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Friday, July 29, 2011

On Borrowed Time

David Rosenfelt had me at Dog Tags, the first novel of his that I read (See my post on this 3/11/11.).  I'm still catching up on his Andy Carpenter mysteries.  They're clever with just the right amount of sarcastic wit, and I sure don't see all the twists and turns coming in his legal procedurals.  I've now discovered a new reason to love his writing with On Borrowed Time (#100), a thriller I could not put down with double the number of plot turns. 

Richard Kilmer is a journalist who is living a normal life in New York City.  One day he meets Jen, someone who's smart and savvy on seemingly on his wavelength, who also fits in with his group of friends.  Richard invites Jen to move in with him and their relationship progresses.  He proposes to her at her parents' house in upstate New York over the Christmas holiday and she accepts.  Jen suggests a ride to Kendrick Falls, one of her childhood haunts, to celebrate the occasion.  Except that they are caught in a freak storm, and when Richard finally gets the car under control, Jen is missing.  She hasn't been thrown from the car and there is no trace of her.  After Richard is treated and released for a head injury, nothing is the same; no one remembers Jen - not her parents or her best friend.  When he returns to New York City his apartment has reverted to the way it was in his bachelor days.  None of his friends have ever met Jen.  Is Richard losing his mind, or is something else going on?  Since I don't want to spoil it for you, you'll just have to read On Borrowed Time to find out.

If you're a fan of psychological thrillers, this is the perfect book for summer reading.  I'm a happy camper because now I have more Rosenfelt thrillers to add to my reading list!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

I'll admit it.  I enjoy following the Royals.  I always have, and it runs in my family.  It may have something to do with my personal encounters with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles...  But I was one of those two billion people around the planet that got up early April 29th the watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  I even baked scones for the occasion.  The English really do know how to do pomp and circumstance right.

So when I was relaxing at the library last week and LIFE's The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (#99) was displayed in my sight line, I just had to take it home to spend a little time reading the text, but mostly looking at the pictures.  The text itself veered between reverential and downright funny in some of its comments about the events, the ancestors, the guests (or NON guests!) and their attire.  But the point of the book is really the picture gallery.  I thought the pictures of the young William and Kate and their families were well done, but as for the wedding itself - I would have liked to have seen a lot more included in the book.  I thought since this was the commerative edition that it was kind of short of photos of the main event.  Maybe that's just me, but I'll bet it's not.  I was online looking at pictures of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden's 2010 wedding - this book compares her wedding to William and Kate's - but it failed to include a single one in the section on notable royal weddings. 

But that's a small quibble.  I saw on the news this week that Kate's dress is now on display in Buckingham Palace.  I saw Princess Di's wedding gown when it came to Fort Lauderdale.  I wish I could see this gorgeous dress in person, too, and not just in the photos. 

By all means, add this book to your collection if you're a royal watcher.  You might want to look around for something else that might be more comprehensive and include a larger photo album to complement it.  If you're not, you probably won't be reading this anyway!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Aunt Dimity Down Under

Aunt Dimity Down Under (#98) takes Lori Sheperd to New Zealand to track down a long-lost relative of elderly identical twins Ruth and Louise Pym.  The twins, who have lived in the village of Finch their entire lives, have taken a "funny turn" after finding a letter to their mother from their banished brother Aubrey announcing the birth of a son.  The Pyms had no idea that they had other relatives, and are anxious to make contact before they die.  They entrust their neighbor Lori with the task.  Since Dr. Finnisterre has made them comfortable but holds out no hope for their recovery, there is no telling how much time Lori will have to carry out their dying wish. 

Aunt Dimity, of course, in journal form goes along in Lori's handbag, and proves to be surprisingly knowledgeable about New Zealand and its inhabitants.  She, of course, claims to have met Kiwis as part of her war work in London.  Seems suspicious to me just how extensive her familarity is, but who knows how Aunt Dimity is spending her time in the other dimension?  Lori spends her journey, accompanied by a college friend of husband Bill, determined to make it back home as soon as possible - grumble, grumble.  Cameron, in fact, is the one who pushes her to go beyond the surface contact.  By the end of the book, she has accomplished her objective, and vows to return for a more leisurely exploration of New Zealand (she's thinking of six months or more - wish I had that kind of time and money!!!) with Bill and her own six year old twins.  Nancy Atherton was apparently doing her research for this book while filming was still going on of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as the text is sprinkled with references to "Ringers", so if you're a Tolkein fan, you'll enjoy this aspect. 

