Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Pages: 364
Date: 30/01/2010
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 3 Spellman Mysteries

It is the usual sort of madness in the world and life of Isabel Spellman and her family.
On the back of the some what embarrassing events in the previous book, Izzy has taken time off from the family P.I business while trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
But, a life time of being suspicious and investigating others isn't cast aside that easily, and soon enough Izzy has two investigations going.
One of these centers on her brother who has changed beyond recognition for unknown reasons. He is also lying, keeping secrets and refusing to explain himself. All very suspicious behaviour.
The second investigation doesn't involve a family member. Izzy is hired by a man who wants to know if his wife is cheating on him. Infidelity is ruled out fairly quickly by Izzy, but the woman obviously has a secret. A secret others are interested in as well and Izzy is determined to uncover. Especially once she decides that what she will do with her future depends on whether or not she can bring this mystery to a successful conclusion.
And there are a few other issues in Izzy's life:
* Detective Henry Stone is dating someone;
* Izzy's car keeps on disappearing from where she has parked it;
* She has to do her court ordered therapy and finds she can't get away with saying nothing;
* A housing crisis keeps our heroine from sleeping;
* Someone is blackmailing Isabel, demanding very strange things from her.
And that's just for starters.

The stories in these books are rather crazy, but real fun. And I find myself liking Isabel Spellman more with every subsequent book.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Pages: 362
Date: 28/03/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 3 Oscar Wilde Mystery

The mystery in this book takes place before the stories in the two previous books and serves to describe the occassion on which Robert Sherard first met and befriended Oscar Wilde.
Most of the action takes place in Paris, France, but the story also takes us to America and England.
The stage is set in America where Oscar Wilde meets Eddie Garstrang, a professional gambler and Edmond La Grange, a famous French actor-manager.
Wilde, Garstrang and La Grange are among the passengers on board a ship bringing them from the US to Europe, when the first suspicious death occurs, although it appears a triviality at the time.
It is not until Wilde is in Paris to work with La Grange and has met and befriended Robert Sherard that the intrigue, murder and mystery really kick off.
Many real historical figures and places once again either figure in the story or are mentioned in it, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Arthur Conan Doyle, Louisa May Alcott and Reading jail.
For a long time while reading this book I thought that a lot of the story had little or nothing to do with the mystery, but was merely there to provide a partial biography of Oscar Wilde. 
I was wrong. Just when I thought the mystery had been solved and the story was as good as over, the last chapter gave a remarkable, but not improbable, twist. A twist that made the story more interesting, the solution to the mystery more satisfying and managed to pull all the apparently unconnected story-lines together.
As always, it was a joy to read about Oscar Wilde, a truly fascinating figure, as written by a man who is obviously very knowledgable about his subject.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Date: 27/03/2010
Grade: 4.5

This is a rather dark book, which is hardly surprising since a lot of the plot is set at the battlefields of the Crimea during 1854. The horrors of war, death and disease are described in horrific detail. However, since the horrors inflicted are the backbone of the ensuing story, I don't see how those gruesome descriptions could have been avoided without the story losing its motivation.
Thomas Kitson is an idealistic young newspaper reporter when he arrives in the Crimea determined to do what he can to help his senior, Richard Cracknell, to report the truth about the horrors of war to the British public. The third man in their group is a young and rather innocent illustrator, Robert Styles.
Richard Cracknell is a hardened and rather cynical man, but his two young assistants are soon shocked as well as horrified by the brutality, arrogance and incompetance they witness daily.
When the three men witness a diabolical theft followed by brutal murder they try to alert the military authorities, but their story falls on deaf ears.
Three years later, Kitson is working as a street philosopher (tabloid journalist) in Manchester, hoping to have left the past and those who played a role in it well behind him.
However, the Great Art Exhibition and the upcoming visit of it by Queen Victoria bring all players from the past to Manchester, leading to renewed violence and destruction and putting Kitson's life in danger once again.
The story shifts backwards and forewards between the Crimea and Manchester, slowly revealing the events of the past leading up to those in the present.
Despite its darkness, this was a good and very well written story. Plampin is an author I will be keeping my eye on.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Pages: 240
Date: 24/03/2010
Grade: 4.5

