Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Mystery Series Worth Faithfully Following

A year ago, I wrote about 'Mystery Series Worth Reading' which I have re-posted below, followed by further thoughts on this topic.

From 1/25/2012:
'Sometimes a book series starts with a bang, ends in a whimper and dodders around in the interim, but readers are loyal and will wait out a few weak entries if they like the characters and setting and mood. Looking at my reading journal for 2011, I noticed that I read several continuations of mystery series that have mostly stayed strong from the first book. For "cozy" mystery fans, I recommend Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series, set in Texas and featuring herb-growing sleuth China Bayles. In Mourning Gloria (2011), the series is at top form. For fans of the British cozy, try Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. This series is sometimes classified for teen readers, but it is suitable for all ages. Flavia is really a pretty obnoxious pre-teen sleuth, but lovable in her own quirky way. Speaking of quirky, try Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series. Set in London, two old friends in the police "Peculiar Crimes Unit" solve mysteries with their unconventional methods and treasure trove of cerebral trivia about London's history.  Chris Evan's Good Thief's Guide to (insert city name here) series never fails to entertain. His good thief/narrator's adventures remind me of the caper movies so popular in the 1950's and '60's. Topkapi, Charade etc.
On the darker side of mystery series, I can always count on Jacqueline Winspeare's Maisie Dobbs series and Louise Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache series.'

A year later, I still like the series listed above. Here are a few others I've grown to depend on for pure escapism; dependable writing, plots, and characters.

For light humor, try anything by Dorothy Cannell, especially her U.K.-based Ellie Haskell series.
Nancy Bell's Judge Crane mysteries and Donna Andrews' Meg Lanslow series also fall in that wisecracking mode, the U.S. version.
Joan Hess writes several light, regional Southern U.S.-based mysteries. Try her Claire Malloy series or her Maggody series.
Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series take us back to the flapper era in England and might appeal to the Downton Abbey crowd in search of a light mystery fix.

For more recommendation of light mysteries, so called 'cozies', take a look at a blog devoted to just that genre The Cozy Mystery List

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Safe House by Chris Ewan

Chris Ewan, author of the popular series 'The Good Thief's Guide' cat burglar capers has now branched off into a stand-alone thriller based on his native Isle of Man. More serious in tone than the 'Good Thief's Guide' series, 'Safe House' starts with local island plumber Rob Hale calling on a remote cottage where Lena, a beautiful young woman, seems to be watched over by two shady thugs. She asks Rob to take her on his motorbike for a spin and they sneak out, only to have a terrible bike accident. When Rob wakes up in the hospital, the woman is gone and no one at the hospital, or on the local police force, will even admit that she exists. From there, the plot thickens and Rob doesn't know whether to trust the local constabulary who seem to be either incompetent or dishonest, the London investigator his parents have hired to look into the recent death of his sister on the island, or even his parents. Added to the mix are an assortment of bad guys - from Lena's fabulously wealthy oil baron father to British Intelligence agents to a radical and violent ecology group.
Mr. Ewan keeps the pace and suspense taut. Readers looking for a page-turning mystery with a hero in danger, on the run, and not sure who he can trust, will enjoy this thriller.

Related websites and links:
I reviewed the authors 'Good Thief's Guide' series on this blog, click here.  
Chris Ewan's website  http://chrisewan.com/
Tourist website for the Isle of Man  http://www.visitisleofman.com/
Isle of Mann TT (Tourist Trophy) website, these motorcycle races are featured in 'Safe House' because both the hero and his father are motorcycle racers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Year in Books

What I read in 2012

My favorite books from each month in 2012: (with excerpts or links from previous blog posts)

Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson (2001). If you have never read Kate Atkinson, start with Case Histories and the other Jackson Brodie mysteries and then if you are hooked on this author, as many of the library staff are, read Emotionally Weird which is a stand-alone novel about a college student in 1970's Scotland.

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George (2012). 'If you like the BBC's Inspector Lynley series, read the series by Elizabeth George. Her latest in the series, Believing the Lie was a huge hit, the first of her books I read and the first book I read on an e-reader: an excellent book for readers who prefer novels to mysteries. It's un-put-downable in any format.'

White Corridor (Bryant & May #5) (2008) by Christopher Fowler. If you like quirky British mysteries, this series about the 'Peculiar Crimes Unit' is the book for you. Mentioned in passing in this blog post listing mysteries.

Monday Mornings by Sanjay Gupta (2012) was a quick and entertaining book about the inner workings of a hospital focusing on the morbidity and mortality meetings which take place in this fictional hospital on monday mornings. A television show of this book is about to premier on TNT network.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010). A memoir which explores why two young men who both grow up in poverty in Baltimore, MD end up on such different paths in life.

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins (2012). Atkins continues the legacy of the late Robert B. Parker's  books about Boston detective Spenser. My review on GoodReads

Island Practice by Pam Belluck (2012) Biography of an eccentric doctor on Nantucket. My blog review 

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller (2003). The authors memoir of growing up in East Africa.  My blog review with a list of other African memoirs.

The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose by Susan Wittig Albert (2012).  This is the 3rd in a charming series based in a small town in the Depression era South. 'Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles' herb farm and the Beatrix Potter mysteries, has a new series about the Darling Dahlias, a garden club in Alabama whose members solve mysteries. The first title is The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree. Albert's books are in the "cozy" mystery genre.' (From my blog post about Autumn reading 2010.)

