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CBL's 2011 Challenge

The 11 in 11 Category Challenge

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Aug 12, 2010, 10:20pm Top

My main challenge is a step challenge, with 3 bonus categories of 11 books each for total goal of 99 books. I lived in London for several years, and my categories are inspired by the London Underground lines. None of my categories is exclusively fiction or non-fiction (except category 1, obviously).

1. District - 1 book about local history
2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities
3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music
4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion
5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada
6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon
7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to
8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme
9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era
10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction
11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories

Bonus categories:
11 TBRs (books I've owned at least 6 months; no 2011 books)
11 books for other challenges
11 books "just because"

Edited: Jun 26, 2011, 12:16am Top

Edited: Jul 15, 2011, 9:53pm Top

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities - COMPLETE

1. The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
2. The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

The Coffee Trader by David Liss (Amsterdam)
City of dreams : a novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and early Manhattan by Beverly Swerling
A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong (Shanghai & St. Louis)
Out of the Blackout by Robert Barnard (London)
London: A History by Francis Sheppard
London: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd

Edited: Aug 9, 2011, 9:22pm Top

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon - COMPLETE

1. The Corpse Wore Tartan by Kaitlyn Dunnett
2. Blood of the Prodigal by P. L. Gaus
3. Death by Deep Dish Pie by Sharon Short
4. Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
5. Blackwork by Monica Ferris
6. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Bleeding Hearts by Jane Haddam

Edited: Sep 26, 2011, 7:36am Top

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to - COMPLETE
1. Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi (Hungary)
2. Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes (Switzerland)
3. The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (Italy)
4. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks (Moldova)
5. White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones (Alaska)
6. Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley (Botswana)
7. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Scotland)

The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi

Edited: Oct 17, 2011, 7:51am Top

Edited: Oct 22, 2011, 10:55am Top

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era - COMPLETE
1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
2. The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins
3. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
4. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
5. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
6. Death Cloud by Andy Lane
7. The Excursion Train by Edward Marston
8. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
9. The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
The Detective and Mr. Dickens by William J. Palmer
The Wide, Wide World by Susan Warner
The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton by Kathryn Hughes
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

Edited: Aug 9, 2011, 10:12pm Top

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories - COMPLETE
1. The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters
2. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
3. Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie
4. Ratking by Michael Dibdin
5. Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson
6. The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page
7. Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
8. Vendetta by Michael Dibdin
9. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
10. The Sherlock Holmes Theatre by Arthur Conan Doyle et al.
11. Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
The Leper of St. Giles by Ellis Peters
The Black Mountain by Rex Stout
Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson
Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephanie Barron
The Dutchman by Maan Meyers
The Gracie Allen Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine
Ratking by Michael Dibdin
The Snake, The Crocodile, and the Dog by Elizabeth Peters
Evans Above by Rhys Bowen
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
Killing Cassidy by Jeanne Dams
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Edited: Oct 8, 2011, 7:45am Top

Bonus Category 1 - 11 TBRs - COMPLETE
I'll limit myself to books I've owned at least 6 months, excluding books published in 2011.

1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
2. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
4. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
5. The Queen's Gambit by Diane Stuckart
6. Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini
7. Trophy Hunt by C.J. Box
8. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
9. Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephanie Barron
10. The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness
11. Death Assemblage by Susan Cummins Miller

Miss Buncle, Married by D. E. Stevenson
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
The Girl in Blue by P. G. Wodehouse
A Prologue to Love by Taylor Caldwell
The Lumby Lines by Gail Fraser
The Happy Bookers by Richard Armour
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
A Common Life by Jan Karon
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Edited: Sep 26, 2011, 7:56am Top

Bonus Category 2 - 11 books for other challenges - COMPLETE

1. The Yard Dog by Sheldon Russell (Oklahoma book for 50 States challenge; 1940s era for Reading Through Time challenge)
2. The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton (April TIOLI Challenge)
3. The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters (Reading Through Time religion theme)
4. Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Maryland book for 50 states challenge; May TIOLI Challenge)
5. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (Nebraska book for 50 states challenge; June TIOLI challenge)
6. The Secret Ingredient Murders by Nancy Pickard (Rhode Island book for 50 states challenge; June TIOLI challenge)
7. West of Rehoboth by Alexs D. Pate (Delaware book for 50 states challenge; July TIOLI challenge)
8. The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming (New Jersey book for 50 states challenge; August TIOLI challenge)
9. Escape Artist by Ed Ifkovic (August TIOLI challenge)
10. Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie (September TIOLI challenge)
11. The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (September TIOLI challenge)

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Edited: Sep 3, 2011, 4:10pm Top

Bonus Category 3 - 11 books "just because" - COMPLETE
1. Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
2. Dancing with Mr. Darcy compiled by Sarah Waters
3. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
5. South Riding by Winifred Holtby
6. The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
7. Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee
8. Cabal by Michael Dibdin
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
10. Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
11. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Dancing with Mr. Darcy compiled by Sarah Waters

Edited: Aug 12, 2010, 11:39pm Top

Isn't it funny how we try to make the categroies themselves fun? It doesn't matter that we love to read, the categories have to be fun too.

Aug 12, 2010, 11:47pm Top

Ahh, I LOVE your categories! So clever!!!

Aug 13, 2010, 3:05am Top

Very elegant setup, CBL! Looking forward to following it!

Aug 13, 2010, 12:12pm Top

>16 cyderry:-18 Thanks! I think the fun categories make it less like homework and more like, well, fun!

Aug 14, 2010, 12:41pm Top

What a neat idea to use references to your London days - a good way to remind yourself of time there. It must have been a good experience.

Aug 14, 2010, 10:32pm Top

It was a great experience, and I have lots of happy memories of my time there. I spent a lot of time on the Underground, especially the my first year there before I had a car.

Aug 15, 2010, 2:58pm Top

I'm loving the Tube-categories too! Very clever!!

Aug 15, 2010, 4:30pm Top


Aug 15, 2010, 9:25pm Top

A wonderful themed set-up for your challenge. I'll be joining you with a stepped approach for 2011 just to give myself some breathing space.

Aug 16, 2010, 5:27pm Top

>24Thanks! I think I'll end up reading more than 100 books this year, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to read that many next year. The stepped approach is less stress-inducing. This is supposed to be fun, after all!

Aug 17, 2010, 5:33pm Top

yep let me just chime in and also admire the theme, so cool!

Dec 31, 2010, 9:23am Top

I'm officially starting my 2011 reads today. I finished a book last night and realized that I wouldn't finish anything I started today until 2011. First up is Mistress of the Art of Death for my Bakerloo (mystery/crime) category.

Jan 2, 2011, 3:59pm Top

I also really like the idea of naming your categories after the lines of the Underground. I have the Franklin books in the TBR pile. Eventually I may get around to reading them.
I have to give a thumb up to The Geography of Bliss - one of the few books on your list that I've actually read. It's very good. Looking forward to seeing what you think of that one.

Jan 2, 2011, 4:52pm Top

Glad to see the train leaving platform :)

Jan 2, 2011, 5:36pm Top

All I need now is a computer voice reminding passengers to "mind the gap"!

Jan 3, 2011, 6:38pm Top

First stop on the Waterloo & City line: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

This wasn't quite the book I expected to read. It leans more toward the thriller end of the mystery/crime genre than I expected. The sympathetic characters seem to view their world from a modern “enlightened” perspective. Unlike the anti-Semitic Cambridge populace, they are, to varying degrees, tolerant of religious and cultural differences. The main character, a female doctor educated in Salerno, seems like a 21st century woman who values her career above love and marriage. She is described as being opposed to “capital punishment”, a phrase I found jarring in a book set in the 12th century. A few passages (which, unfortunately, I neglected to mark) showed the author's ability to transcend sensationalism, but on the whole, it was more adrenaline-raising rather than thought-provoking.

The aspects of the book that worked well for me are some of the minor characters – the prior, the housekeeper and her young grandson, who provide local color with their speech and their canny approach to life. I also like Franklin's portrayal of Henry II as a self-interested ruler aware of both his power and its limits.

I might have had a more favorable reaction to this book if I hadn't recently read a couple of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels, set earlier in the same century. Peters books pull me into the 12th century and keep me there, which Franklin didn't quite manage to do.

3 stars

Jan 3, 2011, 7:05pm Top

You are so right. Peters does an amazing job recreating the atmosphere of the time period with her Brother Cadfael series.... so much so that I really wish I could go and sit in a bench in Cadfael's herb garden in the sun and share a flask of his medicinal brew. Franklin's novels don't have that same cachet. Pity really, but I have read all of Peters' Brother Cadfael series. *sighs*

Jan 3, 2011, 8:32pm Top

I'm planning on another Peters sometime this month for the Reading Through Time challenge. I'm just getting started on that series so I have quite a few more to look forward to!

Jan 4, 2011, 12:52pm Top

31 I saw somewhere on LT that Franklin's book was a strong contender for "book most abandoned" by members here - with it's anachronism as an oft stated reason.

Jan 4, 2011, 1:11pm Top

That's interesting. I didn't dislike it enough to abandon it, but I can see why some readers would do that.

The really puzzling thing is that Mistress of the Art of Death won awards for best historical fiction (Ellis Peters Historical Award & Macavity Award). I read the other reviews after I wrote mine, and many reviewers have commented on the anachronisms.

Jan 4, 2011, 8:48pm Top

@#35 - I agree. I do plan on reading book 4 in the Mistress of the Art of Death series as soon as it is my turn in the hold queue at the library but I have a little difficulty with it's award winning pedigree. I just treat it as fun historical escapism. My favorite Franklin novel is City of Shadows set in 1922 Berlin.

Jan 4, 2011, 8:52pm Top

City of Shadows is one of my long-time TBRs. Maybe I can work it in later this year.

Jan 5, 2011, 5:10am Top

@35-36 Don't know how widespread the Franklin-bashing is. I just stumbled on a thread about abandoned books, and Mistress in the art of death seemed a strong contender. My wife, who loves historical novels, has really enjoyed all Franklin books she's read, though.

Jan 5, 2011, 6:17pm Top

I have Mistress of the Art of Death on Mt. TBR, but I was warned ahead of time of its anachronism, so I think I'll enjoy it. I do really want to read the Brother Cadfael series, so I'll clearly read Franklin's books first! :)

Jan 5, 2011, 6:28pm Top

I think that's a good idea! I really do think part of my problem with Franklin's book was reading it so close in time to one of Ellis Peters' books. If you read Franklin first, you won't be comparing her to Peters!

Jan 5, 2011, 7:06pm Top

If nothing else, LT is fantastic at getting your expectations at the right level before reading a book!!! :)

Jan 5, 2011, 10:34pm Top

In my "Just Because" bonus category: Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, because I wanted to read the book before watching the TV adaptation.

Framed is a wonderfully quirky book about the unexpected effects of famous works of art on a small town in Wales. The book is narrated by Dylan Hughes, the only boy left in Manod so with little hope of a pickup game of soccer. Other Manod residents include the Misses Sellwood, who drive to town every Wednesday with blind Miss Elsa behind the wheel while Miss Edna steers; Daft Tom, a child-like man obsessed with the Ninja Turtles; Terrible Evans, who signals her crush on Dylan by poking him in the eye whenever he's within reach; and Dylan's younger sister, Minnie, whose fascination with crime and criminals may signal trouble ahead.

Cottrell Boyce gets 9-year-old Dylan's voice just right. Dylan's Manod seems like the center of the world, and it's someplace I'd love to visit. Of course, I'll be stopping at the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel for a latte and a Crispy Choc Constable while I'm there. Maybe I'll even kick a soccer ball around with Dylan, if he wouldn't mind playing with a girl.

4 1/2 stars

Jan 6, 2011, 1:03am Top

Brother Cadfael series is one that I am hoping to get to this year, I have been setting the ones I find used aside, and put a Mystery section in my challenge. So I am glad to hear that you like them. And yay for a Canadian category! I look forward to hearing which books you choose :)

Jan 6, 2011, 5:38am Top

Framed sounds quite fun. Onto the wishlist it goes. Thanks for the review.

Jan 8, 2011, 12:24pm Top

First stop on the Picadilly line: Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi, set in Hungary circa 1900

“You wouldn't like it, it tastes like coconut” is what I always tell my diabetic father whenever I indulge in a sugary dessert in his presence. We both know that's not true. However, I know he doesn't want me to give up something I enjoy because he can't enjoy it, too.

The Vajkays don't live like that. For years, Mother and Father Vajkays have denied themselves things they enjoy out of sensitivity for their daughter, Skylark, a spinster of uncertain age. They live with the fiction that they don't enjoy those activities, and they speak disparagingly of those who do. When Skylark goes away for a week's visit with relatives in the country, her parents tentatively rediscover the delights of things they'd given up for years, and they confront some unspoken truths. The ordered lives they lead with Skylark stand out against those of other inhabitants of the town who indulge their passions with abandon.

Nothing of great consequence happens in this short novel. The action is mostly internal. Even the minor characters are interesting. While on the surface this is a lighthearted novel and there are several humorous scenes, the underlying mood is one of melancholy, disappointment, and resignation, with a tinge of apathy. The main weakness of the book is that the author leans a little too much toward “telling” rather than “showing”.

My edition tells me that two of the author's other works are available in English translation. I've now added two more TBRs to my mushrooming list. Recommended warmly, especially to readers of literature in translation.

4 stars

Jan 8, 2011, 5:13pm Top

42 You really do seem to have an eye for good stories set in small towns in Wales! After being really enjoying The earth hums in B-flat last year, I'm sure to read this one at some point too! Oh, and Skylark sounds very fun as well. Making note of that one also.

Edited: Jan 8, 2011, 6:48pm Top

There seem to be lots of interesting children in Wales - at least in fiction! I convinced my father to watch the TV adaptation of Framed and he thought it was great. I wanted to read the book first, but watching the TV version is on my to-do list for this weekend. It's only available to watch for a limited time.

I think you would probably enjoy Skylark, too. It's a short novel so it doesn't require a huge investment of time.

Jan 16, 2011, 7:21pm Top

First stop on the Hammersmith & City line: Troubadour's Song by David Boyle.

In his acknowledgments, the author reveals that this is a book he has always wanted to write. That worked out well for me, because it's a book I've always wanted to read. My interest in Richard the Lion-heart goes back to my early twenties, when I visited a friend in Austria and spent a couple of hours in Dürnstein wandering its streets and climbing around the ruins of the castle where legend says Richard was imprisoned. I also read Ivanhoe around the same time, in which Walter Scott imagines Richard's return to England after the 3rd Crusade.

The author starts with the legend of Blondel's discovery of Richard in his prison in Dürnstein Castle as he sang beside its walls and heard Richard's echoing voice. Boyle presents evidence substantiating that Blondel was a historical person and not merely legendary, and he meshes legend and historical account into probable locations and a time line for Richard's flight through Europe, his capture, and his imprisonment. However, he doesn't present any convincing evidence that Richard and Blondel knew each other, let alone had any sort of friendship. All he offers is speculation about when and where they might have met. Blondel pretty much drops out of the story just over halfway through, when Richard is discovered in prison. The rest of the book describes the political negotiations for Richard's release, the raising of his ransom, Richard's return to England, and the last few years of his life. Blondel wasn't involved in any of that.

The narrative is chronological for the most part; the author only occasionally got ahead of himself in telling Richard's story. The list of characters at the front of the book is nice, but I still had trouble distinguishing among all of the different Henrys mentioned in the book. The maps, genealogical charts, and illustrations added to the text, and I didn't feel like anything was lacking in the helps provided. The author relies heavily on secondary sources, which is appropriate for a popular history for a general audience.

3 stars

Since a good chunk of the book deals with the history of troubadours and music in Richard's era, I decided to put this in my music category rather than history for now.

Jan 23, 2011, 12:21am Top

Second stop on the Waterloo line: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

October, 1909. The all-male Milliron household is getting by a year after losing their wife and mother. A chance newspaper advertisement brings excitement into their lives in the form of a housekeeper from Minneapolis – a housekeeper who “can't cook but doesn't bite.” Typically for a small community, the Milliron's new domestic arrangements spill over into the three brothers' school life. Decades later, the oldest Milliron brother, Paul, recalls the events of this pivotal year in the lives of his family and of their rural Montana school. It's clear that the newcomers will be catalysts for change, but it's not clear whether the changes will be for better or worse.

The Whistling Season will provoke nostalgia in many readers – for family and community, for the carefree days of childhood, for simpler times that exist only in memory. However, this is much more than a sentimental, “feel good” book. Doig is a master story teller – dramatic without being melodramatic, and very witty. No detail is unimportant, yet the details don't weigh the story down. If readers haven't already identified with Paul, they'll be hooked by his description of his part of a shared bedroom: My books already threatened to take over my part of the room and keep on going. Mother's old ones, subscription sets Father had not been able to resist, coverless winnowings from the schoolhouse shelf—whatever cargoes of words I could lay my hands on I gave safe harbor. I think book lovers everywhere will recognize that room! Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

Jan 23, 2011, 5:48am Top

I think that one will have to go on the TBR list for this year. It sounds perfect for my Western category.

Jan 23, 2011, 12:51pm Top

I read The Whistling Season last year for my Montana read, it truly is a wonderful book, really captured the feeling of a small, rural community.

Jan 23, 2011, 1:48pm Top

>51 DeltaQueen50: This book made me miss my mother, who's been gone almost 8 years now. She grew up in a small town in farm country, and, like the narrator in the Whistling Season, grieved over the closing of small town schools. Whenever she'd hear the claim that consolidated schools provide more curricular choices, she'd counter with "their basketball teams still have 5 players". She believed that small community schools give people with average talents and abilities opportunities to be involved in extracurricular activities like music and sports, many of whom wouldn't be talented enough to make the cut in a big school.

Jan 23, 2011, 2:32pm Top

My mother is the one who passed The Whistling Season on to me, she too grew up in the country and often told us stories about her small country school and how community events often took place in and around the school. Also my husband grew up just north of where The Whistling Season is set. He was in a small farming community in Southern Saskatchewan. Even though he grew up in the 1950's, there were many similarities between his experiences and the turn of the century Montana. Of course, my husband could hardly wait to get out of Saskatchewan! He prefers to think of himself as a city boy. :)

Jan 23, 2011, 4:36pm Top

Ivan Doig is a name that keeps popping up on LT. I'm going to have to try one of his books one of these days.

Jan 23, 2011, 4:45pm Top

I don't think I'd heard of Ivan Doig before joining LT, so I credit LT for my discovery of his books. After reading this one, I've added a couple more of his books to my ballooning wish list.

Edited: Jan 25, 2011, 10:56am Top

Another book in my "Just Because" bonus category: Dancing with Mr. Darcy, a short story collection compiled by Sarah Waters

Short stories are not one of my favorite genres, but I couldn't resist adding this collection of Jane Austen-inspired stories to my wish list. One of my friends who shares a love for Jane Austen spotted it there and bought it for me for Christmas. I've been dipping into it one story at a time until I ran out of stories.

All of the stories were entered in a Jane Austen short story competition. The panel of judges included well-known novelist Sarah Waters, as well as a descendant of one of Jane Austen's brothers. It must have been difficult to select a winner from the stories included in this collection. There were just three stories that disappointed me, and several that I really liked.

My favorites selections:

Tears Fall on Orkney by Nancy Saunders. I expect this story of unrequited love will linger the longest in my memory. The understated tone hit me just right.

Miss Austen Victorious by Esther Bellamy. A local theatre company rehearses Pride and Prejudice during the Blitz.

Cleverclogs by Hilary Spiers. A young reader experiences her first Jane Austen novel.

One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role by Felicity Cowie. I was hooked from the first sentence: Hannah Peel was dispatched by her author to shadow heroines from Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

The variety of writing styles in the collection almost guarantee that every Jane Austen fan will find something to his or her liking. Recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Jan 25, 2011, 1:43pm Top

The Whistling Season sounds really good -- I've added it to my wishlist.

Love your Tube line categories!

Jan 26, 2011, 10:39pm Top

First stop on the Bakerloo line: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

When an older man marries a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, today's cynic assumes she's married him for his money. In Cadfael's England, Huon de Domville, a baron “well past the prime”, is set to marry 18-year-old heiress Iveta de Massard for her wealth and lands. Iveta is in love with one of his squires, and the young lovers haven't given up all hope of finding a way out for Iveta. However, no one was prepared for what happened next.

Peters avoids the faults of some historical fiction authors whose characters seem to have modern world views. I think the difference is that other writers often emphasize attitudes and opinions, while Peters focuses on emotions and character traits like love and hatred, compassion and cruelty, fear and comfort, trust and betrayal. Even though I could see early on where the plot was heading and guessed many of the characters' secrets, there were still some surprises along the way. I haven't read many writers who are able to tell a story so well and resolve the problems so satisfactorily. Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

Jan 27, 2011, 1:13am Top

This one is one of my very favorites in this series. I think she gets it just right.

