What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 13

This last week has been a bit hectic, with pet projects littering my personal landscape. So, just the one book this week...

Daughter of Time-- Josephine Tey

Inspector Allen Grant is stuck in bed after an injury sustained in the line of duty, and he is beyond bored. A good friend who knows his interest in faces brings him an assortment of portraits, each of a player (villain or victim) in a historical unsolved murder. Grant's attention is captured by a face he would never have suspected of belonging to a murderer: that of Richard III, famously hunchbacked murderer of two of his nephews.  With the help of a young American, Grant undertakes to find out if Richard was indeed the killer, and the final fate of the two boys. It was a fascinating read, even after having read it a few times previously; there's no life-threatening situation here, but Tey makes you care about the long-ago murders, as well as the need to let the truth be known in face of historical inaccuracies. Recommended-- and once you've finished Daughter of Time, I recommend putting Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair, Miss Pym Disposes, and The man in the queue  on your reading list.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 August 06

Dead run-- P.J. Tracy
Beautiful sacrifice-- Elizabeth Lowell
Let the devil sleep-- John Verdon

Two weeks ago on Wednesday, I ended up having some time to spend in the Millenium Library in Winnipeg. I will save the rant about the botch they made when they updated Centennial to Millenium, as I find I hate it infinitesimally less every time I visit there. However, with said time on my hands, I browsed the mystery section, taking notes of interesting names and authors whose latest book I needed to request. Then I found PJ Tracy. I'd read two of hers before (Monkeewrench and Live Bait), and here were some more. I abandoned all browsing and began reading Dead Run immediately. Sadly, I only read about four chapters before I ran out of time, and I didn't get my hands on another copy for over a week. Once I did, though, I read like the hounds of Baskerville were on my heels... Monkeewrench is an odd group of software developers-turned-amateur-crime-fighters. They all have murky pasts that are going to stay past. Grace and Annie, two of the crew, plus their friend Sharon, are headed to Green Bay to consult with the local PD, when they vanish. All enquiries, official and unoffical, go nowhere. Meanwhile, three bodies cut apart by machine-gun fire are pulled out of a quarry, and reservists are blocking access to the entire county where Grace, Annie, and Sharon were last seen. Co-incidence? What do you think? PJ Tracy is an excellent thriller/mystery writer, and her characters are fascinating. I would recommend starting with Monkeewrench and reading your way through the series. (I myself have already ordered the next on the list, doing so roughly five minutes after finishing Dead Run.)

If you believe the story about the Maya calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012, you have something in common with a lot of Lina Taylor's students. In Beautiful Sacrifice, Lina is an archaelogist with a specialty in Maya artifacts, and more than a little Maya blood in her veins. She's beginning to get tired of end-of-the-world queries in her college lectures, and the question Hunter Johnson brings to her office one day is both fascinating and deadly: what do these pictured Maya artifacts have to do with the death of several men? Lina and Hunter join forces to find the artifacts, and Lina's structured world shatters into chaos. 2012 may just be the end of the world... for her. I enjoyed the story, although it took me a while to get into it. Lowell does a good job of a relatively nuanced picture of the world of archaeologists and collectors, as well as the relationship between the rich landowners and the poor peons (a topic about which I, admittedly, don't know very much). Warning: the pages drip with sexual tension, which I found a little annoying after a while, and there are a couple of extensive sex scenes.

Dave Guerney is trying to recover from being shot, and failing. He's in pain, depressed, hostile, and over-reacting. An old acquaintance asks him to act as a consultant for her daughter Kim, who is doing a story on "the Orphans of Murder," life for the family of murder victims. In Let the Devil Sleep, Dave reluctantly agrees to a single day's consulting for Kim, which leads to another and another as he gets entangled in both  Kim's project and Kim's ex-boyfriend/current stalker. The more he looks at the case, the more he believes the official story is wrong, and the more certain he is that someone wants to be very sure that the official story is never questioned... no matter who else dies, especially Dave. Verdon is in great form in Let the Devil Sleep. Dave is thoroughly believable as an ex-cop trying to find out who can be trusted, and if he can trust himself, and the final confrontation has an explosive ending. My only quibble is that I came to the same conclusion Dave came to, but a good hundred pages before he or anyone else did. I'll grant you that I read a lot of mysteries, but I would have thought that if you were to reject the possibility that victim selection was random (or based on a single factor), you wouldn't just go around saying "coincidence" a lot. (Not exactly the case here, but I don't want to give anything away.) Still, Let the devil sleep gets a strong recommendation from me.