I did hate to say goodbye to Louise and Ruth Pym.  They've always been an entertaining part of the Aunt Dimity series.  Their funeral was particularly touching.  It was nicely balanced by a long-awaited wedding, and we know that the Pym's cottage won't be empty in upcoming books.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Overbite (#97) is Meg Cabot's second book about Meena Harper, the girl who can predict everyone else's death but her own.  Meena is now working for the Vatican's Palatine Guard in their Manhattan branch,  Its mission is to destroy the hosts of demons and banish evil from the world.  That's a problem for Meena, since she's still emotionally tied to Lucien Antonescu, son of Vlad the Impaler and Prince of Darkness.  Although she hasn't seen him since the climactic battle described in the first book, Insatiable, only Meena is convinced that there is still some spark of good in Lucien.  Alaric Wulf, tall, blond, muscular fellow Palatine Guard demon hunter, isn't swayed by Meena's arguments.

Who is going to win Meena's heart in this outing?  And will the reason be the right one?  Will she even survive to enjoy a happy ever after as a human or as creature of darkness herself?  Gotta love a book that features New Jersey as a hellmouth (talk about Real New Jersey Housewives!), an evil New York City waterway, Tiffany jewelry as a weapon, a sinister conspiracy to take over the Vatican and a pistol-packing nun!

A great way to spend a warm summer afternoon!

True History of the Kelly Gang

I really, really should have known better.  Prepping for my trip to Australia in September, I've done some of the recommended reading by the tour company: The Fatal Shore, This Golden Land, etc.  I have Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country sitting by my bedside that I'm saving as a special treat.  One of the other books on the recommended list is True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.  It also appeared in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust To Go: recommended reading for travelers, vagabonds, and dreamers that I happened to pick up and browse through at our local library.  I checked it out, my husband took it first, but I have to confess that I've returned it to the library unread.  Very few books that I open make it to that list.  In fact, since I've started this blog, this is the very first one, but I might have guessed it would be.  So to be perfectly accurate, I did not give True History of the Kelly Gang a number, since I haven't actually read it. 

Personally, I find Peter Carey unreadable.  I've finally reached a point where I've realized that time is too precious to waste on something that is unappealing on every level.  Discard it, and move on to something else.  Everyone else - the critics and the literary set - seem to find Mr. Carey's work amusing and entertaining.  He's on the favorite writer list of people I know.  All I can think of is that in the words of that immortal movie "What we have here is a failure to communicate."  Mr. Carey does not speak to me at all.  It's comforting to know, however, that I'm not alone in my opinion.  When I asked my husband what he thought of the book (and he's just as big a devourer of books as I am!), he came clean and told me that after the first few pages he gave up reading and skimmed it to see what information he could glean about Ned Kelly, Australia's folk hero.  The best my husband could come up with is "They hung him.  They really hated the Irish out in Australia.  (No kidding!  That was evident in The Fatal Shore.) And we're not really going to the area where he lived except Melbourne."  I never even made it that far in the book.  After several attempts to get past the first couple of pages, I gave up and put True History of the Kelly Gang in our return stack.

At least when I read Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, I loved the cover art the editor chose for the book.  That led me to one of the best sites on the web that I've ever visited - the Louvre's resource on the Delatour's portrait of Madame Pompadour.  So I did get some reward from it.  Unfortunately, the cover art of this book didn't offer any such redeeming quality - very pedestrian and forgettable.  I guess I'll be getting my information about Ned Kelly from other sources!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Untold Story

I heard about Monica Ali's Untold Story (#96) on NPR and decided I had to read it.  The untold story of the title is Princess Diana's.  What if instead of dying in that tunnel in Paris, that accident was a near miss and Diana subsequently plans her own death in order to vanish and live a more normal life out of the spotlight? 

Apparently some people are outraged that Ms. Ali would dare to write such a story, but science fiction writers do it all the time.  Then it's called alternative history.  That's simply the device she has used here.  Ms. Ali has certainly earned her writing chops, being nominated for several prestigious literary awards both here and abroad.

