Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Reads in 2012

This is the first time I have attempted to assess my favorite reads for an entire year. It was harder than I expected. To keep the list to just ten favorites, I decided to omit re-reads and pick only one book by an author. You will note that all of these books are crime fiction. Most years, that is my primary reading.

I had given 5 stars (on Goodreads) to three of the Len Deighton books I read, all from the Bernard Sampson series. I just picked my favorite of those three. The four authors on this list that I had read before were Elizabeth George, John Lawton, Laura Wilson, and Philip Kerr. The other six authors were new to me in 2012.

Here is my list, with links to my reviews. These are listed in the order I read them, not in order by preference.
  1. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George
  2. Berlin Game by Len Deighton
  3. The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson
  4. In the Woods by Tana French
  5. The Guards by Ken Bruen 
  6. An Empty Death by Laura Wilson
  7. The Suspect by L. R. Wright
  8. A Lily of the Field by John Lawton
  9. The One from the Other by Philip Kerr
  10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Most Surprising Book:   
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The book did not interest me when it first came out. With a very intelligent 11-year-old as the detective, I thought it would be too cutesy. Plus, mysteries featuring amateur detectives are not my favorite type. But there are always exceptions. This book was so charming, I was drawn into it immediately. I just finished reading the second book in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, and liked it just as well.

I like the setting: post World War II Britain, in an English village, with quirky characters. But most of all I just like the way the story is told through the eyes of a very imaginative nearly 11-year-old girl. She is precocious in some ways, naive in others.

New (to me) Author I fell in love with: Len Deighton

The Ipcress File, was the first book I read in 2012 and I was disappointed. I got lost in the story, did not know what was going on in the first half of the book. (Now that I have experienced more of Deighton's books, I think I should return to this book.)  But I had several of the Bernard Samson novels so I tried Berlin Game, and I am very glad I did.

At this post, I reviewed Spy Hook, the fourth book in the series and provided links to information about Deighton. The series tells the story of an intelligence officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), with a wife who is also in intelligence. Family relationships are a big theme, probably one of the reasons I like the series. 

There are 9 books in the series. Three trilogies. I have read the first six books in the series. There is also a historical novel, Winter, which is not strictly in the series, but is a prequel (of sorts) to the series.

A wonderful series I finished this year: The Inspector Troy series by John Lawton

This is one of my favorite crime fiction series. The books are variable, and I enjoyed some much more than others. Overall, however, they provide a compelling picture of England before, during and after World War II. The series covers events in the life of Inspector Frederick Troy (of Russian descent) from roughly the early 1940's up through the early 1960's.

A Lily of the Field is the last book in the series. This is a longish book, and seems almost like two books, although there are definite links between the two stories. The crime in this book is the murder of a Polish painter, shot on an Underground platform with a very unusual gun. As in many of Lawton's books, the resolution of the crime is less important than the overall story and the picture of Britain during these years.

Two other books in the series that I especially enjoyed are Bluffing Mr. Churchill (review here) and Second Violin, which I reviewed here.

I really don't have a favorite for the year, but if I was forced to pick one it would be The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson.

This novel is a spy thriller, one of my favorite genres. The story is set in Lisbon initially, then moves to East Berlin and England. It covers the years from 1944 through the early 1990s.

It is also a love story, but I would not call it romantic. It is more about the harsh realities of life; about families, and relationships, and maturing. A lot of books I have read this year have had a theme of family relationships and how they affect us.

I find it interesting to note that this is the only one in my list that is not part of a series. I do want to try other books by this author.

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012: Wrap Up Post

I was very proud of myself for completing the Merely Mystery Reading Challenge in 2012.

There were two possible levels for this challenge.
Down on Her/His Luck Gumshoe - Read two or more books falling into any of the twelve sub-genres specified by the challenge (listed below).
Shamus Who Has Seen It All - Read at least one book from each of the sub-genres for a total of 12 books.

I chose to sign up for the Shamus Who Has Seen It All level. This was a true challenge for me, because several of the genres were not that appealing to me.

I did read more than one in many of the sub-genres, but I chose to list just one for each.

Below I have listed books I read with links to reviews...

The Whodunit: Political Suicide by Robert Barnard

Locked Room Mystery:  The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi

Cozy: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand

Hard-Boiled/Noir:  Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

The Inverted Detective Story: The Suspect by L. R. Wright

The Historical Whodunnit: Bluffing Mr. Churchill by John Lawton

The Police Procedural:  The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The Professional Thriller: With a Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare

The Spy Novel:  The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson

Caper Stories:  The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep by Lawrence Block

The Psychological Suspense: A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

Spoofs and Parodies:  The Affair of the Mutilated Mink by James Anderson

Saturday, December 29, 2012

TEA & BOOKS Reading Challenge

For 2013, I have decided to participate in the TEA & BOOKS Reading Challenge! This challenge encourages us to read ... books with more than 650 pages!

