Dec 4, 2007

Book Review: Hounded To Death by Laurien Berenson

I'm reading Meow Is for Murder, a pet sitter mystery with a ball python named Pythagoras and a dog called Stromboli, not to mention two Bengal cats cutely named Cherise and Carnie. I noticed that the author, Linda O. Johnston resembles another pet mystery writer, Laurien Berenson, whose latest mystery, Hounded to Death, I've just finished.

These two writers could be sisters or even twins, I thought. They both have the same kind of hair, same length, and style, and their features are similar. One parts her hair on the right, the other on the left, however. One wears glasses, the other doesn't. Well, I don't think they are the same person, writing under pseudonyms as some writers are wont to do.

Besides, one likes King Charles Spaniels and lives in California, and the other loves poodles and writes in Kentucky.

Their writing styles are also different.

Meow is for Murder is full of alliterative fun. Johnston loves to play with words, which she does all through her book. Berenson in Hounded to Death has amusing characters though she also has a pun in her book title. They write about different personalities altogether - a pet sitter cum lawyer versus a special needs tutor cum dog trainer. (Seems dealing with pets isn't nearly enough - main character must also have a respectable profession),

Both authors however have a great time creating zany or colorful characters to move their mystery plots along - one about pet sitting two Bengal cats, the other about dog show personalities and a dog show symposium.

Both involve murder, of course. And, naturally, the pets are not among the guilty parties.

Dec 2, 2007

Book Review: Death of a Maid by M.C. Beaton

Death of A Maid by M. C. Beaton, another in the Hamish McBeth "Cozy"series that features the adventures of a quirky Scottish policeman in a small Highland village. A light mystery novel? I recommend it.

The mystery of a maid "done in" is the latest that Hamish the policeman must solve, looking for anyone with "means, motive, and opportunity." And the motive for murder is a popular one in British cozies - blackmail. But which of the ones being blackmailed did the dirty deed. The popularity of the series lies as much in the plots, I think, as with the pictureque Highland setting and the character of the policeman himself.

In every book in the series, Hamish sidesteps being drawn into marriage by a girlfriend or pushed into the arms of someone by the villagers who want to see him happily married. He also avoids notoriety, letting his boss take the credit for all the crimes he solves, and avoiding promotion and being sent from the quiet of his beloved village.

Hamish's quirkiness endears him to his readers. He likes living alone with his wild lynx-like cat, his dog, and the sheep and hens he raises in his backyard. He has a perfect view of the ocean and the rough landscape from his living quarters in the police station. And he is known and liked by just about everyone in the village and the nearby towns. Thr maid in question is not missed by many, even by those she works for. But Hamish solves the crime, once again removes an offender from the village scene, and sends the perpetrator off to prison elsewhere. At the end of each novel, peace descends again on the village, thanks to Hamish. As it should, in a Cozy mystery.

Finished reading Beaton's Death of a Gentle Lady, again with Constable Hamish Macbeth of the Scottish highland village of Lochdubh (fictional). Hamish tries to help save his police station and a Russian maid by proposing marriage, with grave consequences. Marriage eludes the policeman once again, though he does solve two or three murders.

Nov 24, 2007

Book Review: Who's Kitten Who? by Cynthia Baxter

Who's Kitten Who? (Reigning Cats & Dogs Mystery, #6)

Who's Kitten Who?  (Reigning Dogs and Cats Mystery) by Cynthia Baxter,  December 2007.

Long Island veterinarian Jessica Popper is more than busy. Not only is she visiting clients in her mobile clinic, which she refers to as her "clinic-on-wheels," and hosting a segment of Pet People on local TV, but she has to fit in the plans of several other people.

Her friend and landlady, Betty Vandervoort, insists that Jessica try to solve the murder of actor and playwright Simon Wainwright, who is a member of an amateur theater group that
Betty has joined, and whose body was found stuffed in a trunk in a dressing room in the theater. When one of the actors decides to leave the play after the murder, Jessica is offered a small part. As a member of the group, she is now in a position to observe and interview all the cast members, the prime suspects in the murder. .

