Monday, September 26, 2016

A GREAT RECKONING by Louise Penny





A QUOTE FROM A GREAT RECKONING--

"As he left the classroom, [Commander Gamache] pointed to the very first quote he'd put on the blackboard.

"The one that stayed, even as the others came and went.

"It was from some Buddhist nun. The other cadets snickered at that, but Amelia had written it down. They were the very first words in the very first notebook.

"Don't believe everything you think."

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In Louise Penny's A Great Reckoning, Armand Gamache sets out to clear the last bastion of unmitigated evil in The Sûreté du Québec, the academy.

As academy commander, Gamache gathers his enemies around him. He also works with four troubled cadets, with Jean-Guy Beauvoir (Gamache's son-in-law who is Gamache's assistant), and with all his friends in Three Pines.

He assigns the four cadets an exercise--to find the history of a strange map found in the walls of the Three Pines bistro.

At the academy he investigates the murder of Serge Leduc, "...the most powerful presence in the academy, turning out hundreds of cadets, giving them weapons even as he took away their moral compass." Someone murdered Leduc using a silenced revolver.

Gamache is not alone. His protégé Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste heads the investigation from the outside. Deputy Commissioner Paul Gelinas of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police oversees the investigation.

As with all the Penny novels, Gamache uncovers more evil than he reckoned for. The story reaches back into his own history. At one point, Gamache is himself a suspect. And by the end of the story, we learn how important it is to understand Gamache's dedication to the truth even when he has every reason to love or hate someone.

Louise Penny books are both beautifully written and filled with good and evil. No one writes like Louise Penny.

A Great Reckoning has a moving (almost heartbreaking) afterword.

A few mystery writers transcend the mystery genre. They write great literature. Louise Penny is one of those.

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Several short quotes stuck me as I read. Here are a few of them--

"Anyone could be clever. Anyone could be smart. Anyone could be taught. But not everyone was kind."

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"Love and worry. they went hand in hand. Fellow travelers."
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Myrna: "I wake up in the middle of the night, afraid I've led someone astray. In the daylight I'm fine. Most of my fears come in darkness."
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Gamache: "There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

STALKING GROUND by Margaret Mizushima






Margaret Mizushima's new book Stalking Ground: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery is a different kind of police procedural. One of the main characters is Robo, K-9 Officer Mattie Cobb's police dog. Mizushima fills the book with action.

Stalking Ground opens with an exciting scene. Then Mattie, Robo, and the whole Timber Creek, Colorado, sheriff's department begin the search for Deputy Ken Brody's girlfriend. She has disappeared without a trace.

We see the dog at work and learn about his training.

Veterinarian Cole Walker helps the police. In his own practice, he struggles to find the nature of the strange illness in a valuable black purebred race horse.

The recently divorced Cole and the single Mattie become closer. Both face complicating family histories. Their stories alternate. Both their story lines involve risk, death, and violence.

We see events from several points of view. Readers know what is happening before the characters, looking from their own points of view, do.

As the story lines converge, the danger increases. Mattie, Robo, and Cole are all at risk.

I liked this story. I read it while our Internet was down so my outline is more sketchy than usual.


For me, the characters (including Robo) made Stalking Ground worth reading. 

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I learned about this book from Cathy at Kittling: Books. You can learn about a lot of good books at that site.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

DISHING THE DIRT by M.C. Beaton






M. C. Beaton fills Dishing the Dirt with murders. Agatha Raisin even solves one murder in the middle of the book.

Along the way, someone murders a local con woman who calls herself a therapist, a private detective trying to search out the con, Agatha's lawyer, and others.

The murders go back to before when the therapist came to Agatha's village of Carsely.

The murderer attacks Agatha sending her poison flowers. Then later the murderer attacks her in other ways. And the solution to the crime borders on unique.

To make the book even more unusual, staid Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife, finds someone who turns her on.

If you can't tell, I liked this book. It had a lot happening. It was more than just Agatha chasing every man who comes her way (though she did that too). Agatha experienced real fear.

I don't read the Agatha Raisin books in order. This one refers to the one that went before and ends with a lead-in the next book. But these books stand alone well. They are fun.

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I downloaded this Kindle book from my local library.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford






My father used to say, "People are more important than things." Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about people.

It is about the twelve-year-old Chinese American boy from Seattle who falls in love with a Japanese American girl.

It is about that boy's family and their hatred of the Japanese.