Jan 29, 2011, 6:37pm Top

First stop on the Jubilee line: The Corpse Wore Tartan by Kaitlyn Dunnett because of its Burns Night setting (Jan. 25). I attended a Burns Night supper earlier this week!

Members of a Scottish heritage society gather at The Spruces for their annual Burns Night Supper in honor of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns. A winter storm strands both guests and staff in the hotel without electricity, landlines, cell phones, or radio communication with the outside. Then the body of one of the guests is discovered. He had antagonized plenty of his fellow guests since their arrival at the hotel. Liss MacCrimmon and her friends are on their own. Will they be able to identify the guilty party before the weather improves enough to allow the murderer to escape?

This cozy mystery was a little better than average. While the hotel setting is frequently used by cozy authors, the occasion was unusual. Many of the clues are connected to the Scottish theme. Liss suffers from the frequent tendency of cozy heroines to meddle where they have no business meddling, but she isn't as annoying as many. I do wish that her friend Sherri, a police officer, had a central role in the series instead of being a supporting character. Her character has potential, and, unlike Liss, she actually has a good reason for investigating crime. Recommended, especially for cozy fans with Scottish heritage.

3 1/2 stars

Jan 31, 2011, 9:57pm Top

Second stop on the Bakerloo line: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs has worked with Scotland Yard in the past, and now she has the opportunity to work with British intelligence. Something isn't quite right at a Cambridge college built on pacifist ideals, and Maisie's job is to uncover anything that might be a danger to the country while she works undercover as a philosophy lecturer. No sooner has the term started than a murder is discovered. Meanwhile back in London, Billy works on a case for an old friend of Maisie's.

Maisie's personality is suited for academia. I've read a number of mysteries with academic settings, and most of the time the professor/sleuth seems to do everything but what s/he is paid to do – teach. Maisie's position is a means to an end, yet she takes her teaching responsibilities seriously and fits her investigative work around her class schedule. She seems to enjoy teaching, and I wish there had been more interaction between Maisie and her students in the book.

Maisie's assignment seemed a bit vague to me. Solving the murder was tangential to her assignment, yet she considered her work complete once the murder had been solved (except for finishing out her teaching responsibilities for the term). I'm not sure that espionage brings out the best in Maisie's character. She has always been tactfully forthright, but as a consequence of her intelligence work she finds herself having to lie convincingly on a number of occasions. It will be interesting to see how deeply Maisie can become involved in intelligence work before having a crisis of conscience.

I'm not sure how I feel about this new direction for the series. So far, I prefer Maisie as private investigator rather than spy. However, as the series progresses closer in time to World War II, I have a feeling that national security is going to play a bigger role in Maisie's cases.

This review is based on an advance reader's e-proof provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

3 1/2 stars

Feb 1, 2011, 5:11pm Top

Another in my "Just Because" bonus category: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

In The Shallows , Nicholas Carr examines the physiological and psychological effects of the Internet within the framework of Marshall McLuhan's theory. Carr maintains that the influence of the Internet is changing the way people think. Carr addresses topics including information vs. knowledge, depth of thought vs. breadth of thought, memory, attention, distraction, IQ, and artificial intelligence and the Turing test. Although the language is often highly technical, the book is accessible to the educated general reader.

One of my favorite passages is Carr's description of ELIZA, a computer program that simulates a Rogerian therapist. Carr describes its programmer's astonishment at the emotional reactions people had to the ELIZA software.

Even his secretary, who had watched him write the code for ELIZA “and surely knew it to be merely a computer program,” was seduced. After a few moments using the software at a terminal in Weizenbaum's office, she asked the professor to leave the room because she was embarrassed by the intimacy of the conversation. “What I had not realized,” said Weizenbaum, “is that extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people.”

I remember being amused by ELIZA as an early teen. This was in the early days of personal computers, before software downloads, when you could buy books of BASIC programs and type them into your home computer. I think I typed the code for ELIZA into my father's computer, and I never believed the computer was doing anything other than what it had been told to do. I thought that it said more about the limitations of Rogerian therapy than it did about the humanness of the computer. (I should add that my father's educational background is social psychology and at that time he was teaching college level psychology. Otherwise I wouldn't have known any more about psychology than the average teenager.)

Recommended for readers interested in technology and its effects on society.

4 stars

Edited: Feb 3, 2011, 12:57am Top

Ok, I am putting The Shallows on my wishlist now, thank you for that great review! I had not heard about the computerized Rogerian therapist.. that is hilarious! I wonder if you can still get a copy now? Would love to show it to my class at some point :P

Feb 3, 2011, 6:18am Top

Thanks! I think ELIZA is still around in various incarnations. I found a Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA

Edited: Feb 5, 2011, 7:18pm Top

January Recap

Best: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
Worst: No “stinkers” this month, but Mistress of the Art of Death was my biggest disappointment

1. District - 1 book about local history 0/1

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 0/2

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 1/3
Troubadour’s Song by David Boyle

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 0/4

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 0/5

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 1/6
The Corpse Wore Tartan by Kaitlyn Dunnett

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 1/7
Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 0/8

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 0/9

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 2/10
Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 2/11
The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Bonus categories:
11 TBRs (books I've owned at least 6 months; no 2011 books) 0/11

11 books for other challenges 0/11

11 books "just because" 3/11
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Dancing with Mr. Darcy compiled by Sarah Waters
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

10/99 completed

Feb 6, 2011, 3:54pm Top

First book in my TBR bonus category: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple isn't for the fainthearted reader. If you can tolerate some graphic descriptions of abuse (both sexual and physical), strong language, and sexuality, you'll be rewarded with some poetically beautiful passages.

This is a novel in letters written by sisters Celie and Nettie. Each one's voice is distinct, but Celie's seems the most powerful. Celie had little formal education, and her dialect is more unique than Nettie's grammatically correct style. Both women address issues of racial inequality in the Jim Crow South, conflict and violence between husbands and wives/men and women, and poverty. Additionally, Nettie's missionary venture to Africa prompts her to reflect on the differences between African American and African cultures.

Continuity issues always jump out at me, and this book has several. The time line between Celie's and Nettie's letters just doesn't add up. Events that seemingly span several years in Celie's account happen within weeks or months in Nettie's account. I don't think time was an important concern for Alice Walker, though. No dates are mentioned in the novel, although there are vague references to World War II. The story is more important than the details, and readers will do well to turn off their internal calendars and immerse themselves in the flow of the words.

3 1/2 stars

Feb 6, 2011, 4:41pm Top

Great start on the year!

Re The Corpse Wore Tartan: I also thought Sherri was the more appealing character! I'm not sure how soon I'll get to it, but I intend to backtrack to the earlier books in the series.

Feb 6, 2011, 5:02pm Top

>67 ivyd: As the series goes along, maybe the author will write one or two books with Sherri and Pete getting center stage. Katherine Hall Page did this with Pix in the Faith Fairchild series. My favorite book of that series has Pix as its central character - The Body in the Fjord.

Feb 13, 2011, 5:02pm Top

Second stop on the Piccadilly line: Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes

If the quality of travel writing can be measured by the strength of desire it inspires in a reader for travel to that destination, then Diccon Bewes's Swiss Watching is very good. The book is part travelogue and part introduction to popular culture. The more I read of it, the more eager I became to make a return trip to Switzerland. (In my college years, I spent a couple of days in Switzerland on a camping trip from London to Italy's Adriatic coast.)

Bewes is a UK citizen who now lives in Switzerland. He's been in Switzerland long enough to notice things about Swiss culture and geography that most short-term tourists wouldn't notice. His writing is mostly complimentary, and the occasional criticisms have an air of affectionate amusement rather than arrogant superiority.

The book is heavy on cultural comparisons between Switzerland and the UK. I lived in the UK for several years, so I had no difficulty with the British English and cultural references. Americans with less exposure to British English may be puzzled by references to places/things like Sainsbury's, OBEs and Clapham Junction.

"Extras" include maps hand drawn by the author, an alphabetical list of cantons with demographic, geographic, and cultural statistics, and a recommended reading list helpfully divided between books about Switzerland, books set in Switzerland, and books by Swiss authors available in English translation.

Recommended to readers looking for popular travel writing a step above a basic travel guide. Since Bewes writes as an outsider, readers interested in a deeper study of Swiss culture will want to balance it with books written by cultural insiders.

This review is based on an electronic copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

4 stars

Feb 18, 2011, 9:10pm Top

First stop on the Circle line: My Confederate Kinfolk by Thulani Davis

African American author Thulani Davis explores the family of her white great-grandfather, William Campbell, in My Confederate Kinfolk. Davis states that “this text is not a history nor a genealogy but built from my own great interests: how we define being American, how we deal with race, and human character.” Most of the book focuses on William Campbell and his immediate family – mother, siblings, and niece - during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Campbell family had extensive land holdings and business interests in Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas. The Campbells were cotton planters, slave owners, and loyal Confederates. Davis thoroughly researched the Campbell family and discovered some interesting facts and connections to prominent American families like the Polks and the Danforths. However, the writing has a stilted, impersonal feel, and I was never quite comfortable while reading it. I think the author's conflicted feelings about her relationship to this family comes across in her writing. It was difficult for me to maintain an interest in people the author clearly seemed to dislike.

I was curious about the relationship between William Campbell and Davis's African American great-grandmother, a former slave. Was their relationship consensual or coerced? Were they married? I didn't learn the answers to these questions until about three quarters of the way through. What did her grandmother feel and experience as a biracial child in Mississippi and Alabama? Davis's grandmother, Georgia, left an unpublished memoir, and Davis knew her grandmother, yet her grandmother is a peripheral figure in this story. The book has quite a few grammatical errors that should have been caught before publication. I checked more than once to make sure I wasn't reading an uncorrected proof copy. While the author doesn't claim to be a genealogist, she does use the types of records and repositories that genealogists use. However, the bibliographical references, particularly those for census and vital records, are not detailed enough for other researchers to follow her trail.

The book was worth reading just for the first chapter, where Davis reflects on her research, American history (both white and African American), and how her discoveries affected her. I've read a lot about the Civil War, but not much about Reconstruction, and I learned quite a bit about that era from this book. A few months ago, I read a novel about the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, so the references to that battle in Davis's book captured my attention. Davis read widely as she prepared to write this book, following recommendations from subject experts. I added a few items from her bibliography to my reading list.

Readers with a connection to the Campbell family will find much to interest them in this book, but other readers may struggle to maintain their interest all the way to the end.

2 1/2 stars

Edited: Feb 19, 2011, 12:59pm Top

>70 cbl_tn: That's too bad! It sounds like it could have been really good! But based on your great review, I think I'll pass on it...

Feb 19, 2011, 9:31pm Top

Another book in my "just because" bonus category: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. I received it as a gift from SantaThing.

During China's Cultural Revolution, millions of young people were sent from China's cities to the country for “re-education”. Dai Sijie writes of two teen-aged friends sent to a village in a mountainous rural area. The pair come up with various schemes to make life in the country bearable. When they discover a cache of contraband Western literature, they set out on a re-education program of their own, with a beautiful young seamstress from a neighboring village as their student.

The author was himself a re-educated youth, so he writes from personal experience. The story is told in first person by one of the young men. The pair reminded me a little bit of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in their ability to out-wit their elders while maintaining an aura of innocence. The harshness of the conditions these youths faced is conveyed with irony and cynicism. I think it drew more sympathy from me than an angry or self-pitying voice would have done. The book will appeal to readers who like books about books, historical fiction, books by international writers, and books in translation. It would be a great reading choice for a book group.

3 1/2 stars

Feb 20, 2011, 1:19pm Top

The pair reminded me a little bit of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in their ability to out-wit their elders while maintaining an aura of innocence.

Neat comparison! I didn't make that connection when I read the book but I can now see how you came to it.

Feb 24, 2011, 10:05pm Top

First stop on the Victoria line: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

I enjoy reading 19th century memoirs, so I expected to like Harriet Jacobs' memoir of her life in slavery and her eventual escape. I did like it, but not as much as I expected. Jacobs wrote under a pseudonym and changed names of places and people. This decision is understandable since the book was published before slavery was abolished, but it made it feel a bit like fiction to me. While the heavy appeal to readers' emotions is typical of the book's era, 21st century readers have been conditioned by decades of political spin and Madison Avenue advertising to be skeptical of this sort of approach. I have a recent biography of Harriet Jacobs by Jean Fagan Yellin in my TBR stash. Since my interest has been aroused, I hope to work Yellin's biography into next month's reading list. It should have more details and documentation than Jacobs was comfortable putting in her memoir, and I hope it will give me a greater sense of her life and legacy.

3 1/2 stars

Edited: Feb 26, 2011, 9:59pm Top

Third stop on the Waterloo line: Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America by Ellen K. Rothman

This history of American courtship spans two centuries, from the revolutionary era to the early 1980s. Three main sections cover the years 1770-1840, 1830-1880, and 1870-1920, with an epilogue covering 1920-1980. Within each chronological section, individual chapters are organized thematically. The chronological overlap between sections reflects the gradual, rather than abrupt, changes in courtship and marriage customs.

The book is based on the author's dissertation. Rothman acknowledges historian David Hackett Fischer's constructive criticism of her dissertation and cites his encouragement as a factor in its transformation into this book. Rothman's sources were diaries and letters, both published and unpublished. Their authors were “members of the white, Protestant middle class living in the settled areas of the North,... the kind of people who produced, and whose descendants preserved, personal documents... They were middle-class youths without the disadvantages of the poor or the advantages of the rich.”

The wedding trip is one example of the changing customs described in the book. In the early period covered in the book, newly married couples spent the days following the wedding visiting family and friends. By the middle part of the 19th century, the visiting had been replaced by a wedding trip in which the newlyweds were accompanied by family and friends. By the latter part of the 19th century, the newlyweds went on a wedding trip, or honeymoon, by themselves.

Few of my ancestors fall within the social and geographical parameters covered in the book. The epilogue covering 1920-1980 is the most relevant for my family's history. Even so, this is a useful volume for my family history/genealogy/U.S. history collection. It's more readable than a lot of academic works, and it should capture and hold the attention of non-academics. Readers of 19th century American literature may find it contains useful background information for the portrayal of courtship and marriage in novels.

4 stars

Feb 27, 2011, 10:43pm Top

3rd stop on the Bakerloo line: Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie

Recently returned to Londinium from Gaul, Medicus Ruso is in need of work. A helpful colleague, knowing that Ruso has been involved in investigations in the past, arranges for Ruso to be offered an investigative assignment for the procurator. The tax money from the town of Verulamium has disappeared en route to Londinium, along with the tax collector. Ruso and his British wife, Tilla, head for Verulamium, where Ruso quickly senses that all is not as has been represented to him.

While Ruso does investigate some murders and uses his medical knowledge for forensic purposes, the book is more of a political thriller than either a detective story or a forensic procedural. I wasn't familiar with the terminology for various government officials, but it was fairly easy to pick up rank and function from the context. The plot is complex, but there were no loose ends left hanging at the end of the story.

This is the fourth book in a series, but the first one I've read. While there are hints of a back story in Ruso's relationships to some of the characters, I didn't feel like I lacked any information that would shed light on his current investigation. It seems to work as a stand-alone. The book had a special appeal for me because I lived for a while in St. Albans (the modern name for Verulamium), and I've spent time among its Roman ruins and in the Verulamium Museum. I very much enjoyed the mystery and its setting in Roman Britain, and I plan to go back and read the earlier books in the series.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

4 stars

Feb 28, 2011, 5:36pm Top

February Recap

I had three 4-star reads in February. I don't think any of them will appear on my list of favorites for the year, but they were still very good.
Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes
Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America by Ellen K. Rothman
Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie

1. District - 1 book about local history 0/1 (0/1 cumulative)

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 0/2 (0/2 cumulative)

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 0/3 (1/3 cumulative)

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 0/4 (0/4 cumulative)

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 0/5 (0/5 cumulative)

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 0/6 (1/6 cumulative)

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 1/7 (2/7 cumulative)
Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 1/8 (1/8 cumulative)
My Confederate Kinfolk by Thulani Davis

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 1/9 (1/9 cumulative)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 1/10 (3/10 cumulative)
Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America by Ellen K. Rothman

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 1/11 (3/11 cumulative)
Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie

Bonus categories:
11 TBRs (books I've owned at least 6 months; no 2011 books)
1/11 (1/11 cumulative)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

11 books for other challenges 0/11 (0/11 cumulative)

11 books "just because" 1/11 (4/11 cumulative)
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

17/99 completed

Even though I only finished 7 books in February, I'm still on track to finish the challenge by the end of the year.

Mar 3, 2011, 8:56pm Top

Book 2 in my TBR bonus category: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

In order to save his clients' reputations, country solicitor Robert Blair must prove false a teenage girl's convincing allegation of kidnapping and imprisonment. The drama is perfectly paced, with suspense gradually building toward the climax. Tey leaves just enough doubt to keep readers guessing.

Milford reminds me of St. Mary's Mead. In both villages, observant amateurs notice similarities between the suspects and the locals whose vices and peccadilloes are known to them. Tey's witty and insightful comments about human nature and behavior provoke reflection. Some characteristic passages:

...for all his surface malice and his over-crowded life, {he} found the will and the time to help those who deserved help. In which he differed markedly from the Bishop of Larborough, who preferred the undeserving.

The less he knows about a thing the more strongly he feels about it.

The criminal is a person who makes the satisfaction of his own immediate personal wants the mainspring of his actions. You can't cure him of his egotism, but you can make the indulgence of it not worth his while. Or almost not worth his while.

Highly recommended for all classic mystery lovers.

5 stars

Mar 3, 2011, 10:17pm Top

I have only read two of Josephine Tey's books so far but loved both of them. I plan on working my way through all of them eventually. The Franchise Affair is definitely on my list, sounds really good.

Mar 3, 2011, 10:21pm Top

I think it may end up as my favorite Tey novel. It's really, really good.

Mar 4, 2011, 12:56pm Top

I think that one is my favorite as well. It's so different from the rest of her books.

Mar 10, 2011, 3:12pm Top

First stop on the Northern Line: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries is a book I thought I should read for several reasons. It has received multiple honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Its opening pages are filled with a genealogical tree. Part of the book is set in Indiana, a state where I have deep roots. However, I picked it up with a little trepidation. I've been disappointed in the past by books that don't live up to the promises they seemed to offer. This one didn't disappoint. I liked Daisy and most of the other characters in the book, I was drawn to their various life stories, and I continually marveled at the author's craftsmanship and the way she formed the story and characters.

The fictional Daisy was just four years older than one of my grandmothers so I mentally classified her that way. Just when I felt like I was listening to family stories of long ago days when people were different, I came to this passage:

When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible. We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example, that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual “inspiration.” But none of this is true. Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.

The Stone Diaries made me think about the way each person's life is shaped by the family and friends who surround them, by those who have lived and died before, and who in turn shape the lives of those who come after. While it's women's fiction, it's definitely not “chick lit.” It's a great reading choice for Women's History Month.

4 stars

Mar 14, 2011, 9:41pm Top

First stop on the Central line: Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy by Marie Chapian.

This book's title comes from the “great faith chapter” in Hebrews, which starts with these words: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Beginning with Abel, the chapter lists the heroes of the Old Testament and the things their faith enabled them to do. The list ends with the unnamed and countless men and women who were destitute, homeless, tortured, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith, and it testifies of their character that the world was not worthy of them. To this number, author Marie Chapian adds Slovenian Christians who suffered greatly during World War II and the post-war years.

The central figure in Chapian's story is Jozeca , the wife of Baptist evangelist Jakob Kovac (not their real names). Chapian writes of the courtship and marriage of this unlikely couple who, despite the 35-year difference in their ages, were drawn together by their shared faith. Although Jakob often worked in the coal mines, evangelism was his primary calling. He traveled throughout Yugoslavia to preach to groups of Christians, who often met in homes. Jozeca became known as the praying woman, and people in trouble called her to come and pray for them when they had no where else to turn.

The war years were difficult in Slovenia. Some Slovenes sided with the Germans, while others formed partisan groups loosely organized under Tito. Control of villages passed from side to side, often ending with the massacre of entire populations in retaliation for assistance provided to the previous occupiers of the villages. Families were split apart by imprisonment or conscription into partisan military activities. Food and shelter were scarce, and work was difficult to find. Things didn't improve much after the war, as jobs, food, and shelter were still in short supply. Jakob and Jozeca's faith sustained them through their years of suffering.

Jozeca prayed about the great problems she faced, and she never forgot to thank God for answering her prayers. Jozeca's example reminds me to be grateful for the small blessings each day brings. Her story is recommended for readers of Christian biography, particularly those with an interest in Baptist missions.