I found the story fascinating.  It's told from several viewpoints: Diana's (or Lydia's, as she has become), , her friends in the small Midwest American town where she has settled, her former private secretary who helped her and supported her throughout the process, and a paparazzi who spent a big chunk of his career chasing her.  Supposing that the premise is true or even possible, Ms. Ali raises a number of moral and ethical issues that would surround such a decision.  Would it be totally selfish on Diana's part, or the most unselfish thing she could do for her children?  Would she really be able to adjust to a life of obscurity?  Could she live the rest of her life never, ever telling anyone who she was?  Can she let anyone else into her intimate circle or would they all betray her?  How far would she go to protect her hardly won anonymity?  Circumstances play out in this novel to highlight all these dilemnas, and ultimately, for me, at least, to make me wish it could have been so...

If you ever find the royals interesting to follow and can remember the frenzy Diana created everywhere she went, you'll most likely appreciate this book.  It will give you a different perspective on how things might have been.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sun Over Breda

The Sun Over Breda (#95) is the third installment of the Captain Alatriste novels as narrated by his apprentice, Inigo Balboa.  Unlike Arturo Perez-Reverte's previous two books in this series, which were mysteries, this book deals instead with the Spanish campaign of 1624 occupying the Dutch territories in the waning days of Spain's once great imperial powers.  Hardly surprising when one considers that Perez-Reverte was originally a war correspondent. 

In Sun Over Breda, Inigo is still only fourteen, a mochilero, or page, to his beloved Capitan Alatriste.  He has followed Alatriste, who had several reasons to want to be out of Spain itself, to Holland.  Inigo is packmule and general errand boy for the squadron Alatriste serves as team leader.  He is not allowed to carry a sword or pike himself, but that doesn't mean that Inigo isn't up at the front passing out ammunition and other supplies to the soldiers, or is immune to hazardous assignments.  The book is really more of a lengthy description of trench warfare at the close of the Thirty Years War and beginning of the Eighty Years War as waged between the mainly Catholic countries of Spain and Italy, and the mostly Protestant "heretics" - the Dutch, the Flemish, and the English.  Pitched battles, sapping, tunneling and mining towns, a long-drawn out seige, mutinies, and the great divide between the common soldier and their commanders all play a part in this story.  The miracle is that Inigo and Alatriste and a number of their companions manage to survive.  Inigo describes in the Epilogue how a decade later, he is able to assist Diego Velazquez with accurate descriptions of the details for his famous painting "Surrender At Breda" in which the Spanish General Spinola accepts the keys of the conquered city of Breda from the Dutch commander Justin of Nassau. You can see it for yourself by clicking on this link:  Painting of "Surrender of Breda"

Not knowing too much about Spanish history, I had read the first two books in this series (see my posts for Captain Alatriste 3/25/11 and Purity of Blood 5/17/11) as swashbuckling historical fiction.  I was therefore astonished to learn (from reading the Editor's Note Concerning the presence of Captain Alatriste in Diego Velazquez's painting The Surrender of Breda.) that both Diego Alatriste and Inigo Balboa are actual persons, and that Perez-Reverte has based his Captain Alatriste novels on the manuscript memoirs of Inigo Balboa sold at auction in London in 1952.  Balboa really did consult with Velazquez about this very painting, claiming that Alatriste was in it.  Perez-Reverte made a most interesting find buried in one of his source books about this painting.  I won't reveal it here, but it links to something equaling interesting in the Appendix to Sun Over Breda.  It does pay to read all the Notes and Appendices at the end of the book - you never know what you'll find back there!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Undead And Undermined

Queen of the Undead Vampire Betsy ("Don't call me Liz!") Taylor is back in Mary Janice Davidson's latest Undead And Undermined (#94).  Ms. Davidson introduces this as the middle book of a trilogy, and she does give you a fighting chance to catch up at the beginning with "The Story So Far" but frankly I wouldn't recommend jumping into this series with this book if you haven't been reading along.  You'll miss all the fun!  After all, Betsy is the first to admit that she's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but her observations are absolutely hilarious. 

