Sunday 24 January 2010

Sunday Salon: Some Science Fiction

Apology: Yesterday I wrote that the actress who starred in the English version of the Kurt Wallender tv mysteries had killed herself. I thank the blogger who wrote in quite rightly furious with my mistake - my apologies, the English actress did not kill herself, it was the Swedish actress Johanna Sallstrom who committed suicide in Feb 2007. The article that brought the story to my attention is here, from the Guardian website. So, the error is all mine! In my mind, I knew I was writing about the Swedish actress, but I unfortunately did not make it clear in my writing. Many apologies to the English actress. **although, I do say in my defense, that the article doesn't say that a different actress played Linda in the English version, so, I thought it meant Ms Sallstrom had appeared in the Kenneth Brannagh version as his daughter.

Now, onto the Sunday Salon:
The Sunday

Some Science Fiction, for a change.....

I have a book review! I have read Farthing by Jo Walton for Carl's Sci Fi Experience, which also counts for Becky's 42 Science Fiction things. I also saw a science fiction show on dvd last weekend, Firefly, which I will also give a little review here. Now, I went to Jo Walton's site, and discovered that she is writing for Tor Publishers online, and she has a recent post here, which is about reading science fiction. ( If it doesn't link directly, the post date was Jan 18.) I think it is a very interesting post. It is an attempt to explain why some people can read science fiction, and why some people can't. It has to do with the ability to look at words like 'tachyon drive' and know it means faster than light, but to not get hung up on whether the tachyon drive exists or could exist and what that would mean; science fiction is about what would happen to people if it could exist. Let me know what you think about Jo's post, and let her know too!

I was surprised to see she is considered Canadian now, since she is from Wales. I had always thought of her as a British writer. Now she lives in Montreal. And here is another interesting post from today by her, on what sf books to introduce to readers who haven't read SF before....

Now, on to Farthing. Farthing is set in 1949 England, after the war that is ended by forming a peace with Hitler. This is an alternative history book. Part of the charm for me of alternate history is to see what is different, and how the author has worked it in. In Farthing, the British political scene is rather different - Churchill never became the grand leader of the country, he remained a minor politician, because one of the characters in the novel went to Germany and fashioned a peace with Hitler so he could turn his attention to the East and Russia. The peace is holding, although the price has been high: the continent is under Hitler's control, and the Jews are still going to work camps and highly restricted. Farthing is about a murder mystery that takes place in a country mansion featuring the main politicos in the Conservative party who helped engineer the peace, so they are called the Farthing Set. When one of the main party members is killed, the house guests fall under suspicion. A yellow star is pinned to the chest of the victim. Only one character is Jewish, and he is being framed.

This was an unsettling book for me to read. I have difficulties with fascism, with totalitariasm, with basic loss of freedom. I tend to get very anxious and start rants in my head - yes, even with characters! who are being unfair and abusing power terribly. I know it's a story, but it felt real, both the alternate history and the usurping of powers for 'the good of the nation'. It was creepy, frightening, astonishingly fast, and very well-done. At the same time, I could not put this book down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the history aspects that are the same and different. The mystery is fun - it's a major part of this novel, but as this is the first of three (Ha'Penny and Half a Crown are the others in the trilogy), it also sets the stage, and end with the story hanging. I have to know what happens! It is also a very open and brave look at what people will do to survive, making a commentary on how - by showing how easily fascism arrives in England - how easily it came to Germany. A few look the other way, and it's here. The characters are very well done, the mystery is good, and the setting is fantastic. It is really a very good book. It was a nominee for both the Nebula and the John W. Campbell award in 2007. I am curious if the characters who look the other way in this book, find a way back to honour or not, if they find a way to take a stand - and I have to know what happens to Lucy and David Kahn, the two main characters caught in the middle of the mystery. I give this a 4.5/5.