Did I join this challenge because of the nice button for the challenge? Was I swayed because I love tea? That and more. My husband also encouraged me to read a couple of extra large chunksters this year, and pointed out this challenge to me.

The books may be:
  • Either fiction and non fiction books!
  • Short story collections, anthologies or collected works in one volume are allowed!
  • Re-reads are OK (though preferably you should read one of those unread tomes that have been collecting dust on your shelves)!
  • Books with more than 1,200 pages will count for two books!
Visit this post at at The Book Garden to check out the rules and join in.

I am joining at the 2 Book level (Chamomile Lover). I am really a black tea drinker, but no way I am going to read more than two books of that length this year.

I have two books in mind, but reserve the right to change my mind:
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (fiction, historical mystery)
The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans (non-fiction, history)

The A to Z Book Challenge 2013


Another 2013 Reading Challenge I plan to participate in: The A to Z Book Challenge 2013, hosted at Babies, Books, & Beyond. Go to the post to see the rules.
I loved this challenge last year. I liked keeping track of this, and my post was the only one I had to fill in... This year it may be more challenging to find one book for each letter of the alphabet. I may have exhausted my ideas for Q, X, and Z. But I am not going to stress if I don't get all the letters. (In 2012, I did. Get books for all the letters, not stress.)

What I liked about this challenge:
When I got to the point where I only had a few titles to fill in, I would go through all my (unread) books (I have them cataloged) and discover ones starting with the needed letter that I had been wanting to read. So this challenge would serendipitously point me to books I had forgotten about.

My list for 2013:
A:   Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough
B:   The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
C:   The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
D:   Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
E:   The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
F:   Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt
H:  House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
I:   Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson
K:   Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes
L:   The Last Houseparty by Peter Dickinson
M:  The Man Who Liked to Look At Himself by K. C. Constantine
N:   Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer
O:  Old Man's War by John Scalzi
P:   Publish or Perish by Margot Kinberg
R:   Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
S:   The Smoke by Tony Broadbent
T:   The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Cruisin' thru the Cozies Reading Challenge 2013

This will be my second year participating in the Cruisin' thru the Cozies Reading Challenge, hosted by Socrates Book Reviews

A Summary of the Guidelines
(There are others, go here to check them out.)

1) Cozy mysteries qualify. Check out for definition and suggestions.
2) The qualification period is January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013. 
3) Books can be in paper, audio or e-book format.
There are three levels. I am joining at the middle level: Investigator Level - Read 7-12 books
I was going to downgrade to the lower level of reading 6 cozy mysteries, because I am going to broaden my horizons and read more outside of the mystery genre in 2013. But I decided to get brave and stay the course.

Some possibilities:
The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley
The Henry Gamadge Mystery series by Elizabeth Daly
Mysteries by Agatha Christie
Mysteries by Aaron Elkins
Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton
Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews
Cozies I read, with links to reviews:

Publish or Perish by Margot Kinberg
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: Alan Bradley

This is the introduction to the Flavia de Luce Series at the author's website for the series...
Picture an ancient country house somewhere in England. The year is 1950.

Picture a girl who lives there with her most unusual family. Her name is Flavia de Luce—and she’s almost eleven.

Picture a long-abandoned Victorian chemistry laboratory; no one ever goes there but Flavia. Put them all together and you’ll have a new kind of detective fiction . . .
I think it does a pretty good job of setting the scene.

 The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is the second book in the series. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

I like the setting: post World War II Britain, in an English village, with quirky characters. Two minor characters that interested me were a Land Girl and a German prisoner of war still working on a farm in 1950. Such tidbits of history that I was previously unaware of add to the story for me.

The very young protagonist is interesting and intelligent. Some readers find her intelligence unbelievable but I was not bothered by this at all. I went to school with a lot of kids who were gifted in that area and they were a lot like Flavia. The author does well in moving into the second story without rehashing all that occurred in the first one. The reader can easily pick up on various recurring characters and the relationships.

But most of all I just like the way the story is told through the eyes of a very imaginative nearly 11-year-old girl. She is precocious in some ways, naive in others.

This book has one problem inherent in the amateur detective sub-genre. Or for that matter, any series that features a limited geographic location, a small town or village. There is an unrealistic proliferation of murders and bodies in a small area and a short span of time. In the first book, there is a dead body in the de Luce garden. In this book, there is another murder in the village, and this story occurs shortly after the first book ended. Thus, going into the book, the reader must accept these limitations and suspend disbelief. I had no problem with this. I was charmed by the story and how the author tells it.