Lillian has had a special relationship with food and cooking since she was a little girl. She knows that the right ingredients, prepared in the right way can effect people in surprising ways.
Eight people meet in her restaurant once a month on Mondays for a cooking class. But from this class they walk away with far more than new cooking skills. All of the find what they need most in their lives at that moment in time, even if they didn't know they needed anything; a rediscovery of who they are, a new love, the strenght and self-believe to walk away from a bad relationship and the strenght to go on after a devastating loss, among other things.
This is a sweet story, clearly written by someone with a deep love for both food and people.
The way in which the ingredients and their preparation is described turns them into extra characters in the story, influencing the lives of those around them.
However, for me this book was too short, the details of the character's lives, their issues and the resolution thereoff too supervisual.
Normally, I'd say that it's a good thing when a book leaves me wanting more by the time I get to the last page. I usually enjoy fantasizing about what might happen next to the characters. In this case though, it wasn't so much the characters future I wanted to know more about, but rather their background. And that information should have been in the book.
Yes, this was a sweet story and a very comforting read. There just wasn't enough of it to completely satisfy me.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Pages: 281
Date: 22/03/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 1 Campbell & Carter Mystery

A new series by Ann Granger, whose Mitchell & Markby books I really enjoy, and this book promises a lot for what is still to come.
Lucas Burton is on his way to a secret meeting in the country-side, a place he detests since to him it's nothing but mud, muck and dead things. And he soon finds out how right he is; his shoes and car are ruined by the mud and muck he has to move through to get to the deserted farm that is the meeting place. And the murdered girl he finds in a barn certainly qualifies as a dead thing.
Panicked, Lucas flees the location, only to be spotted while speeding away and soon the police is on location, dealing with murder.
Inspector Jess Campbell is on the case, which proves to have very few leads, and to add to her problems she also has to deal with a new superintendent, Ian Carter, who is not easy to read.
Then matters are complicated further by the discovery of another murder victim and the question is, will Jess be able to solve the crimes before more lives are lost.
A very well plotted mystery with interesting main characters, quirky side characters and a few ghosts. 
This is one series I'll continue to read.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Pages: 554
Date: 20/03/2010
Grade: 4+

It has been years since I last read a book by John Irving, and I can't remember too much about them. This means that I'm not sure whether or not Irving always writes his books with this detachment to events and characters, or if that is unique to this book. I think that he always had a way of describing extra-ordinary events in such a way that the reader just accepts them, but I'm not entirely sure. Just as I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that detachment in this particular book. I think I would have liked to have a little bit more emotion in the writing, because the storyline does cover some devasting events, and I never got to feel that devastation. In this book the reader is very much a spectator and never feels like a participant.
The story in this book covers more than 50 years, starting in a logging community in Twisted River, New Hampshire in 1954 and ending in Ontario, Canada in 2005. During this time it follows three men, Dominic Baciagalupo, the cook, his son Daniel and their friend and self-appointed protector Ketchum.
Events are set in motion when twelve year old Daniel mistakes the girlfriend of the local constable for a bear and kills her with a skillet.
Afraid of what the not entirely sane constable might do, Dominic and his son flee Twisted River and with that act starts a decades long existance of looking over their shoulders and trying to stay ahead of the vengeful policeman, who never gives up his hunt.
Staying in New Hampshire is their good friend Ketchum who tries to keep them safe by keeping an eye on the constable.
Daniel grows up to be a famous author and it is through the descriptions of his novels as well as through the actual story in this book that the reader keeps track of the events in the lives of the main characters.
Because Daniel is an author some of the book occupies itself with the art of writing and the processes Daniel uses to write his books. And it is interesting to know that, according to an interview with Irving I read recently, Daniel's way of starting with the last sentence of a book, is the one Irving himself uses. It also deals with questions like how much of the stories authors tell is autobiographical and with the way the rest of the world looks at books.
Even now that I've finished the book I'm not sure how I feel about the detached way in which Irving describes events in his characters life, regardless of how heartbreaking they may be.
What I do know though is that this was an intriguing and well written book with a story that will stay with me for a long time. I also now feel the need to find a copy of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and re-read it sometime soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Pages: 185
Date: 15/03/2010
Grade: 4
Details: A Sherlock Holmes pastiche