Firefly - Season 1, on DVD. Firefly has been out since 2002 on DVD. It only aired for one season, during the last years of Buffy. It's made by the same creator, Joss Whedon. There are no vampires, no kick-ass wait, there is one kick-ass girl. This is where Summer Glau (lately of Terminator: the Series fame) made her appearance, as River. And she has some stunning moves. But the series isn't about her. It's about Mal, the captain of a transport for hire ship with his crew for hire: Zoe, his loyal sargeant from the war, who continues to serve as his second in command, and her husband Wash, the pilot (completely endearing himself to us when he plays with dinosaurs at the console); Jayne, who has more guns than any person should and whose ethics are questionable as well as his loyalty; Kaylee, the engineer, the sweetest girl who can understand engines; and Inara, the companion , who rents out a shuttle from Mal, and provides him with a decent cover of civilization when his rebellious outlook would get him banned from many worlds. Into this come Simon, a doctor, who has rescued his sister River from the clutches of a dubious government experiment. They are both extremely intelligent, but completely naive about life off-planet. And off in the corner, because this is Joss Whedon, there are scary monsters in the form of Reavers, who eat people, who are terrifying.

Firefly is science fiction without space suits. Or, as my son said, "this is like cowboys in space". It is. It has the same western code of honour (a man's word is as good as he backs it up with action; all he has to keep him civilized, also, and with honour). I grew up reading westerns, Zane Grey and Louis L'amour, so once I understood that this wasn't typical science fiction with space technology but a gun-slinging western set in space, then I sat back and fell in love. This is pure fun. I enjoy the writing, the characters, the stories with each episode, the setting. There are scary moments and funny times, and unexpected humour - the same things I loved in Buffy, are here in Firefly. I really wish it had gone beyond one season, but Fox cancelled it, and one season and one movie (Serenity, which I will be watching and reviewing later this year when I'm done the dvd) are all we have.

If you have never seen Firefly, and want some storytelling and action that does have the western ethos about it, then you can do no better than Firefly. I haven't gone into how Mal is kind of an outlaw, because he fought on the losing side of the war, mostly because I want people to be enchanted by this show too as they fall into this amazing world of space adventure. I kind of wish we could have a world like Firefly, without the Alliance (creepy and filled with government bad guys) and the Reavers, of course!!!

Firefly is as delightful as ever, and I am now working my way through the series. For Carl's Sci-Fi Experience, this is a great way to introduce someone to science fiction.

There is a lot of good science fiction out there. As Jo Walton said in her post today, it's a question of finding what you like in this genre, just like it is with any genre. I hope Carl's Reading Experience is helping those who aren't quite sure, to find some science fiction they can really enjoy.

Happy reading (and watching) science fiction, everyone!

Saturday 23 January 2010

quiet on the book blog doesn't mean life is quiet....

So here it is a Saturday at the end of January. I have been uncharacteristically silent on my blog, and I'm not sure why. I'm certainly reading! I think I haven't had lots to say because we have been distracted by the difficulties our five-year-old is experiencing. They are extremely stressful on all of us, and don't leave me much time to read, never mind to blog. We have reached the point of having to ask for outside help, because it has taken over our lives, and has for some time now. While we learn how best to help him, it doesn't leave me much extra time that I used to get. I think about blogging, often! And have several posts lined up in my head: 'Graphic novels and how extraordinary they are", "Why Mary Oliver is my Mentor", "Synchronicities in reading", "and How my reading has changed since I began blogging". As time permits......

What I wanted to write today (in between playing soccer games on the Playstation with the 5 year old and losing badly to him, and making dinner) was how you have affected my book buying recently. Yes, that's you, my dear Gentle Readers. You. Look at the books I recently bought in Chapters!!!
Let's see:
Full Dark House (#1) and The Water Room ( Bryant and May series) , recently recommended by Bookpusher, Cath at Read-Warbler,
Book By Book - Michael Dirda - Nymeth - she recommeneded Classics for Pleasure, but when I went to the store, I wanted to start with this one, which was about how he relates books he's reading to his life
The Company of Liars - Booksplease
Cry Wolf - Patricia Briggs - because Kailana says it's even better than the other series with Mercy Thompson (which I find hard to believe)
The Rough Collier - Pat MacIntosh - Geraniumcat (the only one of the series I could find so far, she's read the earlier ones)
Monkey Beach - Eden Robinson - Stephanie, Dewey
and, because I liked the look of them:
Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy
Greywalker - Kat Richardson
Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark - Mary Wollstonecraft

And last of all, wonderfully arriving from in the mail earlier this week, a copy of An Instance of the Fingerpost, because Ann at Table Talk recommended it as a mystery I must read. There is nothing like receiving a book in the mail, is there?
By the way, the Henning Mankell mystery, Before the Frost, in my photo, is the last Wallander and Wallander mystery Henning Mankell will write featuring Kurt Wallander and his new police-daughter Linda. The actress who played Linda in the recent English series (which starred Kenneth Branagh), killed herself last winter, she was a victim of the terrible tsunami in 2004 and never really got over it, and the author was too grief-stricken to carry on the series. So he is starting a new series featuring a judge, which has just come out. I am two books behind in the series, so I hope to catch up during this, my 50 + mystery book year, before starting the new series.