Jessica has other things to worry about as well. She is to be the maid of honor at Betty's wedding and also has to prepare for the visit of her fiance's parents. Nick's parents bring their pampered little dog Mitzi and stays with Jessica and Nick in their tiny cottage, already filled with Jessica's pets - two dogs, two cats, a talkative parrot, plus a Jackson's chameleon.

To make matters worse for Jessica, Nick objects to her detecting and her other activities, which he says take too much time away from him. Newsday reporter Forrester Sloan tries to step into Nick's shoes and into Jessica's love life while helping her in her detecting. Police lieutenant Anthony Falcone tries to discourage Jessica at every turn from interfering in the murder investigation.

In the end, after several scary moments and at least one attempt on her life, Jessica does find the killer and manages to also smooth out her personal life.

We learn a lot about theater production as well, as we follow Jessica through her rehearsals, her costume and make up sessions, and her observations on how complex lighting and scenery add to the success of a play.

Witty dialogue and interesting sub-plots make this an enjoyable, "cozy" read. This is the sixth book in the Reigning Cats and Dogs Mystery series by Cynthia Baxter.

Oct 7, 2007

Sudoku Mystery Novels, Anyone?

Shelley Freydont's hardcover, The Sudoku Murder is a novel for the general mystery buff.

Kaye Morgan's paperback, Death by Sudoku is a book for the mystery buff who is also a serious sudoku puzzle player. Morgan has also written another on the same theme, Murder by Numbers.

Take your pick.
Katie McDonald, in The Sudoku Murder, is a Ph.D math whiz who works for a hush-hush government think tank. She has a photographic memory, grew up learning to solve many different types of puzzles, and is loyal to her childhood mentor and friend, Prof. P.T. Avondale. She takes a long vacation and returns home to New Hampshire when the professor calls for her help to save his beloved puzzle museum from a bank foreclosure.

Certain parties, including the owner of the bank, would like to see the museum building razed and a more profitable shopping mall in its place. Soon after returning home, however, Katie finds herself solving a different kind of puzzle, the mystery of the professor's murder. The book is entertaining and doesn't require the reader to solve puzzles of any kind or even to think very hard.

Liza Kelly in Death by Sudoku, is a math whiz of a different sort - a former Hollywood publicist who is secretly a sudoku addict, and also part Asian. (Japanese, maybe?)

This protagonis also returns to her hometown, but to live a simpler life and write puzzles for a local newspaper, the Oregon Daily. Liza soon discovers that secret messages are being sent nationwide to followers of a group out to create mayhem and murder, and the messages are being sent via the Sudoku puzzles printed in a Seattle newspaper.

The plot and the solution are as elaborate as a very difficult Soduku puzzle and only the most serious of Sudoku fans can, or want to, follow it. Learn about Naked Pairs, Hidden Pairs, Swordfish, X-Wings, Nishio, and other chains of logic to help you solve the most daunting of puzzles. And at the very end of the book, as an added bonus, are.....Sudo-Cues!!

Sudo-Cues: Ten Things Not To Do At A Sudoku Tournament! Don't, for example, expect it to be easy, don't forget your brain, or your allergy pills, and don't forget you're in public! (Sudoku is, of course, normally a solitary kind of activity).

Kaye Morgan's next Sudoku mystery novel is scheduled for 2008. I only hope it'll be easier for the general mystery reader cum puzzle player to get through. Yes, I do plan to read it, even though I might have to face Sword fish, X-Wings, Nishio, or other unfathomable chains of logic.

Sep 30, 2007

Book Review: Chamomile Mourning by Laura Childs

One of my latest book finds, Chamomile Mourning (2005), happens to be the sixth in the Tea Shop Mystery series by author Laura Childs.