3 stars

Mar 16, 2011, 10:13pm Top

Fourth stop on the Bakerloo line: Ratking by Michael Dibdin

When a friend of kidnapped businessman calls in some favors to ramp up the seemingly stalled local investigation, Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen is recalled from his banishment to a dead end desk job. The businessman's family has been uncooperative with the local police, and they aren't likely to be more cooperative with an outsider. Zen can't expect much help from the Perugian police, either, who will resent his interference in their territory. Zen seems to be in a no-win situation, yet unlike everyone else involved with the case who are willing to do only what needs to be done to preserve their own reputations, Zen keeps digging for the truth.

If I hadn't known when I started reading that this is the first book in a series, I wouldn't have detected it from the quality of the writing. This is a strong series debut. It has a wonderful sense of place. I've been lucky enough to travel to Italy a couple of times, and Dibdin's descriptions brought back memories of things I had noticed during my travels that I thought I had forgotten. Although the book was first published more than 20 years ago, it doesn't feel too dated, except for a noticeable absence of cell phones.

Zen has to do more than just identify the guilty; he has to outwit those with wealth and political power who try to use their influence to direct the investigation to their own ends. It might have cross-over appeal for readers who enjoy political thrillers.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 2011, 11:09am Top

Fourth stop on the Waterloo & City line: A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr

When Hugh de Singleton, bailiff of Bampton, learns that his friend John Wyclif's library has been stolen (all 20 books, plus 2 borrowed from someone else), he is given leave to stay in Oxford to search for and recover Wyclif's books. Happily for Hugh, this will give him an opportunity to court Kate Caxton, the woman he hopes to marry. He is dismayed to learn that he has a rival for Kate's affections. Will Hugh solve the mystery of the missing books and win the heart of the woman he loves?

This is the third book in a series featuring Hugh de Singleton, and it was my first exposure to the series. Historical mysteries are my favorite genre, and I'm pleased to have another series to add to those that I follow. While Hugh isn't as quick witted as the protagonists in some series, his companions have complimentary strengths, and they work well together. My one complaint is that this book refers in too much detail to events in the two previous books in the series and gives away spoiler information about their plots and the culprits of the crimes investigated in those books. I'll need to wait a while to read those books and hope that I forget what I learned about them from this book.

While regular readers of Christian fiction will recognize the publisher as a Christian publishing firm, the Christian content is incorporated so naturally into the story that it will not turn off other readers. Recommended for both historical fiction and Christian fiction enthusiasts.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

4 stars

Mar 19, 2011, 1:41pm Top

I think Ratking and the other Zen books will see an increase in popularity due to the recent TV series. I've not yet got round to either version but I probably will at some point. Thanks for your review.

Mar 19, 2011, 2:25pm Top

The TV series is the reason I read Ratking now. It's supposed to air on U.S. public television this summer. I'm hoping at least some of the filming was done on location.

Mar 20, 2011, 9:15pm Top

Second stop on the Victoria line: The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

Shortly after a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Valeria Woodville discovers that her husband has a secret that threatens their future together. Valeria is determined to get to the truth. Over objections from both her husband's and her own family and friends, Valeria undertakes a task that has defeated men of greater age and experience.

This isn't the best Collins novel I've read, but it will be one of the most memorable, thanks to characters like womanizer Major FitzDavid, the eccentric Miserrimus Dexter, and Dexter's faithful servant Ariel. Some of the issues raised in the novel are still of interest to contemporary readers, including disability issues, gender roles in marriage, and Darwin's evolutionary theory. In some ways, Collins was ahead of his time. If you're new to Wilkie Collins, this isn't the book to start with. First read The Moonstone and The Woman in White, then move on to his lesser-known works like this one.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 20, 2011, 11:06pm Top

82: I am most of the way through The Stone Diaries, and I enjoyed reading your comment.

What is also interesting is that we were both drawn to the same quote! I read that passage a few times, and it is very true. 'Good old days, things were simpler then' seems to be our nostalgia. She managed to bring different ages to light through the same person. We see so much has changed, and yet the light at the center of the person is still the same. I was also a bit worried when I started this book, but am glad I did. :)

Mar 21, 2011, 6:24am Top

>89 Bcteagirl: This was my first experience with Carol Shields's fiction, and it won't be my last. There's so much beneath the surface that I know I missed a lot of it. I'm glad several of us read it at the same time. Others' comments about the book have helped me see some of the things that I missed in my own reading.

Edited: Mar 24, 2011, 10:27pm Top

First book in my Books for other challenges bonus category: The Yard Dog by Sheldon Russell (An Oklahoma book for the 50 states challenge and a 1940s book for the Reading Through Time challenge.)

While noirish mysteries aren't my usual cup of tea, I was tempted by this one because it involved a German prisoner of war camp in small town Oklahoma. Both of my parents grew up in small towns in the Midwest, and both told stories about the prisoner of war camps in their neighborhoods.

I didn't like this book. At first I thought I was just the wrong type of reader to appreciate it. However, I gradually became aware of structural problems that would probably bother even readers who regularly read in this genre.

The story started out all right, but it became more and more unbelievable as it went along. The story doesn't seem to follow a chronological pattern. Time is important at some points in the story, yet references to its passage are missing. Important details that would have made sense of some dialogue were absent, while some irrelevant details were included and even repeated.

The main character, Hook, lost one arm in an accident and has a hook for a prosthesis. His disability disqualified him for military service, so he found work in rural Oklahoma as a special investigator for the railroad. We're told at the beginning of the book that “he was neither trained for nor inclined to law enforcement”, yet at one point in the book he instructs the military officer in charge of the prison camp in the tactics for an operation in response to an emergency.

Another character, Runt, has been physically deformed since birth, and is called Runt because of his very short stature. Both Hook and Runt are aggressively pursued by beautiful women without any awkward interactions regarding either man's disability. Runt's short stature is frequently referred to, yet at the end of a date, he walked his date to her door and she “lifted on her toes and kissed him”.

Not recommended.

1 1/2 stars

Mar 25, 2011, 2:24pm Top

90: I agree completely. I was busy for a week or two and coming back to post in the reads thread I can see many discussions on interesting points that had not honestly crossed my mind when I was reading. It is one of those books that has many layers to it.

Mar 26, 2011, 6:07pm Top

2nd stop on the Circle line: We Were Europeans by Werner Loval

Holocaust survivor Werner Loval (originally Löbl) recounts his life story beginning with his family's rise to prosperity in Bamberg, Germany, through the rise of Hitler and the destruction of Germany's Jewish community, his escape to England as a young teen, the reunification of his family in Ecuador, their immigration to the U.S., and his eventual decision to immigrate to Israel. His life story is amply illustrated with photographs and reproductions of newspaper articles, certificates, and other documents. He supplements his own memories with excerpts from the World War I diary of one of his uncles, his sister's diaries, and his wife's letters to her parents written during the Six Day War.

The book's size and weight (about 4 pounds), as well as its organization in 1-3 page segments, suit it more for reading in short snatches than for periods of intensive reading. I developed a great respect for the author as the book progressed. He cultivated relationships with family, acquaintances, and colleagues, and used his negotiation skills in diplomatic service, in establishing a private business, in building communities, and in establishing Reform Judaism in Israel. I was especially moved by his stories of reconciliation between post-Hitler Germans and Holocaust survivors and descendants of Holocaust victims.

In the preface, Loval informs his readers that “this book does not claim to be a history or a scientific account of a period or process. Nor should it be seen as a reference book or as a source of political, economic, religious, or geographic data...Therefore, by and large I do not give source notes, nor is there a bibliography.” I regret that he made this decision, because this will limit the potential audience for this book. It is best suited for libraries that collect Holocaust survivors' stories or that have extensive holdings in the history of modern Israel, and for descendants of Bamberg's Jewish community.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 27, 2011, 12:24am Top

I was sorry to see you didn't enjoy The Yard Dog as I have my eye out for a book from Oklahoma for the 50 state challenge as well. Even though I love mysteries, I will give this one a pass as it just doesn't sound like a very well written book.

Mar 27, 2011, 4:06pm Top


I was looking at that one when it came up on LTER, but balked at its size. :) I'm definitely putting it on the wishlist now, though - it sounds absolutely fascinating.

Mar 31, 2011, 9:43pm Top

Although I haven't posted a review for the last book I finished, I thought I'd go ahead and list my March recap:

Best: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
Honorable mention: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Worst: The Yard Dog by Sheldon Russell

1. District - 1 book about local history 0/1 (0/1 cumulative)

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 0/2 (0/2 cumulative)

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 0/3 (1/3 cumulative)

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 1/4 (1/4 cumulative)
Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy by Marie Chapian

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 1/5 (1/5 cumulative)
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 0/6 (1/6 cumulative)

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 0/7 (2/7 cumulative)

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 1/8 (2/8 cumulative)
We Were Europeans by Werner Loval

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 1/9 (2/9 cumulative)
The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 1/10 (4/10 cumulative)
A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 1/11 (4/11 cumulative)
Ratking by Michael Dibdin

Bonus categories:
11 TBRs (books I've owned at least 6 months; no 2011 books)
1/11 (2/11 cumulative)
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

11 books for other challenges 1/11 (1/11 cumulative)
The Yard Dog by Sheldon Russell

11 books "just because" 1/11 (5/11 cumulative)
South Riding by Winifred Holtby

I've completed 26 books so far this year, so I am on target to reach my goal of 99 books for this challenge.

Apr 2, 2011, 11:54am Top

Fifth in my "Just Because" bonus category: South Riding by Winifred Holtby

South Riding is full of characters whose ideals are tested by reality. The worldwide depression of the 1930s did not spare this fictional Yorkshire district. Everyone is feeling its effects -- blue and white collared unemployed and their families, World War I veterans, and even the local gentry. The local council has the authority to provide relief for its citizens – but which ones? Inevitably, relief for one part of the citizenry will come at the expense of the others.

South Riding reminds me of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo in its description of a single government district and the power struggles within it, as well as its use of the omniscient narrator, providing the reader with more insight than any of the characters possesses. It also reminds me of Thackeray's Vanity Fair in that none of its characters are entirely sympathetic.

Holtby's style is a bit too didactic for my tastes. The novel is a vehicle for expressing her social and political philosophy. She uses soliloquy to convey her characters' social and moral philosophy. I generally prefer to discover a character's beliefs through his or her actions rather than his thoughts. However, there is an interesting tension between what some of the characters believe and how they behave. Not all of them have the courage of their convictions. With time, I think I'll remember this novel more for its vividly drawn characters than for any beauty of language.

3 1/2 stars

Apr 4, 2011, 10:42pm Top

3rd stop on the Circle line: Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson. No genealogy in the book, but family themes are woven throughout the plot.

Author Josephine Tey is looking forward to a holiday at the Cornwall estate that is home to her good friend, Scotland Yard Inspector Archie Penrose, and his cousins the Motleys. Josephine hopes to get a good start on her second mystery novel. Things don't work out as planned. An unexplained death and a murder require Archie's professional attention, and Josephine gets drawn into the community's secrets further than either she or Archie intends.

This is the second book in Nicola Upson's series featuring Josephine Tey as a real life crime solver. It's better plotted than the first book. The Cornwall landscape sounds magical, and I'd love to see the places described in the book – especially the Minack Theatre on a cliff overlooking the sea. The book deals with a fair amount of violence, but Upson generally allows the reader to infer the actions that produced the physical effects she describes. Readers are spared a lot of graphic details. The central characters were more comfortable than I am with ethical questions surrounding end of life issues and sexual boundaries. Although the book is set in the spring of 1935, the attitudes of the main characters seem more reflective of the 21st century. Reservations aside, this book was a page-turner, and I look forward to spending more time with Josephine and Archie in the next book in the series.

3 1/2 stars

Apr 10, 2011, 10:33pm Top

2nd stop on the Central line: God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson

I wrote my first research paper in high school on the translation of the King James Version of the Bible, and how I wish this book had been around then! Nicolson places the KJV in its political and cultural context. The companies of translators brought together scholars and clergy on both sides of the Puritan divide. Not much is known about some of the translators, and others led less than exemplary lives by modern standards, yet the translation they produced transcends their human failures.

Appendices include a brief history of the 16th century English translations, which the King James translators were directed to consult during the translation process; a list of the translators in each of the six companies with as much biographical information as is known about them; a chronology of the translation juxtaposed with significant events in English history; and a selected bibliography. I hadn't thought about the significant historical events that took place while the translators were doing their work, and that tangentially involved some of the translators – the Gunpowder Plot, the settlement in Jamestown, and the persecution of Separatists in Scrooby that drove them to the Netherlands and eventually to the New World on the Mayflower. The 400th anniversary of the KJV has resulted in the publication of several books on the topic. Although Nicolson's book has been out for a few years, it's a good starting point for readers interested in the history of this influential translation.

4 stars

Apr 12, 2011, 4:35pm Top

>99 cbl_tn: Thanks for the great review! I've been interested in this book for a while, and think I will officially add it to my wishlist, though I have no idea when I'll finally get to it.

That sounds like a pretty weighty research topic for high school!

Apr 12, 2011, 9:12pm Top

I'm sure I'd write a much different paper now. At the time, all I looked at was the historical aspect - the King's commissioning of the translation, the companies of scholars who did the work, etc. I didn't know enough about English or church history to put it into its proper context. It did spark a continuing interest in the topic for me, so I guess the assignment achieved its purpose!

Apr 16, 2011, 11:17am Top

3rd stop on the Central line: Why God Won't Go Away by Alister McGrath

Theologian Alister McGrath provides a brief introduction to and critique of the New Atheism as represented in recent works by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. A central feature of the New Atheism is its hostility toward religion, and its view that religion is a danger to civilization. McGrath examines three themes of New Atheism: its critique of violence in the name of religion, its view of reason, and its view of science. Finally, he presents reasons to support his belief that the New Atheism will not succeed in its attempt to suppress religion.

This is not an apologetic book. McGrath is not defending Christianity against the claims of New Atheism. Rather, he is critiquing New Atheism based on its own claims. McGrath is one of that class of authors who are able to explain academic topics in everyday language rather than scholarly jargon. My only complaint about this book is that, while he rightly criticizes the New Atheists for frequently ridiculing people of faith rather than presenting substantive arguments against religion, McGrath occasionally takes a sarcastic tone, which in my mind is much the same thing.

This book is a good starting point for Christians who want to learn about the New Atheism. The bibliography provides suggestions for additional reading for those who wish to pursue the topic further.

This review is based on an advanced reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

4 stars

Apr 16, 2011, 7:10pm Top

Second in my "Books for other challenges" bonus category: The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

Father Brown will never be my favorite detective, but I enjoyed getting to know him in this collection of 12 short stories. His physical description reminds me of Hercule Poirot, while his methods remind me just a bit of Sherlock Holmes. If you're the type of reader who enjoys trying to piece together clues to solve the crime before the solution is revealed, the Father Brown stories probably aren't for you. Chesterton doesn't share everything that Father Brown observes until the final summation. Several of the stories have elements of the fantastic, so it might be a good choice for fantasy readers looking for a change.

The first story, “The Blue Cross”, is my favorite, and it's a great introduction to the subsequent stories. The most memorable passage in the story explains why Father Brown makes such a good detective. When the cornered culprit expresses surprise that Father Brown knows so much about crime and criminals, Father Brown replies: Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?

3 stars

Apr 17, 2011, 8:35pm Top

Book 3 in my TBR bonus category: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The unnatural death of a neighbor's dog is a crime in the mind of autistic teen Christopher Boone. Since no one else seems to be doing anything to identify the dog's killer, Christopher launches his own investigation. His search is important enough to Christopher that he forces himself to do things outside of his comfort zone. Christopher's account of his discoveries is detailed, but he is unaware of the implications that will become clear to readers.

I identified with Christopher as he negotiated the London transportation system on his own. I remember my own experience as an inexperienced solo traveler in London, and how carefully I watched those around me to copy their behavior. I was rooting for Christopher as he faced and overcame what were great challenges for him.

This book has a lot in common with Mari Strachan's The Earth Hums in B Flat. I think most readers who liked one will like the other.

4 stars

Apr 17, 2011, 9:05pm Top

Book 3 in my Books for other challenges bonus category: The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters (Reading Through Time religion theme)

When the father of the bridegroom is assaulted and robbed during the wedding festivities, suspicion is cast on the young minstrel who provided the entertainment at the wedding banquet. He reaches the monastery just ahead of his pursuers and is granted 40 days of sanctuary. That's plenty of time for Cadfael and sheriff's deputy Hugh Beringar to get to the truth of the matter. There are plenty of other suspects, including the nosy neighbor and even the bridegroom himself.

I always learn a lot about life in medieval England from the Cadfael books. This one focuses on domestic life, and the management of a middle class household. I even learned a new word. The young man who found sanctuary at the monastery was a jongleur. Ellis Peters excels in all areas of mystery writing – plot, characters, and setting. Her books have become “go-to” reads for me when I want to escape with a good book.

4 stars

Edited: Apr 17, 2011, 10:33pm Top


That was my favorite part - how Haddon made Christopher so completely understandable, even though his actual way of thinking is so different. I have The Earth Hums on Mt. TBR so I'm glad to hear that I'll probably like that one too!

Edited to fix spelling.

Edited: Apr 23, 2011, 11:52am Top

5th stop on the Bakerloo line: Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

In London for a charity gala at her social club, author Josephine Tey uses the opportunity to conduct research for her current book, a novel about the events surrounding a real crime and the execution of the two women convicted for it. Several women associated with the Cowdray Club have first-hand knowledge of the 30-year-old events. The murder of a young woman during the preparations for the charity gala could be connected to the long-ago events. Josephine's research is useful to her good friend, Inspector Archie Penrose, who is brought in to investigate the murder.

I had already read the first two books in the series and, while I didn't like them as well as any of Tey's mysteries, I thought the series had great potential. This book fell short of my expectations. While Josephine freely shares important background information with Archie, she is not involved in the solution of the present day crime. Archie is unwilling to share details of the investigation with her because he doesn't want his suspicions to affect her behavior toward the suspects. Josephine shows little interest in the investigation, anyway. She is more absorbed in her own concerns.

Archie identifies the murderer with no basis other than a gut feeling. There is no physical evidence pointing to a guilty party, and Archie's suspect seemingly has an alibi. Upson tries to distract readers from the inherent problems in this situation by revealing the murder's identity to the reader immediately before Archie leaps to his conclusion.

In the first two novels in the series, there seemed to be a mutual attraction between Josephine and Archie. The ghost of Josephine's first love – Archie's best friend – stood between them. In this novel Upson brings back a character from the first book and has Josephine contemplating a lesbian affair. The relationship seems out of place in this book. There is no connection with either the historic or present day crime, and these passages don't advance the plot in any way that I can see. This part of the book includes spoilers for the first book in the series.

In at least three instances, Josephine is rebuked by people associated with the historic crime for presuming to base a novel on real people whose lives and motives she didn't understand and who would therefore be misrepresented in her novel. Since the real Josephine Tey did not publish such a novel, the implication is that the fictional Josephine took this criticism to heart and did not publish the book. I found this ironic, as Upson has done the same thing with Tey's life. I wish she had made the same choice as the fictional Josephine.

2 stars

Edited to add: This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Apr 24, 2011, 9:47pm Top

Third stop on the Victoria line: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

If you think church politics is a dull topic, you'll think again after reading Barchester Towers. The death of a bishop and the appointment of his replacement throws the cathedral town of Barchester into turmoil. Its clerics take sides and jockey for position. High church clerics are pitted against those with evangelical leanings. The bishop's authority is up for grabs as his personal chaplain and his wife battle for the position of puppeteer to the bishop/puppet. The chaplain, Mr. Slope, is every bit as smarmy and odious as Dickens' Uriah Heep.

I love the way that Trollope uses names to represent character. Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful are the parents of 14 children. Mrs. Lookaloft thinks of herself more highly than she ought. Trollope also excels at descriptions of character, as in these passages describing the bishop's wife:

It is not my intention to breathe a word against the character of Mrs. Proudie, but still I cannot think that with all her virtues she adds much to her husband's happiness. The truth is that in matters domestic she rules supreme over her titular lord, and rules with a rod of iron. Nor is this all. Things domestic Dr. Proudie might have abandoned to her, if not voluntarily, yet willingly. But Mrs. Proudie is not satisfied with such home dominion, and stretches her power over all his movements, and will not even abstain from things spiritual. In fact, the bishop is hen-pecked.

In truth, Mrs. Proudie was all but invincible; had she married Petruchio, it may be doubted whether that arch wife-tamer would have been able to keep her legs out of those garments which are presumed by men to be peculiarly unfitted for feminine use.

Barchester Towers picks up where The Warden left off. It isn't absolutely necessary to read The Warden first, but it would be helpful to do so.

5 stars

Edited: Apr 30, 2011, 9:34pm Top

Second stop on the Northern line: Among the Departed by Vicki Delany

When Constable Molly Smith accompanies her Mountie boyfriend on a search for a missing child, they find something unexpected: parts of a human skeleton. Are these the remains of a man missing for 15 years, who was presumed by all to have deserted his wife and children? As Molly and her partner dig into the cold case, they have to determine, not only the skeleton's identity, but also if the death was natural, accidental, suicide, or murder. As an added twist, Molly and the missing man's daughter were childhood friends, and then-13-year-old Molly was one of the last people to see him before he disappeared.