Chris over at Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of has a post similar to mine, and like me, he is featuring a song that is getting him through his time of relative blog silence. Like me, he has also posted about books we have convinced him to buy, so it's good to know that I am not the only one suffering from this period of quiet! And happily reading while we rest. Here is the song that I listen to almost every day. It's Asleep From a Day, by the Chemical Brothers featuring Hope Sandoval. It is haunting and ethereal and beautiful, and gives me a little window of beauty in my day:

Enjoy. With any luck, I'll be back tomorrow to do my first Sunday Salon post for this year. and thank you, dear readers, I have some excellent new books on my TBR mountain!!!

Sunday 17 January 2010

I've been busy reading......

I can't believe almost two weeks has gone by since I last posted! I really thought it was only last week since I posted.....I've been under the weather, and very happily reading. I've read 4 books so far this month! You already have the review for The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. So I thought for this very late Sunday night, I'd give a short review for the other three books.

Blood on the Strand - Susanna Gregory - Book 2 in the Thomas Chaloner series. Set in 1663 London, this book sees Chaloner asked by Lord Clarendon, for whom he works, to investigate the murder of wealthy merchant and a vagrant who tried to attack the king outside Whitehall. I don't know if it was the aftereffects of Christmas, but I kept falling asleep through the first half of the book. I didn't matter when I tried to read it, I'd start dozing within a few lines. I finally made myself sit and read it for over an hour one day this new year, and the longer period of reading helped. There is a long period of set-up, and lots of double-dealing with the agents, lots of potential murderers. This is all made more complex by the Castle Plot failed set in Ireland before this book opens but many of the same spies are back and are named in a conspirator letter that sees some sentenced to death, which the vagrant turns out to be one of, and so the mystery deepens. Why was Chaloner left off the list? Why are some freed on a King's pardon and others not? Who killed Matthew Webb, and why? There are all sorts of subplots here, which I am glad to say finally in the last quarter of the book satisfyingly pull together. I do enjoy Thomas Chaloner as a character, and there is a serious twist to the ending that caught me unprepared - it's quite good. So while it starts off slowly, there is really good characterization, dialogue, and Restoration London comes to life. It's a 3.5/5 read. I will continue on with this series.

Arctic Chill - Arnaldur Indridason. This is so good! I can see why it made so many lists over at Kerrie's Top Ten Mysteries Poll she was running at the beginning of this year. You, my dear readers, know that I have been talking about Indridason for over a year now, ever since I read Silence of the Grave and Tainted Blood. I can't recommend this series enough. It is well-thought out police-procedural with a main character who is very quiet and a very astute observer of people, although not of himself. It's only in this book that he really begins to wonder how his disappearance from his children's lives has affected them, even as he continues to reveal slowly the deeper aspects of his childhood before and after his brother died, and how that has affected him. It's interesting that he doesn't talk about how burying himself in the snow to survive has affected him, but that's part of the charm of this series. There is time to learn, time to puzzle it out, even as he throws himself into murders to solve them. It is the ones who die alone who get to him,which he admits in Arctic Chill is because of his brother, the ones whose mysteries he has to solve while he waits to solve what happened to his brother all those years ago. This haunting sense envelopes this particular book, as it did the previous one (The Draining Lake, which I have sadly yet to review from last year!). A boy dies alone, and the book is about the investigation into his death.

I found this a moving book to read because the victim's death reminded me a real-life case, of Damilolo Taylor, who was murdered in London in 2000. I don't want to say much more about Damilolo's case because this book has many similarities to the outcome of the real case as well, so I don't want to give anything away to my readers who aren't familiar with the Taylor case. I, as well as most of Britain, was horrified during the investigation, and it is one that I find still affects me now - I expect it always will. So Arctic Chill could have been too similar to a real case, and I am relieved to say it wasn't. It's different enough, that I think it is more a comment on youths and crime today, and modern society. This is a gripping read. I cried at the ending, for both the book and the real life case, again. Even if Arctic Chill is entirely a creation out of the author, it so eerily recreates what happens all over the world that it becomes about a crime we have all heard about, somewhere. This is a mystery, and a series, that really is among the very best currently being written. And all the way through it is a haunting sense of loss that almost feels like music. A slow elegy, a mournful awareness of loss and change, and that some things can't really be recovered from. Excellent. 5/5