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (2011). While this book club selection was not really a favorite of mine or of the group, it will provoke discussion and thought in most readers. The book has been very popular with most reading groups and has much to recommend it. Most of all, the author brings a lot of imagination and storytelling ability to her stories about growing up in a war-torn Balkan country. My blog review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall (2012). The third in this author's humorous mystery series about 'India's most private detective, Vish Puri.' See Ellen's and my review of this series.

I spent the gloomy, grey months of December reading very light mystery paperbacks from the library's free paperback swap rack. I started this December bibliotherapy by rereading my own pile of M.C. Beaton mysteries. I especially recommend A Highland Christmas in which Loch Dubh's intrepid constable Hamish Macbeth creates some Christmas cheer in the cold dark winter of far northern Scotland. The library owns this book in hardcopy and as a downloadable ebook from eLibraryNJ.com Here is a link to the blog reviews of Beaton's books and related mysteries.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (2011)

In 1954 eleven year old Michael boards the ship Oronsay for a three week voyage from his native Ceylon to England to be reunited with his mother. Michael and two other young boys roam the boat unsupervised in search of adventures and run into trouble and mysteries almost daily. This could be described as a coming of age novel with many autobiographical elements, but it's also about the role of memory and friendship in life. What happens to those people we meet for a period of time, who influence us, and then disappear back into their lives never, or rarely, to be seen again? How did they change us?
Sometimes this novel seems to depict the high-spirited youth of the three boys realistically. Other times, the story veers off into practically unrelated stories, flashbacks and flash-forwards - which will bother some readers. Overall, Michael as an adult, tells the story of his voyage by looking back with wonder and appreciation and sometimes regret. The mysteries of the other passengers remain unsolved for the most part. The voyage on the Oronsay and the eccentric people Michael met on board, the freedom he experienced, change him. The book is a slice of life, not a neatly wrapped story.
Recommended for readers who enjoy travel writing, memoirs, poetically written novels. If you liked Ondaatje's real memoir, 'Running in the Family', read this.

Related websites:
New York Times review of the Cat's Table
Reading Group Guides review of the Cat's Table

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Antique Match Holders Display

Wooden fretwork and ceramic match holders
     Berkeley Heights Public Library invites the public to an exhibit of antique match holders in the lobby display cases. The collection can be viewed during regular library hours through the month of January. The collection of ceramic, carved wood and metal match safes and wall-mounted match holders belongs to children's librarian Laura Fuhro.
When asked how she began collecting match holders, Laura explained that while visiting friends in Maine in the 1980's she visited a flea market where a collection of match holders caught her eye. She likes the idea of collecting things that used to be very common and essential in every household, but now people don't want them or need them anymore. Her original acquisition was a Horace Greeley match holder and Laura has been collecting ever since that original purchase, 

      "I can't stop. I have over 200 made of every material - metal, wood, ceramic. Most date from the 19th century through the World War I era."

     Most people don't need to keep matches on hand in the kitchen anymore since gas stoves have automatic ignition now. However, Laura finds that the little wall-mounted match holders make very convenient spots to keep nails, cat toys or other bits and bobs that would otherwise be relegated to the kitchen junk drawer.

     The lobby display has signs explaining the invention and development of safety matches as well as the "Fretwork Frenzy" era of woodcarving, a technique used to create many of match holders in the display. Small kits of woodworking tools were sold for home projects and many women of the late 19th century made small wooden crafts in their homes using the tools. Fretworking was the craft craze of the times.

    How many of our readers remember having a match holder in your kitchen or near the fireplace? In the 1950's, it might have been designed to hold a rectangular cardboard matchbox, explained Laura, but I haven't seen one in recent years in anyone's home.

Related websites:
For more images of match holders, visit this Pinterest Board
History of the Match from the Museum of Everyday Life

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terrible elegant.” So writes Palomo in her journal.

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The library book group will discuss Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog tonight. The book was a bestseller in France and, published in English translation in the United States in 2008, it became a favorite of book clubs here. The story alternates between the narration of twelve year old Paloma and fifty-something Renee, both very intelligent intellectuals who hide behind a veneer of ignorance for reasons of their own. They both distance themselves emotionally from almost all friendships and believe that their worlds would not appreciate their intellect. Paloma is a typical sulky teenager of mediocre achievement on the outside, her apathy and self-isolation a source of concern to her family. The reader learns from her journal of 'Profound Thoughts' that Paloma plans to kill herself before her thirteenth birthday. Her reasoning:

“The problem is that children believe what adults say and once they're adults themselves they exact their revenge by deceiving their own children. "Life has meaning and we grown-ups know what it is" is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe. Once you become an adult and you realize that's not true it's too late. The mystery remains intact but all your available energy has long ago been wasted on stupid things. All that's left is to anesthetize yourself by trying to hide the fact that you can't find any meaning in your life and then the better to convince yourself you deceive your own children. ... People aim for the stars and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adultnot to mention the fact that you'd be spared at least one traumatic experience i.e. the goldfish bowl.” More thoughts from Paloma, the depressed teenager in
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog 

Renee Michel is the concierge of the upscale Paris apartment building where Paloma lives. Renee hides behind the facade of the stereotypical concierge, an unfriendly demeanor presented in a frumpy appearance who lives an isolated life in her little apartment with only her cat and her television for company. She hides the fact that she is very well read, loves literature, philosophy, music and the arts. Her vacant and alienating facade hides thoughts like these:

“I have finally concluded, maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that's it, an always within never.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The quotes are taken from the GoodReads quotations page from the book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.