Set in Charleston, So. Carolina, the mystery is centered around the Indigo Tea Shop, its owner Theodosia Browning, her master tea blender Drayton Conneley, and her pastry chef and tea sandwich maker, Haley Parker. (The first names of the characters seem to conjure up old, historical Charleston).

The book quickly immerses us in tea lore while also telling its story; Drayton, the tea connosieur, serves his customers unusual teas such as Royal Golden Yunnan, Dragonwell tea, Nilgiri tea, Chin Sun Oolong from Thailand, Mai Jiang green tea from China, African Redbush, Darjeeling, the "champagne of teas," and many more.

Theo uses only the best for her tea- Crown Dorset, Spode, and willow-pattern teapots, for example- and serves pastries, savories, and light lunches at elegant tables with linen napkins, silverware, and fresh flowers.

The plot thickens when she leaves the relative safety of her teashop to venture outside of Charleston to solve the murder of auction house owner, Roger Crispin, whose untimely death ruined her rose-decorated cake and the rest of the Poet's Tea at a local Heritage Society get-together.

Theodosia interviews people in the backwoods, avoids being run off the road, and narrowly escapes death by bullet and by quicksand.

She also finds a new love interest in this novel.

The contrast of the teashop setting in Charleston and the wilderness and swamps of South Carolina adds some heady spice to the last part of the book. The pace of the novel picks up at the very end of the book and saves Chamomile Mourning from being just a novel about tea making, hatmaking, interior decorating, and frivolous fashion.

Tea lovers, however, will have a good time reading about different varieties of tea and the foods they complement. They may also enjoy the book's bonus recipes for strawberry biscuits, cinnamon-apple scones, marmalade and cream cheese tea sandwiches, chocolate tea, and she-crab soup!

Sep 20, 2007

Sudoku Mysteries

Seen at Barnes and Noble: the first in a new Sudoku Mystery Series by Kaye Morgan. Do we have inventive and savvy writers or what?

Here are several mysteries with the sudoku theme, by different authors. I haven't read any of these as yet, but have them on my "To Check Out and Possibly Read" list.

Death By Sudoku: A Sudoku Mystery by Kaye Morgan, July 2007.

Murder By Numbers: A Sudoku Mystery by Kaye Morgan, January 2008.

The Sudoku Murder: A Katie McDonald Mystery by Shelley Fredont, April 2007.

The Sudoku Puzzle Murders: A Puzzle Lady Mystery by Parnell Hall, April 2008.

Aug 19, 2007

Medusa: The Beginning, book review

Kathi Harris's Medusa: The Beginning is a 730-page novel, divided into several sections, the first section set in the West Indian island of Jamaica, where Kathi was born and raised. Here she details the lives of two young people from the countryside who meet in the capital city, Kingston, where they marry and raise a family of five girls, the last girl later becoming the heroine of this science fiction novel.

The first section, 221 pages, I would call "The Quintessential Jamaican Novel," were it a book in itself. The story reflects Jamaican customs and manners in detail, and the dialect or patois spoken and understood by all Jamaicans is used heavily in this section. Kathi has added a glossary for all readers, which "translates" some of the dialect words and expressions into standard English.

In the second section of the book, the family migrates to America and settles in Florida. There they encounter life and the culture of a different country, but more opportunities open up to them. This section deals with American politics at home and abroad and tackles global problems such as pollution, changes in the environment, and introduces in her novel, a Black president!

Kathi's website, Larksong, gives a summary of the novel's plot and the importance of the young girl, Lark, to this sci-fi story of the survival of mankind.

A higher education and counseling graduate from the University of Toledo, where she received her Ph.D., she admits she prefers writing to just about anything else and is now waiting to publish Book II in the Medusa series.

An article from the London Times discusses how sci fi can point to the things we should be concerned about:
Why Don't We Love Science Fiction:

Book provided by the author for my objective review.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...