Monday, September 29, 2014

The Big Read: September 2014 Books Read

Well, I'm not posting here very much, and who knows if I'll keep it up after the Big Read year is over, but for what it's worth, here are the September Books read (I just started 2 new ones, so am unlikely to finish either before tomorrow night).


Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart (Christopher Fowler) - mystery in a fabulous series
Well Read, Then Dead (Terrie Moran) - "cozy" mystery that was just plain awful
No Time Like Show Time (Michael Hoeye)
Time to Smell the Roses (Michael Hoeye)
- middle-grade novels in a series featuring Hermux Tantamoq, a mouse who is a watchmaker and part-time detective.  Lightweight fun.

The Man with a Load of Mischief (Martha Grimes) - re-read, first in the Richard Jury mystery series and such a wonderful contrast to the crappy mysteries I've been encountering of late.  Extremely engaging, smartly written, characters to care about -- I'm loving my re-visit to these books.

Poisoned Prose (Ellery Adams) - another cozy mystery that disappointed. Sigh.


The Life of Rivers and Streams (Robert Usinger)
The Life of Prairies and Plains (Durward Allen)
The Life of the Marsh (William Niering)
The Life of Sea Islands (N.J. and Michael Berrill)
The Life of the Cave (Charles Mohr and Thomas Poulson)

The rest of the "Living World of Nature" series put out in the 1960s by the World Book Encyclopedia folks, very similar to the Time-Life Nature series of that same era.  Well-illustrated and enjoyable.

The World's Oddest and Most Wonderful Mammals, Insects, Birds and Plants (Jeanne Hanson and Deane Morrison) - a bathroom book with short descriptions of just what it says.

Longitude (Dava Sobel) - short history of the solution to accurately finding longitude at sea via John Harrison's intricate chronometers; okay but overall a bit dull.

The Lost City of Z (David Grann) - fascinating account of Colonel Percy Fawcett's explorations in the Amazon in the 1910s-1920s, his mysterious disappearance, and the attempts to discover what happened to him, and his obsession with a possibly not-so-legendary vanished civilization.  Fabulous book.

Currently reading:

The Old Fox Deceiv'd - second in the Richard Jury mystery series by Martha Grimes
Lost Heritage: Wilderness America through the Eyes of Seven Pre-Audubon Naturalists by Henry Savage, Jr.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mysterious Disappointments

With a few outliers here and there, mystery novels comprise about half of my fiction reading, the other half being middle-grade books.  Lately I've been struggling to find mystery authors I like.  And I had a huge disappointment while on vacation, when I eagerly trotted off to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in Pioneer Square, a longtime favorite, only to find it had moved to a space one-third its former size, as the owner explained, "Due to lack of sales."  Thank you, Amazon.

The selection was not very good, and I wound up buying a "cozy" mystery mostly out of pity for the owner.  It was a terrible book.  Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Moran is set in the Florida keys and the amateur sleuth is the co-owner of a bookshop/cafe who investigates a book club member's murder in an incredibly boring fashion.  At the end, she does the thing that I detest the most in mysteries -- goes off to meet someone who sent her a cryptic note about the crime in an isolated location all by her lonesome and naturally winds up in danger.  Jeez.  I threw it away.

Last month I tried a few historical mysteries and wound up disliking every single one.  Mr. Churchill's Secretary had intriguing background around WWII London, but the 21st-century attitudes, lack of character development, and absurd plot ruined it for me.  Reviewers who disliked it said, "If you want a much better historical, try Jacqueline Winspear", so I did. Maisie Dobbs was set in 1929 London and featured the most dour heroine I've ever encountered.  As my coworker, who also hated it, said, "The biggest thing wrong with Maisie Dobbs is Maisie Dobbs."  Sigh.  I threw it away.

Finally, I decided to give the French a go, with Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (a pseudonym for two sisters), set in 1890s Paris at the time of a world exposition.  The sleuth is a journalist and he was dull and lifeless, except for his infatuation with a young artist that bordered on stalking.  And the plot turned out to be completely wacky.  I threw it away.