As Undead And Undermined opens, Betsy wakes up on an autopsy slab in the Cook County Morgue just as the pathologist is about to begin his work on her (naked!) corpse.  How did she wind up here?  The last thing she remembered, she and her half-sister Laura (daughter of Satan) had left Betsy's mansion in Minneapolis bound for hell in effort to set things straight.... But wait!  Betsy can hear her husband Eric Sinclair, King of The Vampires, frantically calling to her telepathically.  After he comes with an entourage to pick her up and returns her home to Minneapolis Betsy discovers she has returned to an alternate timeline; how and when did Jessica get pregnant?! (Well, Betsy knows how, but WHEN?).  Why is Jessica's boyfriend in the house at all when he made Jessica choose between Betsy and him in the other timeline?  When did Betsy's mother start dating again?  And where are all her really, really good shoes???!!!

Betsy makes (she hopes!) some progress towards correcting the horrible future she saw when she and Laura time tripped through the past and the future in the previous book.  But has she done enough to prevent that bleak future from happening, or has Satan conspired to lull her into thinking the world will be okay?  We'll have to wait and see what happens in the next installment.

Friday, July 15, 2011

From Barcelona, with Love

Elizabeth Adler's From Barcelona, with Love (#93) reminds of the books I loved when I first began to read "grown up" books.  It has the feel of the old romantic suspense novels with the exotic settings and the wealthy, fashionable characters involved that I loved so much - only with descriptions of lingerie and sex thrown in.  (You never would have found that in a Harlequin romance when I was growing up!)

Bibi Fortunata, celebrity singer/songwriter/performer, was accused of murdering her lover and his girlfriend who was also, coincidentally, Bibi's best friend.  The police couldn't find enough evidence to indict her and she subsequently disappeared, leaving her estranged husband and young daughter Paloma behind. 

Fast forward two years, and Paloma stakes out Mac Reilly, private investigator and TV reality show host at his Malibu beach house.  Paloma is staying up the beach with her aunt Jazzy with whom she's now living. She wants to ask Mac to find her mother, but can't think of a way to do it until fate intervenes and Mac and Sunny Alvarez come to Paloma's rescue.  When Mac makes the connection between Paloma and Bibi Fortunata because of their unique looks, he's ready to help Paloma if she ever asks.  Whatever did happen to Bibi, and why would a devoted mother leave her only child behind?  It's finally Paloma's family in Barcelona that urgently requests Mac's help to solve this case.  In the meantime, he and Sunny have a wedding to prepare for - there have been a few bumps along the way in their previous appearances in Ms. Adler's books.  Will they make it to the altar this time?  You'll have to read From Barcelona, with Love to find out.

Talk about setting a mood!  This book sure makes me want to pay a visit to Tapas, our Latin fusion restaurant in town, and sample some of their fabulous paella!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Treason At Lisson Grove

Thomas and Charlotte Pitt return after a three year hiatus in Anne Perry's latest Victorian novel Treason At Lisson Grove (#92).  Thomas is now with the Special Branch ever since his boss Victor Narraway recruited Pitt after he trod on the wrong toes and was booted out the Metro Police in London.  Special Branch's job is to deal with the Irish Problem and to keep a watchful eye on the anarchists, socialists and revolutionaries agitating throughout Europe. 

As the story begins, Pitt and his partner, Gower, are to meet with a source with important information to provide.  Almost right under their noses the informant is killed in brutal fashion, and Pitt and Gower pursue the assailant across the English Channel as far as St. Malo.  They decide to keep watch on the comings and goings at the house where their suspect takes refuge to see if they can turn up any further intelligence on their own.  In the meantime, Pitt's boss, Narraway, is abruptly dismissed from his post over financial misconduct and challenged by the Minister in charge of Special Branch to clear his own name if he can.  Narraway comes to suspect that the root of his present troubles rests with a twenty year closed case in Ireland.  He has no resources or files to fall back on at Special Branch since he cannot return there, nor will it be possible for him to make effective inquiries in Ireland; his face is too well known there.  There is only one person he can trust to help him in this case; Charlotte Pitt.  She agrees to help him for his own sake and for the sake of Thomas and her family, whose fate is tied up with Narraway's.