This is a Sherlock Holmes mystery pretty much as you'd expect a Sherlock Holmes mystery to be. A complicated case starting with coded messages,followed by a double murder, quickly turns more complicated with the involvement of Jacobites, a stash of lost gold, and a plot to overthrow the American government.
The game (which is very much afoot) takes Holmes and Dr. Watson to the Scottish Highlands and a decendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie ass well as more murder and violence. In the end, as expected, Holmes solves the case in his own unique manner from clues nobody else has even noticed, while poor Watson doesn't have a clue.
An enjoyable read, and if I run into more Sherlock Holmes books by this author I will happily read them, although I won't be going out of my way to find them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Pages: 446
Date: 12/03/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 5 Haunted Bookshop Mystery
            Large Print

I am enjoying this series. Not that they are especially good mysteries; the reader isn't given enough clues to solve the problem for themselves, but I do like the characters in these books and the interaction between Penelope Thornton-McClure and her ghost, P.I. Jack Shephard.
This story starts with Pen delivering some books to an elderly, reclusive lady who lives in a Victorian mansion which is rumoured to be haunted. When Pen enters the house she finds its occupant dead, and judging by the look on her face she was scared to death.
The police decide that Pen's friend, mailman Seymour Tardish must have murdered the old woman, an impression which is strengtened when it turns out that he is to inherit the mansion.
But Pen knows there must be something else going on and starts her own investigation, which turns out to have close links to a case Jack was investigating in 1947.
And, before long, Jack isn't the only ghost haunting Pen.
As always, a fun read.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Pages: 309
Date: 13/03/2010
Grade: 3.5
Details: no. 3 Body Farm Mystery

I think I may have to stop reading this series. I enjoyed the first one, liked the second one a bit less and was really disappointed with this instalment.
This book had several story threads going, all involving one similar feature; fire, but it felt really disjointed while I was reading.
Dr. Bill Brockton is asked to investigate the suspect cremains (who knew that word existed?) of his lawyer's aunt, and is also involved in trying to determine whether a woman who died in a car fire did so as a result of an accident or was murdered by her husband.
Foremost on his mind though is Garland Hamilton, Brockton's nemisis who has escaped from custody and is determined to get his revenge on Brockton.
None of these story lines were sufficiently developed for my liking. And there was so much technical detail in this book that the story itself slipped into the background. 
I can't help feeling that the makings of a great read were here, but just not used in the right way by the authors. A real shame.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Pages: 579
Date: 09/03/2010
Grade: 5-
Details: no. 3 Matthew Shardlake Historical Mystery

Setting: Autumn 1541
            King Henry VIII's Progress to the North

This series of historical mysteries is so well researched that I always feel a bit like I'm time travelling when I read them. There is no polishing of reality in these books; Tudor England is described in, sometimes gruesome, detail, showing a fascinating but scary world with very little safety or security for anyone.
It's 1541 and Matthew Shardlake's hopes of a quiet life now that Cromwell has died are shattered when Archbishop Cranmer sends him to York to assist with some legal work for the Progress. Shardlake is also to take charge of a dangerous conspirator, who needs to be delivered to the Tower in London, fit for "interrogation".
Once in York, Shardlake witnesses the murder of a local glazier. The investigation of this murder uncovers the existance of documents that could upset the Tudor claim to the throne. But before the documents can be studied in detail, they are stolen and soon afterwards Matthew manages to survive three attempts on his life. And while his assistant Barak finds love, he and Matthew also find themselves involved in Royal intrigue and facing old and very powerful enemies.
The long awaited return to London should bring Matthew back to safety, but instead he finds himself facing the most terrifying situation a person could find themselves in in those days.
These are not light or quick reads, so I'll give myself a little break before progressing to the next one. Only a little break though since I am fascinated by these books.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Pages: 350
Date: 06/03/2010
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 1 Newbury & Hobbes Investigations

This is a very hard book to categorize. Part historical mystery,  part fantasy and part horror story, this book doesn't easily fit into any of the genres as known to me. It is however totally engaging and fascinating.
The story is set in 1901 in a version of Victorian London that closely resembles the one we know from the history books, but differs from it in a few quite essential details.  In this version technology has developed a lot further. We find mechanical carriages and ground trains travelling through London and airships in the air providing transport to anywhere in the world. We also find clockwork automatons, programmed to do lots of different menial tasks. 
But it's not all goodness in this world; there is a ghostly glowing policeman killing apparently random victims and a plague haunts Whitechapel, turning people into mindless zombies and killing machines.
In this world operates Sir Maurice Newbury, gentleman investigator for Queen Victoria, assisted by Veronica Hobbes who has recently started working for him.
When an airship crashes from the sky, killing everyone inside, the Queen instructs Newbury to investigate. At the same time he's trying to assist his friend Charles Bainbridge, Chief Inspector with Scotland Yard with the apparently motiveless murders being committed by a glowing policeman.
Newbury, Hobbes and Bainbridge will find themselves facing all sorts of horrors and life threatening situations before all cases are solved.
And just when you thought the story had surrendered all its secrets, there is one more surprise awaiting the reader.
This was a wonderful read and I hope to get stuck into the next one soon.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Pages: 308
Date: 05/03/2010
Grade: 3
Details: Paranormal Romance