It is about an American president and some American citizens who become convinced that Japanese Americans are a threat to the USA, they are Japanese sympathizers during World War II. In one of the most obscene episodes in American history, the U.S. government imprisoned its own citizens because they were Japanese.

It is about a jazz musician, a seemingly uncaring cafeteria manager, and a sweet Chinese postal service clerk whose love helps see the boy through.

It is about the music people make, the Seattle jazz that surrounded a man named Oscar Holden. And it is about the relationships between fathers, sons, and the other men who serve as fathers or sons in our lives.

Reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was like watching a movie, scene after scene interspersed, scenes from the 1940s and scenes from the 1980s.

The book centers on Seattle's Panama Hotel at the heart of the 1940s Japanese district. Now, only the hotel and a few other memories remain.

When Henry Lee's wife dies, Henry decides to try to find his first love, a Chinese classmate.

Henry lost out on Keiko Okabe's love because Henry's father betrayed him. Henry's father hated the Japanese. He was happy to see them put in internment camps.

Henry's father manipulated things to cause the separation, but even then, when Henry learned what his father had done, he forgave him. He let the old man apologize on his deathbed and, to an extent, rest in peace.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a strong story. For me, its one weakness was that it was too movie-like.

My father used to have another saying: "Nothing lasts forever." Did Henry's and Keiko's love survive their own happy marriages and the years apart? Can they restore the love they had? Probably not, but Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet leaves us wondering.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was this month's local book club selection. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

QUOTH THE RAVEN by Jane Hadedam






Jane Haddam's Quoth the Raven is the fourth book in her Gregor Demarkian series.

Gregor Demarkian himself notes that this is a different kind of mystery for him.

He witnesses a violent attack with lye. (Usually he comes in after the violent events in the book.)

He is away from his accustomed neighborhood. (Quoth the Raven takes place at Independence College in rural Pennsylvania. Only Bennis and Tibor are with Gregor.)

And one of Demarkian's major clues is Lenoir the Raven who flies over the campus pinpointing where the murderer is doing his especially non-cozy murderous dirty work.

The attack and then the murder take place on Halloween. Independence College goes crazy on Halloween. Everyone dresses in a costume. The students make a huge bonfire and burn King George in effigy. And this year, the college schedules former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian to give a lecture on how the FBI investigates serial murders.

As always, there are many suspects. Each gets his or her sections of the book. We learn about the professor who is a proclaimed witch. We watch two hopelessly in love students. And we follow the nasty intrigues of a small-town college faculty.

In a few ways, Quoth the Raven seems dated. Published in 1991, the book deals with homosexuality in a way that reminds me how much things have changed.

But Quoth the Raven is a typical Gregor Demarkian mystery. I read it for that reason. I like the Demarkian books. I like to follow along as Haddam does her craftsman like thing. She lays out the story. She tells us in detail about each character (often before the murder has occurred). And she has interesting returning characters.

Don't expect these novels to be realistic. Expect them to be a variation of the "reveal it all in the final denouncement" kind of cozy that Agatha Christie made popular.


I still enjoy reading (and rereading) Haddam's Gregor Demarkian books.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave

 




A quotation from Little Bee--

"Sarah lifted her eyes up from the street.

"'Our problem is that you only have your own story. One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one hundred stories, you will be strong. If we can show that what happened to your village happened to hundreds of villages, then the power is on our side. We need to collect the stories of people who've been through the same things as you. We need to make it undeniable.'"

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Can one person's story make a difference? When I finished Chris Cleave's Little Bee, that question loomed.

Little Bee tells more than one person's story. Chris Cleave fills the book with stories. Most of them are tragic. Several involve great courage. But finally, at the heart of it all, is the story of the Nigerian refugee Little Bee.

Little Bee has just spent two years in a British refugee impoundment. She and three other women have escaped. All Little Bee knows to do is to find the couple who saved her during a brutally violent incident on a beautiful Nigerian Beach.

Blurbs for the book beg the readers not to reveal the encounter to others. It is enough to say that the encounter is something unlike anything I've read before. And it reflects the nature of the book itself.

I don't know if the author wants me to keep mum to hide the direction of the story, to make the tragic, yet often loving events a surprise. Maybe he is afraid that if you know where the book is going, you will stop reading.

Little Bee is that kind of book. It is not easy reading. It deals with the most current of issues, immigration and the plight of endangered refugees from war-torn countries.