I would have read more, but some of my reading time this week was on the beach, and I have an ironclad rule that I do not take hardcover library books to the beach. There's too much possibility of getting sand inside the protective cover, and when that happens, the book has to be taken out of circulation, the sleeve stripped off, and a new sleeve put on. So, as all of my must-reads were hardcover library books, I re-read Sunshine instead. (What can I say? I have my favorites.)

What I'm Reading Now: 12 July 30

The short version: nothing. I haven't finished a book at all this week-- too many other things on the go. I did get my hands on a few titles I've been waiting for, so I hope to have something interesting here for next week.

In the meantime, I have a different recommendation for you. If you're going to be anywhere near the Manitou Opera House this weekend, go to the Candlewick Players production of the Count of Monte Cristo. I saw it this past Saturday, and it was a great show. Sure, it's an amateur production, and there are occasional problems with audibility, but that's minor. The acting is excellent, the script (an in-house adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel) is thoroughly faithful to the book, the stage set is quite impressive, and the plot is twisty and intertwined enough to satisfy the most rococo mind. (When you go, watch for the drunken tailor Caderousse (played by Altona's Matthew Wall) in the back corner of the dance sequence in Act I - that by itself was almost worth the price of admission.) You'll hardly be aware that the play runs three hours, not including intermission. Whether or not you already know this story of betrayal, revenge, and redemption, you'll enjoy it.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 July 23

Bloodroot- Susan Wittig Albert
Broken Harbour- Tana French
Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas- Ace Collins
More stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas- Ace Collins

Ghosts complicate everything, almost as much as family ties do. China Bayles thought she'd left both behind, but her until-recently-estranged mother calls her back to the family plantation in the South to help cope with Aunt Tullie, and China feels she has no option. She welcomes some renewed relationships, but Aunt Tullie's health seems to be a smokescreen for some deeper and more disturbing issues. And the ghosts? they haven't gone away at all... In Bloodroot, Albert does a wonderful job of weaving hauntings and history into present-day, leaving just enough paranormal ends untied while still answering all the questions about the missing deed and the missing man. Bloodroot is somewhere in the middle of Albert's China Bayles series, and while it stands alone quite adequately, I'm also intrigued by the characters and want to find out more about them.

Tana French has once again pulled together an old mystery, a new one, and the gradual breakdown of an Irish cop, all to make a haunting story that I had to finish. Kennedy values control and order above all- it's what makes him the stellar cop he is. This case, a family murdered in a ghost estate on the remains of a vacation spot called Broken Harbour, threatens to undo all his ideas of order. The evidence is equivocal, and there may not be a reason for these killings that anyone can discover. Kennedy's own history at Broken Harbour, and the wild card in his life, are breaking down his control, and both his family and his career are suddenly at risk. The book was beautifully written, and the plot twists were gut-wrenchingly unexpected. The story is intense, gripping... and highly recommended. It's not a fun read, but it is very very good.

I've been slowly getting into planning for Christmas. No, I'm not rushing things - if there will be a choir program this year, we need to have music ready by mid-October at the very latest, which means deciding on it at least two weeks before that (a month would be preferable), and because ready-made programs don't always work out that well for our situation, we have to allow time for tailoring an existing program or writing an entirely new one. So... yes, I'm reading two books by Ace Collins on the background of Christmas songs. Collins gives the story behind the writing or recording of an assortment of Christmas classics ranging from "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" to "Blue Christmas." Collins presents some interesting facts and side notes, and I found the stories behind the traditional carols quite intriguing.