2009 Book Reviews

April 2009

More Deaths than One by Marjorie Eccles

Much like the previous book by the same author- classic-flavored British police mystery. I didn't find the police characters especially sympathetic, but some of the others were interesting, and once again, she cleverly slid a major clue right by under my nose. For that alone, I had to admire it. Otherwise, I found it readable though not compelling.

*

Blood Test by Jonathan Kellerman

I've seen these around for ages and finally picked one up at the library. It's very well paced and made for a page-turning read. And yet, the characters didn't really grip me. I'd read another one if I was in the mood for a thriller, but won't be rushing to seek them out.

*

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

Okay, I don't usually review cookbooks. But this one, I not only checked out of the library but read much of, and tried the basic recipe. And, it's really good. Five minutes is slight hyperbole, but it's a collection of recipes for bread where you refrigerate the dough without kneading, and then can bake a loaf at a time as needed. Very tasty, with a nice chewy crust- a nice contrast to my usual bread machine fare. I will likely buy a copy for myself- clearly just checking it out from the library isn't going to be enough

*

Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski

Another sort of book I don't usually review is books of knitting patterns. But again, this is one I read through. The patterns are gorgeous and the ethnic backgrounds of each made for interesting reading. I'm only sorry I didn't have a chance to try any before it had to go back.

*

What Einstein Told His Cook 2 by Robert L. Wolke

A collection of cooking science essays- if you're a fan of Shirley Corriher (whose BakeWise I'm slowing working through at the moment) or Alton Brown, you'll find this very enjoyable and informative. Robert Wolke answers reader questions on the whys and hows of food. The easy creme anglaise recipe is good, too.

*

Knitter's Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman

Another knitting book of deserved renown- I enjoyed the writing though again, did not have the chance to try any patterns while I had it out.

*

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg

The Alex of the title was an African gray parrot of enormous charm and personality. I would have liked to have heard more about the science of animal intelligence that he helped scientists study- the book only skims over it. But the book, like the bird, was delightful.

*

March 2009

The Shadow: The Murder Master and The Hydra by by Walter Gibson (writing as Maxwell Grant)

A new reprint of the classic pulp novels- great fun for fans of the genre.

*

Cast a Cold Eye by Marjorie Eccles

British police mystery in the classic mold- not a procedural exactly, nor even completely a fair play mystery, but I had to admire a crucial clue hidden in plain sight before the reader. The characters seemed a bit sketchy, but that may in part be due to me having picked up a middle book in the series. Overall, quite enjoyable.

Dry Storeroom No. 1 by Richard Fortey

A long rambling loving memoir of a big rambling institution. Fortey reminisces about his many years at the British Museum of Natural History, the work it does, and the many interesting characters he's known there. Dry Storeroom No. 1 is a fascinating read, a passionate argument for basic research in biology and systematics, and love letter to the organization that has enabled his life's work.

*

Rereads
Smoke and Mirrors by Tanya Huff
Smoke and Ashes by Tanya Huff
Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett
Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett
The Return of the Shadow by Walter Gibson
The Shadow (movie novelization) by James Luceno

*

February 2009

The Big Necessity by Rose George

A fascinating and frequently appalling look at toilets and sanitation- the good, the bad, and the non-existent. Highly recommended- though not as lunchtime reading.

*

Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer

You wouldn't think that one could say enough about a single strain of bacteria to fill a popular science book- and you'd be definitely wrong. Bacteria, those 'simple' one-celled creatures, turn out to be unbelievably complex and quite fascinating. The science is not dumbed down, so you might need to look up a few things while reading, but it's worth the trouble. Also, the author does a good job of relating the research to macro-world concerns.

*

Rereads:
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff
Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

*

Five of a Kind by Rex Stout
The Father Hunt by Rex Stout
If Death Ever Slept by Rex Stout
Death of a Dude by Rex Stout

More stories in the Nero Wolfe series. Charming, fun, strongly evocative of the period.

*

January 2009

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
Lord Peter (anthology) by Dorothy Sayers

I'm not going to review these individually- they are deserved classics of the mystery genre- not only for their puzzles but for their literate and entertaining characters. Its notable that the Gaudy Night (and to some extent Busman's Honeymoon) are vastly different in style from the prior efforts- and are more novels than mysteries- and therefore may appeal to different audiences.