We caused the war. Men seeking oil killed the natives to get the wealth that lay below the ground. And now, as Little Bee watches what is left of her British family fill up their fancy car with gasoline, she does so knowing where the gasoline came from. Little Bee knows that it cost her family's lives and the lives of many in her village.

In a time when our world is filled with nations and leaders wanting to leave people out, to make harsh immigration policies, does anyone understand how the wealthy nations have created the refugees? Our desire to have so much has left others without even the hope a simple life can bring.

Will a single story matter? That's my question.

To use a phrase that doesn't fully apply, Little Bee is wise beyond its years. Cleave fills it with brilliant quotes and readable writing. Here are a few--

Little Bee says, "Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails the morning after a dance. It takes a long time and there is always a little bit left at the end, a stain of red along the growing edges to remind you of the good time you had."

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"Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl. There was plenty of time for it. We did not have hurry. We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of these had been connected to our village yet."

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"This is the trouble with happiness--all of it is built on top of something that men want."

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 A story is a powerful thing in my country, and God help the girl who takes one that is not her own."

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"Our stories are the tellers of us."

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"Peace is a time when people can tell each other their real names."



These quotes are a small sampling of the most powerful book I've read so far this year--Little Bee.

TRICK OR TREAT MURDER by Leslie Meier







Libraries have changed.

When our library started advertisting that they had electronic books to check out, I got a library card. Back then, the system didn't work well, and the library had limited choices. 

Now our local library has over 4,000 Kindle books. I don't know how many more thousands it has in ePub and other formats. So I renewed my library card. And I downloaded Leslie Meier's Trick or Treat Murder

Our library had that book on hand. Often, you have to put yourself in line to get a particular book. Either a lot of people read, or fewer people read a lot of books. 

But I was surprised. Meier's book was a nice cozy. 

When someone starts burning down mostly unoccupied historic houses in Tinker's Cove, Maine, the estranged wife of a tourist couple dies in one of the fires. No one knows whether she was a targeted victim or someone caught by accident.

Lucy Stone, the wife of a local restoration architect, investigates the murder. Almost always Lucy has her six-week-old infant Zoe with her in a front sling carrier. She is often occupied dealing with her three other children. 

Along the way, Lucy interferes with the police, bakes more-than-I-remember dozens of cupcakes for the local Halloween party, and finds herself trapped in a dangerous situation. 

Lucy's husband Bill becomes a member of the conflicted historic district planning and zoning committee. This leads Lucy to become closer to Julia Ward Howe Tilley, the most interesting character in the book. Miss Tilley is the town's former librarian. She is now chairman of the divided committee. 

Any small town person will have known a Miss Tilley. In Trick or Treat Murder, Miss Tilley's stubbornness leads to an all-too-typical small town tragedy. 

So, when it came to downloading a sample book, I made a good choice. I chose a book that I'd call loosely plotted but filled with interesting characters.

I also made a choice I'll have to live with. Computers are fun. They know what you've been doing. 

Now, whenever I click on the local library's electronic books page, the first choices  are Leslie Meier books (most of which are already checked out, by the way).

I liked my first outing with Leslie Meier. I'm sure I'll read a few more Leslie Meier books along the way.

A PRAYER FOR THE NIGHT by P .L. Gaus






P. L. Gaus fills A Prayer for the Night with non-stop action.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about action like you would find in a Spiderman movie. But once Sara Yoder calls Pastor Cal Troyer and his friend Professor Michael Brandon to an abandoned barn where they find the murdered body of a young man on Rumschpringe, the flow of the story never stops.

Rumschpringe is the time when Amish teenagers break away. They test the "English" ways.

At the close of Rumschpringe each teenager will return to the Amish faith, or the community will shun them forever.

Troyer, Brandon, and their friend Ohio Holmes County Sheriff Bruce Robertson work to protect the rebelling teenagers. This time, some in the Rumschpringe group have gone too far. They have become involved in drug dealing.

The Amish adults are caught in the middle. They don't want to interfere. Most of them experienced a milder form of Rumschpringe. They believe their children need to test the outside world. Their children need to make their own decisions. It is a tenant of the Amish faith.

The English way attracts Sara Yoder (whose story this is). But she sees the terror of it too. This Rumschpringe will change her life forever.

A Prayer for the Night has a strong religious element. At one point, Pastor Troyer says, "They all prayed. Yes. A great many people, Sara. Prayed through the night."

