The Friends and Family


Eleventh page. List starts with the most recent at the top.  Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Engaging burglar Bernard starts this crime series by taking a job assignment, to steal a certain blue box. He soon regrets losing his independence, when he becomes the fall guy for the murder of an unpleasant theater benefactor. With all these actors in the picture, how can Bernie tell who is trustworthy? Quick-thinking Bernie, fast on his feet and in love with locks and lockpicks, manages to detect the killer in spite of being the subject of a manhunt. Yet another lightly clever, readable series from Lawrence Block.

Joy read: OBSIDIAN PREY by Jayne Castle
Lyra and Cruz had a passionate bond, but it was shattered. Cruz's mysterious company took over a valuable discovery by Lyra, an alien ruin. In that discovery are artifacts more dangerous than anyone could have guessed. It takes the special talents of both Lyra and Cruz, plus Lyra's dust bunny Vincent, to stop their power-hungry opponents. I enjoyed the way Lyra managed the social occasions in which powerful men vied against each other.
   The Harmony series remains a fun, light, sexy read. OBSIDIAN PREY is more successful IMO than the earlier Harmony book SILVER MASTER. I buy each of the new books in this series as they come out, and read them within a few days of buying.

Joy read: THE CRYSTAL CITY by Orson Scott Card
Last of the Alvin Maker series. Alvin isn't going to like it when he learns why his wife sent him to Nueva Barcelona, Card's fantasy equivalent of New Orleans. But he turns things to fit his own path, and only in the nick of time. THE CRYSTAL CITY has elements of Moses and Spartacus, but without the grandeur. Hats off to young Arthur and to Abe Lincoln, who save the story with their vitality of spirit.
   After the wonderful first book of this series, SEVENTH SON, I was disappointed in the rest. It's fine to attack the issues of the world, but Alvin and Peggy are bowed down by bearing the burdens of the world on their shoulders. It may be more realistic that way, but it makes a more enjoyable read to tackle problems like a knight instead of like a tent orator.

Joy read: HEARTFIRE by Orson Scott Card
5th in the Alvin Maker series. Alvin and his friends travel to New England, renowned for its virtue, and comes up against the New England witch hunters. They twist a natural knack to be seen as Satanic witchery. In the meantime Peggy travels to Camelot, a kingdom ruled by the exiled King of England, where slavery flourishes. Alvin's brother Calvin follows Peggy to see if he can use her against Alvin. All of them confront the looming war, the only path to the destruction of the institution of slavery.
   You often hear about a "riveting court scene," but in HEARTFIRE it really is. Between the plans of Alvin, Verily, and John Adams, justice is forced back into its natural path.

Joy read: ALVIN JOURNEYMAN by Orson Scott Card
4th in the Alvin Maker series. Alvin has been followed home by slander, and finds still more of it at home. He knows what the achievement of his life should be, but his pupils aren't capable of learning the skills he tries to teach them -- except his brother Calvin, who is too envious to listen. Driven out again, Alvin returns to Hatrack River and unmasks servants of the Unmaker. Slander is the main theme, but slavery and justice are also considered. Can young mixed-race Arthur be dragged back to his evil master/father because the law says so? Card puts goodness above law.

Joy read: PRENTICE ALVIN by Orson Scott Card
Alvin is finally arriving at the forge where he is apprenticed to learn blacksmithery. But already most of our attention is focused on a bigger story. An escaped slave, forced by her owner and made pregnant in her early teens, has arrived in the village and died, leaving her son Arthur to be raised by the hotelier's wife. This happy outcome of the young slave's sacrifice has all been arranged by Peggy, the talented torch who foresaw Alvin's greatness. Now she is leaving as Alvin arrives, to avoid a future in which he marries her and makes her miserable.
   The life of an apprentice is another kind of slavery, and Alvin's new master has an eye for the advantages he can get from Alvin's magical knacks. The father and master of the little boy is even more a truly grim character. He sends the vicious Finders to sniff out Arthur with their knack, creating chaos in Hatrack River.

Joy read: THE VALLEY OF ADVENTURE by Enid Blyton
Quite by accident, the children are carried away by airplane to an isolated valley in central Europe. There they hide from the bad guys, find a hidden treasure, and find a way to contact the outside world just in time. This was my favorite of the series when I was a kid. The valley seemed almost idyllic to me.
   And now I'm done with my four favorite books of this series. There are seven, plus Enid Blyton wrote hundreds of other books.