The Calling - Inger Ash Wolfe. A new Canadian author! A new mystery series! I'm excited! And how is it, you ask? Very good. It has its flaws (this is good to see in a first novel, because otherwise I'd be completely jealous that a first novel could be perfect!), mostly regarding how the acting chief of police for the tiny town of Port Dundas, Ontario, could lead a country wide investigation for a serial killer. To Wolfe's credit much of it is credible; I only wonder at Inspector Hazel Micallef not getting into major trouble as she would in real life, for not calling in the RCMP, although this is kind of talked about in the book, it's not what would happen in real life. That aside, this is really well-written. Hazel Micallef is believable as the acting Inspector of her station - acting because her superior officer actually wants to amalgamate the station with others in the region, thus cutting costs, so he won't hire a permanent Inspector. The killer is believable and surprisingly sympathetic at times. The premise is an elderly woman dying of cancer is found murdered in her home. When links are discovered to another murder later that weekend, suspicions begin to amount even though the murders are over 300 km apart.

The supporting cast of detectives is very well-drawn, the dialogue is excellent, the descriptions of Ontario in the fall makes me wish it was fall again! and the pace is fast and this is a very enjoyable mystery. I highly recommend it, and very much look forward to reading her new one later this year when it comes out in paperback. 4.7/5

****Hmm. Just discovered while downloading the pictures of the books, that Inger Ash Wolfe is a pseudonym for a "well-known Canadian literary figure". So not a first novel!!!***** Well, at least I don't have to worry at it's being soooo good for a first novel.

Only The Calling and Arctic Chill count for my 100 Books read challenge; Blood on the Strand was started in December. But, I count that as four books read this month, so I'm pleased.

I hope you have been happily reading this new Year too, dear Reader.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

All about mysteries

I've decided to do a post about mysteries, because it's overdue that I write about my favourite genre! I've written about fantasy, science fiction, horror, fairy tales, and I've written about particular mystery authors, but I don't think I've devoted a whole post to the wonderful world of mystery novels. So:

Considering I read 25 last year, the most of any genre, as it is every year since I've been keeping a list of books read, it's about time I think that I gave it some appreciation. It is the genre I am most comfortable with. The very first novel I read was a Nancy Drew mystery, when I was 8. I've read almost every mystery series for kids when I was growing up, from Trixie Belden, to Cherry Ames, to Meg Diamond, to the Enid Blyton series - Famous Five, Secret Seven, Adventurous Four.......I even read all the Hardy Boys I could find! I have always gotten a thrill from picking up a mystery book. It's like a frisson of excitement, a little oh! or ahh!, and I am really excited when a new book by a favourite author and series comes out. I get such a bookaholic joy when I look at my shelves and see my mystery series lined up in order.

By saying I am comfortable with mysteries, I mean that I understand how it works. It is a story structure that I can see and admire even while I read it. I know what a mystery is supposed to do, and why, and when one works, and when one doesn't. It is the first kind of story I ever tried to write, and it is a how I dream - I dream mysteries, who done it's, suspense. This is not to say that I don't love fantasy - I do! really good fantasy writing transports me to a magical world, and I love it. Mysteries, however, are dark and deal with the horrors and nightmares of the real world and what people do to each other, layered in thoughtful analysis of the world, and glimpses of unsung heroes who battle on street corners for truth and justice. That is so noir! But where would we be without our lonely detectives and inspectors and private eyes seeking the truth in the darkest corners of our world? Bringing a sense of closure often, and other times, a struggle to find a sense of peace even if justice is not fully served? They are our guardians against the night, against the dark, they bring the light so that there can be cleansing and healing for the ones left behind. Maybe I find a sense of rightness in reading mysteries, but whatever it is - and I don't think I've captured it all tonight, that sense of real joy when a mystery is true, and the story reveals something about the world as I know it, too. I need that fight against the darkness, that fight to right a wrong, and I am thankful every day for all the mystery writers out there.