Those who know P.L. Gaus' Amish-Country Mysteries, know that Cal Troyer is a special character. He is the bridge between the English and Amish, an "English" pastor with an Amish heart.

All three major characters (Troyer, Brandon, and Robertson) have their parts to play.

A Prayer for the Night was among the best of the Amish-Country Mysteries I have read so far.

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I checked out this Kindle book from our local library. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

NAILS by Peter Bowen






A quotation from Nails--

"Booger Tom reached over the sheep wire and he pulled up a plant.

"'Bluestem,' he said. 'Got yer bunchgrass there and yer wheatgrass, too. You know what this is?'

"Du Pré looked at him.

"'This is the prairie. It is here, and some along the old railroad lines, in some places never got used up. I think it is just waitin' to come back. Waitin' for us to go. Very patient, the prairie.'"

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Human invasion of the prairie grasslands. That's one of the major themes of the Gabriel Du Pré books.

Of course, it is just like always. We deserve to be here, but those who come afterward are invaders. The Montana Métis have been here at least since the late 19th century when the Canadians forced many of them out of Canada. But the wild-eye Christian fundamentalists moving in to Toussaint, Montana, right now are invaders.

Not only are they invaders. They bring murder with them.

It is not as simple as it seems. It is not that they are murderers themselves exactly, but that they bring murder from a long way off.

Couple that with the death of an emaciated little girl, the possibility that Father Van Den Huevel (who is a trained geologist) might find gold in the Wolf Mountains, and the PTSD Madelaine's Iraq-veteran son Chappie faces, and you have a typical Garbriel Du Pré mystery.

The unidentified, emaciated little girl doesn't have a mark on her.

Toussaint's children come and go. Du Pré's granddaughter Pallas comes home from the school where she is learning skills that could take her away from the prairie and Wolf Mountain altogether. She rides her horse Moondog. She arranges with Bart to take the horse back to school with her where she has a place to ride.

Nails, like many of the Montana Mysteries, is about smart, strong Metis women.

Bart is married now, also to a smart, strong woman. Madeline's PTSD-suffering son Chappie finds and loses love. The people at the local school try to fend off the anti-evolution fundamentalists. The fundamentalists want the school to teach creation science. They will even buy the books.

As always, the characters make Peter Bowen's Montana Mysteries what they are. All the main characters are in place for this story. And, of course, there is Benetsee.

Nails could have ended sooner. For my taste, it had too much explanation after its true close. This is a good story, but there are better stories in the series. Still, I love the people. I enjoy reading about them. 

OFF LINE FOR A WHILE





We've been off line for a while. The Internet went out, and it took the local Internet company almost a week to come and fix it. 

In the meantime, I read a lot. I will be posting at least four books in the next couple days. They will include one called Little Bee which was truly special. 

There are times when I go off line for a while. Maybe we are out of town or have some other things happening in our lives. But I come back. When I can't come back (and that time will come too), if I am able, I will let you know. You are important to me. 

One of the joys of my retirement is having the tme to read and write about mysteries and other books I love.

It is good to be back on line again.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A SPOONFUL OF POISON by M.C. Beaton



 




When you start reading an Agatha Raisin book, you know what you are going to get.

Fifty-something-year-old Agatha is going to run after every unattached man (and maybe a few who are attached). She is going to make a fool of herself, wear the wrong hair extensions or dress in an outlandish way. And she is going to do some good things too.

Her friend Mrs. Bloxby will be there to keep her on track. A local cop, Bill Wong, will help smooth the way with the police. And Agatha's ex husband and boyfriends will come in and out of her house and her life at will.

Oh, by the way, she will solve a cozy-type crime or two. Some of the crimes may be murders, but M.C. Beaton will present them in a cozy way.

In M.C. Beaton's A Spoonful of Poison, the first probable murder occurs before the story begins. Then the local vicar of a small church in the English countryside cons Agatha into doing the publicity for his church's money-raising bazaar. The church needs the money for a new roof.

Of course, Agatha overdoes it. She has a rock star friend of hers open the event, attracts thousands of people, and somebody puts LSD in the homemade jam.

A hallucinating little old lady jumps off the church steeple. The murders and the mystery begin.

This time, Agatha works with the newest detective in Agatha's detective agency, Toni. Toni is a beautiful young woman who ends up upstaging Agatha.

As I said, A Spoonful of Poison is a typical Agatha Raisin.

I read Agatha Raisin for a break. If I need something light to put a smile on my face, Agatha Raisin usually fills the bill.