Sunday, 21 February 2021

A Weekend Update and My Favorite Authors

Since your dumping of snow last weekend, it's been a lovely week. The yards are beginning to show green again and my snowman is just a shadow of his former self. Poor guy. Of course, the dogs haven't brought back his hat yet. I may have to go out and get it myself. There are a bit in the dumps at the moment because their toys are in the washing machine. Clyde always watches me closely when I move them from the washer to the dryer. So cute!

I've finished two books this weekend, one I've been working on since January and the other a quick little mystery from my February Focus author, M.C. Beaton. I'll provide the reviews of both and also the synopses of the next books in line. Then I'll continue with my ongoing look at favorite authors. 7 to go after this entry. What will I do next?

Just Finished

1. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke (Inkworld #3). This is the final book in this excellent fantasy trilogy. (Ed Note: It seems there might be a 4th book coming out in 2021, a German edition anyway. We'll see.)

"Inkdeath is the 3rd and final book in Cornelia Funke's Inkworld trilogy. It's an intimidating length but once you get going and back into the flow of Inkworld, it's a page turner that you'll find difficult to put down. I admit it took me a while to finish but then again I'm usually reading more than one book at a time. Today I sat down the final 200ish pages and just went at it. So good!

It's such a rich, fascinating series that it's difficult to describe the story in a few words, but let's see. Inkworld is a world in a book series created by Italian author, Fenoglio. Over the course of the 1st two books, characters from the books have been read into our world by Mo and Meggie. Mo is a bookbinder and has the ability to read characters from books out of those books, hence his nickname Silvertongue. There are other people who can do this, including Mo's son, Meggie, bad guy Orpheus and others. Mo's wife, Resa, spent the 1st book a prisoner in Inkworld. Mo and Meggie live with Mo's aunt, Elinor, a big-time book collector.

By the time we get to Book 3, pretty well the whole family, sans Elinor, as well as Orpheus, Fenoglio, Farid (a character read out of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves) find themselves transported to Inkworld, along with all of those characters who had originally come from Inkworld. (Confused yet?) Mo has now become the Blue Jay, a character created by Fenoglio to battle against the books' villains especially the evil King, the Adderhead. Inkdeath chronicles everybody's adventures until the final, fantastic ending.

So much goes on in this story and we meet so many fantastic characters and creatures. It's not a story for the faint of heart. It's gritty, depressing at times,  filled with action and many interacting story lines. The villains are really bad people, from the Adderhead, to the Piper of the silver nose and Thumbling (can you guess how he got his name?) Orpheus is really really bad, selfish, willing to do anything to gain riches etc. The good guys are out and out good guys and some are a bit more enigmatic. But there are so many great ones, Dustfinger of the fire creating hands, brothers Darius and the Strongman, the Black Prince and his bear, Minerva, the wonderful land lady of Fenoglio and Roxanne, Dustfinger's wife, etc. And there are so many others, tragic, like Violante, the Adderhead's daughter and her son, Jacopo... I could go on. I liked the creatures too, especially the Glass men, who work as scribes for Fenoglio and Orpheus and are great spies. It's so rich and wonderful.

There are ups and downs, surprises, both of the good kind and traumatic. It jumps from character to character and keeps you on your toes. As the story builds, it gets better and better. I loved the ending and was at the same time happy and sad; especially knowing it was the last of a wonderful trilogy. It left me choked up and feeling somewhat bereft that I won't get to spend time with these people anymore. So excellent. A must read series. (5 stars)"

2. Death of an Addict by M.C. Beaton (Hamish MacBeth #15).







"Death of an Addict is the 15th book in the Hamish MacBeth mystery series by M.C. Beaton. It's an interesting story, with Constable MacBeth of Lochdubb, Scotland, investigating the death of a young man and going under cover to infiltrate drug dealers in Strathbane.

I'm not reading these in order, just reading those I've got on my book shelf, so it's apparent that some things have gone on in Hamish's personal life that I've missed. Having said that, it doesn't take away from the story and you can get the gist of it.

Hamish goes to Drim, a village in his constabulary, to investigate reports of a sea monster in the Loch. While there he meets a young man renting a chalet from another local. Also there is a young lady, renting another of the chalets. This young man will turn up dead, presumed dead of an overdose. The boy's parents tell Hamish that the boy had once been addicted to heroin but had turned his life around. The whole thing seems to be questionable to Hamish, but his superiors in Strathbane feel it's an open and closed case.

Hamish takes time off from his work as local constable and begins an investigation on his own. His findings result in a bigger investigation of drug runners in the area. Det Inspector Olivia Chater is brought in from the Glasgow force to work with Hamish undercover to try and catch the local big guys in the drug enterprises.

This will involve pretending to be a big man in drugs as well and even mean a trip to Amsterdam. Hamish must learn to work with Olivia.. Hamish has trouble dealing with women, shyness and a habit of falling in love, and Olivia has felt the pressure of being a senior female police officer, which makes for a sometimes prickly relationship.