As always, the fascination in Anne Perry's dark books is the pyschological aspect of the mystery as layer after layer is peeled back and motivations and loyalties are examined and re-examined.  Who is the real traitor here?  Is there more than one?  And is the Irish question the real heart of the matter, or only a distraction?  The only thing never in question here is Charlotte and Thomas' devotion to each other, and their moral courage to do the right thing.  Charlotte's aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, with her sharp intelligence and well-placed connections, plays a minor - but key - role in this book.  Also look for one of Anne Perry's Christmas mystery characters to find a new home in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, a most welcome addition. 

Someday I hope my husband will finally cave in and read one of these Victorian mysteries and realize what he's been missing all along.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Before Versailles

My next door neighbor is crazy about the author Karleen Koen.  He told me at a recent barbeque that her new book was coming out very soon.  He was surprised and a little bit jealous when I told him I had it on my shelf at home to read.  Her previous books Through a Glass Darkly, Now Face to Face and Dark Angels deal with a family dynasty in eighteenth century England.  I must admit I read the first book but haven't felt compelled to read the sequels. 

In Before Versailles; a Novel of Louis XIV (#91) Ms. Koen switches her focus to the other side of the Channel.  In this book she concentrates on four pivotal months of 1661, following Louis XIV when he is twenty two and just beginning his reign without the guidance of Cardinal Mazarin after his mentor's death.  This is the period that Ms. Koen sees the young king begin to gather the reins of power into his own hands, but before he becomes totally hardened by wielding absolute power.  He still is young and somewhat idealistic.  Ms. Koen has written this as a "What if...?" novel.  It might have happened this way and the reader is warned to bear that in mind.

I won't spoil all the elements of surprise she introduces in this book, but I did think to myself that she has a vivid imagination (except for what she borrows from Dumas).  I found it more than a little bit repetitive, and often found myself wishing that she would move things along and get to the point.  I found the most touching thing in the book the moment when Louis' (the fourteenth of that name as we're reminded repeatedly in the first third of the book) favorite hunting dog Belle dies (surrounded by sons and daughters, as always).  How nice that his current love interest, Louise de la Baume le Blanc was there to lead the rosary recitation.  Family, friends and courtiers are all spies trying to keep on the right side of power by betraying everyone else to whomever shows them the largest reward.  Chief Spider among them is the coyly named Vicomte Nicholas who is building his own power base with even the Queen Mother in his pocket.  This, of course, is the Fouquet, Minister of Finance, never actually given his proper name in the book.  Louise de la Baume le Blanc herself is one of Louis' earliest acknowledged mistresses, never named in the cast of characters as Louise de la Valliere, as she is best known to history, even though Ms. Koen dedicates this book to her memory under this title.  Karleen Koen drops plenty of "had she but known!" hints as to her fate but never actually spells out the entire story or the fact that she bore Louis several illegitimate children in her Authors Notes.  That would have been nice to get the whole picture instead of implying she went directly to a convent in a few years instead of spending years of being tormented by Athenais and the Queen in a court Louis would not allow her to leave.  But I suppose that will be covered in the book about Athenais' reign as royal mistress Marquise de Montespan that Ms. Koen says is "another story..."

But one good thing about this book was how much time I spent on other source material to try to separate fact from fiction.  I don't know that much about the reign of Louis XIV.  I was so grateful that two Christmases ago my husband gave me Antonia Fraser's excellent work Love and Louis XIV; the Women in the Life of the Sun King and it was right there on hand as I was reading Before Versailles.  There in the color plates I found pictures of Olympe, Louise, Henriette, Anne of Austria, Marie Theresa, Athenais, Marie Mancini, all of whom play a role in this novel.  I wanted to know if the rumors of Louis' parentage were wide-spread or a fictional device.  I wanted to see pictures of Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte and those were all available on the web.  Now I really would like to see them in person, especially after reading the description of the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte which have to be seen in person to appreciate the ingeniousness of their design.  I may need to see The Man in the Iron Mask again.  I seem to remember the movie being set totally in the wrong time period to jibe correctly with Ms. Koen's plot...  In the end, isn't the purpose of any good book to stimulate your imagination and expand your desire for knowledge?  In that, Ms. Koen succeeds. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Minding Frankie

A host of familiar characters reappear in Maeve Binchy's latest book Minding Frankie (#90).   The toast "To family and friends!" sums up the stuff of this novel very well.  Emily Lynch has been laid off from her long time job as a New York City art teacher because her methods are too old fashioned to suit the new administration.   Emily isn't one to take things lying down, so she goes about learning new skills and planning a vacation in Dublin.  Life changes for a number of people the day that Emily Lynch arrives at St. Jarlath's Crescent to meet the Irish family she's never met.   She organizes things effortlessly and sets people down paths that they never would have ventured on their own.  She recognizes the secrets of family members and lends a sympathetic ear.  Soon no one in the neighborhood can imagine what life was like before she came.