If I could find any flaw in these books, it is that Flavia continues to concoct poisons to inflict on her eldest sister. Flavia is a budding chemist, using a chemistry lab set up by a prior resident at Buckshaw Manor, the family home. These are mostly harmless poisons but still... that isn't my favorite part. The antagonistic relationship between Flavia and her two sisters bothers me. But, the family is an unusual one, and these issues are not enough to keep me from enjoying the books.

If you are looking for more detail on the story and the mystery, here are some other reviews:
At Mysteries in Paradise.
At Chasing Bawa.
At Stainless Steel Droppings, where I was first enticed to try the series.

This is the third book I have read for the Canadian Book Challenge 6, which began in July of 2012. I have 10 more books to read for that challenge in the first 6 months of 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fall Into Reading 2012: Wrap Up Post

This year I participated in the Fall Into Reading Challenge over at Callapidderdays . I liked this event because it was designed to cover only the three months of fall, and to be a very low pressure challenge. It was a perfect way to plan for the reading for the rest of the year.

My plans for the Fall Into Reading Challenge were overly ambitious, and I did end up only completing some of the books I planned to read. But read some others instead.

At the time, I had seven books left to fill in for the A-Z Reading Challenge, and these are the ones I read this fall. (All links go to my reviews.)

A:  The Affair of the Mutilated Mink by James Anderson
J:  The Judas Sheep by Stuart Pawson
K:  Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
V:  The Vault by Ruth Rendell
X:   XPD by Len Deighton
Y:   The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Z:   Zombies of the Gene Pool by Sharon McCrumb

Prior to reading The Vault, I read The Monster in the Box (2009) and A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998) by the same author. Although A Sight for Sore Eyes is not a book in the Inspector Wexford series, The Vault is a sequel to that story. With the completion of those books, I have finished one series for my Finishing a Series Challenge

Zombies of the Gene Pool is a sequel to another book, which I also read in the fall:  Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharon McCrumb.

For the Kate Martinelli series by Laurie R. King, I read two in the series but did not finish the last two books in the series, as I had hoped:
2. To Play the Fool (1995)
3. With Child (1996)

I am happy to say that I did complete my last book for the Chunkster Challenge:  
The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans

I had hoped to read the last book in the Bill Smith, Lydia Chin Series by S. J. Rozan and the last three books in the Bernard Samson Series by Len Deighton. Those did not get read.

During the Fall Into Reading challenge period, I also read these books:
  1. The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers
  2. The Greene Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine
  3. A Touch of Frost by R. D. Wingfield
  4. The Dead Can Tell by Helen Reilly
  5. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  6. A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
  7. The Cape Code Mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The 2013 Sci-Fi Experience: Coming Soon

For a couple of months, I have been making plans to read science fiction in 2013. And now the time is almost upon us. I am participating in the 2013 Sci-Fi Experience at Stainless Steel Droppings. The event starts in January and runs through February.

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings encourages readers to spend time together to:
a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

Per Carl V.:
The “rules” of the experience are simple: there are none. Remember, this isn’t a challenge. If you would like to join us in discussing any science fiction reading or television viewing or movie watching you do over the time period, please do.

Check here for more information. There is a review site here.

This event is perfect for me. My son has been encouraging me to move outside of the mystery genre for some of my reading... especially into the area of science fiction and fantasy. I have noted several books in both those areas recently that I am interested in.

I am in the middle group (return to science fiction after an absence). I read a lot of science fiction in my late teens and twenties. I read Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke, John Brunner, even Edgar Rice Burroughs. But for quite a while, I have stuck almost exclusively to the mystery genre, with some non-fiction thrown in along the way. More recently (2006, 2007) I have sampled the Dream Park series by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes and the Well of Souls series by Jack Chalker.

Currently I have these books in mind to read early in 2013:
Red Planet by Robert Heinlein
Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I would love to re-read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency; I am not sure if I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or not. Certainly have watched the TV series.

If things work out, I plan to watch (and report on) Serenity and at least some episodes of the Firefly series. We have viewed both of those multiple times and enjoy them every time. And / or maybe a Star Trek movie.

Mount TBR Challenge 2012: Wrap Up Post

The first challenge I ever participated in and the first one I joined this year was the 2012 Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I had already planned to read a lot of books that I already owned in 2012, but this challenge was a great motivator. I signed up at the Mt. Vancouver level: Read 25 books from your TBR pile/s.