This book was rather under-whelming. All through the reading of it I felt that the story was neither here nor there. It didn't have the thrill of a romance, nor the danger of a vampire story.
Thsi story starts on the day Elizabeth Bennett marries her Mr. Darcy and the two of them leave for their honeymoon. It should be a time of sheer bliss, but Elizabeth is worried by the look of torment that crosses Darcy's face when he reads a message. And her worries deepen when Darcy won't spend the night with her; not that first night, and not on any of the subsequent nights either.
They travel through Continental Europe, visiting Paris, the Alpes and several places in Italy. All are fascinating new places for Elizabeth, but always there is an under-current of danger and strangeness as well as the worry that maybe Darcy doesn't love her after all.
When all secrets are at last revealed a decision has to be made, a decision that could mean death or worse for both of them.
As I indicated before, this book left me indifferent, probably because there didn't seem to be a lot of emotion in the characters as they appear in this book. Nor where the intimate scenes romantic enough or the scary scenes really frightening. It was easy enough to read this book, but nothing here inspires me to go and find other works by this author.


Thursday, March 4, 2010


Pages: 421
Date: 04/03/2010
Grade: 4
Details: George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield Mystery
            Large Print

This was the 8th book in this series, and, rather against my principles, I hadn't read any of the previous ones before starting on this book. But, since by the looks of it, only the two main characters are recurring ones, this wasn't an issue at all.
This is a mystery series set on ocean liners during the early 20th century, with George Dillman and Genevieve Masefield being on-board detectives hired by the liners to solve any crimes committed during a voyage.
On this trip from New York to England, the two detectives meet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when a to him very important copy of "A Study in Scarlett" is stolen from Doyles cabin.
But, events soon escalate with more thefts from first class cabins and the disappearance and suspected murder of a passenger.
This was an entertaining and light read, and as such just what I needed after the much heavier and darker story that was "Drood".
However, I won't be rushing out to find the rest of the series. The story felt a bit superficial to me with none of the characters appearing to have any depth to them and any issue broached only getting the most passing of detail.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Pages: 771
Date: 03/03/2010
Grade: 4+

This was a very hefty, at times cumbersome, yet fascinating book.
This is the story of the last five years of Charles Dickens's life as told by his colleague and friend, Wilkie Collins. It starts with the train crash in Staplehurst, which Dickens miraculously survives, and goes on from there.
Wilkie Collins, being a user of ever increasing amounts of opium and later morphine as well, is a very unreliable narrator who suffers from paranoia and delusions.
When Dickens tells Collins about the rail crash, he also tells him about a mysterious and ghostly figure he encountered there, a creature called Drood who resembles Death both in appearance and in actions.
Initially Collins refuses to believe in the existance of this Drood, but that doesn't stop him from joining Dickens on a quest to find this shadowy figure and the two authors find themselves searching the Slums of Victorian London as well as its opium dens, catacombs and sewers.
When Collins starts believing in Drood, this belief takes over his life and his actions, but because his use of drugs is increasing at the same time the lines between our narrator,s realitiy and his hallucinations becomes increasingly unclear and his actions ever more driven by paranoia, eventually leading to murder.
Like I said, this book was fascinating. However there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way.
To start with, the book was too long, and contained quite a few repetitions. 
I didn't like the way the Collins, who wants this particular manuscript kept unpublished for over 100 years, keeps addressing his future reader, keeps on referring to what that future world might look like, yet seems to know too much about it.
I also found the long discussions of the works by both authors as well as comparisons between their stories getting somewhat tiresome after a while.
And considering the book is called DROOD, I would have expected this shadowy figure to play a more dominant role in the book. Instead he seems to hover in the background for the majority of the story.
However, I did enjoy reading about these two authors, their friendship, their writing and the world they lived in. I am convinced though that I would probably have enjoyed this book more if I had known more about Dickens and Collins and had been (more) familiar with their works.