It's an entertaining story with sufficient action to hold your interest and some nice twists in the plot. It's all a new experience for Hamish, moving from his quiet rural constabulary to the high stakes drug trade. Most enjoyable. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (Dark is Rising #2). I enjoyed the first book in this YA fantasy series very much.






""When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back, three from the circle, three from the track; wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone; five will return, and one go alone.”

With these mysterious words, Will Stanton discovers on his 11th birthday that he is no mere boy. He is the Sign-Seeker, last of the immortal Old Ones, destined to battle the powers of evil that trouble the land. His task is monumental: he must find and guard the six great Signs of the Light, which, when joined, will create a force strong enough to match and perhaps overcome that of the Dark. Embarking on this endeavor is dangerous as well as deeply rewarding; Will must work within a continuum of time and space much broader than he ever imagined."


2. Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came by M.C. Beaton (Agatha Raisin #12).

"Marital bliss was short-lived for Agatha Raisin. Her marriage to James Lacey was a disaster from the beginning, and in the end, he left her-not for another woman, but for God. After having been miraculously cured of a brain tumor, James has decided to join a monastery in France. Agatha can usually depend on her old friend, Sir Charles Fraith, to be there when times are tough, but even Charles has abandoned her, dashing off to Paris to marry a young French tart.

Miserable and alone, Agatha hops on a plane and heads for a remote island in the South Pacific. To Agatha's surprise, she makes friends with her fellow travelers easily, and keeps herself out of mischief, despite the odd feeling she gets from one particularly attractive honeymooning couple. But when she later finds that the pretty bride has drowned under suspicious circumstances, Agatha wishes she had found a way to intervene.

Returning home to the Cotswolds, Agatha is grimly determined to move on with her life and to forget about James and Charles. They have, after all, forgotten about her. And what better way than to throw herself into another murder investigation? A woman, dressed in a wedding gown and still clutching her bouquet, has just been found floating in a river. The police say it's suicide, but Agatha suspects the girl's flashy young fiancé. With the help of her handsome, and single, new neighbor, Agatha sets off to prove the police wrong."

My Favorite Authors - Julie Smith

Julie Smith
Julie Smith was born in Annapolis Maryland in 1944 and is the author of novels, short stories and 4 mystery series. I've tried 3 of them so far and each is unique in its own way, one set in California and the others in New Orleans. I'll highlight the 6 books I've read so far.

1. New Orleans Mourning (Skip Langdon #1 / 1990).

"It's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and civic leader and socialite Chauncy St. Amant has been crowned Rex, King of Carnival. But his day of glory comes to an abrupt and bloody end when a parade-goer dressed as Dolly Parton guns him down. Is the killer his aimless, promiscuous daughter Marcelle? Homosexual, mistreated son Henry? Helpless, alcoholic wife Bitty? Or some unknown player? Turns out the king had enemies...

Enter resourceful heroine Skip Langdon, a rookie police officer and former debutante turned cynic of the Uptown crowd. Scouring the streets for clues, interviewing revelers and street people with names like Jo Jo, Hinky, and Cookie, and using her white glove contacts, the post-deb rebel cop encounters a tangled web of brooding clues and ancient secrets that could mean danger for her—and doom for the St. Amants." (3 stars)

2. The Axeman's Jazz (Skip Langdon #2 / 1991).







"What’s the perfect killing field for a murderer?

A place where he (or maybe she) can learn your secrets from your own mouth and then make friends over coffee. A supposedly "safe" place where anonymity is the norm. The horror who calls himself The Axeman has figured it out and claimed his territory--he's cherry-picking his victims in the 12-Step programs of New Orleans.

And he's had the gall to name himself after a historical serial killer. He just needs to go down, and fast, because this is New Aw'lins, dawlin'--half the town is either alcoholic or co-dependent!

Who better to take him out than tall, funny, social-misfit Skip Langdon, now a homicide detective on the Axeman team, a gig that takes her into the 12-Step groups to meet the suspects (giving author Smith a chance for gentle satire). As Skip threads her fascinated way from one self-help group to another, she finds she has more in common with the twelve-steppers than just the murder—her mother, for one thing, whom she encounters at Over-eaters Anonymous! And she knows what they do not: that among their anonymous numbers is a murderous, and dangerously attractive psychopath." (3 stars)

3. The Sourdough Wars (Rebecca Schwartz #2 / 1984).







"The Sourdough Wars by Julie Smith is Smith's second book in her Rebecca Schwartz mystery series. She also writes the Skip Langdon and Tabitha Walls' series. Rebecca Schwarz is a lawyer based in San Francisco working in partnership with her friend, Chris Nicholson. This mystery finds them involved in the world of Sourdough bread and bakeries.

Both attend a play by acquaintance Peter Martinelli. Martinelli, it turns out, comes from a family that had been successful in the sourdough bread industry, supposedly very big in the San Francisco area. He inherited the 'starter' dough for their famous sourdough bread. Martinelli is persuaded to sell this starter dough off at an auction, which sparks interest from rival bakers, the brothers Tosi, Sally Devereaux (a smaller baker) and Clayton Thompson, rep for a major bread-making conglomerate. All the interested parties arrive for the auction but when Martinelli doesn't show up, Rebecca and her boy-friend Rob the reporter discover his dead body (murdered).