I completed this challenge on July 4, 2012, when I finished reading The Sleeping-Car Murders by Sebastien Japrisot. However, I continued tracking novels I read this year from my To Be Read stacks.

At the end of last quarter I had completed 39 books for the challenge, and this quarter I read 12 more books that count toward the challenge, for a total of 51 books (out of 80 books read this year). I finished The Vault by Ruth Rendell a couple of days ago, and have not reviewed it yet. I am currently reading a book from my TBR stacks, so I should reach 52 books before the end of the year. My complete list is at this post.

I wish I could say that reading all those books made a big dent in my TBR stacks, but I bought many more than 52 books in 2012. On the other hand, if I had not read those books, the situation would be worse.

I have already joined the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2013, and hope that I do as well.

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2012: Wrap Up Post

In 2012, this was one of the first challenges I joined. I read vintage mysteries a lot when I was younger, had a lot of vintage mysteries in my To Be Read stacks, and needed motivation to read some of them.

My goal was to read (and review) eight books for two themes, Golden Age Girls (books by a female author) and Cherchez l'Homme (books by a male author). I finished my last vintage mystery for the year in late November. I am glad I joined the challenge because I did need the motivation.

Here is my list of books read, with links to reviews.

Golden Age Girls
  1. Christianna Brand: Heads You Lose
  2. Christianna Brand: Green for Danger
  3. Ngaio Marsh: Night at the Vulcan
  4. Phoebe Atwood Taylor: The Cape Cod Mystery
  5. Helen Reilly: Lament for the Bride
  6. Helen Reilly: The Dead Can Tell
  7. Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
  8. Agatha Christie: The Secret Adversary
 Cherchez l'Homme
  1. Eric Ambler: A Coffin for Dimitrios
  2. Akimitsu Takagi: The Tattoo Murder Case
  3. S.  S. Van Dine: The Greene Murder Case
  4. Earl Derr Biggers: The House Without a Key
  5. Cyril Hare: With a Bare Bodkin
  6. Cyril Hare: An English Murder
  7. Rex Stout: Fer-de-Lance
  8. Ed McBain: Cop Hater
My favorite book for this challenge (that was not a re-read) was The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers. Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout is my favorite mystery ever, and I highly recommend it. The books by Cyril Hare were also re-reads, and maybe the ones by Agatha Christie. Christie wrote so many books, I am not sure which ones I read in my teens and twenties.

Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Helen Reilly, Akimitsu Takagi, S. S. Van Dine, Earl Derr Biggers, and Ed McBain were all new authors to me.

I look forward to joining in on the 2013 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. I know I will read at least eight vintage mysteries, or I may go as high as sixteen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joyeux Noël (film review)

Joyeux Noël is a 2005 film about the World War I Christmas truce along the Western Front in December 1914 (links are from Wikipedia). Per Wikipedia, "Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts."

This film presents a fictionalized version of one such incident, involving two opera stars (a German tenor and a Danish soprano) who re-unite at the front, and Scottish, French, and German troops stationed in the same area. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards in 2006.

This year I have read several books and watched a movie for the World War I reading challenge at War Through the Generations. My husband discovered this movie while we were researching the Christmas truce, which I had read about at that site. We watched the movie on Christmas Eve.

Did the movie give a realistic depiction of trench warfare in World War I? There is probably no way to truly convey the horror that these men lived through, but I think this movie did an adequate job. I was certainly horrified. The fear and uncertainty that they all faced daily was shown well. Is the story of the re-united lovers realistic? I doubt it. And the story was too melodramatic.

Regardless of the melodrama, I enjoyed the movie and was genuinely moved by the story. I liked the acting in the film; I cared about the characters who were portrayed. Diane Kruger, who also acted in Unknown with Liam Neeson and Inglourious Basterds, was Anna Sørensen, the Danish soprano. Ian Richardson has a brief role as an Anglican bishop at the end of the film.

The review at Reelviews notes that World War I is underrepresented in movies. I agree. After joining the World War I reading challenge (which allowed viewing and reviewing films also), I researched movies about specific wars and found many more on World War II.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Vault: Ruth Rendell

In The Vault, Ruth Rendell has done something very unusual. She has written a sequel to a stand alone novel (published twelve years earlier) and the sequel is a part of an on-going series. The Vault is the 23rd novel in the Inspector Wexford series. The crime that is investigated in this book is related to the events in that earlier book, A Sight for Sore Eyes, which did not feature Wexford, or for that matter any police detectives.