Joy read: THE SEA OF ADVENTURE by Enid Blyton
The sea north of Scotland is full of little islands, and many of them have huge bird colonies. Perfect for the four children until they fall afoul of gunrunners. A pair of puffins adopts them and helps them rescue Bill this time, instead of him rescuing them.
   Kiki's funny sayings sometimes fit the situation better than they probably would in real life, but all the rest of these animal characters behave perfectly naturally. Huffin and Puffin have no idea they are helping save our adventurers, which makes them both believable and funny.

Joy read: THE MOUNTAIN OF ADVENTURE by Enid Blyton
The 4 children, a goat kid and a string of donkeys get lost in the mountains of Wales and find one mountain that is stranger than any other. Soon the children are wandering through corridors carved into the mountain, dodging paratroopers and an especially brainy scientist. All they intended to do was find the Vale of Butterflies. Their policeman friend Bill makes a nick-of-time rescue, but he couldn't have done it without Kiki the parrot and a pack of guard dogs.

Carla read: HUGH AND BESS by Susan Higginbotham
Bess de Montacute, pretty, sharp, wealthy and thirteen, is not at all happy when she is told she is to marry Hugh le Despenser, aged 32 and the son and grandson of disgraced traitors. For his part, Hugh has mixed feelings - marrying into Bess's family is highly desirable, but Hugh is already in love with another woman of lower social status. Can this seemingly ill-matched couple forge a successful marriage together? Charming short tale of life and love in aristocratic fourteenth-century England. Review.

Carla read: DAUGHTER OF YORK by Anne Easter Smith
Detailed description of aristocratic life in fifteenth-century Burgundy, told through the life of Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy and sister of Edward IV and Richard III. Review.

Joy read: THE CASTLE OF ADVENTURE by Enid Blyton
Four children are holidaying near a broken down, shut-up castle in Wales, which turns out to be the center of nefarious activities. They have to get into the castle, because a pair of eagles is nesting in the courtyard. What they don't know about, until it's too late, is the bad guys nesting under the castle.
   The exciting "Adventure" series is a children's classic. CASTLE, second in the series, was written in 1946, so it's historical for today's children, as well. The main characters are brothers and sisters Jack and Lucy-Ann, and Philip and Dinah. Jack always carries a parrot named Kiki, a memorable clown. Philip attracts animals wherever he goes, and Blyton makes the animals an active part of her plots and character dynamics.
   The four children together are a permanently engaging group -- you should introduce your children to them.

Joy read: RED PROPHET by Orson Scott Card
Read RED PROPHET for Alvin, his growing up, his kindness, and his family. Don't read it for the division between Reds and Whites. In Card's fantasy America, Reds are connected with the land as part of one body. They feel it and it supports them. Whites poison the land wherever they spread. Alvin accompanies Red general Ta-Kumsaw in a war against the Whites, a war which the Red Prophet understands will lead to the best solution possible for all the people living in North America.
   Two good elements of this book stick in my head. The sensation of Reds running through the forest to the sound of green music. The politics of particular Frenchmen in America, with La Fayette having to make a different kind of contribution to America's freedom when Napoleon is exiled to this faraway wilderness. One bad element sticks in my mind. In the
Tales of Alvin Maker, this version of Card's often-changing viewpoint, Reds are collectively ideal and Whites are collectively toxic. The people he writes about reflect the normal range of character in all races, but his generalization is completely laudatory or completely condemning.

Joy read: HAPPY RETURNS by Angela Thirkell
Grace Grantly falls with perfect rightness into the arms of her destined husband. Charles and Clarissa finally resolve their engagement, all but kicking and screaming along the way. On the sidelines an especially nice young man is left to pick up his life where he left off when other hopes began to grow.
   It is such a pleasure to get to know Eric Swan the adult. When we met him he was a student at Southbridge School, making subtle mischief. Knowing Thirkell, she will give him the story he deserves.
   I've reached the point in the series where I can't remember which story goes with which title. It's time to move on to something else.

Joy read: HELL ON EARTH by Stephenie Meyer
Denizens of hell attend the prom with intent to make everyone miserable. They are reckoning without one particularly nice young man.
   The bad gals visibly sizzle. You can find this short story in PROM NIGHTS FROM HELL, a collection of short stories.

Joy read: DEAD OVER HEELS by Charlaine Harris
Roe and her friend Angel are having a peaceful afternoon in the yard when a body falls from an airplane and nearly bull's-eyes them. It's the start of a trail of deaths placing Roe under suspicion. There's no way Roe would lie down under such injustice. Besides, she has Martin and their friends the Youngbloods to look after, and her job back at the library.
   These have been the 5 Aurora Teagarden books that I own. Of the 5, A BONE TO PICK and DEAD OVER HEELS are my favorites.