I also think mysteries explore a sense of place. Take Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski, set in Chicago; forever more, when I think of the Windy City, I think of VI and the battles she's fought with the corruption of the officials so that there is some freedom for especially the weak and downtrodden of society. Or Erlendur, in Iceland, the cold windswept landscape mirroring his frozen child self always looking to forgive the moment he lost touch with his brother's hand. Or the cold Moscow nights as Arkady Renko, ever more tired, battles against corruption that never goes away, it slinks off to come again another day. What about Hercule Poirot with his brain, or Jane Marple in her village, or Sherlock Holmes as he sees ahead miraculously to stop the final act of the villain? His Baker Street residence is etched firmly in all our minds. (and yes, I am going to go see the movie, this weekend I hope!) Or, two of my Canadian favourites, Inspector Gamache in Three Pines, that lovely tiny Quebec village that gives a sense of community and love even as evil threatens all around, and the cold forested Ontario landscape around Algonquin Bay with Det John Cardinal fighting is lonely battle with himself as well as with the criminals who live in and out of his town in Giles Blunts' series. Or, my favourite humorous mystery series, Joan Hess' Maggody series, set in a tiny town in Arkansas, overrun by the Buchanon clan, that neanderthal family who scarily could be in any town anywhere.......interrelated and always at the edge of morality as well as crime. It's also the character of the detective/PI whoever, that makes the mystery series work, too, but I'll save this topic for another day.

I really believe mysteries give us a glimpse of society. A good mystery looks into the dark heart of people, and finds resolution - an ending to the evil, so that we can all experience catharsis and heal a little bit from the horror stories that are all around us in the world. We can't change the crimes committed, the innocence lost, but we can try to understand so that we can prevent it in the future. Or, as Detective Jack Whicher says in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, let Saville, the victim, have justice served for him by finding out who killed him.

So, now to the next part:

my favourite mysteries of last year:
Turnstone - Graham Hurley
The Draining Lake - Artur Indridason
Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill
Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
The Cruellest Month - Louise Penny
Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdottir
This Night's Foul Work - Fred Vargas
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale (my book of the year)

I was doing some thinking today about my stats from last year, as well as other years. If I read mysteries the most, and I want to get to 100 books read this year, then I had a brilliant idea (well to me it was, to you, you've probably seen this coming all this post, dear Reader!): why don't I increase the number of mysteries I read this year? So, I am. I am going to read 50 mysteries this year. My own challenge to myself.

Wherein I set my own challenge:
I don't know whether to laugh at myself because obviously my inner mystery book goddess has known all along what was coming, or thump myself on the head for being so thick: but at a quick count, I already have over 30 new mysteries on my TBR shelf, just waiting for me to read!!!! And, please don't tell my husband, but I snuck into Chapters today, looking for Nicola Slade thanks to Geraniumcat's lovely review of this series, and ended up finding a book that made it onto a couple of reader's lists over at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise 2009 Crime Novels of the year list that is open to bloggers: yes, on the 5th day of the new year, I bought two books, already, just because.
Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (two readers picked this among their favourite mysteries last year), and:
A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill, the latest Dalziel and Pascoe mystery, mostly because it looks very good, and partly because he dedicates it to Janeites everywhere - the book is a mystery homage to Jane Austen's unfinished Sandition. Well, how can I resist that? so that's another two mysteries to add to the 50 Mystery Challenge!!!!

*****I'm sorry, I'm unable to provide the link tonight to Kerrie's blog, my computer is acting very slow and not letting me link. Grrr! ******** Or to Geraniumcat's blog. ****Grrrr Grrrr******They are both on my sidebar.

So, because I know you want to know what mysteries I have been collecting over the past year or so, here is a partial list of mysteries I have waiting to be read RIGHT NOW:

A Cure For All Diseases - Reginald Hill
Echoes From the Dead - Johan Theorin
Bone By Bone - Carol O'Connell
Dead Famous - Carol O'Connell
Winter House - Carol O'Connell
The Pure in Heart - Susan Hill
A Deeper Sleep - Dana Stabenow
Prepared for Rage - Dana Stabenow
Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich
Doors Open - Ian Rankin
The Red Fox - Anthony Hyde
The Calling - Inger Ashe Wolfe (a new Canadian mystery author!!!)
The Broken Shore - Peter Temple - highly reviewed Australian Ned Kelly winner
A Restless Evil - Ann Granger
The Black Path - Asa Larsson
The Blood Spilt - Asa Larsson
A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch
Never End - Ake Edwardson
The Winter Queen - Boris Akunin
Seeking Whom He May Devour - Fred Vargas
Morality for Beautiful Girls - Alexander McCall Smith
Blue Shoes and Happiness - Alexander McCall Smith
Damage Control - J.A. Jance
Deadly Web - Barbara Nadel
When Gods Die - C. S. Harris
The Grave Tattoo - Val McDermid
The Serpent's Tail - Ariana Franklin
Raven Black - Ann Cleeves
The Murder Stone - Louise Penny
The Shape of Water - Andrea Camilleri
Sweet Revenge - Diane Mott Davidson
Firewall - Henning Mankell
A Quiet Belief in Angels - RJ Ellory
Death is a Cabaret - Deborah Morgan
Perception of Death - Louise Anderson
The Dead Hour - Denise Mina
The Red Breast - Jo Nesbo
Arctic Chill - Artur Indridason
Winter Study - Nevada Barr
Every Dead Thing - John Connolly
The Sign of the Book - John Dunning
One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson
Stalin's Ghost - Martin Cruz Smith
Missing Justice - Alafair Burke
What the Dead Know - Laura Lippman
Not in the Flesh - Ruth Rendell
Death in the Off-Season - Francine Mathews
Immoral - Brian Freeman
Stripped - Brian Freeman
Hard Row - Margaret Maron
Death's Half Acre- Margaret Maron

I think that's over 50!!! And they were all on my TBR shelves!!!!! Honest. That's not counting the other mysteries tucked away on the shelves, like Stephen Booth and Graham Hurley (missing book three to continue the series), Charles Todd....

Plus, I want to buy the latest Henning Mankell (the one with Kurt and Linda wallender investigating together, and the one with her alone), and as soon as the latest by Fred Vargas - Chalk Circle Man, Artur Indridason - Hypothermia, Louise Penny - A Brutal Killing, and Yrsa Sigurdottir and Sara Paretsky, are in paperback, I'll be picking them up!

And, I have The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards on order at, as well as An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears........and the Nicola Slade, and the other mystery series people are reading and recommending! **warning, going to Kerrie's Crime Books of 2009 will find you adding more authors and books to your reading list!!***

I don't want to read just mysteries this year. I do get to a point where I need to read something different, and then I pick up fantasy, which is the second most read genre for me, every single year also. So if I bump fantasy up to 25 (and you don't want to see how many fantasy books I have also on my TBR shelves, tonight, do you??), that will give me 75 books read, and let me read some non-fiction, sf, horror and poetry to make up the rest.

So what do you think, my Gentle Reader? Can I pull it off, can I finally read some of these mysteries and get to my 100 books this year? I think I can! Do you have any mystery series that you love? Do you agree or disagree with what I said about mysteries? Let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why you read mysteries also. What does it satisfy in you? What do you enjoy most about them?