This is another enjoyable book in the Inspector Wexford series, although in this one Wexford is officially retired. He and his wife are living part time in London and a policeman he has worked with in the past asks for his assistance in a case. Unpaid, as a consultant. This is a very different experience for him, since he has no standing as a policeman. He can either notify the persons he is interviewing that they do not have to talk to him, or go along with another detective. Both situations have good and bad sides.

This is also a story about Wexford after retirement. Wexford has become quite a walker while living in London, and the walks he takes during the investigation are described in great detail. We are privy to his inner dialogues about the beauty of the city, the joys of walking, the joys and challenges of retirement. In the earlier Wexford book I read, The Monster in the Box, there is an emphasis on how books have always been important in Wexford's life. The love of books continues in this book.

I have noted in recent reviews that the Wexford books have a slow pace. A lot of the story is about Wexford's personal life. This may not be to everyone's taste.

Rendell is a very skilled writer, no matter what kind of story she is telling. She delves into relationships between co-workers, family members, neighbors. She develops major and minor characters in great detail. She conveys all of this as the story develops.

I am deliberately avoiding detail about the actual crime being investigated in this novel, in case readers want to start with the earlier book, A Sight for Sore Eyes, published in 1998, which did not feature Wexford. I found it to be a satisfying story, but I don't know how much that was colored by having just read the novel that sets up the situation. I can see benefits to reading it both ways, without the background and with.

Links to my reviews of books by Ruth Rendell:
The Monster in the Box (2009)
A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mysteries My Son Reads Part 1

A few years ago my son and I decided to sample books from each other's favorite genres. He would suggest books in the fantasy and science fiction genres for me to try. I would suggest mystery series I thought he might like.

Unfortunately, the experiment was more successful at his end. I guess he is the more flexible, open-minded reader of the two of us. (Of course, there is the fact that he reads much faster than I do.)

Regardless, he has since sampled several mystery series that I suggested. A few of the authors he has read and liked are:

Jane Haddam (Gregor Demarkian series)
The Gregor Demarkian series is about an ex-FBI profiler (retired) who is often pulled back into detection (as a consultant). Set in an Armenian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia. The first books in the series all were set around holidays; by about book 11 that theme was left behind. Some of the later novels center around social issues, sometimes overshadowing the actual mystery.

There are currently 27 books in the series; I have read the first 24 books. I read the first 20 books in three months in 2005. I liked the novels because they have interesting continuing characters and are centered around interesting issues. I usually find that she presents the issues from both sides, although it may be clear which side she favors.

Christopher Fowler (Bryant and May series)
The Bryant and May mysteries star two elderly detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, members of the fictional Peculiar Crimes Unit. The series is set primarily in London, and the novels often feature flashbacks to cases from the two detective's past. Before the Bryant & May mystery series began, the detectives were featured in three of Fowler's books in the horror genre: Rune, Darkest Day, and Soho Black. I have not had the nerve to try those yet.

This series is more popular with my son than with me. He has read the first eight books; there are now ten books in the series, although the last has not been published in the US yet. I have only read the first three. I have not found them as compelling as other mysteries I have read.

Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow series)
Per the Donna Andrews page on Wikipedia: "Her first book, Murder with Peacocks (1999), introduced Meg Langslow, a blacksmith from Yorktown, Virginia. It won the St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Mystery contest, the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice awards for best first novel, and the Lefty award for funniest mystery of 1999." The series has continued for fourteen more books (one yet to be published).

This is a series that only my son has read. I initially bought a few of the books, never got around to reading them, and suggested he try them. I thought that they would be too, too cozy. He has enjoyed them and he says I should give them a try.

Aaron Elkins (Gideon Oliver series)

Aaron Elkins (born 1935) is best known for his series of novels featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver—the 'skeleton detective'. The fourth Oliver book, Old Bones, received the 1988 Edgar Award for Best Novel. My son and I have each read only a few novels in this series. Each book is set in a different and often exotic locale (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, France; Egypt; Tahiti). I have many books in this series because I collect books with skeletons or skulls on the cover. So I will continue with the series, sooner or later.

Elkins also has written a series about a museum curator Chris Norgren, an expert in Northern Renaissance art. A stand alone novel, Loot, is about art stolen by the Nazis. With his wife, Charlotte Elkins, he has also co-written a series of golf mysteries.

My son has read (parts of) several other mystery series. He has sampled a few authors of vintage mysteries but so far read only one from each author. I plan to follow up with more on those authors in another post. And also post about the science fiction and fantasy books that I tried.

As far as my plans for 2013:
  1. I am committed to reading at least 3 science fiction books and 3 fantasy novels. Quite possibly more.
  2. Now that I have profiled these authors (although briefly), I hope to read at least one book by each of these authors in the next year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Sight for Sore Eyes: Ruth Rendell

British crime-writer Ruth Rendell is a well-known mystery author who has won many awards for her writing.  She was born in 1930; thus she is 82 years old. And she published two novels in 2012.

