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What I'm Reading Now: 11 August 15

Blood lure-- Nevada Barr
Suitable for framing-- Edna Buchanan
Breaking silence-- Linda Castillo
Don’t kill the birthday girl-- Sandra Beasley (memoir)

It was a busy weekend and a busy day, so I'm going to be somewhat brief.

I read Blood lure a while ago, but forgot to make a note of it. I've read several other books in Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series, and I enjoy them. Anna is a Park Ranger in the US National Parks system, and she seems to run into mysteries no matter where she's stationed. (By now, seven or eight books in, she gets sent to other parks to do some undercover sleuthing now and again.) This time, she's helping out in a study collecting data on bears when a tourist disappears. This tourist happens to be the stepmother of a college student helping out with the bear survey, and the disappearance happens the same night that a bear attacks the survey team's campground. Anna is an interesting and none-too-perfect character-- a little annoying at times, but fun to read about. I don't go far out of my way to find Barr, but when I come across her, I read her with pleasure.

Suitable for framing is an older title by Edna Buchanan. Crime reporter Brit Montero takes a new reporter under her wing, and finds herself being outshined... or worse. Meantime, there's a carjacking ring of juveniles that appears to be getting away with murder. I found myself putting the book down a few times (although, in fairness, I always came back eventually). It was entertaining, but somewhat lacking in spots. I've read other books by Buchanan, and they've been better-- try Legally dead instead.

Breaking silence is Linda Castillo's third Kate Burkholder Amish mystery. There's a spate of hate crimes against the Amish, and the pace is escalating. When three Amish adults are found dead in their barn's manure pit, though, it appears to be a tragic accident-- at first. There are plenty of sudden reversals, and the ending is distinctly unexpected. Definitely a good read.

Don't kill the birthday girl is Sandra Beasley's memoir of growing up with multiple life-threatening food allergies (including, but not limited to, dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, and cashews). Beasley writes about what an allergy is, how allergies have infiltrated the culture (making allergic living simultaneously easier and more complex), how allergies complicate romance, why many people who are prescribed Epi-pens never use them, and how to advocate for yourself in a restaurant. She is funny and matter-of-fact, and makes us aware of how dangerous and worthwhile life can be.

What I'm Reading Now: 11 August 08

Turn of mind-- Alice LaPlante
No biking in the house without a helmet--Melissa Fay Green (memoir)
Spindle’s end-- Robin McKinley (fantasy, probably YA)

I haven't been reading much these last two weeks-- other things have been demanding my time. Often, when I do read, it's websites or magazines, which I don't bother to list. (I will admit that I may have read another book at some point since my last post, but if I did, I didn't make a note of it at the time, and now I don't remember if I did, much less what it was.)

Turn of mind intrigued me from the start-- a main character losing her mind to dementia, who can't remember if she murdered her neighbor. Or is it "won't remember"? Dr. White was a surgeon before her forced retirement, after all, and Amanda's body was found with four fingers removed. They were lifelong friends, in their own prickly way. The police aren't sure what has happened, and neither is Dr. White. In flashes of early memories and bits of clues that Dr. White struggles to comprehend, a story begins to unfold; the difficulty is that each unfolding seems to change the story and the possibility of Dr. White's guilt or innocence. Turn of mind was well-written and nuanced, both literary and mystery. The ending was both unexpected and completely right. It was an intense read, as LaPlante did not so much give me a tour through a failing mind, as throw me in and let me discover whether or not I could find my way through.

A complete change of pace (and a well-needed one after Turn's intensity) was No biking in the house without a helmet, Melissa Fay Green's memoir of adopting five children (one from Bulgaria, four from Ethiopia) after her four biological children began leaving home. Green is a journalist, and a good one: she gives you the facts, and makes sure to include the small evocative facts that create a picture. She also has a sense of humor, and she needs it; as she makes very clear, adoption is not all hugs and forever families. She herself suffered from post-adoption depression more than once, and all five children had issues to deal with, arising from culture shock, institutional life before adoption, language issues, and the difficulty of adjusting to six or nine people they'd never met before but who are now their family. But I'm giving you the wrong impression here. Green's story is funny and full of joy and love as well as struggles, and I'd recommend it not only for people adopting/contemplating adopting/who know someone in the first two categories, but also for anyone who wants a good read.

Spindle's end is a re-read. I picked it up yesterday when a friend returned my copy, and I browsed lightly in the first few chapters, reading paragraphs aloud to my captive-audience husband. Later, I picked up the book again, and my husband asked if I was going to continue to read aloud. His tone of voice indicated that this would be a desirable thing, so I did. At first, I cherrypicked paragraphs, then read longer sections. By the time I got to the climax of the book (it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, so that would be the ball to celebrate the princess' 21st birthday, where she is to prick her finger on a spindle and the curse come into effect), I was reading everything aloud. When the final battle was over and the dust had settled, I looked at my watch. Quarter to one. In the morning. Neither of us was particularly regretful at the time, although getting up this morning was a bit of a struggle. Highly recommended, although my husband points out that McKinley is rather heavy on description.

What I'm Reading Now: 11 July 25

Buried prey-- John Sandford
Shattered dreams-- Irene Spencer (memoir)
Harmless as doves--PL Gaus
Shut your eyes tight-- John Verdon
Dominance--Will Lavendar
Never knowing--Chevy Stevens

I enjoy Sandford, but at the moment, I can't recall what Buried prey is about... oh, yes. A case from Davenport's past comes back to haunt him. You, as reader, get to see Davenport when he first started in the police force, as well as how much he has (and hasn't) changed. It starts with two little mummies in plastic disinterred under a cement slab, re-opening a case where the tried-and-convicted (and now dead) killer is now shown to have been incapable of committing the abduction and murders pinned on him. Davenport carries the guilt of having buckled under pressure to stand by while a convenient suspect was railroaded, and now that the case is re-opened, he is ever more driven to find the real killer. Definitely a good read.