There was one shining light in my past month or two of mystery reading:  Bryant & May: The Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler.  This series features two elderly detectives working for contemporary London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, and it is just as fabulous and fascinating as the earlier books.  The first in the series is Full Dark House.  Highly recommended.

I leave you with a one-paragraph description of a side character in Fowler's novel, which shows exactly why I find his work delightfully entertaining:

Rosa Lysandrou was a virtuous, decent woman who knew that the world was a wicked place and that life was short, ugly and disappointing.  Most of the time sin and ill fortune surrounded  her, seeping into her bones like damp and dragging at her limbs until she sometimes longed for the release that eternal sleep would bring.  On other days she cheered up a bit and went to bingo.

Love it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 2014 Big Read: August Books

Here is a summary of the books I read in August.


In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food (Stewart Allen).  Interesting tidbits but overall largely forgettable and a bit too focused on the gross-out factor.

An Introduction to Birds (John Kieran).  Oversized book from the 1950s with brief descriptions.

Island Year (Hazel Heckman).  Well-written natural history of Anderson Island (off Tacoma) where the author lived for many years, told month by month.

Land of Lost Monsters (Ted Oakes).  Prehistoric creatures by continent.  Nice illustrations.

Land of the Lakes (Melvyn Bragg).  History and natural history of England's Lake District, well illustrated.

The Life of the Seashore (William Amos).  I snagged a bunch of books in this set put out in the 1960s by the World Book Encyclopedia folks -- they are similar to the old Time-Life nature series and while not quite as well done as those, they are entertaining enough and at 200 pages each, they are pretty quick reads.

The Life of the Desert (Ann and Myron Sutton).
The Life of the Forest (Jack McCormick)
The Life of the Mountains (Maurice Brooks)
The Life of the Ocean (N.J. Berrill)
The Life of the Pond (William Amos)

Land Above the Trees: A Guide to American Alpine Tundra (Ann Zwinger).  Mostly about the geology and plant life of several alpine regions, well illustrated by the author.


A Question of Proof (Nicholas Blake).  A re-read of an old British mystery, part of a series, in an effort to revisit a few of my favorite authors from decades past.  Did not hold up well.  Sigh.

Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear).  Contemporary author, mystery set in 1920s Britain featuring a lower-class woman who is offered a chance to improve her lot with a private education and mentoring by a private detective.  Experiences from the Great War figure prominently.  Relentlessly severe and gloomy.  Not a keeper.

Secret Water (Arthur Ransome).  Fifth re-read of a favorite from this British series (1930s-40s) where enterprising, imaginative children have simple yet rewarding adventures.

The Sands of Time (Michael Hoeye).  Children's fantasy; sequel to Time Stops for No Mouse, featuring watchmaker Hermux Tantamoq and his quest to prove the ancient kingdom of cats truly existed.  He's a mouse.  There's a whole city of mice.  It's quite delightful and tons of fun.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat (Colin Cotterill).  First in a mystery series featuring Thai crime reporter Jimm Juree, a young woman uprooted from the big city to a rural backwater by her eccentric family.  She manages to find a few bizarre crimes to unravel in this unusual, often witty tale.

Grandad, There's A Head on the Beach (Colin Cotterill).  Sequel to the above; not quite as good though it picked up midway through.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower (Claude Izner).  Contemporary author, first in a mystery series set in 1890s Paris.  Protagonist is a journalist trying to solve murders at the World Exposition.  Background history is interesting but I grew to detest the hero and the plot left much to be desired.

So, in July and August I tried three different historical mysteries (all by contemporary authors) and not one succeeded in making me want to read the next in the series.  Two had awful anachronisms, and 21st-century attitudes imposed upon the characters.  I give up.  I'll be visiting the local mystery bookshop tomorrow in yet another effort to find mysteries I actually enjoy.  It's been a struggle of late!