This book is one of Ruth Rendell's stand alone psychological thrillers. Rendell has written 23 novels in the Inspector Wexford series. She has written roughly 40 non-series mysteries, some written under the name Barbara Vine.

In A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998), we have the story of Teddy Brex, a misfit in society, and it isn't clear whether his personality is a result of nature or nurture. His parents ignored him as a child, but they also have deviant characteristics. Due to natural artistic talent, he has some success but doesn't know how to have relationships. We also follow the story of a young girl who has been damaged by the murder of her mother and a subsequent over-nurturing, over-protective stepmother. The two stories come together in a chilling way.

The British Council Literature site has many insights into the writings of Ruth Rendell. Here are some comments on the stand alone thrillers.
The exploration of the darker impulses engendered by society’s established codes is even more evident in Rendell’s mystery thrillers which do not feature Wexford. Without the institutional presence of the detective, Rendell herself becomes the investigator and she unveils the connections between crime and social and economic disadvantage.
Her books, hard to categorize as 'popular' or 'genre fiction', are set in a fundamentally amoral world (which is how Rendell describes our contemporary society) and her endings take an unexpectedly more open turn than we would expect from mystery stories: the crime may be solved, but no salvation or redemption occurs and the tensions which generated it in the first place are left unanswered.
Ruth Rendell's writing is always worth reading; the story is told well; the characters are all interesting, even the minor characters. In this novel, the author seems not to take a position or judge, but just tell the story as it develops and see what happens. One character isn't bad and another good; just characters living out their lives. In these cases, very unusual lives.

I have read less of the non-Wexford novels, so would not consider myself an expert on those. The Wexford novels seem to me to be slower, less intense. A Sight for Sore Eyes moved at a faster pace for me, but because the subject matter was off-putting, I had a harder time getting through it. Inspector Wexford novels are comfort reading; the stand alone novels are much harder to digest.

So, the overall verdict is: a great read, I do recommend it for those who like this kind of story. Reading this book, very much outside of my comfort zone, was an experiment and it helped me to appreciate Rendell's writing even more than I had previously.  But I am not in a hurry to read another of her psychological thrillers.

I recently reviewed The Monster in the Box, the 22nd book in the Inspector Wexford series. I am currently reading the 23rd book in the series, The Vault, which is a sequel (of a sort) to A Sight for Sore Eyes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Book to Movie Challenge 2013

Another new challenge. With a difference. This ones involves not just reading, but also watching movies. Coincidentally, there were some books that have been made into movies already on my list to read in 2013, and I planned to watch the movies too.

So I am joining the Book to Movie Challenge in 2013. As described at the Doing Dewey blog, the goal is "to review books and the movies which they’ve been made into." It is that simple.

There are four levels:
Movie Fan - read 3 books and watch their movies
Movie Devotee - read 6 books and watch their movies
Movie Lover - read 9 books and watch their movies
Movie Aficionado - read 12 books and watch their movies
Go HERE to check out the rules and sign up if you are interested.

I am participating at the Movie Fan level, read 3 books and watch their movies.

These are the books I plan to read...

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

A fourth possibility is The Maltese Falcon, but I will wait and see if I want to move up to a higher level.

52 Books in 52 Weeks

2013 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Another challenge:  The goal is to read one book (at least) a week for 52 weeks. Make the year easy and casual or kick it up by exploring new to you authors and genres. Challenge yourself to read at least some classics or delve into that chunkster (more than 500 pages) you always wanted to tackle. The goal is to read 52 books. How you get there is up to you. 

This is the fifth year that this challenge has been running. I considered it last year but I had just started blogging and did not want to push myself at that point. Now I think it would be fun.

Description of mini-challenges and rules are HERE. Sign up post is HERE.

I am just going for the basics right now. Attempt to read a book a week and blog about it. There is one new challenge I may aim at:
a 5/5/5 challenge. Read 5 books in 5 Categories and/or 5 Genres. I already plan to read some science fiction and fantasies, maybe there are other genres I can add.

The guidelines:
  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013. 
  2. Our book weeks begin on Sunday. 
  3. Participants may join at any time. 
  4. All books are acceptable except children books. 
  5. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc. 
  6. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2013. 
  7. Books may overlap other challenges. 
  8. Create an entry post linking to this blog. 
  9. Sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post. 
  10. You don't need a blog to participate. Post your weekly book in the comments section of each weekly post. 
  11. Mr. Linky will be added to the bottom of the weekly post to link to reviews of your most current reads.
 That's it. I will get started in January.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reading Cozy Mysteries in 2012

In 2012, I participated in this challenge, hosted by Socrates Book Reviews.