*

The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards

If you're the kind of person who likes a psychological modern novel set in a beautiful and interesting area, flavored with a dash of mystery, you'll likely enjoy this. I spent most of the book wanting to smack the main characters and tell them to stop dwelling on their personal histories and get on with investigating the crime already. A pity, because the setup, setting and crime were all quite interesting- and there was an effort at giving the reader a chance to figure things out, albeit feeble. I had thought of trying another by this author, to see if the main characters become less silly and self-absorbed, but a survey of the next one at the library suggests that they do not.

*

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter

A fascinating look at English grammar, why it's weird, and how it got that way, in a lively and engaging narrative. Highly recommended for those interested in linguistics and history.

*

Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare

A mystery set in 30's Britain. The writing was amusing, but I felt it suffered for lack of a definite main character.

*

Rereads:
Blood Sport by Dick Francis
Summer of the Dragon by Elizabeth Peters
Curses! by Aaron Elkins
Longshot by Dick Francis
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Point Blanc by Anthony Horowitz
Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz
Eagle Strike by Anthony Horowitz
Ark Angel by Anthony Horowitz

*

Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald

A middle one of the Travis McGee novels. Classic hard-boiled detective/suspense fiction.

*

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare
With a Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare

Classic murder mysteries with dry British humor and literate style.

*

Evil Star by Anthony Horowitz (Book 2 of the Gatekeepers)
Nightrise by Anthony Horowitz (Book 3 of the Gatekeepers)

YA horror. It's got an interesting premise but he had to work too hard getting people where he wanted them, and the third book switches mostly to new protagonists which weakens the series considerably. Not in the same class with his Alex Rider series.

*

San Andreas by Alistair MacLean

It' s a common phenomenon with popular authors that later books sometimes read like outlines for the books they wrote at the height of their powers. That's the case with this one. Set on a merchant marine ship in the North Sea in winter, a saboteur stalks the decks. The plot is reasonably good, but the characterization and development of subplots is sketchy at best. I quite often had to remind myself who the various characters were. And the dramatic setting lacks the evocative and visceral descriptions of Ice Station Zebra or The Secret Ways. It's hardly MacLean's worst book and was a reasonably fast read, but it's not up to the standard he set in earlier years.

*

Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly

The even sillier sequel to Seven Deadly Wonders. To improbable action and goofy archeology we add even goofier astronomy. The action still remains amusing and fast paced, but the plot is so far over the top that it's rather hard to suspend disbelief.

*

Duainfey by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

I'm sorry to say that I found this very disappointing. It suffered from several major structural problems. There were two plots which basically do not intersect (it's strongly implied that they will in the sequel). The A-plot starts off in a way that suggests one kind of story, but then turns into quite another- one rather reminiscent of the later Laurell Hamilton, it must be said, something I was not expecting. In both plots the characters take very little action that obviously advances the plot...it read like a fairly extended setup for another story. This is IMO more likely to appeal to Hamilton fans than to those of more traditional fantasy.

*

Stratification: Book 1: Reap The Wild Wind by Julie Czerneda

Now this is more like it! Hard SF, with Czerneda's trademark excellent biology, this has a nicely paced plot that does a slow reveal of the three native societies and an interesting first contact with alien visitors- humans. It's not a total cliffhanger- but it's definitely first in a series. I'm pleased that I waited for the second one to come out-and a bit sorry I don't have all three in the bag.

*

Stratification: Book 2: Riders of the Storm by Julie Czerneda

Book 2 continues the slow reveal, exposes more of the various plots, history and more of the planet, and moves the story along somewhat. Not as strong as the first, but then, it's a middle book. I look forward to reading the remaining book or books when they appear.

*

And Four to Go by Rex Stout

A collection of four short stories in the Nero Wolfe series. As my husband puts it, a lot of the pleasure of reading these is in spending time with Wolfe and Archie. Classic mysteries, neither especially distinguished nor disappointing. Reading them in the 21st century, they strongly evoke the era in which they were written.

*

Rereads:
With the Lightnings by David Drake
Lt. Leary Commanding by David Drake
The Far Side of the Stars by David Drake
The Way to Glory by David Drake
Some Golden Harbor by David Drake

*