent, 196 pages

Meredith Llewellyn is headmistress of Bellehaven House, a finishing school for young girls. She and the school is finally returning to normal after the death of a teacher left everyone upset. Meredith is visited by the ghost of a young girl who seeks her help for justice for her dead family. Meredith must investigate, depending on her friends and fellow teachers, while balancing her duties as headmistress. Being a investigator for the dead may leave Meredith with no ghost of a chance of survival.

This is an interesting and different mystery series by Rebecca Kent. "Finished Off" is the second book in the Bellehaven House series. Set in 1905, the characters deal with the struggle of female equality, murder, and ghosts in a fun and witty story. This is a must read book for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries, English mysteries, or a fun, fast read.

Murder Has No Class by Rebecca Kent, 228 pages

It has been months since Meredith Llewellyn has been called on to help a ghost find justice. With an assistant that seems to cause more strife and trouble than help, maids leading her students into a riot for female equality, and girls looking for male companionship in town, she has more than enough on her plate. So when Lord James Stalham shows up protesting his innocence in his father's death, even after being found guilty and hung, she is hesitant to help. But this ghost won't let her rest until he can rest in peace. So Meredith must start looking into this case, even if she might not survive the experience!

"Murder Has No Class" by Rebecca Kent is the third, and final entry in the Bellehaven House series. It is a fun and great trilogy from the first book to the final. All of the characters were quirky and interesting, with intriguing plots that grabbed the reader from the very beginning. I hate that I found this series only to have it end so fast. This is a must have for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries set in England.

High Marks for Murder by Rebecca Kent, 208 pages

Meredith Llewellyn is headmistress of the young ladies' finishing school, Bellehaven House. When teacher and friend Kathleen Duncan is found dead in the school's garden, Meredith is sure that it was an accident. Until a bloody branch proves that it was murder. Kathleen's ghost appears to Meredith, seeking her help in finding the killer. Meredith must utilize all the resources available to her if she want to get justice for Kathleen, without losing her sanity in the process.

"High Marks for Murder" is the first in a murder mystery series by Rebecca Kent set in 1905 England. With tons of interesting characters, humourous plots, and intriguing mysteries, this is a series that murder mystery fans should find a welcome addition to their bookshelves. My only regret is that I hadn't discovered this author earlier.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, 304 pages

I love biographies, so I was very excited to see this new one about Cleopatra. Unfortunately, this falls short of my expectations. This presented facts in a very dry way, more educational than entertaining. I prefer my biographies to be able to hold my attention, so I will enjoy the novel while learning. There are much better biographies of Cleopatra, so I don't recommend this.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Revised Rules for February

To make it easier to apply rules consistently across the board, I am requesting that people only post books that are juvenile level or above starting now. No easy fiction/nonfiction and no storybooks please. This way I won't worry about book totals being weighted so a whole bunch of children books won't tip the scales unfairly. I thought about saying so many storybooks equal 1 book, but then how would we figure easy fiction and graphic novels? For January I am giving everyone credit for 1 book for every book read, be it a 500 page book or a 30 page storybook. If you have any questions, just comment and I will reply. Thanks.