At first I thought it would be easy, but I found that my definition of a cozy was different from the generally accepted one. My definition (prior to doing this challenge) was loosely this:

The death and/or crimes are not graphically described. The characters are either likable or humorous. No explicit sex. Not necessarily tame. A book can be entertaining and a good mystery without containing a lots of violence or sex.

However, most definitions you find on the web are more like this one at Wikipedia:
The detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs (village policeman Hamish Macbeth, featured in a series of novels by M. C. Beaton, is a notable exception) and frequently women. They are typically well educated, intuitive, and often hold jobs (caterer, innkeeper, librarian, teacher, dog trainer, shop owner, reporter) that bring them into constant contact with other residents of their town and the surrounding region. Like other amateur detectives, they typically have a contact on the police force who can give them access to important information about the case at hand, but the contact is typically a spouse, lover, friend or family member rather than a former colleague.
This page at also is along the same lines, although the author of the Cozy Mystery site is careful to say that many cozy authors bend the rules and many have added non-cozy elements in recent years. There, the setting as a small town or village is emphasized. Both Wikipedia and Cozy Mystery also cite the characteristics that I listed:
Cozy mysteries are considered “gentle” books… no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex. Most often, the crime takes place “off stage” and death is usually very quick. Prolonged torture is not a staple in cozy mysteries!
Regardless of how my definition and the accepted definition differed, I did manage over the year to read 17 mysteries that I think fit the definition. I had originally set a goal of reading between 7-12 books, so I surpassed my goal. And here is my list:

The books that I read ... with links to reviews.

1.   Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
2.   Green for Danger by Christianna Brand
3.   A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
4.   A Fall from Grace by Robert Barnard
5.   Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
6.   With a Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare
7.   An English Murder by Cyril Hare 
8.   Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
9.   Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
10. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
11. Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
12. Zombies of the Gene Pool by Sharyn McCrumb
13. The Affair of the Mutilated Mink by James Anderson
14. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
15. The Property of a Lady by Anthony Oliver
16. Lament for the Bride by Helen Reilly
17. The Cape Cod Mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Other wrap up posts for this challenge are HERE.

Will I join the 2013 Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Reading Challenge? Out of all the mysteries I read next year, I suspect at least six of them will be in the cozy genre, so the answer is yes.

And, I want to mention that the Cozy Mystery site is a great source. There are bibliographies for many, many authors there, not all cozy authors. And a great page on themes, which includes cozy mysteries set in various locations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Monster in the Box: Ruth Rendell

The Monster in the Box (2009), by British crime-writer Ruth Rendell, is the 22nd in the Inspector Wexford series.

I have been reading novels by Ruth Rendell for at least 30 years, and quite possibly longer. I am a fan of the Inspector Wexford series primarily, but I have also read my share of the stand alone novels, including some that were written as Barbara Vine. To be honest, the stand alone novels have often been too full of psychological tension for me; I did not enjoy them and I stopped reading them years ago. But I have kept up with the Wexford series.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to read of all the awards that she has won throughout her writing career. She is the recipient of the 1997 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award and the 1991 Cartier Diamond Dagger for a Lifetime's Achievement. She won the Edgar Award for A Dark-Adapted Eye, and received Gold Dagger awards for A Fatal Inversion, Live Flesh, and A Demon in my View. And many other awards.

This book, The Monster in the Box, meanders along and doesn't have any great reveals of criminal culprits, yet the story telling and the characterization is so well done that I enjoyed it immensely.  The book centers on an obsession that Wexford has. He has seen again, after many years, a man who has stalked him off and on through most of his (Wexford's) adult life. Wexford believes him to be guilty of an unsolved murder from early in his career. And he wants very much to prove this.

A second story that we follow in this book is about a young Moslem girl whose family may be forcing her into an arranged marriage. There is a connection between the two "cases" -- neither is officially a case at the beginning. But the connection may be only coincidence.

Possibly I enjoyed this novel so much because it tells a story of Wexford's early career and how he met Dora, his wife, and combines that with the current happenings as he approaches retirement. Having read most of the series, this was like being with old friends. I like the friendship and working relationship of Wexford and his longtime partner, Mike Burden. I like the continuity.