This begins an investigation by Rebecca, Rob and Chris into the world of sourdough bread and who might be guilty of the murder. It's a fun ride, in a similar vein as those of Lilian Jackson Braun's 'Cat who' mysteries, or Karen Kijewski's Kat Colorado mysteries. There are plenty of suspects, including all the competing parties and even Peter Martinelli's sister, who had also wanted the starter dough.

Combined a quick paced mystery / adventure with lots of action, you also have Rebecca's relationships, with her Jewish parents, her sister and boyfriend and all of the other's mentioned. It's not a complex mystery, just an entertaining one. Enjoy. (3 stars)"

4. New Orleans Beat (Skip Langdon #4 / 1994).

"While I won't say the Skip Langdon mystery series is one of my top ten mysteries, the stories by Julie Smith are always different and entertaining. New Orleans Beat is the 4th book in the series and maybe one of the best so far.

In this latest story, New Orleans police detective, Skip Langdon, is called to the scene of a death (murder?) of a young man, Geoff Kavanagh, who lived at the home of his mother. He is found at the bottom of a ladder, a death initially called an accident. As the story progresses, Skip begins to suspect that Geoff's death was, in fact, a murder.

The story will involve many people, many damaged people, as Skip gets more into the investigation. As well, Skip is dealing with the frustrations of a long-distance relationship and with helping her best friend Dee-Dee raise his 'adopted' children, a teenage girl and younger brother. It makes for a messy, packed story.

I admit that, mainly because I have 4 or 5 stories on the go at one time, I sometimes had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was who, but that is my issue, not yours. There is so much going on that it makes for a fascinating tale. Aspects that particularly interested me. The story was published in '94 and I liked reading about the online group, The Town. It reminded me of the impact of my first online communities. There is also 'witchcraft', a group of woman supporting each other. Is it a factor in the murder(s)?

Part of the story struck a chord with me as well, especially considering what is going on in America today. There is an ongoing theme about the appropriateness of blacks and whites dating. Skip, dealing with her relationship problems, finds herself attracted to a black man. I don't know if Smith is criticizing this issue (meaning she feels it's not an issue) or just commenting on it as a fact of American life at that particular time. As an aside I do recall being on course in Oakland in the '90s and finding it strange when one of my white American classmates said she thought it was disgusting when we saw a black man with a white woman (but if I recall, not if it were the other way). Anyway, not here to debate the issue, but just found it interesting and somewhat unsettling.

So, all in all, a rich, layered story with a somewhat untidy, but interesting, mystery and ending. Ultimately satisfying. (4 stars)"

5. Death Turns a Trick (Rebecca Schwartz #1 / 1982).







"A light, entertaining, well-paced mystery, the first Rebecca Schwartz mystery. A nice, spunky character, a lawyer in San Francisco who gets involved in a murder in her apartment and works to keep her boyfriend from being charged/ found guilty of the crime. It's not a deep crime mystery, just good fun. I like Rebecca and her sister Mickey and the other characters that were introduced. Entertaining and comforting. 3.5 stars. I'll read more of this series. (3 stars)"

6. Louisiana Lament (Talba Wallis #3 / 2004).







"Louisiana Lament by Julie Smith is the 3rd book in the Talba Wallis mystery series set in New Orleans. I've read books in Smith's other series, one featuring New Orleans cop Skip Langdon and the other San Francisco lawyer, Rebecca Schwarz. This was my first exposure to Talba Wallis.

Wallis is a PI who works for Eddie Valentino. In a previous book she had met her sister, Janessa (same father, different mother). Janessa had told Talba in no uncertain terms that she didn't want anything to do with her. Suddenly she gets a call from Janessa to come help her. On arrival, Talba discovers the dead body of Alyson Brown, Janessa's employee. We discover later that Alyson's daughter has also been murdered. Janessa and her friend, Nathan are both suspects.

Talba persuades her boss to take on the case and this begins the investigation into the murders or murder / suicide. One other aspect of Talba's character that needs to be highlighted is that she is a published poet, under the pseudonym of the Baroness of Pontalba. The story uses poetry at times provide clues to the mystery, an interesting aspect of the story.

There are no shortage of suspects' Alyson's son and other daughter, Janessa and Nathan, Alyson's business partner, etc. it's a meandering story that wanders between Talba and Eddie as they track down the suspects to gather clues. You get a nice picture of parts of New Orleans as the investigation is followed.

It's an interesting story. I found New Orleans interesting and also the main characters. I do find it interesting that Talba is black and the author is white and I wonder how accurate her portrayal of that culture is. At any rate, while not perfect, it is an interesting story and mystery. I will check out the other books in the series. (3 stars)"

I have three more of Smith's books on my shelves, two Skip Langdon and one Rebecca Schwartz. The complete listing of her works can be found at this link. Some reading ideas for you. Enjoy your upcoming week.

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