Monday 4 January 2010

Happy New Year! and first book review, plus Book of the Year

Happy 2010 to you all! I hope you had a very good holiday period, I certainly did. I am still recovering, in fact! I also lost a post I did two days ago, which got me mad at Blogger. So I am back today, and I know I have 2009 encapsulations to do, but I thought I would surprise everyone by starting off with my first book review of the year!!
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke is the 16th Dave Robicheaux mystery set in Louisiana. It is one of his best. There is a mix of characters from the sleazy, to the mobster, to a chilling serial killer, to an ordinary guy caught up in what seems to be the the maelstorm of Katrina, but what is really the aftermath of his daughter's rape and the uncaught rapists. All these stories become linked, drawing in characters from all over Louisiana. I enjoyed the mystery, and while we know quickly who did it, it's because Burke is more interested in showing the variations of the criminal character, and how Katrina affected their lives. There are many characters that have a scene or two, but instead of detracting from the mystery, I found it added to the full effect of being in Louisiana. I always come away from a Dave Robicheaux mystery feeling like I have just been to the bayou, and this mystery is no exception. This is a solid mystery. What lifts it up to a very good book, is how the aftermath of Katrina is woven into the story also. One of the characters comes from the 9th Ward, which if you remember, Gentle Reader, was the ward that was completely flooded and destroyed when the levees broke. Burke has always written about Southern corruption, and now he has been able to add a sense of real anger and reality to it. He shows, with the destruction of New Orleans, that corruption has a real face. This is not a mystery about who done it to New Orleans; it's not exploring who in the different levels of government are responsible for deciding to cut the funding to New Orleans, to weaken the levees, to cripple the welfare situation of recipients who made up a large portion of the 9th Ward. This is a mystery about a detective outside the city, who is called in because the damage is so overwhelming that the New Orleans Police Department can't cover everything, and the crime he investigates during his work. It's a book about the soul of New Orleans and especially of Louisiana itself, reeling from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and how some of the people took advantage of the destruction, and how others tried to survive it, but mostly this is a lament for the parts of the city underwater, for the wards and the thousands of people who needlessly drowned and died in their homes in the attics while the world watched helplessly. Robicheaux is doubtful if the city can recover its joie de vivre even in the face of death, and only time will tell. So much was destroyed, and the different characters in this book certainly convey so much of what went on then. Especially as the aftermath continued, with New Orleans unable to deal with the clean-up, and the lingering stories of what happened as it becomes a new mythology of the city and state. I highly reccommend this book. This is one of many sentences that linger in my mind:
"I have long subscribed to the belief that the dead lay strong claim on the quick, that indeed their spirits wander and manifest themself in the middle of our waking day and whisper to us when we least expect it."
It's not a perfect mystery, and indeed here is review of the book that almost trashes it, from two years ago. Unlike this reviewer, I found there was an extraordinary range of emotions in the principal characters, that none of them are cardboard figures - they are all three-dimensional, good and bad, with differing levels of self-awareness. There is a hilarious view of one character revealed in a letter sent to Dave, and the main criminal, who stumbles around after the hurricane as what he did during the storm begins to torment him. There are some fine characterizations, and descriptions of the sun and the storms and the setting that are so vivid that I really do feel as if I just came back from there myself. Molly, and Alafair, Dave's wife and daughter, play a role in this story also, and Dave as well as the other characters like Otis the insurance salesman whose daughter was raped, and Sidney the mobster whose son was run over, also discover what they will do to protect those they love from evil. This is a mystery about retribution, justice, crime, and redemption, and also about guilt and remorse, and being trapped, and about love. I highly reccommend this book.


Well, it's not a new challenge, I'm joining it again this year!! J. Kaye's 100 + Reading Challenge:
I know I failed it last year - I only got to78 books read, but for me this was also an unqualified success. It is more books in one year than possibly one other year, that I have read each year in the past 15 years, since I have been keeping rough stats. I read more in every single category of book. So, this is an achievement for me, even though it's not quite what I wanted! so you know me, even if I give up I also usually just try again, so I am signing up again for this year. Unfortunately Tin Roof Blowdown doesn't count since I began it last year! You can sign up here. I do have to add though, that if I manage to complete The Shorter Samuel Pepys this year, it's going on the list! I don't care!! at over 1,000 pages, I will deserve it no matter when I finish it....

I am having difficulty coming up with one standout! I enjoyed so many. I gave three copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to three people for Christmas, leant several books that I have reviewed here in my blog to my sister who came from New Brunswick for a week (hurray! she has finally accepted my passion and letting me lend her things to read!! - but I want them back, sis!), and am beginning to wonder how I can find - or where - time in my life for more reading.

Book Totals:
mystery: 25
fantasy 17
YA - 17 *overlap with fantasy and horror)
horror - 10 *overlap with graphic novels and YA
graphic novels - 8 ***SURPRISE OF THE YEAR (post to come)
non-fiction - 6
science fiction - 5 (Thank you, Becky's 42 SF things challenge!)
fiction - 4
classics - 3
poetry - 2
children's - 2

There is of course room for improvement in all areas!

All right, the list:
Susan's Favourite Books of the Year:
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows
Selected Poems , Vol 2 - Mary Oliver ****edited to correct title: New and Selected Poems, Vol 2
The Plain Janes - Cecil Castellucci
Dreams Underfoot - Charles de Lint
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Turnstone - Graham Hurley
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles - Anna Brownell Jameson
Moon Called - Patricia Briggs
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
Watchmen - Alan Moore
The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
***edited to add: The Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill

and, Susan's Book of the Year for 2009 is:
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Here is my original review of the book, almost a year ago to the day.

Now, one of my resolutions is to keep up with you on your blogs, my dear Gentle Readers. So now I'm off to see if you have listed your favourite books from last year. If you haven't listed it, let me know if you have a book of the year! I love discovering what people love to read - that's why we have these blogs, isn't it? At least, that's partly why I have mine. Happy reading, every one!!