Soon after Emily's arrival her cousin Noel confides in her that he has gone to the hospital to meet an former girlfriend who has contacted him with unexpected news: Stella is pregnant with Noel's child, but she is also dying.  She wants "no hoper" Noel to take Frankie (Frances Stella Dixon Lynch, if you please! Making her I guess the lynchpin of the story [Sorry, I couldn't resist that.]).  Emily's reaction stuns Noel when he tells her he has rejected Stella's request; he's convinces he can't be the father and besides, he knows nothing about raising a child.  Emily doesn't accept or admire his decision; quite the opposite.  And that's the catalyst that sets in motion the ensuing chain of events that that prove to be the making of Noel as his family and friends step up to "mind Frankie".  Just down the street young doctor Declan Carroll and his wife Fiona's baby Johnny arrives the same day, so the two babies have a built in network of grandparents and friends to care for both of them.  Noel's decision to return to school to provide a better future for Frankie brings even more people into Frankie's orbit.  Noel acquires Lisa Kelly, a classmate, as a roommate to help take care of Frankie and to be a "study buddy".  The biggest obstacle to making this bright future for Frankie a reality is Moira, the social worker assigned to Frankie's case.  Moira is efficient and effective at her job, but she is bound and determined to take Frankie away from her father and place her in a "better home".  She pops up at unexpected times and places, interrogating neighbors and family about Frankie's care, and constantly trying to find a reason to remove Frankie.  She is a social worker singularly lacking in the necessary social graces as she goes about alienating the very people she is meant to help. 

I certainly hope that Ms. Binchy will continue to write about the people in Minding Frankie.  I would like to find out what happens next to so many of these characters.  I definitely don't think we've seen the last of Moira the miserable.  There's still way too much of her story to play out.

If I were truly a literary critic, I wouldn't admit that I was glad the tissues were close to hand as I read this book.  Birth, death, marriages, separations, starting over - they're all such ordinary occurences.  Maeve Binchy tells of them all in a real and immediate way.  It's not that the births or the deaths are melodramatic or extraordinary; it's just the opposite.  Relating the deaths of two of the characters in such a prosaic, straightforward fashion make the losses doubly affecting.  Most of us will recognize that we have been right there at some point in our lives.  People do make wrong choices.  The point is how they cope with the consequences and strive to do the right thing in spite of their circumstances.  The proof is that they don't have to be big or heroic to be a positive influence on those around them.  They can be everyday people like Emily and Noel and Lisa and Muttie and the rest of the characters in this book.   No wonder Maeve Binchy has such a large and loyal following.  Bring on the next installment!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold

Shades of John le Carre!  Freddie de la Hay, the intrepid Pimlico terrier (!) has been volunteered for service with Britain's MI6 in Alexander McCall Smith's second installment of the Corduroy Mansions books The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (#89).  William French, his owner (or master, or companion or whatever the current politically correct term is!) is surprised at just how close an eye British intelligence has been keeping on both him and Freddie for this particular assignment.  When things aren't looking too good for Freddie, it's William to the rescue.  Woven throughout the tale of derring do are the threads of the lives of the other occupants of Corduroy Mansions: how flatmates discover new truths about themselves and their relationships, how one makes a tidy sum of money, and how the mother of Oedipus Snark, MP (just love that name!) saves her brother from losing his home and his fortune to a pair of tricksters in a very satisfying way. 

