Monday, May 31, 2010

O' Artful Death

by Sarah Stewart Taylor

I have had this book on my shelf for years along with the 2nd book in the series featuring Sweeney St. George.  I've been biting the bullet when it comes to review copies only saying yes at the weakest of moments and only if the book sounds like it would be perfect for me. The results have been a return to blissful reading.  Blissful being defined as reading what I want when I want.

What I wanted when I picked this book off the shelf was a light, interesting cozy.  I was richly rewarded and as I read I felt that this series would join my favorite 5 or so cozy mysteries.  It's always nebulous picking favorites but among those would be Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series, Jaqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs, Laurie King's  Mary Russell, Kathy Lynn Emerson's Lady Susanna Appleton, Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody and Anne Perry's William Monk series.

Sweeney looks nothing like a university professor with her unruly red curls and preference for vintage clothing.  Single and wary of relationships, she pours her energy into her college teaching and a passionate interest in cemetery art.  Cemetery art!  That's the part that piqued my interest.  Learning more about cemetery art was a fascinating part of the book but that was just an added bonus.

The mystery involved a macabre graveyard statue that may provide a clue to a hundred year old murder as well as some disturbing behavior in the present-day Byzantium, Vermont.

I look forward to reading book 2 in this series and meeting Sweeney again.  She's an interesting person with some very human foibles and some emotional baggage but also a good dose of determination and likability.  She has the potential to become one of my literary heroes. 

Lots of surprises in a well-told story, interesting characters, and good writing put this series comfortably tucked in with my other favorites.  There was one problem and it almost upset the whole feel I had for the book.  I was reading along and all of a sudden I was in the middle of a sex scene.  STOP!  What?!  I had to go back and reread the two paragraphs before to find what I missed leading up to this.  Talk about jumping into bed together!  I felt like the lead-up was almost non-existent.  When the couple of mildly explicit paragraphs were through I found myself totally baffled.  It was the worse case of  "throw it in to please somebody" I've ever read.  Mind you the scene itself wasn't particularly disturbing, though it was totally unnecessary, it was the jump - no transition in an otherwise well-written book.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Borrower of the Night

by Elizabeth Peters

I have read eight of the Amelia Peabody books written by Peters and one of her Jacqueline Kirby books but this is my first look at her series featuring Vicky Bliss.  And as luck would have it, this is book one in that series.  As you know I don't always start a series at the beginning.

Vicky is a tall, beautiful, intelligent and capable historian who is challenged by a fellow professor and suitor to a search for a lost piece of art.  The purpose of the challenge is to prove he is smarter than her, which will convince her to marry him.  This man needs help with his personal relationships!  It will be interesting to see if he is a major player in subsequent novels.

What began as a treasure hunt in an old German castle soon turned into a game that was being played in deadly earnest and Vicky becomes the target of greed and finds herself in mortal danger.  Since there are more books in the series, it was obvious that Vicky wasn't going to die but I wasn't sure that the others with her would live. 

Peters writes a cozy mystery with witty banter, oddball characters, a funny romance, historical intrigue which develops into perilous situations.  I tried to mooch the other 5 books in this series but not one of them was available.  I may have to check my library.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Exile of Sara Stevenson

by Darci Hannah

I received this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.  Watch for this book to hit the bookstores the end of July. 

I have read some ho-hum reviews but my feelings about this book are very positive.  I loved it!  I enjoyed the writing, the characters and the story.

In 1815 Sara Stevenson falls in love and plans to elope with a common sailor, someone her parents will never approve of.  When her sailor doesn't show up for the elopement her parents send her to Cape Wrath lighthouse so as not to disgrace them with her pregnancy.

I was so intrigued with the lighthouse keeper and wanted to know what haunted him.  Actually, I was intrigued by most of the characters.  The author deftly wrote a story that posed many questions that I needed answers for and that search for answers kept me involved in the story.

I was touched by the relationship between the the McKays and the realization that Sara had when she was watching them that they had so much more than she did even though they lived in a small croft in an inhospitable environment.

Hopefully, Ms. Hannah has more wonderful stories coming in the future.  I'll be watching.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge was an especially fascinating read for me.  My mother highly recommended it, saying it was an interesting look at aging.  The book contains 13 stories of people living in a small town of America.  The thread of commonality through these divergent stories is Olive and her connection to the characters in the stories.

Olive is not a particularly likeable character and, unfortunately, I found myself strongly identifying with her.  At some point in my reading I called my mother and asked if Olive was going to come through at some point with some redeeming qualities.  Her answer was not reassuring.  As the book continued and Olive ages, I discovered we shared fewer similarities.  Olive has different demons and struggles in life than I do.  It's those struggles that caused our similarities to diminish over time.

What made this such a fascinating read for me was that my mother had liked the book so much that she shared it with a close friend who, after reading it, said she was going to buy a copy for each of her children.   So as I started reading I expected a book filled with tidbits of wisdom and sage advise.  I didn't find that and, even now that I've finished, I keep asking what it was that these two beautiful, older women saw in this book.

I was looking on Ken Follett's website today and liked what he had to say about the book:
I find it hard to say why this book is so utterly captivating. It consists of thirteen short stories set in a small town in New England, most of them featuring or at least mentioning the title character, an ornery schoolteacher with a patient husband and a disaffected son. The tone is low-key, although dramatic things happen—sudden medical emergencies, outbreaks of lunacy, and one gory murder.
Olive Kitteridge is captivating.  One of the things I really liked was the separate stories that told of interesting characters and the glimpses of Olive's life through these stories.