I know, I know, I said I was leaving the extremist-polygamous-cult-memoir genre alone for a while, but then Shattered dreams showed up on my desk. Irene Spencer wrote Cult insanity, which I read last week, which was the story of the LeBaron branch of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Shattered dreams is much more personal-- one woman's struggle to live the principle of polygamy. It's a difficult story to read, and I felt deeply for her. Shattered dreams is, all in all, a better book than Cult insanity, and well worth reading.

Harmless as doves is the seventh in Gaus's Amish series, and it was very good indeed. A young Amish man comes to his bishop and confesses to murder, but the story he's telling doesn't quite make sense. He is insistent on his guilt, though, and his bishop asks Mennonite pastor Cal Troyer to help see that the truth comes out. There were some amusing scenes of the Amish in Florida (on the beach, no less), and a thoughtful exploration of remorse. Gaus keeps getting better.

I've been waiting for Shut your eyes tight since I read Verdon's first Dave Gurney mystery, Think of a number. Gurney is trying his best to salvage his fragile marriage by sticking to his retirement and staying away from the killers he hunted so well as a cop, but they seem to come to him. In this case, the mother of the victim, decapitated on her wedding day, is looking for some answers, as the official investigation seems to be stalled. Everyone has a dark side, it seems; everyone is hiding something, and Dave can't stay away. Twisty and original, this was an excellent sophmore thriller. I will be waiting for more.

Reading Dominance was a discomfitting experience. It cuts back and forth between present day, when Harvard professor Alex is called on to speak to a former professor about what he might know about a murder, to the university class where she first met him. In that class, in 1994, Alex and eight other hand-picked students took a video-conference seminar from a convicted murderer who sets them going on a game. The game is supposedly discovering the identity of mysterious author Paul Fallows, but Alex finds the game subverted into discovering the truth behind the death of the two students that Professor Aldiss was convicted of. The storyline shifts rapidly, and there are so many twists and reversals that I was constantly off-balance, mistrusting everyone and everything, including my own perceptions. This is the sort of thing Lavender did very well in his first book, as well. (That would be Obedience.) He uses the structure of the university experience and the framework of a course to take a group of students through experiences as hallucenogenic as a bad acid trip. It was a great book, but I needed some time to settle down afterwards.

I didn't get far with Never knowing. It's not because of the writing, which is good. It was because of the plot-- a woman on the verge of her wedding decided that now is a good time to track down her biological mother, only to discover that her father was a serial killer. While I find it completely plausible that she feels compelled to continue her search, I can't handle reading something where you can just feel that Bad Things Are About To Happen, and that she's choosing to go down that path anyway. However, because Chevy Stevens came highly recommended to me (and also because she's Canadian) I'm going to try her other book and see if I like that better.

Just a heads-up-- I already know I'm going to be otherwise occupied next week Monday, so I may post later in the week next week, or I may just skip it until the next scheduled post.

 

What I'm Reading Now: 11 July 18

The castle of the red gorillas--Wolfgang Ecke (juvenile mysteries)
The Willoughbys--Lois Lowry (juvenile fiction)
Cult insanity--Irene Spencer (memoir)
The filter bubble: what the internet is hiding from you--Eli Pariser (non-fiction)
Illegitimate--Brian Mackert (memoir)
Blue genes--Val McDermid

This will be relatively brief-- it's too hot to write today.

The castle of the red gorillas is another five-minute-mysteries type, this one hailing from Europe and catering to the kids who have outgrown Encyclopedia Brown. I remember enjoying these when I read them in my teens, but they haven't aged well. In my not-so-humble opinion, while the writing and plotting is decent, the solutions are not always logical.

The Willoughbys is a parody of the old-fashioned children's stories. The four Willoughby children decide that, in order to truly be the old-fashioned protagonists they know they could be, they must become orphans. Their parents, on the other hand, are determined to become childless. The story takes the old conventions (and lists some sources for said conventions) and gives them a deft twist... and everyone still ends up living happily ever after, or almost. I think kids would enjoy this, but all I can say for certain is that I did.

Cult Insanity and Illegitimate are continuations of last week's extremist-polygamous-cult reading. I found both were interesting, although perhaps not as much as Carolyn Jessop's Escape (see last week's blog entry). I enjoyed the references Spencer made that connected with Jessop's story. I think I'm going to take a bit of a break from EPC reading for a week or two now.

The filter bubble discusses the ongoing internet trend to track your information and use that to target ads and stories to you, without your being aware of this or having any power to change it. Result: your experience of the online world becomes cramped and one-dimensional. A good, if slightly disturbing read.

Blue genes comes from McDermid's Kate Brannigan series. I quite enjoyed it. It has a slightly lighter tone than her Jordan/Hill series, in part because Kate deals with something other than serial killers and psychopaths. In this case, Kate is trying to stop a fake memorials scam when a friend's doctor (who handled her in-vitro fertilization) is found murdered, and Alex asks Kate to make sure none of her confidential information gets out. Of course, it's never that simple, and when Kate's business partner starts talking about selling his part of the business and moving to Australia, it seems every part of her life is in upheaval.