I always think of corduroy as being a warm and cozy fabric, and that makes the name perfect for this series about the flats in this converted London mansion and the people (and animal!) who live there;  the stories are humorous but told with sympathy for the foibles of the characters.  What a great storyteller Mr. McCall Smith is!  Don't miss this series. It's perfect summer reading.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bury The Lead

Defense attorney Andy Carpenter reluctantly takes on the defense of a journalist who has been arrested for a series of brutal murders of women in David Rosenfelt's Bury The Lead (#88).  Why do it then?  Andy's on retainer for his friend Vince Sanders and his newspaper.  Daniel Cummings, the journalist in question, claims that the serial killer has called him and wants him to be his messenger to the public.  Circumstances place Daniel at the scene of the latest murder where the victim is a whistle-blower and gubernatorial candidate with possible ties to the North Jersey mob.  There's no apparent connection between any of the victims.  Was Linda Padilla just a random victim?  If she was, the whole community is at risk and tempers flare during the trial.  The worst thing is that Andy isn't convinced of his own client's innocence when he takes on the case and it becomes clear Daniel's been keeping secrets from his attorney.

In typical David Rosenfelt fashion, the twists keep coming in this murder mystery.  It appears the case has been solved about two thirds of the way through the book, so you know there have to be some curves coming.  I really enjoyed being along for the ride on this one, when at several points I could honestly say "I did NOT see that coming!"  Tara the golden retriever plays a role in this book, and another series regular is added to the cast of characters for this series.

I especially loved the scene during Cummings' arraingment when Andy comes back with a beauty of a rebuttal to the flag-waving prosecutor's speech.  It would be right up there with Fred Gwynne's classic "What is a "ute"?" routine in My Cousin Vinny. (If you click on this link, you'll find a couple of ways to view this scene:   YouTube Ute scene ).  Gotta love Andy's quick mental reflexes!  Looking forward to the next installment.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Best Staged Plans

In Best Staged Plans (#87) Claire Cook tackles a woman's mid-life crisis.  Sandy is a professional stager, prepping houses to show to their best advantage in the competetive real estate market.  She has a retired husband and two grown children:  Luke, who is currently living in their basement without any indication that he will ever permanently move out, and daughter Shannon, happily married in Atlanta.  Sandy also has a gorgeous restored Victorian mansion a short walk from a quaint harbor in a town just south of Boston.  What's not to like about her life?  Apparently everything. 

I must admit that although I have thoroughly enjoyed Claire Cook's other books, I found Best Staged Plans somewhat of a disappointment.  Sandy's discontent with her life and her relationships is irritating and incomprehensible except for her dependence on her reading glasses.  That I totally understand.  But why is she so dead set on putting her house on the market (if only her husband and son would do the tasks she's assigned for them!) when she has no idea what she wants to do afterwards?  No plans for an area to relocate to, or to travel to, or to change her career...  Why the rush, as her husband wants to know?  Especially since most of the nostalgic flashbacks in the book concern this very same house.  Since things aren't going well on the home front (where she has a running feud with a nasty postal clerk) Sandra decides to take on a job for her best friend's current boy friend - staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta he's just bought sight unseen.  This has the added advantage of allowing her to stay with her newly married daughter in Atlanta (and is that ever a good idea?  to horn in on newlyweds unasked?).  Turns out Shannon is headed to Boston for corporate training for a month, leaving Sandra alone in the house with her son-in-law whom she cannot abide.  This was also a mystery to me.  Chance seems like a nice enough guy, truly devoted to her daughter; what more could a mother want?  Since Sandra rides roughshod over her client's opinions on decorating his new hotel (and let's call a spade a spade; she's doing the interior design work for the hotel) while ratting him out to her best friend when Sandra sees him with another woman, I have to think Sandra is the biggest control freak going.  That doesn't make her a very sympathetic character in my book until she encounters a homeless woman named Naomi and actually does something to help her.

I definitely could have done without the details of Sandy's "beloved" pets' demises - ew!  I also found the number and frequency of texting abbreviations employed intensely irritating.  Since I'm apparently not hip enough (or whatever the current term is) to recognize more than a few, I simply gave up trying to translate.  So sue me. 

Now that I've gotten all that out of the way, am I sorry I read this book?  No, not at all.  I just think I might have set my expectations too high.  And kudos to Ms. Cook for trying to make a difference.  In this book she is encouraging her readers to donate their unused reading glasses to charity.  She cites a statistic in the book that it is difficult for workers over the age of 40 to obtain employment if they can't see well enough to fill out the job application.  Thought provoking, and something many readers will be in a position to do something about.  I've included a link to Claire Cook's website for her Readers_for_Readers program:  Readers For Readers .  Maybe you can make a difference, too!