I like the blend of cozy and police procedural elements in this book, and it will appeal to many fans of both genres. While the investigation is a bit slow to develop, its pace seems suited to the nature of an investigation that requires reading lots of reports, interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses, and looking for inconsistencies among them.

I spotted a couple of errors that were significant enough to distract me from the story and send my mind off on tangents. In order to identify the remains, the investigators were going to match mitochondrial DNA from the bones with the missing man's son's DNA. However, mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, so it's unlikely that the son's mitochondrial DNA would match his father's. Genealogy is a popular hobby, and readers familiar with the genealogical uses of DNA will spot this error. Also, Molly encounters a woman with memory problems late one night. She recognizes the woman, and takes her to the home she shares with her daughter's family. The woman's age is given as 89, and her daughter is described as “young” and has four children under the age of 5. It would be more believable if the younger woman was her granddaughter rather than her daughter.

It was fun to spot a character in the book reading a historical Klondike mystery, since I've read and enjoyed the first book in the author's mystery series set in Yukon Territory during the late 19th century gold rush. Since I'm a historical mystery fan, I think the Klondike books will always be my favorite by this author. However, I'll want to read more books in this series, too.

3 stars

Edited to add: This review is based on an advanced e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Apr 30, 2011, 9:17pm Top

Book 6 in my "just because" bonus category: The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

In most mysteries, when an amateur is confronted with a dead body, he or she spends the rest of the novel looking for clues to identify the culprit. Not in this mystery! Miscommunication, suspicion, and false assumptions lead to absurdity as two couples who share a house try to hide the bodies of the strangers who are making a habit of dying on their premises. The corpses have something in common. They were members of the Asterisk Club next door, with a membership roll filled with wrongly-acquitted murderers. The story is as much farce as it is mystery, and it's full of black humor. It's the sort of book you don't want to put down once the action starts. It's the perfect book for an afternoon or evening escape.

4 1/2 stars

Thanks to my Secret Santa for picking this as one of my SantaThing books!

Apr 30, 2011, 10:00pm Top

The Wooden Overcoat sounds fun! ***scampers off to track down a copy***

Apr 30, 2011, 10:17pm Top

It was a lot of fun. The author died young and only wrote 4 books. If the other three are anywhere as good as this one, I'll want to read them all!

Apr 30, 2011, 10:24pm Top

April recap

Best: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope; The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
Worst: Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

1. District - 1 book about local history 0/1

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 0/2

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 1/3

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 3/4
God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson – 4 stars
Why God Won't Go Away by Alister McGrath – 4 stars

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 2/5
Among the Departed by Vicki Delany – 3 stars

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 1/6

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 2/7

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 3/8
Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson – 3 ½ stars

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 3/9
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – 5 stars

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 4/10

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 5/11
Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson – 2 stars

Bonus Category 1: 11 TBRs 3/11
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – 4 stars

Bonus Category 2: 11 books for other challenges 3/11
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – 3 stars
The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters – 4 stars

Bonus Category 3: 11 books “just because” 6/11
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch – 4 ½ stars

May 1, 2011, 12:09pm Top

I loved both Barchester Towers and The Wooden Overcoat when I read them. I'm glad that you enjoyed them both! I have another Pamela Branch waiting on Mt. TBR, The Lion in the Cellar, and I'll post my review when I finish it.

I was planning on reading the Nicola Upson books, but I'm not sure I want to read them now. They don't sound like my thing, and I have too many good books I want to read to bother with books I'm not sure about.

May 1, 2011, 12:18pm Top

The first couple of Nicola Upson books were OK, but I was really disappointed with the last one. I've come to agree with other reviewers who suggest it would be better if she hadn't used Josephine Tey in her books. It seems like a marketing ploy to get Tey's fans to buy them.

I've added Lion in the Cellar to my wish list. If it's anything like The Wooden Overcoat I think I'll love it!

May 1, 2011, 3:13pm Top

The Wooden Overcoat sounds like a lot of fun! Added to my list...

Edited: May 5, 2011, 9:25pm Top

First stop on the Metropolitan line: The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Readers of all ages can enjoy this heart-warming juvenile mystery. An autistic boy and his sister form a new bond as they team up to search for their missing cousin, who disappeared while riding the London Eye. Each sibling contributes unique strengths to the search. Ted notices patterns and remembers details. His sister, Kat, is sensitive to non-verbal cues and helps Ted understand the psychological aspects of the problem. Issues addressed include parent/child relationships, sibling relationships involving both children and adults, autism, ethnic differences/racial attitudes, divorce, and relocation. The author uses Ted's interest in meteorology to weave facts about weather throughout the book in a way that enhances the story without seeming forced. I listened to the audio version while cooking and cleaning, and it kept me looking for more tasks to do so I didn't have to stop the recording. Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

May 9, 2011, 10:15pm Top

Book 4 in my TBR bonus category: Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

To write is to ask questions. It doesn't matter if the answers are true or puro cuento.

Sandra Cisneros explores themes of identity, family, memory, perception, nationality, ethnicity, immigration, and gender issues through the eyes of Celaya Reyes (“Lala”), a young Mexican American girl growing up in the post-World War II era. Lala's father was born in Mexico. Lala and her brother were born in the U.S., but spend their summers with her father's parents in Mexico City. No matter where she is – Mexico, Chicago, or San Antonio - Lala is conscious of her status as an outsider. She doesn't even have a place at home. In Chicago, she sleeps on a recliner in the living room, while in Mexico, she sleeps in her parents' room. When her father tells people he has seven “hijos”, Lala hears him claiming seven “sons”. She knows she is her father's favorite child, yet she still feels like daughters don't count in his worldview.

There are layers of story within the novel. Even the names of characters and places tell a story. Self-absorbed Narciso and his lonely wife Soledad make their home on Destiny Street. Narciso and Soledad are distant cousins and share the name Reyes (“King”). Lala's father, a Reyes, marries a Reyna (“Queen”).

In the middle portion of the book, Lala tells her grandmother's story. She interprets Mexican history through experiences in the lives of members of her family. In some ways, it reminds me of what Rushdie does with the history of India and Pakistan in Midnight's Children.

Cisneros uses endnotes as a device in many of the chapters, and some of the notes are quite lengthy. I don't think the format would easily translate into an e-book, and that probably explains why it doesn't seem to be available in that format.

Caramelo is a book to savor, and one I won't soon forget.

4 1/2 stars

May 11, 2011, 7:41pm Top

4th stop on the Victoria line: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey, which was published the same year as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, isn't nearly as dramatic as either of her sisters' most famous works. It's a story of a basically good, but naive, young woman. As the youngest child in a loving family, she was pampered by her mother and older sister. She asserts some independence by seeking work as a governess in order to contribute to the family finances. Nothing in her background has prepared her for the situations in which she finds herself. She seems surprised when the families she works for treat her as less than a social equal. The household servants seem to be beneath her notice, and are hardly even mentioned in the novel. Good works provide her with her primary social contacts. In her limited free time, she visits the sick and elderly members of the community, and it is through these visits that she makes an acquaintance who will change her life.

Agnes Grey is more overtly religious than either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, with its frequent references to the Bible and to Christian virtues. Its seems to instruct as much as it entertains. While Agnes doesn't have the passion of a Jane Eyre or the tragedy of a Catherine Earnshaw, she is a gentle soul who deserves a happy ending.

3 stars

May 13, 2011, 5:30pm Top

6th stop on the Bakerloo line: The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page

The Faith Fairchild mystery series is one of my favorite cozy series. I haven't been disappointed by any of the books I've read so far, and this one is no exception. While Faith's friend and neighbor, Pix, is away meeting her son's future in-laws, Faith keeps an eye on Pix's elderly mother, Ursula. This suits Ursula just fine, since someone is stirring up a long-buried secret from Ursula's past and Faith is just the person to help her lay it to rest. On the home front, irregularities have surfaced in a church account to which Faith's minister husband has sole access. Faith has had plenty of sleuthing practice by this point, and she puts the skills she's developed to good use to prove her husband's innocence.

One of the things I enjoy about this series are its frequent mentions of books, reading, and libraries. One of my favorite historians, David Hackett Fischer, makes an appearance in this one. I'll leave it to curious readers to discover the occasion!

I'm so familiar with the series and characters that it's hard for me to imagine how a first-time reader would perceive this book. I think it could be read as a stand-alone, but I think that readers who are already familiar with the characters may enjoy this one more than first-time readers. This is one book where Faith doesn't have a corpse to deal with. The body was dead and buried long before Faith was born. On the other hand, she does quite a bit of sharp sleuthing to solve the mystery with the church finances. This sort of irregularity unfortunately happens too often in real life, which makes the plot all the more believable.

I have just one minor complaint. One of the sub-plots involved Faith's assistant, Niki, and a secret she was keeping from her husband. Niki finally worked up the courage to tell him her secret, but we didn't get to hear his reaction. I kept hoping that there would be a scene that would tell me how things worked out between them, and I was disappointed when the book ended without one.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

4 stars

May 20, 2011, 11:51pm Top

5th book in my TBR bonus category: The Queen's Gambit by Diane Stuckart

When the Duke of Milan's cousin dies during a human chess game, the Duke charges his court engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, with investigating the crime. Leonardo is assisted by his apprentice, Dino, who discovered the body. Dino is thrilled with the opportunity to spend significant time with the master, but is also apprehensive that increased attention from Leonardo might expose a closely held secret.

This is an entertaining novel, but it's not one that will linger in my memory. The author has avoided anachronisms that mar other authors' attempts at recreating a historical era, yet the sense of place and time isn't particularly strong. The investigation lacks focus and seems to stall in places. Leonardo never seems comfortable with his detective persona. Leonardo's apprentices are some of the strongest characters in the book, and I enjoyed the dynamics of their relationships. Dino's character is well developed, and Dino's secret is the most interesting aspect of the book for me, and it's enough of a hook to entice me to read the next book in the series.

3 stars

May 26, 2011, 5:13pm Top

7th stop on the Bakerloo line: Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Dumb Witness is vintage Christie. The deceased is an elderly woman whose family is attentive to her not from affection but because of the wealth she controls. Her nieces and nephew all have financial needs that would be greatly eased by their hoped-for inheritance. Her paid companion is overworked and under-appreciated, and might welcome the release from drudgery that would occur with her employer's death. The unusual twist in this case is that Hercule Poirot receives a letter from the woman requesting his services, but the letter arrives several weeks after her apparently natural death. Did one of her relatives or household staff do something to hurry her much-anticipated death? Poirot is on the case.

I had read the book before, and this time I listened to the audio version read by Hugh Fraser, who plays Hastings on the British television series. I liked the book when I first read it, and liked it even more hearing Fraser's interpretation. Hastings is the book's first-person narrator, so it seemed right to hear Fraser's voice speaking the words. His pace is perfect, as are the character voices. Especially the dog, Bob, who plays an important role in the book. If you're a mystery fan who loves dogs, this is one to listen to rather than read.

4 1/2 stars

May 26, 2011, 7:28pm Top

4th stop on the Circle line: Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

A combination church dedication and confirmation ought to be a happy occasion, but the celebration comes to a sudden end with the death of one of the officiants. Lottie Albright discovers the body in a locked room, and, since she is undersheriff of one of the four small western Kansas counties where the building is strategically located, she sets in motion the usual proceedings for an unattended death. The church's location soon becomes a problem. Since the building straddled county lines, it isn't clear who has jurisdiction to investigate the death, and the unlikeable sheriff of a neighboring county challenges Lottie for control of the investigation.

This is the second book in a series featuring Lottie Albright, and it's one I've had my eye on since I first heard about the first book. Lottie is a historian who works at the county historical society, and these mysteries have a genealogical aspect. Genealogy is one of my hobbies, and I'm always on the lookout for books with a genealogy angle. I liked some aspects of the book, but it has some major flaws.

Lottie's husband and twin sister start a joint project that causes problems when they learn that they have no legal standing to do what they're attempting to do. I realized at once that they shouldn't have been doing what they were doing, and I found it hard to believe that professional people (a veterinarian and a mental health professional) would be ignorant of basic civics.

Lottie describes herself as a lapsed Episcopalian. However, she was one of the leaders in the fund-raising project for the new building, and she volunteered for a lay position in the church. (I'm not Episcopalian and I've already forgotten the term used in the book, but it involves preparing the physical environment for the service and cleaning up afterward, following prescribed customs.) Title research uncovered problems with the title for the land on which the church is built, yet the church committee ignored the problems and built anyway.

Part of the outcome was predictable, and part of it was unbelievable. The international conspiracy was too much for me to swallow. I think it would have been better to leave out the international thread and concentrate on the personalities and relationships of the characters/suspects.

I'm glad I had an opportunity to try this series, and if it continues I'll be willing to try a later book in the series. I think there are elements in the book that, if developed further, could turn it into a successful cozy series. One way to make that happen would be to cut down on the number of action threads and spend more time on character development.

This review is based on an advance electronic copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

2 stars

I realize my review is a bit vague, but it would be hard to be more specific about my reservations without giving away a lot of the plot!

May 26, 2011, 11:58pm Top

5th stop on the Waterloo line: Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words by John Man

This book's title is a little misleading, since there isn't enough known of Gutenberg's life to fill an entire book. In addition to biographical information about Gutenberg, the book also deals with both church and secular politics, including sketches of a couple of other prominent men of the era. Nicholas of Cusa was about the same age as Gutenberg, and the author speculates about how the two men might have crossed paths, and the influence Nicholas might have had on the selection of material for printing. I was more familiar with Martin Luther's story, and how printing technology facilitated the spread of the Protestant Reformation.

This is a solid non-academic overview of the early era of printing. The bibliography demonstrates the author's familiarity with scholarly works on this topic. I've read a few of the titles in the list, and I struggled to stay awake through some of them. Staying awake shouldn't be a problem for this book's readers. The author includes plenty of facts, but the facts never get in the way of the story. This book provides a good introduction to the early print era, and I suspect many readers will be inspired to look for additional reading material about some of the people and events mentioned in its pages.

4 stars

May 31, 2011, 11:16pm Top

Book 4 in my "Books for other challenges" bonus category: Digging to America by Anne Tyler

A chance meeting at an airport arrival gate leads to a cross-cultural friendship between two adoptive families. One family is typically American, and the other is Iranian American. Both families have adopted Korean babies who arrive on the same flight. Each year the Donaldsons and Yazdans celebrate their daughters' adoptions with an elaborate Arrival Party. Each year's party is viewed from the perspective of a different family member.

This was my first Anne Tyler novel. I didn't know what to expect when I started the book, and it was a pleasant discovery for me. I identified with most of the characters. Like the Yazdans, I've lived in a culture as an outsider. Like Maryam, I found it was easier to become friends with other cultural outsiders, even when we didn't share the same cultural background. Like the Donaldsons, I've helplessly watched the decline of a parent and grandparents caused by cancer. As a child, I was part of a welcoming party for an adopted cousin. I know several families who have adopted internationally and/or inter-racially. Reading this book reminded me of those relationships and experiences and how they have enriched my life.

Although I liked this book very much, I'm not sure it's one I'll read again. I think a lot of its impact came from the gradual revelations of character as the book progressed, as well as a few surprises along the way. I don't think a re-reading would have the same effect since I would know what's coming. Even though I won't be re-reading this one, I will be adding more of Tyler's work to my TBR list.

4 stars

Jun 1, 2011, 12:14am Top

5th stop on the Circle line: The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper

I couldn't wait to read this book after hearing the author's aunt describe it and talk about how the author's reunion with her foster sister came about. Journalist Helene Cooper spent her childhood in Liberia. As a descendant of the African American founders of Liberia, Helene was part of the privileged class. Her parents drove luxury cars, her mother wore designer clothes, Helene and her sister went to a private school, and the family owned multiple homes as well as rental properties. When the family moved into the house at Sugar Beach, Helene had her own room for the first time, but she was scared to sleep there by herself. Her parents decided to foster a girl from one of the Liberian tribes, who would become a companion for Helene and her younger sister, Marlene. Helene's idyllic childhood ended with the 1980 military coup that overthrew the government. The Coopers were able to leave the country and make a new home in the U.S., but they had to leave Eunice behind.

Helene attended high school and college in the U.S., then became a newspaper journalist, working her way through the ranks until she became a foreign correspondent. Meanwhile, conditions in Liberia continued to deteriorate, and most of its infrastructure was destroyed. Helene's parents and sister, Marlene, each returned to Liberia at a time of relative stability, but Helene stayed in the U.S. Helene was seriously injured while covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and this experience led to her decision to return to Liberia to find her foster sister, Eunice, after a 23-year separation.

I wasn't prepared for the effect this book would have on me. After their hurried exit from Liberia, Helene, Marlene, and their mother lived in Knoxville for a year. Helene and Marlene attended local schools. I was a student in a different local high school at the same time. I couldn't help wondering if our paths had crossed at a public place like the mall or a movie theater. It distressed me that I was oblivious to the situation in Liberia at the time, and that I didn't know that there were people in my community who were affected by it. How had I missed this? I finally realized that my ignorance wasn't from not paying attention to national and international news. This was the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis, and it dominated the nightly news. I'm glad that this gap in my knowledge of world events has finally been closed, but I'm sorry that it took so long for me to learn about this.

This is a well-written and well-paced memoir. It's an important story, and I wish that the book had features to match. Better quality photographs and an index would have added to the cost of production, but I think the book suffers from their absence.

4 stars

Jun 1, 2011, 5:24pm Top

May recap

Best: Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros; The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd; Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie. Interestingly, two of the three were audiobooks.
Worst: Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

1. District - 1 book about local history 0/1

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 1/2
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (audiobook) – 4 ½ stars

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 1/3

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 3/4

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 2/5

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 1/6

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 2/7

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 5/8
Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger – 2 stars
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper – 4 stars

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 4/9
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë – 3 stars

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 5/10
Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words by John Man – 4 stars

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 7/11
The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page - 4 stars
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie (audiobook) – 4 ½ stars

Bonus Category 1: 11 TBRs 5/11
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros – 4 ½ stars
The Queen's Gambit by Diane Stuckart – 3 stars

Bonus Category 2: 11 books for other challenges 4/11
Digging to America by Anne Tyler – 4 stars

Bonus Category 3: 11 books “just because” 6/11

Jun 3, 2011, 12:03am Top

2nd stop on the Jubilee line: Blood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus, because I'm heading to Ohio next week

When a 10-year-old Amish boy disappears, his grandfather, the bishop of their Old Order Amish community, doesn't contact the police. Instead, he turns to Pastor Cal Troyer, the only English person who has the community's trust. Troyer has to leave in a few days to attend a conference, so he calls in his long-time friend, college professor Michael Branden. With help from his wife, as well as whatever information he can get from the local sheriff (also a long-time friend) without breaking his promise to the Bishop, Branden sets out to find the boy. First, he must find the boy's father, who had been shunned by the Bishop a decade ago.

I often feel like books are longer than they need to be, but I had the opposite reaction to this book. I felt like important details were missing. It's the first book in a series, but it seems like a middle book. I felt like I was missing information about some of the characters that had been revealed in earlier books that I hadn't read. I never understood why the professor, a specialist in Civil War history, was acting as a private investigator. The book mentions that he's conducted about a dozen earlier investigations, but never explains why. Most of the action takes place in June. Does he spend the summer between semesters working as a P.I.? Cal Troyer's character doesn't seem necessary. He is around for the first few chapters, leaves for a conference, and shows up again at the end after the tension has been resolved. Why not have the Bishop go directly to the professor for help instead of using a middle man? It also seems like parts of conversations are missing. One of the characters will have an “aha” moment, and start to tell another character something, but they don't include the reader in their conversation.

This appears to be the author's first mystery novel, so the shortcomings I noted may be less of a problem in later books in the series. To his credit, the author successfully disguised a clue that gave away the culprit. I usually can spot those clues, but not this time!

I'm always on the lookout for mysteries set in unusual locations, so I find a series set in Holmes County, Ohio's, Amish community appealing. I've got the next two books in my TBR stash. I'll be curious to see if the books improve as the series progresses.

3 stars

Jun 4, 2011, 11:28am Top

8th stop on the Bakerloo line: Vendetta by Michael Dibdin

Multiple vendettas play out in this crime novel that at times is more action thriller than police procedural. Aurelio Zen is caught up in events triggered by the death of a billionaire at his remote Sardinian compound. The fast-paced action somewhat masks a plot that relies a little too much on coincidence.

Zen has to contend with the politics of Italy's power structure as well as with the crimes he is assigned to investigate. Zen always seems to be reacting to events, rather than in control of them. He gets credit not so much for solving crimes as for successfully picking his way through a minefield. The book has a bit of a retro feel since it was written before cell phones came into widespread use.