I am now reading another book by Rendell, A Sight for Sore Eyes, published in 1998. This book is a stand alone book. I am reading it because I want to read The Vault, which is the next Wexford book, , and a sequel to A Sight for Sore Eyes. So I will be ending my reading year with Ruth Rendell books.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ebook Challenge 2013

The 2013 Ebook Challenge is a new one for me. We only purchased a tablet and got the Kindle App in September of this year. And we recently purchased the Kindle Paperwhite. I have read two fiction books in e-book format and am in the middle of one non-fiction book.

As described at the Workaday Reads blog, the goal is "Encouraging readers to expand past just physical books to embrace ebooks in all forms, whether on Kindle, Kobo, computer, or any other reader."

Challenge Guidelines:
  1. This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2013 – Dec 31, 2013.
  2. Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to sign-up in the comments. You can post reviews to any book site (i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc).
  3. Any genre or length of book counts, as long as it is in ebook format.
  4. You can plan your books in advance or as you read them.
  5. When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the E-Book Reading Challenge.
  6. You can move up levels, but no moving down.
  7. Sign-ups will be open until Dec 15, 2013, so feel free to join at any time throughout the year.
At the beginning of each month there will be a roundup post for you to add your reviews for that month.

There are levels, and they range from 5 books to 150 books (Wow!).  Check in here to sign up if you want to join in.

I am going to sign up at the Floppy disk level = 5 e-books.  I am already overextended on challenges and I don't want to push myself too hard.

These are the e-books I have read this year:

 Old Man's War by John Scalzi
The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Coming of the Third Reich: Richard J. Evans

After reading this book in fits and starts for five months, I finally completed The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans.

This book, published in 2003, was the first book of a three-volume history of the Third Reich. It is followed by a second volume, The Third Reich in Power (2005), which covers the peacetime years of Nazi rule between 1933 and 1939, and a third volume, The Third Reich at War (2008).

From a capsule review at Foreign Affairs:
This first part of what will be Evans' three-volume history of Hitler's regime is the most comprehensive and convincing work so far on the fall of Weimar and Hitler's rise to power. Unlike past accounts suggesting that things could have turned out differently had some of the key players been less foolish, Evans builds, stone by stone, a monument to prove that Hitler's ascent was the only possible outcome even though the Nazi Party never captured an absolute majority of votes. ...

The last part of the book is a detailed, depressing account of Hitler's transformation of Germany in a few months in 1933, including the "cultural revolution" in which both Martin Heidegger and storm troopers played key roles.

I read this book because I know so little about the history of Germany and I am very interested in  Germany during World War II and how Hitler came to power. I wanted to understand how a nation was taken over by a concept like Nazism. Evans attempts to answer that and other questions in this book. Per Evans, "These three books are addressed in the first place to people who know nothing about the subject, or who know a little and would like to know more. I hope that specialists will find something of interest in them but they are not the primary readership for which the books are intended."

Did I get answers to my questions? For the most part, yes. But, as I say above, I wanted to understand, and I still don't understand why it all happened. I have explanations and a lots more background, and that is a big step forward. I probably will never understand fully (and that is OK).

One area that has hampered a lot of my reading (of historical fiction set in this time) was a confusion on the various police and paramilitary groups in Germany, beginning with the rise of Hitler through World War II. There were a lot of different groups, and their functions and power did change over those years. Now I do have a clearer picture of that.

Did I enjoy reading the book? No. I think it would have taken less time to finish had I found it more enjoyable. There was too much detail for me. I guess I wanted more of an overview.  Also, it was a depressing subject (which I knew going in).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, very much. First, because it does provide the overview and background that it sets out to do. As I mentioned above, there are many areas in this book where I picked up a lot of knowledge about this time and place. Second, because my husband enjoyed all of the books in the trilogy. He is not a historian but history and social history are among his favorite subjects.

In closing, I offer two reviews of The Coming of the Third Reich, should you wish to know more about the book.
          At Handful of Sand

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

I enjoy reading historical fiction and I read a lot of historical mysteries. So I am joining in on the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for the second year. It is sponsored by Historical Tapestry ... a very interesting site.

The rules are:
  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog
  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)
  • The challenge will run from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2013.  
  • Choose one of the different reading levels:
20th century reader - 2 books
Victorian reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History -25+ books
Go here to review the rules in more detail. And to sign up for the challenge.

This year I am going with this level: Medieval - 15 books.That level is challenging but not out of reach, keeping in mind all the other books I plan to read.

These are some historical novels in my TBR stacks that I can choose from:

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
The Alienist by Caleb Carr 
An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd
Murder on the Yellow Brick Road by Stuart Kaminsky
A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell 
Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Silesian Station by David Downing
The Nightingale Gallery by Paul Doherty

Books read and reviewed for this challenge:
The Smoke by Tony Broadbent
Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland
Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley