Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading Lists - Move Over, Miss Marple

Lovers of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple character need look no further than this list of books containing cozy mysteries solved by other notable female sleuths:

 Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
by M.C. Beaton
After selling her public relations firm in London, Agatha Raisin moves to the picturesque little village of Carsely.  Things heat up when she enters a store-bought quiche into  the town’s baking contest— and it poisons the judge!  Filled with embarrassment, Agatha resolves to prove she may be a cheat but she’s no murderer.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce, the heroine of this series set in England in the 1950s, is not your average crime-solver.  First off, she’s only eleven years old.  Yet her age is no handicap, and all she needs to get to the bottom of a mystery is her chemistry set and bicycle.  Cozy mystery fans will appreciate this clever variation on the genre.

A Nice Class of Corpse
by Simon Brett
Recently widowed Melita Pargeter arrives at the posh Devereux Hotel, a resort hotel for retirees, when one of the guests is murdered.  Utilizing some special talents picked up in her slightly dubious past, Mrs. Pargeter sets out to find the killer, at times contacting her deceased husband’s old 'business associates’ for information.    

Mrs. Jeffries Questions the Answer
by Emily Brightwell
Scotland Yard’s Inspector Weatherspoon is lauded for his impressive ability to crack even the toughest cases.  Little does the public know that it is his staff of servants, led by the brilliant Mrs. Jeffries, that solve all the mysteries.  When Hannah Cameron is found killed in her home, the police believe it to be the work of a burgler, but Mrs. Jeffries has her doubts.

Sold to Miss Seeton
by Hamilton Crane
Crane revives the beloved Miss Seeton character created by Heron Carvic in this humorous mystery.  Emily D. Seeton, retired art teacher, once again comes to the aid of Inspector Delphick of the Scotland Yard with her sketches of the suspects.  This time the action revolves around a mysterious antique box.

Murder on a Girls’ Night Out
by Anne George
Two southern sisters solve mysteries in this quirky and funny series by Anne George.  The Hollowell sisters are polar opposites— Patricia Anne, or ’Mouse,’ is subdued and refined, while Mary Alice, or ’Sister,’ is theatrical and unpolished.  In this novel, the two sisters search for the murderer of a country-western club owner.

Dead Man’s Island
by Carolyn G. Hart
Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins— or Henrie O. for short— is enjoying her retirement after a long career in journalism when an old flame, media tycoon Chase Prescott, asks her to investigate an attempt on his life.  She flies to his private island, where she must deduce who is trying to kill Prescott as a massive hurricane bears down upon them.

Mrs. Malory and the Only Good Lawyer
by Hazel Holt
The peaceful seaside village of Taviscombe is jolted by the murder of a visiting lawyer.  Luckily, the ever dependable Mrs. Malory takes an interest in the case and quickly uncovers a blackmail scheme and three possible suspects among the town’s citizens.  A delightfully pleasant entry in a charming series of cozy mysteries.

The Sunday Philosophy Club
by Alexander McCall Smith
This series mixes thought-provoking philosophical debate with genuinely entertaining mystery.  The sleuth at the center is Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and president of the Sunday Philosophy Club.  McCall Smith rounds out each book with a memorable cast of side characters, including  Isabel’s niece, Cat, and her housekeeper, Grace.

The Body in the Belfry
 by Katherine Hall Page
Faith Fairchild, the minister’s wife, has recently moved from New York City to the small New England town of Aleford, where she is met with disapprobation by the townsfolk.  When she discovers the body of a pretty young woman in the belfry of the church, Faith decides to do some investigating despite the town’s opinion that she should mind her own business.    

Death at Bishop’s Keep
by Robin Paige
The first of Robin Paige’s Victorian mystery series introduces Kate Ardleigh and her partner, Sir Charles Sheridan.  Kate is an American author of penny dreadfuls— serialized murder stories— who moves to England to work for her aunt.  There she teams with Sir Charles, an amateur photographer, when a dead body mysteriously turns up at an archaeological excavation site.

The Hangman’s Row Enquiry
by Ann Purser
Feisty and peevish, Ivy Beasley is not of the ‘sweet little old lady’ school of sleuths.  She is, however, an excellent detective and a humorous and entertaining character, as shown in this enjoyable novel about a murder in the quaint English town of Barrington, home of Ivy’s assisted living community.

The Silent Pool         
by Patricia Wentworth
Miss Maud Silver, an elderly former governess with a penchant for knitting, is called to the country house of a famous stage actress to solve a murder.  As with other titles in the Miss Silver series, The Silent Pool has an amusing cast of characters, exciting mystery, and a dash of romance.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reading Lists - War Fiction

Looking for a good war novel but you've already read all of the old classics?  Here's a list of war fiction that you may have overlooked:

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Faulks deftly blends romance and war in this stirring epic of World War I. The story follows Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman living abroad in France who joins the army when jilted by his lover.  Assigned to a unit that tunnels beneath German trenches to place mines, Stephen’s only respite comes from the companionship of his fellow soldiers.

The Boat by Lothar-Günther Buchheim
The inspiration for the film Das Boot, this novel draws heavily from the author’s own experience as a lieutenant on a German U-boat during World War II.  Buchheim shows exactly what life is like on a submarine, from the feelings of claustrophobia and the bouts of prolonged boredom to the brief periods of intense action in warfare. 

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Fans of Cornwell’s Sharpe series won’t want to miss The Fort, his excellent novel about a little known Revolutionary War campaign fought in New England in 1779.  When the British move a small force of Scottish soldiers into a fort at Penobscot Bay, the Americans stage an attack that is marred by strategic blunders and sloppy execution.

Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield
Gates of Fire is an impressive fictionalization of the legendary Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which 300 Spartans bravely fought against 100,000 Persians.  Told in flashback by Xeo, the only Spartan survivor, the action packed story is brought to life by Pressfield’s ability to capture the feverish intensity and sheer physicality of ancient warfare.

The Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan
The Gates of the Alamo is a fascinatingly unique take on one of the most famous battles in American history.  Rather than focus on the renowned heroes of the Alamo, Harrigan depicts the events primarily through the eyes of three civilians who become unwittingly involved in Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico.   

The March by E.L. Doctorow
Versatile author E.L. Doctorow has a knack for weaving fact and fiction in his novels of the American past.  In The March he sets his attention upon the Civil War and Sherman’s march to Georgia, using a host of characters, both real and imagined, Northern and Southern, black and white, to tell the riveting story. 

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
It took Marlantes over thirty years to write and publish his epic Vietnam novel about the boys of Bravo Company.  Led by the inexperienced Waino Mellas, one of the oldest members of the troop at age 22, they face not only the danger of combat but also the perils of jungle predators, tropical storms, starvation, and internal feuding and racial tension.

Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
Author of the classic Civil War novel Gods and Generals, Shaara proves himself equally adept at recreating the beginning years of the Revolutionary War in Rise to Rebellion.  From the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Bunker Hill, Shaara covers all of the important events, on and off the battlefield, of the struggle that gave birth to a new nation. 

Shiloh by Shelby Foote
Shelby Foote, author of the three volume The Civil War: A Narrative, narrowed his focus for this insightful novel about the two days that made up the pivotal Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.  In contrast to the detailed history of the former work, Shiloh aims to give the reader a glimpse of what exactly went through the minds of soldiers from both sides  as they engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
An elderly man walking along a dirt road meets a young boy and starts to tell his life story.  Thus begins A Soldier of the Great War, an enthralling account of Alesandro Giuliani’s amazing experiences as a soldier during World War I.  Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats by the remarkable twists and turns of Alesandro’s tale. 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
A collection of interwoven short stories that reads like a novel, The Things They Carried gives the reader brief snapshots of soldiers’ lives before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  The  title story is pure genius— a seemingly dispassionate inventory of items carried by soldiers that takes on a heartbreaking poignancy as the narrative unfolds. 

War of the Rats by David L. Robbins
As the Russians and Germans battle over Stalingrad in 1942, two expert snipers face off in a tense strategic showdown amid the  destruction of the city.  Inspired by real events, the supremely suspenseful War of the Rats investigates the inner workings of men trained to be cold-blooded master assassins.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The Yellow Birds stands out as one the best novels on the recent conflict in the Middle East.  Powers, a veteran of the Iraq war, uses his firsthand knowledge of combat to create a work that illustrates the fragile emotional and psychological states of soldiers as they witness horrific violence on a daily basis.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reading lists - Mommy Lit

Mommy Lit = Chick Lit for moms!

Babes in Captivity by Pamela Redmond Satran
Satran weaves together the stories of four women who have been friends since their children were infants.  When one of the women announces her intention to revive her dream of becoming a singer, the rest of the group admits to feeling trapped by the confines of motherhood.  Together they decide to give in to the impulses they’ve long held in check, and the results are totally unpredictable.

Babyville by Jane Green
Julia thinks a baby will restore her flagging relationship with her boyfriend.  Maeve is a successful television producer with no intentions of starting a family.  Sam is a happily married homemaker who is thrilled at the prospects of having a baby.  See how their lives are changed in unexpected ways once they become mothers.       

Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
Uprooted from Texas to Massachusetts so that her husband can attend grad school, Lanie feels the pressure of raising her three sons in a strange new environment.  As a respite from housekeeping she enrolls in a photography class and finds much needed fulfillment, but sparks fly when her husband disapproves of her new hobby. 

The Hazards of Sleeping Alone by Elise Juska
Divorced mother Charlotte must adjust to an empty nest when her daughter goes off to college.  After dedicating the last fifteen years to raising Emily, Charlotte now feels adrift and purposeless because of her daughter’s absence.  A great Mommy Lit title for readers with grown children. 
I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson
Wickedly funny and unflinchingly honest, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a wonderful portrait of the working mother in the 21st century. Heroine Kate Reddy attempts to balance her career as a fund manager with her duties as a wife and mother of two children. A perfect introduction to the genre of Mommy Lit.    

Julia’s Child by Sarah Pinneo
Pinneo’s first novel is a heartwarming and humorous narrative about the difficulties of juggling family and career.  Julia starts an organic toddler food business from her home because she wants to provide the best for her children, but as the business grows in popularity she seems to have less time to spend with her husband and two sons.  Fun Mommy lit with a culinary twist.

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
Little Earthquakes follows the budding friendship of a group of women who meet at a yoga class in Philadelphia.  Becky, Kelly, and Ayinde at first seem to have little in common, yet the women are able to bond over their struggles as new mothers.  With relatable characters and realistic situations, Little Earthquakes is a masterful depiction of motherhood and its many challenges.

Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter
Taylor Young appears to have everything— a charming husband, three outstanding children, a beautiful home, and all the other symbols of suburban achievement.  She’s the envy of all the mothers in Bellevue, but little do they know that Taylor’s carefully manufactured image hides a life that is on the brink of falling apart.

Momzillas by Jill Kargman
This clever satire of elite upper-class mothers tells the story of Hannah Allen, who moves from San Francisco to Manhattan when her husband receives a lucrative job offer.  Despite feeling wildly out of place amongst all the designer clothing, private preschools, and maternal one-upmanship, Hannah initially attempts to play the game, only to find the flaws beneath the façade.

Multiple Choice by Claire Cook
Cook comes up with a clever conceit for this novel: a mother who is returning to college after 20 years and a daughter who is beginning her first semester at a different university in the same town both become interns for the local radio station.  Cook imbues this story of intergenerational conflict with a winning sweetness.

Piece of Work by Laura Zigman
Zigman puts a different spin on the Mommy Lit genre with her delightful tale of a contented housewife who must return to the workplace when her husband loses his job.  As Julie restarts her career as a publicist, she must overcome her longings to be at home again with her son and her slight jealousy at her husband’s natural talent for homemaking.

What Do You Do All Day? by Amy Scheibe
Jennifer is a SAHM— Stay At Home Mom— who is left to care for her two children while her husband is gone for three months on a business trip to Singapore.  Scheibe’s characters are a combustible combination of sass, style, and wit, and the novel reads like a mix of Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City

The Yummy Mummy by Polly Williams
Amy is suffering an identity crisis after having her first child.  She’s not sure if she wants to return to work, she suspects her boyfriend of cheating, and she feels chubby and unattractive.  Enter the confident and sexy Alice, a ‘yummy mummy,’ who leads Amy on a whirlwind ride of Pilates classes, makeovers, and shopping sprees.  Will she find happiness with her new life?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reading lists - Locus Award winners

Each year, the readers of Locus magazine vote for their favorite science fiction and fantasy books, among other categories. Ballots are sent in the February issue of Locus, along with a recommended reading list featuring titles published during the preceding year. Here are the nominees in the three biggest categories—the winners were announced in June.

Science Fiction Novel

Embassytown by China Miéville (winner)
Retaining a tenuous peace on a distant planet in the far future, humans and aliens work together through a mutually beneficial economic arrangement that is threatened by the arrival of a new group of humans that destabilizes the world's balance. (F Mie)

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
When Captain Jim Holden's ice miner stumbles across a derelict, abandoned ship, he uncovers a secret that threatens to throw the entire system into war. Attacked by a stealth ship belonging to the Mars fleet, Holden must find a way to uncover the motives behind the attack, stop a war and find the truth behind a vast conspiracy that threatens the entire human race. (F Cor)

11/22/63 by Stephen King
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? The author's new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. (F Kin, BCD F Kin, LP F Kin)

Rule 34 by Charles Stross
Head of the Rule 34 Squad monitoring the Internet for illegal activities, Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh investigates the link between three ex-con spammers who have been murdered. (PB SciFi S, ebook)

The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Ten years have passed on Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them—and among the humans—who seek power, and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.(F Vin)

Fantasy Novel

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (winner)
New threats emerge to endanger the future of the Seven Kingdoms, as Daenerys Targaryen fights off a multitude of enemies, while Jon Snow faces his foes both in the Watch and beyond the great Wall of ice and stone. (F Mar, BCD F Mar, ebook, e-audio)

Snuff by Terry Pratchett
The 39th installment in the New York Times bestselling "Discworld" canon from Terry Pratchett, "the purely funniest English writer since Wodehouse." (F Pra)

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero as he attempts to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm where he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist. (F Rot, ebook)

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Set in an alternate version of St. Petersburg in the first half of the twentieth century, Marya Morevna, a clever child of the revolution, is transformed into the beautiful bride of Koschei the Deathless, a menacing overlord. (F Val)

Among Others by Jo Walton
Seeking refuge in fantasy novel worlds throughout a youth under the shadow of a dubiously sane mother who dabbled in magic, Mori Phelps is forced to confront her in a tragic battle and gains unwanted attention when she attempts to perform spells herself. (F Wal)

First Novel

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (winner)
A fierce competition is underway, a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in "a game," in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. (F Mor, ebook, Book Club in a Bag)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Immersing himself in a mid-twenty-first-century technological virtual utopia to escape an ugly real world of famine, poverty, and disease, Wade Watts joins an increasingly violent effort to solve a series of puzzles by the virtual world's creator. (F Cli, ebook, e-audio)

God’s War by Kameron Hurley
Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war—but at what price? (F Hur)

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh
In a near-future America that is slowly succumbing to anarchy due to scarce resources, diseases, and economic depression, Jasper, a college graduate, leads a group of former middle-class Americans across the Southeast to find a safe haven. (F McI, ebook)

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
As a circus of performers recreated with mechanical parts treks across a chaotic world, a government man asks for the ringmaster's help in building a world of order, while two performers desire a pair of cursed magical wings. (F Val)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reading Lists - Dogs in fiction

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human only a dog could tell it.

Unsaid by Neil Abramson
Neil Abramson explores the beauty and redemptive power of human-animal relationships and the true meaning of communication in all of its diverse forms.  The narrator, Helena, was a veterinarian before her death. Now she is a silent observer of the life she left behind—her shattered attorney husband, David; her houseful of damaged but beloved animals; and her final project, Cindy, a chimpanzee trained to use sign language. When Cindy is scheduled for a research experiment that will undoubtedly take her life, an explosive courtroom drama unfolds.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective—a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. She makes a snap decision. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems.  Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, a detective, is embarking on a different sort of rescue—that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

I Thought You Were Dead by Peter Nelson
For Paul Gustavson, life is a succession of obstacles, a minefield of mistakes to stumble through.  Still, Paul has his friends at Bay State bar, a steady line of cocktails, and Stella. Stella is Paul’s dog. She listens with compassion to all his complaints about the injustices of life and gives him better counsel than any human could. Their relationship is at the heart of this poignantly funny and deeply moving story about a man trying to fix his past in order to save his future.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose remarkable gift for companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. Edgar seems poised to carry on his family's traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he finds his once-peaceful home engulfed in turmoil.

Dog on It by Spencer Quinn
Chet might have flunked out of police school (“I’d been the best leaper in K-9 class, which had led to all the trouble in a way I couldn’t remember exactly, although blood was involved”), but he’s a detective through and through. In Dog On It, Chet and Bernie investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl who may or may not have been kidnapped, but who has definitely gotten mixed up with some very unsavory characters.

Dog Tags by David Rosenfelt
A German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder and if his owner—an Iraq war vet and former cop-turned-thief—is convicted of the crime, the dog could be put down. Few rival Andy Carpenter's affection for dogs, and he decides to represent the poor canine. As Andy struggles to convince a judge that this dog should be set free, he discovers that the dog and his owner have become involved unwittingly in a case of much greater proportions than the one they've been charged with. Andy will have to call upon the unique abilities of this ex-police dog to help solve the crime and prevent a catastrophic event from taking place.

Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe
At 47, Gil is the world’s oldest 22-year-old man, living in relative contentment with his four dogs, including the alpha, Jimmy. When he stumbles upon Jimmy delivering lectures on canine manipulative techniques to the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood, Gil’s not particularly surprised, and his eyes light up with dollar signs. But their money-making venture has barely begun when chatty canine Jimmy realizes the shocking truth: he’s adopted.

A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron
Buddy is a good dog. After searching for his purpose through several eventful lives, Buddy is sure that he has found and fulfilled it. Yet as he watches curious baby Clarity get into dangerous mischief, he is certain that this little girl is very much in need of a dog of her own. When Buddy is reborn, he realizes that he has a new destiny. He's overjoyed when he is adopted by Clarity, now a vibrant but troubled teenager. When they are suddenly separated, Buddy despairs—who will take care of his girl?

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe
Dawn’s only source of security and comfort, it seems, is Chuck, a pit-bull mix from the pound. So, when her boyfriend announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, a despairing Dawn turns to Chuck for solace. “I should have said something sooner,” Chuck confides, as he tries to console her. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” Dawn is stunned. It’s one thing to talk to your pets, but what do you do when they start talking back? It’s not just Chuck, either; she can hear all dogs—and man’s best friend has a lot to say.