3 stars

Jun 4, 2011, 9:18pm Top

Book 9 on the Bakerloo line: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is on the case again when she finds a near-dead gypsy on the family property. The gypsy had been attacked and left for dead. Then another body shows up on the estate. In the course of her investigation, Flavia makes a new friend. Her habit of withholding evidence in order to test it in her chemistry lab once again gets her into trouble with the local police.

I didn't like this one quite as much as the second book in the series. There were a few too many plot threads. One aspect of the mystery was too similar to circumstances surrounding the mystery in the previous book. I experienced a bit of déjà vu.

I read these books as much for the pleasure of spending time with Flavia as for the crime-solving, and Flavia was her delightful self. I listened to an audio download from the public library and I really enjoyed Jayne Entwistle's performance. Her portrayal of Flavia had me convinced that she really is an 11-year-old girl. I enjoyed listening to this one so much that I've decided to listen to rather than read any future books in this series.

3 1/2 stars

Jun 5, 2011, 8:29pm Top

3rd stop on the Piccadilly line: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (Sicily)

A dead politician is discovered in his car in a place he shouldn't be. Did he die of natural causes, or was he murdered? There are enough questions about the circumstances of the death that Inspector Montalbano keeps the investigation open, despite pressure to close it quickly.

Montalbano seems to maintain an ethical standard in an environment with an international reputation for corruption. More than once Montalbano is in a situation where others might give in to temptation and he resists it. Since I just finished reading one of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books, I couldn't help comparing Montalbano to Zen. Montalbano is more self-assured and positive than is Zen. If I were a crime victim, I'd prefer to have Montalbano working the case.

I listened to this one on audio, and it took me a while to warm up to it. The last two audio books I listened to had exceptional readers, and this one was just average. I might have liked the book a little more if I had read it rather than listened to it.

3 1/2 stars

Jun 11, 2011, 9:34pm Top

5th stop on the Victoria line: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

This is the ultimate travel tale. It's full of adventure and suspense spiced with humor and romance. It's lighthearted fun, yet it touches on social issues of its era such as the status and treatment of women in India and opium use in China.

It's interesting that, while there are lots of characters in the book, there is only one female. Her character is less developed than the male characters, and she has a mostly passive role in the action. I don't read many adventure novels, and I haven't read any of Verne's other books, so perhaps this is typical of the genre.

This story lends itself well to reading aloud or listening to on audio. I listened to an audio version on a road trip and it made the time pass quickly.

4 stars

Jun 19, 2011, 8:48pm Top

Just catching up on your thread. I had wondered about Around the World in Eighty Days it sounds like it would be a great summer read or read for a down day. :)

Jun 19, 2011, 10:30pm Top

I agree - it would be a good vacation read! Especially on a day like we've had today with more rain than sunshine.

Jun 22, 2011, 7:05am Top

6th stop on the Waterloo line: The Dutchman by Maan Meyers

I liked this historical mystery for the atmosphere rather than the mystery. Its setting is 1664 New Amsterdam. The Dutch colonists expect an English invasion at any moment. Pieter Tonneman, the schout (sheriff), has more than the invasion to worry about. He suspects that several recent deaths weren't accidental, and that they might be connected to a conspiracy with the English.

The descriptions of sights, smells, and activities drew me into the world of the Dutch colony, and the detailed map worked well to orient me to the streets of New Amsterdam as they existed in the 1660s. Fictional characters seemed just as real as historical figures like Pieter Stuyvesant and John Winthrop. The characters reflect New Amsterdam's cosmopolitan nature; in addition to the Dutch and English, there are Jews, Native Americans, Portuguese, and Germans. The emphasis on the Jewish community reminded me of David Liss's books. Racqel, the Jewish woman whose father taught her about medicines and healing, reminded me just a bit of Adelia in Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series.

The identity of two of the three conspirators is revealed to the reader as soon as they are introduced. Although there is an attempt to shield the identity of the third conspirator from the reader, I think even infrequent mystery readers will quickly figure out which character it is. Even though the mystery was somewhat disappointing, I liked the characters and setting well enough to seek out more books in the series. I've already ordered a mystery anthology that includes a short story featuring some of the same characters.

3 1/2 stars

Jun 22, 2011, 7:11am Top

Book 7 in my "Just Because" bonus category: Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

In some ways, this book is an extended illustration of Thomas Friedman's flat world. Its main character, Anjali/Angie, is a young girl from a provincial Indian city who dreams of making it big in a Bangalore call center. She hopes that her aptitude for English will land her a position as a customer service agent for one of the many American firms that outsource these jobs to India.

I was fascinated by the setting, but not by the characters. I didn't see in Anjali/Angie what the other characters see in her. All of her concerns beyond the basic food/shelter/safety seem superficial. She shows little evidence of an interesting inner life. She seems self-absorbed, aloof, and amoral. She's supposed to be her mentor's most promising student, yet she appears pretty average to me. She does seem to have above average luck, though. Somehow, among the millions of people in India, she keeps meeting people with wealth and influence who are willing to spend it on her behalf. One character explains to her that she is a mirror, and others see themselves in her. The more I think about this, the creepier it gets. I can imagine Anjali/Angie using this quality to manipulate people in the future. She's not a person I would trust.

Readers who have read other books by the author will recognize some familiar characters. Tara Chatterjee doesn't appear in this book, but some of her relatives do, and they mention her several times. I'd like to try at least the first of the Tara Chatterjee books. I think I might identify more with a character closer to my age.

This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

3 stars

Jun 25, 2011, 10:54pm Top

7th stop on the Waterloo line: Death of an Effendi by Michael Pearce, set in Edwardian Egypt.

When a Russian financier is killed during a hunting party in the Delta, Gareth Owen, the Mamur Zapt (chief of the secret police) must sort through motives both political and personal to find the shooter. I listened to this one on audio while driving, and I think that was a mistake. The combination of Russian and Egyptian names, and my unfamiliarity with the structure of Egyptian society and government in the Edwardian era made it difficult for me to follow in that format. The easiest plot thread to follow, involving Owen's romance with a headstrong Egyptian woman, was also the most annoying. His girlfriend is extremely jealous, and I found her frequent tantrums tiresome. I'll try another one from this series in print before I give up on it. I think it would be a good idea to start at the beginning of the series, too.

3 stars

Jun 25, 2011, 11:25pm Top

5th book in my Books for other challenges bonus category: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! is a love story with a twist. While Alexandra Bergson has great affection for her family and neighbors, the love of her life is the Nebraska prairie farmland settled by her Swedish immigrant family. Alexandra's spirit is as expansive as the land, while her two oldest brothers are small-minded and unimaginative. Alexandra finds kindred spirits in her youngest brother, Emil, her neighbor, Carl Linstrum, and her neighbor, Bohemian Marie Shabata. Cather's writing has a timelessness that conveys the enthusiasm of youth, and the both the hope and risk of homesteading. I listened to this one on audio, and I thought it enhanced my experience of the book. The reader's precise, unrushed delivery perfectly matched Alexandra's personality. Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

Jun 25, 2011, 11:47pm Top

6th book in my Books for other challenges bonus category: The Secret Ingredient Murders by Nancy Pickard

A short trip to Rhode Island to visit family becomes and extended visit for rancher Genia Potter. Her late husband's friend, Stanley Parker, convinces her to stay and help him compile a Rhode Island cookbook. Each recipe included in the cookbook must contain a secret ingredient. Genia is to host a dinner party at her rented home, with a guest list provided by Stanley. Each guest will supply a recipe for the cookbook. One by one the guests arrive, but Stanley never does. Finally, word arrives that Stanley's body has been discovered.

The mystery part of this cozy doesn't break any new ground. Although Pickard does a decent job of casting suspicion on several characters, I managed to correctly identify the murderer and the motive. The fun for me was the setting, and the descriptions of uniquely Rhode Island foods. I was interested enough in the food culture of Rhode Island (a state I've never visited) to add a Rhode Island cookbook to my wish list.

I also enjoyed Pickard's writing style. I enjoy cozies, but I don't often find them quote-worthy. This one is. Here are a couple of my favorite passages:

Over time...Jason had come to know the plants in the spacious greenhouse and the garden as individuals with distinct needs, appearances, and even personalities. And he reacted to them like that. Not that he would ever in a million years admit this, but he liked to spend time with the pansies, for instance, who were sophisticated and elegant, and he didn't like the petunias, who were brassy and thought entirely too much of themselves.

This passage expresses the way I feel about the cookbooks I inherited from my grandmother:

No antique cookbook worth hundreds of dollars could possibly have meant as much to her as this one. Genia couldn't count the number of times she had sat across from Stanley in the past few months, watching him scribble in this book, listening to his strong opinions about food and people and life. And it wasn't merely a cookbook, she saw as she opened it, it was also a diary of the recipes he served and to whom he served them. She found odd bits of paper stuck in it—a postcard here, a grocery receipt there, all wedged between pages...Stanley's bold, penciled notations were everywhere. They were scribbled in margins, in between recipes, written on divider pages, and in the index...He commented on ingredients, added his own inventions, listed who came for lunch.

My grandmother's cookbooks look just like this! One of the pleasures of having them is reading the notes in the margins and on scraps of paper about the occasions when my grandmother used the recipes.

Warmly recommended.

4 stars

Jun 26, 2011, 12:17am Top

1st and only stop on the District line: Knoxville: This Obscure Prismatic City by Jack Neely

Jack Neely writes a local history column for an alternative weekly paper in Knoxville. I always look forward to his columns. He writes like a storyteller about obscure events or facts in Knoxville's history. It's sort of like Paul Harvey's “The Rest of the Story” on a local scale, although the stories often involve people who made a name for themselves well beyond Knoxville. The stories in this collection feature a 19th century doctor who experimented with resurrecting the dead, a popular 19th century author who died in town under mysterious circumstances, the story of New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs, who got his start in the business at a Knoxville paper, a story about Hollywood director Clarence Brown, a story about WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle's visit to Knoxville, Hank Williams, Sr.'s last night in a Knoxville hotel, and a connection between poet Ezra Pound and protestors against the desegregation of a high school in a neighboring county.

Although there isn't anything in this book to indicate it, I think it may be a compilation of previously published material, probably from his Metro Pulse articles. I was already familiar with some of the stories, so I had either read them in the Metro Pulse or heard Neely tell them in one of his talks at a local library association meeting. Neely is a regular visitor in local libraries, particularly the historical collections, so I know how carefully he researches each story. Newspaper articles typically don't include source citations, but I wish that citations had been added to compilations like this so that others can find them years from now when Neely isn't around to ask about them.

4 stars

Jun 30, 2011, 9:15pm Top

4th stop on the Piccadilly line: Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks

It started out as a bar bet. Tony Hawks, and his buddy, Arthur, were watching a football/soccer match between England and Moldova. Somehow, by the end of the game, Hawks had bet that he could beat all 11 of the Moldovan football players at tennis.

The rest of the book is the story of Hawks' quest to win the bet. He had lots of obstacles to overcome, starting with getting a visa to visit Moldova. Since Moldova issues visas only to people who have been invited by a citizen, Hawks had to find a citizen to extend an invitation to him. He would cross one hurdle only to find another one in his path. He spent most of his time in Moldova trying to make contact with team officials and/or the players themselves. At the time of his visit, Moldova had been an independent nation for only half a dozen years, and there were deficiencies in its infrastructure. No task, even a phone call, was simple. The Moldovan acquaintances he accumulated during his visit were pessimistic that he would succeed in his quest, yet they went to great lengths to help him.

This would have been a dull book if it had been nothing more than a description of 11 tennis matches. However, much of the book is filled with Hawks' experiences with his translator and his host family. He spent most of his time in Moldova with at least one of these five people, and it's through their conversations and shared experiences that he (and we) glimpse what life is like for the average Moldovan. Hawks' skills as a comedian are well suited for observing a different culture. Hawks finds humor in situations, but not at the expense of others.

I don't have any more desire to visit Moldova after reading this book than I did before I read it, but I do have an appreciation for the Moldovan people, and I hope that their economic condition has improved in the decade since Hawks' visit.

4 stars

Jun 30, 2011, 9:43pm Top

Book 6 in my TBR bonus category: Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

Elm Creek Quilts has openings for two new teachers since two of its founders will soon be leaving for other pursuits. Who will join their Circle of Quilters? Five candidates have been selected to interview for the positions. Readers meet each of them in turn as Chiaverini tells the stories of their lives and how they became quilters. I liked some of the candidates better than others, and I could sympathize with the Elm Creek Quilters as they weighed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and made their final selections.

One fun aspect of the book is that each interviewee encounters one of the others at the interview, and readers get to experience the encounters from each participant's perspective. Chiaverini used a multiple perspective technique in The Master Quilter and I didn't care for it in that book. It worked for me this time, probably because the encounters were brief and thus the book didn't involve a lot of repetition.

Readers new to the series shouldn't start with this one. The Elm Creek Quilters make only short appearances without much introduction in each of the first five sections, so readers will need some familiarity with their personalities and the group dynamics from earlier books in the series.

The book ended with some unresolved situations, and I expect the stories will continue in subsequent books in the series. If I keep reading the series in publication order, it looks like I've got a couple more books to read before getting to the continuation of events from this book. Do I skip ahead to the next book chronologically, or do I stick with publication order? I've got a decision to make!

4 stars

Jul 1, 2011, 11:42pm Top

June recap

Best: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Worst: No really bad reads this month, but my least favorite was Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

1. District - 1 book about local history 1/1 – Complete
Knoxville: This Obscure Prismatic City by Jack Neely – 4 stars

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 1/2

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 1/3

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 3/4

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 2/5

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 2/6
Blood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus – 3 stars

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 4/7
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri – 3 ½ stars
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks – 4 stars

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 5/8

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 5/9
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne – 4 stars

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 7/10
The Dutchman by Maan Meyers – 3 ½ stars
Death of an Effendi by Michael Pearce – 3 stars

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 9/11
Vendetta by Michael Dibdin – 3 stars
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley – 3 ½ stars

Bonus Category 1: 11 TBRs 6/11
Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini – 4 stars

Bonus Category 2: 11 books for other challenges 6/11
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather – 4 ½ stars
The Secret Ingredient Murders by Nancy Pickard – 4 stars

Bonus Category 3: 11 books “just because” 7/11
Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

Jul 3, 2011, 3:33pm Top

3rd stop on the Jubilee line: Death by Deep Dish Pie by Sharon Short

The Breitenstraters are big fish in the small pond of Paradise, Ohio. Their pie company is the town's largest employer. Older brother Alan runs the family business, while eccentric younger brother Cletus heads up a fireworks company on the outskirts of town. One brother plans a big announcement that will affect the town's future, while the other brother plans an announcement that will change the way the town looks at its past. Local laundromat owner and stain expert Josie Toadfern gets swept into the events. Will she be able to put things right in time to salvage the town's Fourth of July celebrations?

This is an enjoyable cozy for someone who likes local and family history. The heroine is likeable and she doesn't have annoying habits like so many other cozy heroines do. She's kind, smart, and funny, and she's tolerant of the eccentricities of her family and neighbors. I wouldn't mind spending more time in Paradise, and I'll be on the lookout for more of the books in this series.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 5, 2011, 7:23pm Top

6th stop on the Victoria line: Death Cloud by Andy Lane

It's the school holidays, and 14-year-old Sherlock Holmes will have lots to write about in a “what I did during my holiday” essay. With Sherlock's father away in military service and his mother in poor health, Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, arranges for Sherlock to spend the holiday with relatives. Sherlock soon makes a friend of a local boy, Matty, who witnessed something odd at the scene of a sudden death. Sherlock later stumbles upon other strange happenings. Guided by his tutor, Amyus Crowe, and supported by Matty and Crowe's daughter, Virginia, Sherlock works to solve a mystery that endangers the whole community, and maybe the whole nation.

The Sherlock Holmes of this story doesn't resemble the teenager I imagine Conan Doyle's Sherlock would have been. He's portrayed as a typical teenager with above average intelligence. Conan Doyle's Sherlock is anything but typical. The story involves more adventure than detection, since Sherlock is only beginning to develop skills of observation and reason under Crowe's tutelage. The author includes some educational material in the story, but in a way that serves the plot without being too obtrusive. Middle grade teachers could use it as supplementary reading for units on science or problem solving. However, the adventure itself is enough of an attraction for most readers.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 10, 2011, 6:56pm Top

4th stop on the Jubilee line, in honor of Independence Day: Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls

After reading Jeff Shaara's The Glorious Cause and David McCullough's 1776, I had developed an affection for Henry Knox. I hadn't known much about him before I read those two books, even though my home town is named after him. I wanted to read more about Knox, and I was glad to find this biography in the library.

Knox was an amazing man. Before the American Revolution, he was a Boston bookseller. His profession allowed him to read widely about military art and science. Knox's reading prepared him to oversee heavy artillery for Washington's Continental Army, even with no prior military experience. Against expectations, Knox was able to move artillery across country from Fort Ticonderoga to the outskirts of Boston, helping to force the British to evacuate the city. It was Knox who orchestrated the Christmas crossing of the Delaware River, leading to a key victory for the Continental Army. When Washington returned to private life at the end of the Revolutionary War, he turned command of the army over to Knox. Knox served as war secretary in the government formed under the Articles of Confederation, and held the same position in George Washington's administration in the new United States government.

Knox advocated the establishment of a military academy. His dream eventually became reality at West Point. Knox's plan influenced military training programs well into the 20th century. Puls writes of Knox:

He did not view himself exclusively as a military leader but as a builder of the republic, willing to play the role of architect in creating institutional pillars of American society. He was not content to borrow foreign patterns in formulating the design for the U.S. military; rather he looked at the problem from the vantage point of a statesman and political theorist. For Knox, the American military needed to embody distinctly American ideals.

Puls contrasts Knox's national perspective as a Federalist with the regional interests of many in Congress. Knox, Washington, and other military leaders were often frustrated during the War by politicians in Congress whose chief worry was the cost of the proposals and whose chief aim was to satisfy the demands of their constituents rather than to do what was best for the national interest. The same arguments are still going on in Washington today.

Although this biography covers Knox's entire life, Knox's contributions to the Revolutionary War take up the most page space. Puls was a little vague about some of the details of Knox's personal life. Knox and his wife, Lucy, didn't have many children who survived past childhood. Puls would mention a child's death, but a few pages later he would mention an event that occurred when that child was living. It was hard to tell when the author was back-tracking and when the “resurrection” was due to a later child having the same name as a deceased sibling. A chronology of significant events in Knox's life, both public and personal, would have helped.

Recommended for readers with an interest in the American Revolution and in U.S. military history.

4 stars

Jul 10, 2011, 7:53pm Top

5th stop on the Jubilee line: Blackwork by Monica Ferris

It's nearly Halloween, and Betsy Devonshire, owner of Excelsior's Crewel World, is serving on a committee organizing a Halloween parade. Recovering alcoholic Ryan McMurphy, who will drive an antique fire engine in the parade, attends a committee meeting at a microbrewery owned by a Wicca practitioner. Ryan falls of the wagon and his drunken behavior creates problems with a number of people. A few days later, Ryan is found dead in Shelley Donohue's craft room, where Shelley and her live-in boyfriend had allowed him to stay after Ryan's wife kicked him out of their home. Local gossip soon blames microbrewery owner Leona for Ryan's sudden death, claiming that Leona, a Wicca practitioner, cast a spell on him. Betsy wants to help her friend, Shelley, as well as defend Leona from unfounded accusations, so she sets out to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ryan's death.

I learned more about Wicca than I wanted to know in this book, and I wasn't all that interested in the descriptions of the microbrewery, either, since I don't drink alcoholic beverages. The Halloween theme was fun, and I particularly enjoyed the description of the poetry party thrown by Godwin's new friend, Rafael. I also liked learning about blackwork, a type of embroidery I wasn't familiar with before I was introduced to it in this book. Ferris continues to come up with new ideas for this long-running series. The method for the murder is one of the more creative ones in the series, and I think this will end up as one of the more memorable books from the series.

Recommended for most cozy fans.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 10, 2011, 8:35pm Top

Book 7 in my Books for other challenges bonus category: West of Rehoboth by Alexs D. Pate

12-year-old Edward and his mother and sister always spend their summers in West Rehoboth, Delaware. Angela has no trouble finding work as a waitress in the neighboring white resort town, and rural Delaware is a safer environment for the children than their North Philadelphia neighborhood. Edward is particularly looking forward to the summer of 1962. He is obsessed with his Uncle Rufus, who lives in an outbuilding behind his Aunt Edna's house, and who the adults refuse to discuss other than to warn the children to avoid him. Edward, an avid mystery reader, senses a mystery, and it's one he's determined to solve.

This is one of those books where the premise is more interesting than the book turns out to be. The writing is uneven and sometimes repetitive. The story has a strong beginning in the description of life in the Massey's North Philadelphia neighborhood and of the trip to Delaware. It gets weaker as Edward narrows his focus to his Uncle Rufus.

I think the author was trying to use Rufus's life as an illustration of one possible path for 12-year-old Edward's life. Life is a series of choices, and a sequence of seemingly insignificant and isolated choices can determine a person's fate. Edward senses that he is at a turning point in his life:

Everybody was constantly trying to calculate his movement into the pit of despair that the neighborhood could be or his ascension to a life of education and success. Toward safety or danger? Which way are you leaning, little black man? His mother. His friends. His father. He was measured every day.

Edward's father drives the family from Philadelphia to Delaware. Edward doesn't understand why he and his sister can never talk his father into stopping along the highway on the 4-hour journey.

But Edward didn't know that his father had grown up in the segregated South. Had never felt welcomed on the highway... Edward's father kept his stopping to a minimum. He knew anything could happen if he wandered into the wrong joint at the wrong time. Entire black families had been broken up or destroyed by such heroic acts as pulling over for a soda pop or a cone of ice cream in the old South. And Delaware, for all practical purposes, was as “Southern” as a city boy could get without going to Mississippi.

I think Edward sensed that Rufus was one of the unlucky ones who “wandered into the wrong joint and the wrong time”, and he needed to know Rufus's story in order to understand himself.

3 stars

Jul 15, 2011, 9:17pm Top

Book 8 in my "Just Because" bonus category: Cabal by Michael Dibdin

A man falls to his death from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Is it suicide or murder? For appearance's sake, the Vatican calls on Italian authorities to undertake a parallel investigation. Aurelio Zen's initially perfunctory investigation takes a surprising turn when it appears that a mysterious Cabal may have been behind the death.

This book was better than the last book in the series, and I'm glad I stuck with it. Dibdin surprised me with this one. Just when it seemed like it was going to be a typical conspiracy novel, he threw in an interesting twist. Zen didn't do anything in this book to make me like him any better. He'll never be among my favorite fictional detectives. However, the settings in various parts of Italy and the irony in the series provide enough motivation for me to continue with the series.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 15, 2011, 9:56pm Top

I've completed a second category. 2nd/last stop on the Metropolitan line: The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

One dark night when we were all in bed
Old lady Leary lit a lantern in the shed
And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said
There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight.

Before I read this book, that sums up about all I “knew” about the 1871 fire that destroyed most of Chicago. I found out that the little I knew was wrong. The fire did start on the O'Leary's property, but a reporter added the bit about the cow and the lantern to add some color to his story.

Murphy pieces together eyewitness accounts to tell the story of the fire, beginning with the initial alarm raised when someone noticed the flames in the O'Leary's barn. He describes several things that went wrong in the process of reporting and responding to the fire. He tells about the chaos during the fire, as people fled to what they thought was a safe place, only to have the flames catch up to them and force them to flee again. Families became separated in the crowds, and it must have been terrifying for them, not knowing if their loved ones were safe or if they would ever be able to find them again. Murphy also describes the rebuilding that took place following the fire, and the problem faced by the poorer residents of the city, who couldn't afford fire-proof building material like brick and granite.

The book is targeted for middle grade readers, but it's written in a way that readers of any age can enjoy. It would be a good choice for readers looking for a brief, non-scholarly account of Chicago's Great Fire.

4 1/2 stars

Jul 15, 2011, 10:26pm Top

5th stop on the Piccadilly line: White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones (Alaska)

Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active was born in a remote town to an Inupiaq mother, but was raised in Anchorage by adoptive parents. Ironically, he ends up posted to Chukchi, the town of his birth and where his birth mother still lives. He's doing everything he can to earn a promotion out of there. He's not sure whether his current case will help or hurt his chances for promotion. When two Inupiat men die within hours of each other, apparent suicides, Active's gut tells him there's something wrong. He soon learns that the men had something in common, and that's enough to trigger a murder investigation.

I found a lot to like in this series debut. I like mysteries with unusual settings, and northern Alaska qualifies as unusual. Nathan has a lot of potential as the central character of a crime series. He has a lot of confidence in his professional skills and training, but he has some insecurities in his personal life. He lives in a tension between two cultures – the Inupiat culture of his birth mother and the white majority culture of his adoptive family. He' feels a bit like an outsider in both cultures. He's also resisting his attraction to a native co-worker, since he has ambitions beyond the confines of Chukchi. I'll be looking for more books in this series to see how his life and his career develop.

4 stars

Jul 18, 2011, 6:43pm Top

->151 cbl_tn:

That's sounds like such an original idea I just have to pick up a copy!!

Jul 21, 2011, 8:46pm Top

10th stop on the Bakerloo line: The Sherlock Holmes Theatre by Arthur Conan Doyle (and others)

This audio recording consists of the two plays written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that feature Sherlock Holmes. The Napoleon of Crime was co-written by actor William Gillette, who starred as Holmes in its stage productions. Holmes matches wits with the evil Moriarty, who hopes to take advantage of Holmes's current case to get the best of Holmes. I enjoyed the drama, especial Martin Jarvis's portrayal of Holmes, but I thought its story line was a little out of character. Holmes actually develops a romantic interest in a woman involved with the case. Could this be William Gillette's influence? Maybe he thought audiences wanted to see him as a romantic hero.

The second play is an adaptation of the short story The Speckled Band. This is probably my least favorite Holmes story for a reason I can't reveal without spoiling it for readers unfamiliar with the story. Doyle seems to have added material that wasn't in the short story to get to the right length for a stage production. When Dr. Watson goes to Sherlock's home to consult him about the problem faced by the young lady at the center of the story, he has to wait while Holmes sees a whole string of clients. Although this scene is entertaining, it doesn't quite fit with the rest of the story, and I thought it seemed out of place. The cast did a wonderful job with their voice characterizations.

The third drama is a modern satire of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Yuri Rasovsky. It's supposed to be a comedy, but I didn't think it was very funny. I think listeners can safely skip it.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 24, 2011, 5:39pm Top

6th stop on the Piccadilly line: Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley

A park ranger in the Kalahari region of Botswana dies from a head wound. When evidence points to murder, the police arrest the only people known to be in the area at the time of his death – three Bushmen. Are they guilty, or have they been framed? Is the local detective assigned to the case blind to evidence that points to anyone else because of his prejudice against the Bushmen? Detective “Kubu” Bengu hopes not, but fears that this might be the case. He persuades his supervisor that it would be a good PR move to send him to the murder site to see if evidence would support other interpretations of the crime. Kubu's business trip causes problems at home, as his wife is still adjusting to the care of the couple's first child, 3-month-old Tumi.

While the issue of racism/ethnic tension is familiar, the setting is different. In order to solve the crime, the investigators must learn about the culture of the Bushmen, and the pressure on that culture to adapt to laws and governance of the majority culture in Botswana. Are these pressures intense enough to drive one or more of the Bushmen to murder?

I liked the characters and the setting. Kubu and his colleagues come across as skilled officers, with the same sorts of interpersonal conflicts and bureaucratic red tape that seem to exist in any fairly large workplace. Kubu is a sympathetic protagonist, with his love for his wife and daughter, his loyalty to his friends, his enjoyment of good food and wine, and his love for opera. I've developed a favorable impression of Botswana through Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and this book has reinforced that impression. It's a country I think I'd enjoy visiting someday. I doubt I'll ever make it that far, but at least now I have another series of books that will take me on a virtual journey.

This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

4 stars

Jul 24, 2011, 7:02pm Top

3rd stop on the Northern line: Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings

Toronto police detective, William Murdoch, is called to investigate the sudden death of a woman with a shady past. Her two young foster sons claim to have seen and heard nothing during the night she died. Do they know more than they're revealing? The dead woman's deaf and mute daughter flees as soon as she spots the police. Was it from guilt or fear? Murdoch's investigation leads him to the wife of a prominent judge. What is her connection to the dead woman, and to a dance hall singer of questionable reputation?

This is the second book in a series set in Victorian Toronto. I liked the detective well enough in the first book to try another one in the series, but I don't think I'll be continuing with the series. Jennings overdoes it with the crude language, not-so-subtle innuendos, and descriptions of squalor. Murdoch's investigation didn't seem to be going anywhere, and the sudden conclusion of the case didn't seem to have much to do with Murdoch's work. I'm not sure who the target audience is for this series. A lot of cozy readers will be put off by the crude language and stomach-turning descriptions of corpses, surroundings, and personal hygiene of various characters. It seems to be below average as a police procedural, too. Not recommended.

A probably too-generous 2 1/2 stars.

Jul 24, 2011, 7:47pm Top

6th stop on the Circle line: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The discovery during the 1986 renovation of Seattle's Panama Hotel of the stored belongings of many Japanese families triggers bittersweet memories for recent widower Henry Lee. He remembers the hotel when it was part of Seattle's vibrant Japanese American community. Henry was 12 years old in 1942, when Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated during the U.S. war with Japan. Henry's friendship with and growing love for his Japanese American classmate, Keiko,were a source of conflict within Henry's Chinese American family. A couple of caring adults, including an African American jazz musician, provided support for Henry as he made some difficult choices. In the present (1986), Henry has as much difficulty communicating with his son, Marty, as he had communicating with his own father.

I listened to the audio version of the book. At first, the narrator's voice seemed a little dull, but the reader soon captivated me with his vocal characterizations. I could see Henry, Marty, and Henry's musician-friend, Sheldon, from their vocal characteristics. I grieved for Henry and Keiko – for the innocence lost to the war, for the racism they were confronted with as their growing independence took them outside the confines of their ethnic neighborhoods, and most of all for the separation that I knew was inevitable.

My father listened to several big chunks of the book while we were in the car, and it brought back memories for him. (He was in elementary school during World War II.) I was glad for the opportunity I had to hear some of his memories from the war years. The novel will appeal to many readers of all ages. It would be a great book to read and discuss with a parent or grandparent with memories of World War II. Highly recommended.

5 stars

Jul 24, 2011, 8:27pm Top

8th stop on the Waterloo line: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Dang Thuy Tram was a North Vietnamese doctor during the Vietnamese war. She kept diaries during the war. Thuy was killed in the conflict, and her diary was discovered by someone serving in American military intelligence. According to protocol, he should have destroyed the diary after determining that it had no intelligence value, but instead he kept it. 30 years later, a copy of the diary was returned to Thuy's mother in Vietnam, where it was published. It was also translated into English for publication in the U.S.

The diary wasn't what I expected to read. That's no fault of the author's. She didn't keep the diary for my benefit, but for her own. I had hoped it would contain more about her medical work and the conditions and challenges she faced. However, the emphasis of her diary entries is mainly personal. She has a lot to say about her relationships, mostly with young men she granted the status of younger brothers. In the earlier entries, she talks about her frustration that she had not yet been accepted as a Communist Party member. She is bothered by perceived criticism and jealousy. She is also troubled by a rift in her romance with a man she refers to as “M.”

Although she was 25 when she began this diary in 1968, Thuy came across to me as somewhat naive. I'm not sure her feelings for at least one of the young men she called “brother” were as platonic as she tried to convince herself they were. I'm not sure her younger brothers' feelings for her were as platonic as she thought they were, either. I think this could have been cause for the jealousy and criticism she experienced.

I think I would have gleaned more from this book if I knew more about the Vietnam War before I read it. The extensive footnotes helped some, but not enough. I was a child during the war, and I've never wanted to revisit the memories I have of the television news reels of the combat, the images of flag-draped coffins returning to the U.S., and images of angry protestors. One of my uncles served in Vietnam, and I remember praying for his safety every night at bedtime. It was a little startling to read of Thuy's hatred of the enemy/Americans. I know there are U.S. veterans who felt that way about the North Vietnamese, but they're not among my family and close friends.

I think this book is best suited for readers with prior knowledge of the causes of the war and the military operations. This review is based on an advance reading copy loaned to me by a friend.

3 stars

Jul 31, 2011, 5:05pm Top

2nd stop on the Hammersmith & City line: Hitman: Forty Years Making Music, Topping Charts & Winning Grammys by David Foster

It won't come as a surprise to my fellow avid readers that I'm compelled to read CD liner notes. It didn't take me long to notice that, on my favorite CDs, the same name kept popping up in various capacities – producer, composer/songwriter, arranger, keyboards, and occasionally vocals. Before long, I was buying everything I saw that had David Foster's name on it.

Most people will be very familiar with David Foster's work even if they don't recognize his name. He's worked with an impressive list of stars, including Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Josh Groban, Michael Bolton, Natalie Cole, Olivia Newton-John, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bublé, Madonna, Sonny and Cher, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Katharine McPhee, Luciano Pavarotti, Chicago, and Earth, Wind & Fire. His Grammy wins include “After the Love Has Gone (1979 – Earth, Wind & Fire), “Hard Habit to Break” (1984 – Chicago), “Somewhere” (1986 – Barbra Streisand), “Unforgettable” (1991 – Natalie Cole), “I Will Always Love You” (1993 – Whitney Houston), and “When I Fall in Love” (twice!:1993 – Celine Dion & Clive Griffin; 1996 – Natalie Cole & Nat King Cole).

My favorite works by my favorite artists all seem to have been touched by David Foster. He has a gift for bringing out the best in the artists he works with. It didn't surprise me to read this passage:

When someone hires me as a producer, it is my job to push him or her toward greatness. I'm not saying that I make them great, but I often manage to coax an extra five or ten percent out of them—by guiding, encouraging, persisting—that makes them reach for greatness. My goal is to get more out of artists than anybody else they've ever worked with in their lives.

Foster does his share of boasting in the book, but he's earned the right to do it. If he didn't believe that he's one of the best at what he does, he would have no business doing it.

If you like celebrity gossip, there's plenty in this book. For the most part, it's flattering. Foster doesn't try to make himself look good at other people's expense. When he talks about disagreements, both professional and personal, he accepts his own share of blame. The only person who seems to be consistently spoken of negatively is his third wife, Linda Thompson. Their relationship began as an extramarital affair, and even though they eventually married, Foster never seems to have resolved his feelings of guilt for the effect it had on his daughters from his previous marriages.

Foster's main focus is his development as a musician. He talks about the many people who influenced him, including his father, his music teachers, his fellow musicians, and the people who gave him his early breaks. He comes across as someone who is grateful for the opportunities he's had, who worked hard to make the most of them, and who expresses his gratitude through charitable work.

My favorite story in the book is about how Foster passed on “My Heart Will Go On”. He writes:

To this day I don't relate to that song. I think James Horner is a brilliant composer, but that song just didn't do it for me. I remember trying to talk René Celine Dion's manager & husband out of doing it. “You shouldn't do that song! It's really not that good!” But he didn't listen to me, and he advised Celine to record it...I sure went wrong big on that one. But I dislike the song to this day, and the funny thing is I never stop hearing about it.

The song went on to become Celine's biggest hit. To me, though, this is just one more piece of evidence of David Foster's impeccable taste. I absolutely agree with him. I've never liked the song, either. My favorite Celine Dion hit is “Because You Loved Me”, and it was produced by David Foster.

I don't read a lot of celebrity biographies, so I don't know how this one compares to others in the genre. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a must-read for other long-time fans like me.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 31, 2011, 5:21pm Top

Book 9 in my "Just because" bonus category: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In reading this novel, I discovered that magical realism isn't for me. I was tempted to abandon it at several points (but I'm glad I didn't). It was like reading a dream – a dream that never ends. I might have enjoyed the journey more if it had been a shorter one. Today, though, I feel like I've been reading it for 100 years.

I'm sure I missed most of the symbolism. I had such a hard time keeping all of the José Arcadios, Aurelianos, Remedioses, and Amarantas straight that I didn't have enough energy left to think about the deeper meaning of the story. The family tree at the front of the book helped a little, but not a lot.

I'd like to find an essay (nothing longer) that would help me unpack what I've read. I'm not going to avoid magical realism completely. I read Midnight's Children a year ago and liked it much better than I liked this book. I do think that this is a genre that I want to read sparingly, though.

2 1/2 stars

Aug 2, 2011, 8:34am Top

July recap

Best: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Worst: Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings

1. District - 1 book about local history 1/1 – Complete

2. Metropolitan - 2 books set in or about cities 2/2 – Complete
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy – 4 ½ stars

3. Hammersmith & City - 3 books about music 2/3
Hitman: Forty Years Making Music, Topping Charts & Winning Grammys by David Foster – 3 ½ stars

4. Central - 4 books about faith or religion 3/4

5. Northern - 5 books set in or about Canada 3/5
Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings – 2 ½ stars

6. Jubilee - 6 books with a holiday and/or vacation/travel theme, or set in places I'll be visiting soon 5/6
Death by Deep Dish Pie by Sharon Short – 3 ½ stars
Henry Knox by Mark Puls – 4 stars
Blackwork by Monica Ferris – 3 ½ stars

7. Piccadilly - 7 books set in or about places I'd have to fly to 6/7
White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones – 4 stars
Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley – 4 stars

8. Circle - 8 books with a family or genealogy theme 6/8
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – 5 stars

9. Victoria - 9 books written in, set in, or about the Victorian era 6/9
Death Cloud by Andy Lane – 3 ½ stars

10. Waterloo & City - 10 books about history or historical fiction 8/10
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram – 3 stars

11. Bakerloo - 11 detective/mystery/crime stories 10/11
The Sherlock Holmes Theatre by Arthur Conan Doyle et al. - 3 ½ stars

Bonus Category 1: 11 TBRs 6/11

Bonus Category 2: 11 books for other challenges 7/11
West of Rehoboth by Alexs D. Pate – 3 stars

Bonus Category 3: 11 books “just because” 9/11
Cabal by Michael Dibdin – 3 ½ stars
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 2 ½ stars

Edited: Aug 3, 2011, 7:35am Top

Hi there! I can't ever seem to find your 75 in 2011 thread! I wanted to say thanks for visiting my thread -and also - don't worry - Case Histories will all come together. I managed to read all of the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson in July - and each one is so different -but each one has many threads that one wonders who will they all come together. It's magical and so fun! Shhhh- but sometimes with books like that - I keep an initial set of notes about each character and thread - just so it all makes sense to me in the end... ;)

Aug 3, 2011, 4:12pm Top

I'm thinking of having a music category for 2012 and, if I do, that David Foster book will be on the list.

Aug 3, 2011, 10:37pm Top

Linda, I think I'm going to have a music category again next year. If you end up with one for your 2012 challenge, I'll be interested to see what you read for it.

Aug 5, 2011, 5:47pm Top

#163 I'm getting kind of eager to start laying out my 12 in 12 or whatever we'll call it categories.

I wonder when we're going to start. I thought it was around this time last year. Maybe just a bit later.

Aug 5, 2011, 5:53pm Top

I thought it was around this time last year, too. I made a list of my 2012 categories weeks ago. I just hope I can find the list when I need it! I think I remember most of the categories, but I"m not sure I remember all of them.

Aug 5, 2011, 6:05pm Top

I started a thread so that we could talk about it.

Aug 5, 2011, 6:06pm Top

Hooray! Off to find the thread...

Aug 7, 2011, 2:08pm Top

Thanks for the review of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! I have this one on my TBR pile and I think you just bumped it up a few notches :)

Aug 7, 2011, 5:36pm Top

9th stop on the Waterloo line: St. Peter's Fair by Ellis Peters

The approach of the annual St. Peter's Fair reveals tensions between the town and the abbey of Shrewsbury. One year after the castle was under siege in the war for the throne between Stephen and Maud, the town is still repairing its infrastructure. The local merchants are worried about the economic difficulties that the festival will create, as they will lose trade to visiting merchants while the taxes and tolls that would normally be paid to the town will, by charter, be paid to the abbey for the three days of the festival. When the body of a prominent Bristol merchant is discovered on opening day, sheriff Hugh Beringar welcomes Brother Cadfael's assistance in investigating the murder. Was the motive political or personal? Does the dead merchant's niece know more than she has shared with Cadfael and Beringar, and could this knowledge put her in danger?

Coincidentally, St. Peter's Fair was held on the first three days of August, and I listened to the book during the same time frame. I love it when that happens! It's one year since the events of One Corpse Too Many, and those events are referred to several times in the book. I loved the interaction between Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar in One Corpse Too Many, and I was glad that Hugh had a larger role in this book than he's had in several of the other books I've read in this series. He and Cadfael make a good team. I also enjoy the mentoring relationship between Cadfael and his young assistant, Brother Mark, and they share a great scene as Mark seeks Cadfael's supportive ear after the sudden death of a patient he treated in Cadfael's absence.

This has become one of my favorite mystery series. Several of the books I haven't yet read are available for audio download from my public library, and I'm looking forward to listening to several more.

4 1/2 stars

Aug 7, 2011, 5:56pm Top

I agree. Ellis Peters wrote a winning series with Brother Cadfael. Historically fascinating without bogging the reader down with excruciating details.

Aug 7, 2011, 5:59pm Top

7th stop on the Circle line: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories isn't so much a detective story as it is an exploration of the effects of unsolved (or unexplained) crimes on the victims' survivors. Private investigator Jackson Brodie is as much a catalyst as a sleuth. As the reader gets to know Brodie, it gradually becomes clear why the psychologically wounded survivors are drawn to him for help. Atkinson took her time establishing multiple threads. The ending seemed abrupt in comparison to the carefully built layers of the story. This is on one level a crime novel, but it can be read from other perspectives. As a result, it will appeal to readers who normally don't read crime novels.

3 1/2 stars

Aug 7, 2011, 6:22pm Top

Brother Cadfael is a series I have been collecting and thought I would be well into by now :P (Just a little behind in my reading heheh). I need to catch up!

Aug 7, 2011, 6:29pm Top

I'm taking my time working my way through the series, since Ellis Peters won't be writing any more of them. They always leave me with a lot to think about.

Aug 7, 2011, 6:32pm Top

Book 10 in my "just because" bonus category: Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

Parnassus on Wheels is a little book with a big message. It illustrates the power of books and reading to change lives. Spinster Helen McGill seems content to keep house and cook for her brother, Andrew. However, after Andrew becomes a successful author, Helen resents the time he spends away from home and his neglect of his responsibilities for the farm. When a traveling book salesman shows up during one of Andrew's absences, Helen impulsively buys his stock and his traveling wagon, Parnassus. She feared that Andrew would buy it if she didn't, and that he would spend even more time away from the farm. As the Professor shares the secrets of book selling with Helen, it opens her mind to unrealized possibilities for her life. Through the book seller, Helen learns that contentment can't be found through dedication to physical labor alone. To live a balanced life, one must nurture the mind as well as the body. This book is short enough to read in one sitting, and it's well worth the time spent.

4 stars

Aug 7, 2011, 8:00pm Top

I've read the first three books in the Jackson Brodie series and have liked each one more than the previous books. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully and it's always surprising that she manages to pull all those threads together in the end.

Aug 7, 2011, 8:59pm Top

There were a lot of coincidences in the book, but I think that was by intent, and not a weakness. She shows how coincidences build on each other, sometimes with tragic results.

I'm glad to know the books keep getting better. I plan to keep going with the series, but probably not right away. I sometimes burn out on authors if I read several of their books too close together.

Aug 8, 2011, 1:02pm Top

I have Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie-books on Mt. TBR. For some (I don't know how or why) reason, I had gotten it into my head that Jackson Brodie was a woman. And then a friend suggested I watch the TV series since I have a "thing" for Jason Isaacs. Erm, he's not female. Total fail on my part. LOL!

Aug 8, 2011, 2:18pm Top

There's a TV series?

Aug 8, 2011, 2:21pm Top

I think it may just be Case Histories. PBS is scheduled to show it in 3 parts starting in the middle of October.

Edited: Aug 8, 2011, 2:38pm Top

Sorry, it's not been shown in the US yet, it seems. From what I understand, they've adapted the first three books, not just Case Histories. In the UK, it was shown in 6 parts - 2 parts per book. I haven't seen it yet, so I'm not 100% sure.

Aug 8, 2011, 5:25pm Top

According to the PBS schedule, it looks like the whole series is called Case Histories, but it's really the first three books in the Jackson Brodie series. It will air in three 120-minute episodes, one episode per book. Looks like I need to get busy and read the next two. I'll want to read the books before watching the TV adaptation.

Aug 8, 2011, 6:42pm Top

Excellent! I was going to ask for the DVDs from my friend, but I can definitely wait until October. Thanks for posting the schedule - I clearly need to get reading as well! :)

Aug 9, 2011, 9:23pm Top

6th & last stop on the Piccadilly line: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

A wealthy young newlywed is murdered on a honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Did her killer really believe he or she could get away with murder with Hercule Poirot as a fellow passenger?

This is at least the second time I've listened to the audio version of the book. I've read it at least once, and I've seen a couple of television/film adaptations. Since I knew from the beginning who the murderer was and how the murder was carried out, I was able to pay close attention to Christie's plotting of the crime. She knew exactly where she was going with the story, and she carefully laid out the clues to the crime as well as quite a few red herrings, yet does it so naturally that even careful readers will miss many of them the first time through. Many writers try and fail to do what seems almost effortless for Christie.

David Suchet is the perfect reader for a Poirot mystery. He's played Poirot on television for so long that his voice is what I hear mentally when I read a Poirot novel. Poirot sounds like Poirot, and, equally important, the other characters don't!

4 stars

Edited: Aug 10, 2011, 6:44am Top

11th & final stop on the Bakerloo line: Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

When former MI5 agent turned priest, Max Tudor, is one of the first on the scene at the sudden death of the head of the Women's Institute, his instincts tell him she was murdered. DCI Cotton, from the larger neighboring town, is in charge of the case. Cotton quickly senses that the local constable is capable of doing more harm than good, so he sends the constable off on wild goose chases and enlists the vicar's help with the local aspects of the case.

In addition to developing the crime, its investigation, and its solution, the first book in a new series also needs to develop the setting and recurring characters. This book is weighted too heavily toward introducing the characters and the setting, leaving the crime that should be central to the book somewhat underdeveloped. I think the introductions ought to be wrapped up at least by the middle of the book, yet I was still meeting new characters just 30-some pages from the end of the book. I think it might have been better to develop Tudor's back story – why he left MI5 for the priesthood – over several books, rather than spending so much time on it in this book. It seems to disrupt the flow of the story.

I like Max, and he has a plausible reason for becoming involved in criminal investigations. Some of the potentially recurring characters seem like they could develop in interesting ways. I'm curious to see what the author will do with Max and the village as the series continues.

3 stars

ETA: This review is based on an advance reader's copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Aug 11, 2011, 9:17pm Top

Book 7 in my TBR bonus category: Trophy Hunt by C.J. Box

Game warden Joe Pickett discovers the mutilated body of a moose while out fishing with his daughters. Then several mutilated cattle are discovered on a local ranch. The next mutilated bodies to turn up are human. Joe finds himself on a task force comprised of local law enforcement, FBI, and prosecutors, as they join forces to investigate these seemingly related crimes.

The book has some aspects of a detective novel, a police procedural, and even a cozy, but it definitely tilts toward the thriller end of the crime spectrum. The suspense wasn't enough to make me jumpy, but it was enough to make the book hard to put down. I liked the overlap between Joe's personal and professional life. His wife and daughters had significant roles in the book, and I liked the family dynamics.

I haven't read the first three books in the series. While this book works fine as a stand-alone, there are frequent references to events from the earlier books in the series. Some of these references may be spoilers for the earlier books.

This was a 4-star read most of the way through, but it fizzled out at the end. The threads of the story seemed to get tangled up, and Box didn't quite manage to smooth out the knots.

3 1/2 stars

Aug 13, 2011, 11:32pm Top

Book 8 in my books for other challenges bonus category: The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming

It's 1909, and poor Emily Weiss makes the best of things when her husband, Adam, sells their home and possessions (except for his clothes) to become an independent movie producer. He signed a contract promising to deliver four one-reel films in three weeks' time. If they don't meet the deadline, they will lose everything they've risked. They're off to a good start when a man is murdered during the filming of a crowd scene, and Adam is arrested for the murder. Emily not only will have to finish the films on her own, but she must also prove her husband's innocence of the murder.

The mystery was pretty easy to figure out, and I had solved it well before the characters did. The fun was in its historical setting of the early days of the motion picture industry. As independent movie producers, the fictional couple went to great lengths to avoid Thomas Edison's men. I wasn't aware before reading this book how much control Edison exercised over the early days of film. He owned the patents for the technology used in film making, and he was zealous about enforcing them. I also wasn't aware that Fort Lee, New Jersey, where the Weisses filmed their movies, was the center for the motion picture industry before Hollywood.

Emily is a likeable heroine, but I can't say the same for her husband. He preferred to think of Emily as a helpless female, and his ego was wounded when she successfully carried on with the filming while he was in jail. However, when she was in a situation where she really was helpless, he seemed to think she ought to be able to take care of herself.

The second book in this series is due out in a few days, and I've already added it to my wish list.

3 1/2 stars

Aug 14, 2011, 2:33pm Top

The Edge of Ruin sounds like something I would enjoy, I see both it and the next one The Brink of Fame (when it's out) are available on the Kindle, so I am adding it to my wishlist.

Aug 21, 2011, 6:09pm Top

Book 8 in my TBR bonus category: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

The headless body of William Teys lies in a barn in a small Yorkshire village. His daughter sits by the body, axe in hand. When they are discovered, she confesses “I did it. I'm not sorry.” This seems like an open and closed case, so why have the locals called in Scotland Yard? Details that don't seem to fit trouble the villagers. Might the daughter be innocent, and the killer still be at loose among them?

For years I've been watching the television adaptation of this series, but this is my first experience with the books. I was startled by Lynley and Havers' physical descriptions, which are very different from the actors who portray them on television. The TV Lynley is dark, while the book Lynley is blond. The TV Havers is small and thin, while the book Havers is plump. Try as I might, after watching so many seasons of the TV series, the TV actors are who I picture as read, and I just have to accept the incongruity.

Since I remembered the basic details from the TV adaptation of this book, my attention focused more on character development and the psychological tension in the story. One thing that struck me is that, with the exception of the village priest who presents the case to Scotland Yard, the only characters whose thoughts are revealed to the reader are the investigators and their associates. Like the investigators, the reader must decide how to interpret the words and actions of the witnesses/suspects.

George took what at first glance seemed to be a domestic crime and explored its multiple facets – its inconsistencies, questions of interpretation, the personality of the victim, the personality of the presumed killer, family dynamics, the effect of the murder on the small community, and the effect of stress on the personal and professional relationships of those who investigate murder for a living. A characteristic passage:

{Lynley} couldn't remember the last time he had felt so burdened by a case. It felt as if a tremendous weight, having nothing whatsoever to do with the responsibility of getting to the bottom of the matter, were pressing upon his heart. He knew the source. Murder—its atavistic nature and ineffable consequences—was a hydra. Each head, ruthlessly cut off in an effort to reach the “prodigious dog-like body” of culpability, left in its place two heads more venomous than the last. But unlike so many of his previous cases, in which mere rote sufficed to see him sear his way to the core of evil—stopping the flow of blood, allowing no further growth, and leaving him personally untouched by the encounter—this case spoke to him far more intimately.

If the rest of the books are as good as this one, I'll enjoy getting re-acquainted with favorite characters in their original form.

4 stars

Aug 28, 2011, 2:38pm Top

Update from CBL_TN: Her father fell again during the night (after her brother arrived). He has been admitted to the hospital. They discovered he had a deep-vein thrombosis in a leg from the earlier fall (on Friday) so they are making him stay in the hospital bed - no getting up. She did take her laptop to the hospital and will try to post an update later.

Aug 28, 2011, 2:42pm Top

Take care, Carrie. I'll be thinking about you this week. I'm glad your brother is there, too.

Aug 28, 2011, 4:11pm Top

Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes! We're still in a waiting mode since several specialists will be involved in different aspects of my father's care. It takes time to get everything lined up. I don't expect much more to happen today, other than perhaps hearing results from the heart echo he had in the ER. I knew from past experience that the hospital has wifi so I brought my laptop with me. My brother has both a smart phone and a laptop, so we've both got things to distract us when our worries start to become more than we can bear.

Aug 29, 2011, 12:51am Top

Sending all my best wishes for you and your father Carrie!

Aug 29, 2011, 8:42am Top

Thinking of you and your family!

Sep 3, 2011, 7:37pm Top

4th and last stop on the Central Line: Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

An earthquake in Turkey displaces two families who lived in the same apartment building, connecting them forever at that moment in time, yet creating an unbridgeable distance between them. In a sense, both families were already displaced when the earthquake hit. Sinan Basioglu and his family are Kurds living outside the Kurdish homeland, while Marcus Hamm and his family are Americans affiliated with an American missionary school.

The teenage romance between Sinan's daughter, Irem, and Marcus's son, Dylan, is predictably tragic. The Hamm family's effect on Sinan's young son, Ismail, is more surprising. Points of tension include Muslim and Christian, fundamentalist and moderate, East-West/Europe-Asia, American worldview vs. Middle Eastern worldview, parents and children, male and female. This novel illuminates cultural divides without imagining resolutions for them.

3 1/2 stars

Sep 4, 2011, 10:33am Top

Book 9 in my books for other challenges bonus category: Escape Artist by Ed Ifkovic

A beautiful Appleton high school student, kept under close family supervision, disappears from the school one afternoon, seemingly vanishing between her classroom and the school's exit. If she was running away, she didn't get very far. Her murdered body was discovered in a secluded spot nearby. Young newspaper columnist Edna Ferber, a recent graduate of the high school, uses her familiarity with the school and its students to solve the case. She receives encouragement and insight from world-famous magician Harry Houdini, who just happens to be visiting his hometown at the time of the murder.

I found the characters to be much more interesting than the murder plot. Edna Ferber comes across as determined and strong-willed, and her prickly relationship with her mother and sister adds an interesting domestic dynamic to the story. I especially liked Edna's relationship with her ailing father. Harry Houdini's role in the story seemed awkward, like a TV cameo by a famous personality where the star seems to be repeating memorized lines rather than behaving naturally.

I believe there are other mysteries in this series set after Ferber had become a successful writer. I'd like to try one of the other books to see if I like the mature Ferber better than the teenager of this story.

This review is based on an electronic galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

2 1/2 stars

Sep 5, 2011, 10:38pm Top

7th stop on the Victoria line: The Excursion Train by Edward Marston

When a man's murdered body is discovered on an excursion train that had transported spectators from London to the site of an illegal fight, Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck is under pressure to solve the case quickly. As he learns more about the dead man's identity, he begins to suspect that the motive for murder is connected to the man's profession as a public executioner. Colbeck believes that the murderer has plans for more than one victim. Can he find the killer before more lives are lost?

I didn't like this second book in the Detective Inspector Colbeck series quite as well as the first book. All of the books in this series have something to do with trains. Trains were an essential part of the crime in the first book. However, the crime in this book could have occurred at any number of places other than on a train. The plot was contrived to fit the necessity of a railway connection for this series. Colbeck's character seemed a little flat in this book. However, there are enough interesting characters among the supporting cast to keep me going with the series. Since there are several references to events from the first book in the series, I would recommend reading at least these first two books in order.

3 1/2 stars

Sep 7, 2011, 6:05pm Top

Today didn't turn out as I thought it would. The transitional care unit started a process yesterday to transfer my dad to a nursing home for more intensive therapy. He has regressed since he moved to the TCU and his left side seemed to be getting weaker and weaker. I pushed to get a neurological evaluation before they transferred him away from the hospital. After a CT scan, we're now in the NICU with what they think is bleeding in the brain. We're still waiting on more evaluations. We do know that he'll be getting a filter to keep any clots that break off from the clot in his leg from reaching his heart & lungs. They have to take him off of the blood thinner. I'll stay in the ICU waiting room tonight and let my brother get a good night's sleep. I've got my laptop and plenty of books and puzzles to keep me occupied this evening.

Sep 7, 2011, 6:58pm Top

So sorry you are going through so much right now with your Dad, Carrie. I'll be thinking about you and hoping things start to improve soon.

Sep 7, 2011, 8:47pm Top

Sorry to learn about the new development with your dad. My thoughts are with you and your family and hope things improve for your dad.

Sep 7, 2011, 9:04pm Top

I hope the ICU waiting room isn't too grim. You think they'd at least stick a plastic plant in the corner.

Take care. My thoughts are with you.

Sep 7, 2011, 10:37pm Top

The ICU waiting room is wonderful. It's full of recliners for family members to sleep in, and there's a bathroom with a shower. We get a sign above our recliner with our patient's room number. If the staff needs to wake someone up during the night, they don't have to wake up everyone in the room.

Sep 8, 2011, 8:10pm Top

You are quite fortunate. The last time I was in an ICU waiting room, we had extremely uncomfortable straight chairs. I finally found a way to arrange myself to sleep at night, but it was just barely doable.

Sep 13, 2011, 10:34pm Top

Completing my "Just Because" bonus category: My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (audio version read by Jonathan Cecil)

Only half of the eight short stories in My Man Jeeves feature Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. The other four stories feature Reggie Pepper. Reggie gets caught up in the same sort of dilemmas that plague Bertie. While Reggie is brighter than Bertie (as most people probably would be), he doesn't have a Jeeves to save the day.

I had seen the television version of the Jeeves & Wooster stories, and had also heard most of them in the audio version of Carry On, Jeeves, read by Martin Jarvis. I prefer Martin Jarvis's version to Jonathan Cecil's, mainly because Cecil's voice sounds too aged to fit the characters.

My favorite stories in the collection were two of the Reggie Pepper stories. In “Helping Freddie”, Reggie mistakenly kidnaps a small child. More complications ensue when he tries to reunite the child with his family. In “Rallying Round Old George”, Reggie comes to the aid of a friend who may have committed a crime he doesn't remember.

There are more similarities than differences between the Jeeves and Wooster stories and the Reggie Pepper stories. They make a great choice for readers who enjoy humor about people with more money than sense, with just a touch of romance.

3 1/2 stars

Sep 13, 2011, 10:39pm Top

My father had brain surgery on Sunday. What had appeared from the CT scan to be either a mass of infection or blood turned out to be both a cyst and a malignant tumor. My father is recovering well from the surgery. He has a week or two to decide if he wants to have radiation treatment that could extend his life for a few months longer than if he doesn't have the radiation. Unfortunately there is no cure for his cancer.

Sep 13, 2011, 11:24pm Top

I am very sorry to hear that, your father will be in my thoughts. I am glad that he is recovering well from surgery and hope that they are keeping him comfortable **hugs**

Sep 14, 2011, 6:21am Top

That's terrible news. My thoughts go out to you and your family.

Sep 14, 2011, 8:24am Top

I am so sorry. I will be thinking of you.

Sep 14, 2011, 8:52am Top

Adding my heartfelt thoughts for you and your family.

Sep 14, 2011, 9:30am Top

Very, very sorry to hear the news about your Dad. I'm sure you're reeling.

Sep 20, 2011, 11:58am Top

I am sad to report that Carrie Beth's dad died this morning.

Sep 20, 2011, 3:09pm Top

I am sorry to hear the news about your Dad's passing. Condolences to you and your family.

Sep 20, 2011, 4:09pm Top

Thanks for letting us know Thornton. My thoughts to the family.

Sep 20, 2011, 10:43pm Top

Sending thoughts and well wishes. Remember to take some time to take care of yourself right now Carrie.

Sep 20, 2011, 11:51pm Top

My deepest condolences and thoughts for you and your family.

Sep 26, 2011, 6:04pm Top

Thank you all for your prayers and expressions of sympathy. Everything went well with my father's funeral and graveside service. The burial involved a road trip to Indiana and back over the weekend. I'm glad to be home again, and I'm starting to chip away at all of the tasks that still need to be addressed.

I haven't had much time or concentration for reading in the last few weeks, but I'm at the point now where books are a welcome distraction. Particularly audiobooks, since I have more time to spare for them right now. I never feel like I'm finished with a book until I review it. One of my projects for this week, as I have time, will be to review the half dozen or so books I've completed in the last few weeks.

Sep 27, 2011, 7:10pm Top

I added a couple of pictures of my father to my profile page. In the primary picture my dad is holding a book he read multiple times a day to the not-quite-2-year-old girl in the picture (who turned 18 earlier this month!) The children belong to family friends, and they were surrogate grandchildren to my parents.

Sep 27, 2011, 8:21pm Top

RE: the photos... did you know at the time that Santa was your father? I came into possession of a similar photograph shortly after my father passed away. One of my aunts revealed to me that it was my Dad. I never had any idea. Things like that are priceless. I'll continue to keep you in my thoughts...

Sep 27, 2011, 8:28pm Top

The Santa in the picture actually isn't my father. My mother's family has a reunion every year on Christmas eve. It used to be in the cabin where my great-grandmother was born, but in the last 10 years or so it's been rotating to different homes with indoor plumbing. At the time the photo was taken, I think an unrelated neighbor filled in for Santa. As far as I know, my father never dressed up as Santa. As far back as I can remember, I was "in" on the secret of Santa, but I knew enough to keep my mouth shut around other kids!

Sep 28, 2011, 5:52pm Top

3rd and last stop on the Hammersmith & City line: Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson by Tricia Tunstall

I don't remember a time when I couldn't play the piano. My mother was a piano teacher, and she gave me my first music lesson at age 4. It wasn't too long before I began taking lessons from one of my mother's former teachers.

My mother taught mainly college students, usually beginners, for college credit. When I was sick and stayed home from school, I usually spent the day in my room listening to my mother's piano students, often hearing the same pieces multiple times throughout the day.

It's been years since I took a piano lesson or eavesdropped on my mother's lessons. Tricia Tunstall's book brought those memories flooding back. While my mother had a gift for teaching adult beginners, Tunstall's gift seems to be instilling children with a love for music by identifying the musical styles that appeal to them and showing them how to express themselves through music. Tunstall spends time learning about each student's musical taste, and she encourages exploration and spontaneity as well as structure and technique.

Throughout the book, Tunstall talks about the intimacy of the piano lesson and the relationship of teacher and student:

When my students strive toward mastery, they expand and deepen what they know about human feeling. The vast challenges of technical development are always, finally, in the service of emotional exploration: discussing a three-against-two figure, one may suddenly find oneself discussing sorrow, and a fingering change can open the way to jubilation. Teacher and student take turns leading and following one another through the possibilities of feeling; it is a kind of intimacy all the richer for being mediated by the beauty of music.

Tunstall's book truly is a celebration of the piano lesson. It reminded me of the ways in which music has enriched my life, and it has encouraged me to experiment with new styles and techniques as well as to improve my technical skills. Who knows – maybe I'll even take up lessons again!

3 1/2 stars

Sep 28, 2011, 7:18pm Top

Tunstall's book sounds interesting! I also took piano lessons from a young age and continued playing all the way through college. I'd definitely love to get back into it one of these days!

Sep 28, 2011, 8:11pm Top

I still play for church, and for my own entertainment at home. What I really loved was accompanying choirs in high school and college. I have lots of great memories from those years.

Sep 29, 2011, 11:21am Top

My daughter took piano lessons for several years and has, just this year, switched over to bass violin. I love that she has that understanding of music, which I don't. It's like understanding a foreign language.

Sep 29, 2011, 5:45pm Top

Hi Carrie, catching up on threads I get the news about your father late. I'm so very sorry for your loss, and hope you can manage all the things that need to be taken care of now, afterwards.

Sep 30, 2011, 4:22pm Top

Wonderful pictures of your father, Carrie! Thanks for posting them.

Edited: Oct 1, 2011, 6:19pm Top

4th stop on the Northern line: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Clara Morrow, one of the most-loved residents of Three Pines, finally gets her own art show. Her special night is marred by the murder of an uninvited guest. Once again, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team descend on Three Pines, straddling the lines between friend and suspect, investigator and witness.

Although this isn't my favorite book in the series (I think it will be hard to top Bury Your Dead), it's still a very good novel. While each book in the series has a self-contained crime and investigation, there are larger story arcs developed across multiple novels. This book has a transitional feel that left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

Those who haven't yet visited Three Pines may find it incredible that, in this 7th book in the series, readers can suspect that any of the characters they've come to know and love could be capable of murder. However, Penny casts suspicion too well for my comfort. Just how well can we know another person? Are we able to see others' true character, or do we see what we want to see, or what they want us to see? Is a person's basic nature fixed, or are people capable of change? Penny raises these sorts of questions, and leaves it to her readers to decide.

Some characteristic passages:

The Chief believed if you sift through evil, at the very bottom you'll find good. He believed that evil has its limits. Beauvoir didn't. He believed that if you sift through good, you'll find evil. Without borders, without brakes, without limit.

And every day it frightened him that Gamache couldn't see that. That he was blind to it. Because out of blind spots terrible things appeared.


Many might have thought the Chief Inspector was a hunter. He tracked down killers. But Jean Guy knew he wasn't that. Chief Inspector Gamache was an explorer by nature. He was never happier than when he was pushing the boundaries, exploring the internal terrain. Areas even the person themselves hadn't explored. Had never examined. Probably because it was too scary.

Gamache went there. To the end of the known world, and beyond. Into the dark, hidden places. He looked into the crevices, where the worst things hid.

And Jean Guy Beauvoir followed.

Penny explores those dark, hidden places in human nature. Her books aren't always comfortable to read, but they're worth the discomfort. They leave me with the same sort of feeling you get after a cleansing rainstorm. You know that the dust will start to build up again, and there will be more storms to endure, but just for this moment, there is peace.

4 stars

Oct 1, 2011, 9:01pm Top

What a fabulous review! I am only three books into the Three Pines series, but you've nailed them exactly!

Oct 1, 2011, 9:53pm Top

Thanks, Katie! You've got some good ones ahead of you. Books 4 & 6 are my favorites.

Oct 4, 2011, 1:05pm Top

Great review!!! I have read only book 2, but I have the 1-3(4?) buried in mount TBR. I read book 2 as a 'Christmas themed Canadian book' last year during the holidays :P

Oct 4, 2011, 5:24pm Top

Excellent review! I didn't like Still Life at all and you make the series look attractive.

Oct 4, 2011, 5:50pm Top

Thanks! The series really does get better as it progresses. I thought the first couple of books were OK. For me, the third book is where it becomes something special.

Oct 4, 2011, 5:52pm Top

10th and last stop on the Waterloo line: Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti

The August, 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from Paris's Louvre is one of history's most famous art thefts. Despite the involvement of top criminologists such as Alphonse Bertillon, French authorities were unable to locate the missing painting. The few available clues were either contradictory or led to dead ends. Early suspicion centered on artist Pablo Picasso and his close friend, writer Guillaume Apollinaire. At one point, Apollinaire was arrested for the crime, but after a short stay in jail, he was released for lack of evidence. Several years after the trail went completely cold, the painting resurfaced in Italy. Scotti details how the theft was carried out and the thief's motivation for the crime. (I was surprised by the similarities to the museum theft in the movie How to Steal a Million.) However, some experts question whether the thief acted alone or had accomplices who were never identified.

I listened to the audio version of the book (coincidentally, almost exactly 100 years after the theft). The book's biggest flaw is its structure. Scotti breaks up the discovery and investigation of the Mona Lisa's disappearance and its eventual reappearance and explanation of the theft with a long digression on Leonardo da Vinci's life, the identity and life of the painting's subject, and the early history of the painting. It seemed like padding to stretch the material to book length, and it disrupted the flow of the narrative. If you're reading the book rather than listening to the audio, I think you could skip that section without feeling like you're missing something.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 4, 2011, 8:01pm Top

230/231 - I agree that the Louise Penny books get better as they go along, and #3 was the turning point for me.

Oct 5, 2011, 1:21pm Top

>226 cbl_tn: Wonderful review of A Trick of the Light, Carrie! I really, really liked it, but it's not my favorite, either. I agree that the 3rd book is where the series became more than good cozy mysteries.

>232 cbl_tn: I'd never heard of this book until it was loaned to me a couple of weeks ago; nor do I know anything about the theft, though I think I knew that the painting had been stolen at some point. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but it does sound interesting to me, including the part about da Vinci!

Oct 5, 2011, 5:11pm Top

Ivy, the part about da Vinci was interesting. I just didn't like it sandwiched between the account of the theft and the account of the reappearance of the painting. If I had been reading the paper version instead of listening to the audio, I probably would have skipped ahead to the chapters about the painting's recovery, then gone back to read the section about da Vinci and the history of the painting.

Oct 5, 2011, 6:45pm Top

Book 10 in my "Books for other challenges" bonus category: Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie (for a September TIOLI challenge)

The audio version I listened to contains three Poirot stories: “Murder in the Mews”, “Triangle at Rhodes”, and “The Incredible Theft”. In the first story, Poirot assists Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard in the investigation of a suspicious death. Coincidentally, just the evening before, the two men had walked together through the quiet street where the death occurred. In “Triangle at Rhodes”, a vacationing Poirot solves the murder of a fellow tourist. There's no death in the final story. Instead, Poirot investigates the mysterious disappearance of top secret plans for a bomber.

“Murder in the Mews” is the most original of the three stories. The other two stories remind me of some of her other works, and seemed vaguely familiar to me as I listened. The three stories are a fairly representative sample of Christie's work, and it might be a nice introduction to Christie for readers who don't want to commit to a full length novel.

4 stars

Oct 6, 2011, 5:33pm Top

I used my day off today to work at home with a couple of friends who offered to help me sort through some of my fathers things. We took a few things to donate to the thrift store this afternoon, and also took a couple of boxes of my books to our big used book store. I wasn't able to leave without adding a few more books to my TBR stash, but at least I got rid of a lot more than I brought home!

For a grand total of $12.50, I came home with:
A Dead Man in Trieste by Michael Pearce (book 1 in his A Dead Man... series)
The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth (a Miss Silver mystery)
The Museum Guard by Howard Norman
Faded Coat of Blue by Owen Parry (book 1 in his Abel Jones mystery series)
Pennsylvania: A Bicentennial History by Thomas C. Cochran
Private Enterprise and Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell (in her Barsetshire series)
The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears
Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

Oct 6, 2011, 7:04pm Top

Book 9 in my TBR bonus category: Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephanie Barron

Just when I had given up hope that there would be any more books in this favorite series, I learned that this book was to be released. Jane Austen and her brother, Henry, travel to Brighton for a change of scenery after the death of his wife, Eliza, who was much loved by them both. They arrive just in time to prevent a young woman from being kidnapped by Lord Byron, who is obsessed with the teenage girl. When the girl is later found dead in circumstances suggesting that Lord Byron murdered her, Jane uses her amateur sleuthing skills to learn the truth behind the girl's death.

This book didn't live up to my expectation for the series. I don't know whether my reading taste has changed in the years since the last book was released, or if the author's writing style has changed. I suspect it's the latter. It seems like there are more innuendos and suggestive talk in Jane's conversations in this book, and it feels out of character for Jane Austen. The characterizations lacked subtlety. The good characters were good, the bad characters were despicable, and there weren't any who were difficult to place in one or the other category.

The earlier books in this series made this one of my favorite historical mystery series. A new book in the series came out just a few weeks ago. Maybe I'll enjoy that one more since my expectation has dropped a bit after reading this one.

3 stars

Oct 6, 2011, 8:47pm Top

I've never heard of the Jane Austen mystery series. Maybe I'll check out the early ones. Thanks for the review!

Oct 6, 2011, 9:04pm Top

I have to give my grandmother credit for my discovery of the Jane Austen mysteries. I inherited a lot of her books after she died in 2000, including the first two or three books in this series. That was all it took to get me hooked on them.

The series lost quite a bit of its sparkle a couple of books ago, but I can't explain why without revealing spoiler information.

Oct 7, 2011, 7:29am Top

I've found that it's not unusual for a long-running series to decline in quality over time. I think that the author gets a little tired of the characters but the publisher knows that a series book will sell better than a stand alone (especially one in which the author does something different), so the author's stuck choosing between boredom and a decent paycheck and being intellectually challenged and maybe not even being published.

Of course, bestselling authors will still be published, but the amounts of money are so much larger. Cabana boys and country clubs don't come cheap, you know.

Oct 9, 2011, 11:06pm Top

7th and last stop on the Piccadilly line: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Jackson Brodie and his actress girlfriend are in Edinburgh for the Festival. Jackson has lots of time to kill while his girlfriend is in rehearsals. Maybe too much time. Trouble seems to find him wherever he goes. He's on the spot to witness an incident of road rage, and without meaning to, he gets pulled into events triggered by the incident. He can't even enjoy a day trip to the coast without stumbling across a crime victim, and his efforts to help land him in deeper trouble.

I liked, but didn't love, Case Histories, Kate Atkinson's first Jackson Brodie novel. I'm glad I kept reading. I loved this second book in the series. As in the first book, the plot and interrelationships among the characters hinge on coincidence. The coincidences seem to run much deeper in this second Brodie novel, yet they don't feel as forced as they did in the first novel. Maybe I, like Jackson, have just come to expect it so that they no longer surprise me. As the plots and characters began to converge, I didn't even try to figure out where Atkinson was headed. Whatever I guessed wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining as what Atkinson created.

4 1/2 stars

Oct 10, 2011, 9:51pm Top

11th and final book in my Books for other challenges bonus category: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (for a September TIOLI challenge)

When the city of Worcester is attacked, a teenage brother and sister manage to escape with a young nun as their escort. They are headed for the abbey at Shrewsbury, but they never arrive. When word of the missing refugees reaches the abbey, Brother Cadfael is sent on a mission to find the travelers. The weather has turned bitterly cold. Snow and ice make travel dangerous for the unprepared young people and add urgency to Cadfael's mission. Sadly, not all of the travelers will reach safety, but the weather isn't to blame. A murderer lurks somewhere in the winter storm.

This installment in the Cadfael series is more an adventure novel than a murder mystery. Cadfael didn't have many chances to use his knowledge of healing and herbal remedies. Consequently, I didn't like this book as well as most of the others I've read in this series. Quite a bit of the action takes place outdoors as various characters battle the winter elements. It will probably appeal to readers who enjoy action and adventure stories.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 10, 2011, 10:29pm Top

I've started a new thread for my overflow books. I still have 3 books to finish for this challenge, plus a few reviews to catch up on, so I'll post those here. I'll post the overflow books on my new thread:

Oct 11, 2011, 3:53am Top

Off to star the overflow thread! :)

Oct 22, 2011, 10:57am Top

Just one book left to complete my stepped challenge! I'm still several reviews behind, but I hope to get caught up this weekend.

Oct 22, 2011, 5:25pm Top

Book 10 in my TBR bonus category: The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness

I was was enchanted by the story of Alfgrimur, a young orphan growing up in a fishing village near Reykjavik. Alfgrimur is happy in the home of an elderly man and woman he calls grandfather and grandmother. His uncertain origins don't seem to bother him. When he discovers he has an aptitude for music, he is satisfied to develop his talent for his own pleasure. He dreams of nothing more than becoming a fisherman like his grandfather. Will his encounter with opera singer Gardar Holm, Iceland's most famous native and some sort of distant relation to Alfgrimar, change his perspective?

Iceland is as much character as location in this story. While Alfgrimar is discovering his identity on a personal level, Iceland is discovering its national identity. During the time of the story, Iceland is still under Danish rule. Some of the Icelanders in the book seem to view themselves as the “country cousins” of the more sophisticated Danes. Will Iceland embrace its cultural traditions, or exchange them for those of their “city cousins'?

Although this book isn't considered magical realism, it reminded me of the few books I've read from that genre, particularly Midnight's Children and One Hundred Years of Solitude. If you you've read and enjoyed either of those books, you might want to give this one a try.

5 stars

Oct 22, 2011, 5:54pm Top

Completing my TBR bonus category: Death Assemblage by Susan Cummins Miller

Graduate student Francisca “Frankie” McFarlane is in the final stages of her geological research project in the mountains near Pair-a-Dice, Nevada. Since Frankie spends her days alone in the mountains, news of a serial killer working his or her way along I-80 toward Nevada has her on the alert, although she is so far off the interstate that she can't imagine she would be in any danger. However, a mysterious stranger shows unusual interest in Frankie's activities. Is he someone Frankie can trust? Or could he have something to do with the murders?

This book has more strengths than weaknesses. The book's main weakness is too many plot threads. The author knitted a pair of socks when she should have been knitting a scarf. On the positive side, I learned a lot from Frankie's geological research, even if some of the technical terminology was over my head. I was also impressed with the quality of the writing. This book proves it's possible for writing to be grammatically correct without sounding stilted. I've read enough poorly written and/or edited books that I really appreciate it when I come across a book that's been carefully edited.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 22, 2011, 9:08pm Top

8th and last stop on the Circle line: The Jumping-off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely

Early in the 20th century, four orphaned children from small town Wisconsin carry out their recently deceased uncle's plans for homesteading in South Dakota. Their uncle lingered long enough after a stroke to provide detailed instructions for the children to follow. To fulfill the requirements for homesteaders, they must live on the property for 14 months and cultivate at least 10 acres. Once they gain title to the claim, they can sell it and use the income from the sale to get a good start in life.

Although none of the four children are twins, the book reminded me a lot of the Bobbsey Twins books I loved as a child. The children pair up in the same way as the Bobbsey Twins. Seventeen-year-old Becky and 15-year-old Dick work well as a team to manage the family finances and household chores. Preteens Phil and Joan have chores to do, but they also have time for school and play.

The language of the book hasn't aged quite as well as the story. A couple of references to Native Americans and African Americans are typical for that era but wouldn't be used by today's authors for children. This would be a quick and enjoyable way for family historians to learn about homesteaders and homesteading in the early 20th century.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 22, 2011, 9:11pm Top

Great progress on the challenge, Carrie!

Oct 24, 2011, 8:18pm Top

8th stop on the Victoria line: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Upon his return from the gold fields of Australia,, George Talboys runs into his old friend, Robert Audley. Talboys can think of nothing but his reunion with the wife and child he left behind, and he is devastated to learn of his wife's death just days before his arrival. Audley takes his grieving friend under his wing, and he invites Talboys to go with him to visit the family estate. Robert's widowed uncle has recently married a much younger woman, and Robert has yet to meet his new aunt, who seems strangely reluctant to meet him. Then his friend George disappears, and Robert feels compelled to solve the mystery.

This book is similar to many of the recently-written historical mysteries I've read, and in some ways it seems fresher. I particularly enjoyed spotting Braddon's references to contemporary culture and events like the U.S. Civil War. I was surprised by the book's religious content. Biblical language and allusions are sprinkled throughout the novel. I liked the way Braddon built suspense as Robert became more and more suspicious of Lady Audley's behavior. I was slightly disappointed by the ending, and I wish that Braddon had resolved things a little differently. Lady Audley's Secret reads a lot like a Wilkie Collins novel, and it's a book that every fan of historical mysteries needs to read at some point.

3 1/2 stars

Oct 25, 2011, 12:00pm Top

Lady Audley's Secret is on my radar. I'm so enjoying The Woman in White, that I feel like devoting myself to Victorian pot-boilers. I'm finding that the suspense is heightened by the slow pace I'm forced to proceed at.

And ever since reading Black Beauty with my kids (who, oddly, adored it), I've had a fondness for earnest sermons sprinkled into my reading.

Oct 25, 2011, 5:26pm Top

I didn't like Lady Audley's Secret quite as well as I did The Woman in White, but it's still a good read, and the characters are memorable. Now that I've read the book, I've ordered the DVD from Netflix. It will be interesting to see how the movie differs from the book.

Oct 30, 2011, 4:23pm Top

9th and last stop on the Victoria line: The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice

When I was a child, I used to wish that I had a twin. (Probably from reading all of those Bobbsey Twins books and watching The Parent Trap!) I hadn't thought about my childhood wish in ages, until I picked up this biography of twins Agnes Smith Lewis and and Margaret Smith Gibson. How I would have loved living the life of those Victorian sisters!

Agnes and Margaret were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. They were healthy enough to travel in the Middle East, and they had the money to fund their trips and pursue their intellectual interests. Their studies prepared them to recognize important manuscripts when they saw them, and friends in their Cambridge circle provided the necessary references and introductions to gain access to the repositories of the manuscripts at a time when interest in the discovery and transcription of ancient manuscripts was higher than it had ever been.

Author Janet Soskice struck just the right tone in this biography. She writes of scholarly and and arcane topics in a way that will appeal to both scholars and general readers. Highly recommended for readers with an interest in biblical studies and manuscripts, the Victorian era, and women's studies.

5 stars. Full review here.

Nov 2, 2011, 9:41pm Top

Last stop on the Northern line, and completing my challenge: Sleep While I Sing by L. R. Wright

Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police heads an investigation into the murder of a woman in a secluded area near Sechelt, in British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The woman had no identification, and she was a stranger to local residents. Or was she? In the first book in the series, Alberg developed an interest in librarian Cassandra Mitchell, but nothing came of it. Her current boyfriend, actor Roger Galbraith, reacts strangely to the news of the stranger's murder. Does he know more than he's willing to admit?

In the first book in this series, the identity of the murderer is known to the reader from the beginning of the book, and the suspense is psychological. This book is a more typical whodunnit. Alberg took longer than I did to identify the murderer, but he eventually got there. I like Alberg, but I'm not sure yet about Cassandra. I'm not sure that she deserves him. I'll make up my mind later. I enjoy the setting and atmosphere in this series, and it's one I'll continue to read.

3 1/2 stars

Nov 3, 2011, 9:14am Top

Congratulations on finishing the challenge!

Nov 3, 2011, 10:18am Top


Nov 3, 2011, 10:26am Top

Well done on completing your challenge!

Nov 3, 2011, 11:06am Top

Are you planning to stick around, or are you forging ahead with the 12 12?

Nov 3, 2011, 11:22am Top

Congratulations! I've enjoyed your reviews!

Nov 3, 2011, 11:57am Top

Congrats on finishing!!!

Nov 3, 2011, 12:02pm Top

Congratulations, Carrie!

Nov 3, 2011, 12:57pm Top

Thanks everyone! I should have added a link to my bonus/overflow thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/124970

I'll be posting there the rest of this year and start the 12 in 12 in January.

Nov 3, 2011, 1:30pm Top

Hurrah for you! Congratulations!

Nov 3, 2011, 3:15pm Top

Congratulations on completing the Challenge, Carrie!

Dec 31, 2011, 11:29am Top

A very belated congratulations! See you in the 12 in 12!

Group: The 11 in 11 Category Challenge

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