#16: April 2009

May 21, 2009 at 9:06 pm (Reviews)

Block, Lawrence. A Walk Among the Tombstones (1992).  I’ve been a fan of Block for a long time, but mainly of his Bernie Rhodenbarr series (“The Burglar Who …”).  The Matthew Scudder series is a different type of material – hard-boiled private eye stuff, with dark events and unpleasant people – and also pleasant interesting folks, too.  This one involves serial rape-murder and kidnapping for ransom (VERY unpleasant people), and as usual in this kind of novel (at least the ones I’m willing to read), flashes of light in dark and unexpected places.  But the Scudder books are not for those who dislike modern noir crime fiction.

Shinn, Sharon. Fortune and Fate (2008).  I’ve read one of Shinn’s Twelve Houses series before, and it’s clear that I missed a lot of history by skipping the three before this one.  But that doesn’t matter, as the necessary info is folded in almost effortlessly.  Anyway, this is not an ambitious novel – it just charts Wen’s recovery from her perceived failure at defending the King several years before (a near-fatal wound wasn’t enough to convincer her that she did her best).  That’s the only part of the novel that’s hard to swallow, really, but people can be devastated by death in odd ways.  For the rest, there’s a pleasant setting, a bit of mystery, kidnapping and attempted murder, and a nice, slowly-developing romance (what can I say, I’m a sucker for intellectual guys).  A nice book, and I liked it, but very low-key.

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Missing Marquess (2006).  Raiding the juvenile section again netted this Enola Holmes mystery #1.  I’ll read Springer any old time (though she’s harder to find in the adult section lately), but this is particularly fun.  Enola is Sherlock Holmes’ much younger sister, very bright but informally educated and raised in the country by their eccentric mother.  This mother’s disappearance is highly disruptive to Enola’s life, but by the end she seems to be doing quite well on her own in London.  What I like best (aside from the heroine) is the book’s utterly unflinching portrayal of Victorian life: the restrictions on women’s rights, the ridiculous clothes, the soul-shriveling poverty to be found in London.  Plus, a great and fast-moving plot, and cryptology!  I was ready to read the sequel as soon as I put the first one down.  Fortunately, there four sequels so far, so I have some enjoyable catching up to do.

Rosett, Sara. Moving is Murder (2007) (skipped to the end).  A cozy mystery (first of the “Mom Zone Mystery” series) with the gimmick of a military wife with a lot of experience at moving – each chapter has a little “moving tips” section at the end, with little relevance to the story.  Frankly, that’s reaching more than a bit, in my opinion.  The good points of this book are the insights into military life and the parts about coping with being parents to an infant.  In fact, I’m not entirely sure why I got frustrated with it and skipped to the end to find out whodunit.  There’s a cast of interesting and individual characters, the basic writing is good – the only thing I can think of is that the pacing was off.  Far off.  What could – should! – have been a pretty good mystery never developed enough tension and, I think, tried to include too many subplots.  I might give another of the series a try, just to see if there’s any improvement, but I can’t really recommend this one.

Redick, Robert V.S. The Red Wolf Conspiracy (2009 – ARC).  See separate review.

Springer, Nancy.  The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (2008) and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (2008).  Still a delightful series!  Enola finds a missing teenage girl and helps a man who was unjustly imprisoned, while avoiding capture by her well-meaning but blinkered brothers.  There’s a strong hint in Lady that some uncanny powers may actually be real in this version of London – though, it seems, quite rare.  And again, the real facts of late nineteenth century England are a truly seamless part of the plots.  That’s very well done.  And each of these is about the length of a novella, and so is a quick and satisfying read.  Really good work.  I’d buy them if the economy was in better shape.

Wrede, Patricia C. and Caroline Stevermer. Sorcery & Cecelia, Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (2003).  The famous epistolary novel, which the writers started as a lark and found had turned into a real novel.  (Hearing about it has always made me want to try it.)  Now that I’ve read it, I can say that it’s charming and fun and really quite vivid, even though I could see the romantic subplots resolving from a mile or two away.  I’d quite like to know more about these characters (and there are in fact two sequels!).  – Oh, the plot?  The two young ladies are corresponding about odd magical events (as well as clothes and social events), and then chronicling their respective deepening involvements in them.  The setting is Regency England, but with working magic and wizards.  Yes, we’ve seen that before – so what?  Springer may be demonstrating that historical periods can be interesting even without magic (mostly), but that’s no reason not to have fun with the idea.

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl (2001).  This was better than I expected – though what I was expecting was a novel about a kid sociopath, and young Artemis actually isn’t one.  (And here we will pause for me to say that I know of three characters called Artemis in modern fantasy literature.  One of them is actually the goddess; the other two are males.  Why, oh why, is that?  It’s a ridiculous name for a male.)  To say the book surpassed my expectations is not great praise, however, since they were pretty low expectations.  Still, one of the virtues of this kind of non-adult-oriented fiction is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  So there’s an advanced civilization of fairy folk (elves, sprites, pixies, centaurs, dwarves) hiding deep under the earth.  To reach the surface one method involves riding the blast of hot air from the magma flow.  The dwarves are basically an extended potty joke, biologically speaking (though this does fit in well with the plot).  The characters are pretty much all cardboard cutouts.  But it was amusing and wacky enough to hold my interest.

Jinks, Catherine. Genius Squad (2008).  Amazingly, Jinks pulls a happy ending out of a depressing situation.  Cadel Piggot, genius, is apparently a citizen of no country – and also an essential witness in a major criminal case, and a ward of the Australian state.  Moving to a group home that he (being quite bright) has doubts about is worth it, just to get out of the regular foster care system, and especially as he’ll be close to his best friend, Sonja.  Naturally, the place is a front for something else – that much, Cadel  knows walking in.  It’s what he doesn’t know that’s the problem.  But like I said: Happy ending!  Yay!  (But also a promise of more sequels!  Double yay!)

Thurlo, Aimée & David. Coyote’s Wife (2008; abandoned).  The Spouse plucked this off the New shelf at the library because I like the late Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries.  But this one … is not Hillerman.  Despite a gruesome death by chainsaw (accidental, it seems), I was bored by page 41.  On the other hand, this is the 13th Ella Clah novel, so perhaps I’d feel differently about it if the characters were all old familiar friends, instead of strangers carrying on a conversation that I’ve missed nine-tenths of.

LaFevers, R. L. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (2007) and Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris (2008).  It’s not easy being an 11-year-old girl in early 20th century London – especially when your museum curator dad and Egyptologist mom can’t even perceive the curses written into many of their precious Egyptian artifacts.  Theodosia Throckmorton keeps busy working out ways to remove those curses, avoid being sent to boarding school, and driving away potential governesses.  In the first novel, she runs into a worthy young pickpocket and a secret agency that does the same job she does (and almost as unofficially).  Removing a curse that threatens to destroy Britain is a tall order, but she manages it.  The second book, also with a magical artifact at its center, pits her against the same enemies, plus ineffectual friends and a bitter betrayal.  I love love love these “Juvenile” books, and urge them upon any Egyptophile.

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (2002).  More of the same as the first.  An attempted coup in the underground fairy country, a ransom demand for Artemis Sr., and further proof that many New York Times bestsellers only need the narrative depth of a cereal box to get by.  Oh, I finished it – I’ve also been known to finish bags of potato chips, too.  And read cereal boxes.  Colfer needs to get a better editor.  You know that thing where sentence fragments add emphasis by breaking up the regular flow and pattern of writing?  Yeah, that thing.  Well, he does it so much in this book that it seems like sloppy writing instead.  So – I may read the third one if I find it lying around the house.  Maybe.

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