Joy read: THE JULIUS HOUSE by Charlaine Harris
Roe loves her new husband Martin, but she doesn't really know him. Sure, he knows to give her the best wedding present she could ask for: the Julius House. Roe has no sense of ghosts in residence, she thinks the house is perfect. When the former residents do appear, that's supposedly a bad thing, but it's a welcome distraction from the secrets revealed by her husband.

Carla read: WHITE ROSE REBEL by Janet Paisley
Lusty Highland swashbuckler set against the background of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, for readers who like their heroines beautiful and feisty, their heroes handsome and sardonic, their bedroom scenes plentiful and their politics clear-cut. Review.

Joy read: SEVENTH SON by Orson Scott Card
Alvin Miller Jr, seventh son of a seventh son, is a powerful enchanter, a Maker. In this alternate history of Colonial America, the folk know of magic, using charms and hexes (called "knacks") in everyday life. But here comes a preacher from Britain who believes knacks are evil, while pretending he doesn't believe in them at all. He is the perfect tool for Alvin's enemy, the Unmaking. SEVENTH SON is irresistably human, charming and compellingly readable. Like Alvin, it casts a hex for the comfort of guests/readers.
   At the end of this 1st in the 6-book series, arrangements have been made for Alvin to return to his birthplace and apprentice as a blacksmith. Simple enough, one would think, but it becomes a cliffhanger for Book 2, RED PROPHET.

Joy read: THREE BEDROOMS, ONE CORPSE by Charlaine Harris
Roe is going to inherit her mother's successful real estate business, and thinks it's a good idea to learn the business. She enjoys parts of it, but not the math, and not finding the bodies of real estate agents in the bedrooms of show houses.
   However, the next day it took me a while to remember what the mystery plot was. The romance plot overshadows it. Aurora literally awakens to find her life changed.

Joy read: BREAKING DAWN by Stephenie Meyer
Bella finally finds her niche in the world. There are few stopping places in this entire series, and this book is probably the most suspenseful of all.

Joy read: MIDNIGHT SUN by Stephenie Meyer
Now that I read Meyer isn't going to publish this after all, I couldn't have missed the powerful partial book. It's TWILIGHT except from Edward's viewpoint. Finally we know exactly how Edward feels about Bella, and why, so we know Bella much better. We listen in on the Cullen family conversations about the Edward and Bella situation. We learn what Edward did about the would-be-rapist in Port Angeles. We get to know what Bella's friends Jessica and Angela and Mike are really like. Hearing Edward's thoughts on his relationship with Bella sets us up for NEW MOON.
   The key to this series is that the characters are real people reacting in a believable way to fantasy conditions.

Joy read: ECLIPSE by Stephenie Meyer
3rd reading. Seth the young werewolf is so cute.

Joy read: NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer
It's hard to get through the section between Bella's birthday and when she finds Jacob. Jacob is such a dear before his challenges hit him.

Joy read: TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer
I was lucky enough to see the trailer for New Moon when I went to see Harry Potter And the Half-Blood Prince. (Get a load of Taylor Lautner playing Jacob Black.) So I watched Twilight again, and now I'm rereading the books -- again.

Joy read: A BONE TO PICK by Charlaine Harris
urora inherits a house with a skull hidden in it. Several men have gone away unexpectedly from this little street; which of them left his skull behind?
   Harris amped up the quality by quite a bit in this second of the series. A BONE TO PICK kept me awake most of the night to finish it. Cozies rarely have a breathtaking pace, and in this one the pacing is ideal -- there wasn't a place where I could stop.

Joy read: REAL MURDERS by Charlaine Harris
A cute cozy mystery. Aurora Teagarden does not run a teahouse, she is a librarian.
   Aurora belongs to a club for true crime buffs, the location where the first body is found of Aurora's series is found. Someone is taking the crimes they study as blueprints for a game that is all too real.
   REAL MURDERS is notable for having no clues from which to figure out the killer, until the climactic event. In the meantime we can enjoy Aurora and her mother, her neighbors, and her two suitors: Robin the mystery writer, and Arthur the policeman. The character I actively connected with turned out to be one of the murder victims. :(
   Today I was looking at the New York Times bestseller lists and was amazed to see how many books by Charlaine Harris are on those lists at the same time. I happen to have the Aurora Teagarden series from over a decade ago. I wanted to sample Harris, even though they have nothing to do with vampires. With notable exceptions I like cozies better than vampires, so this sample isn't really indicative. I unearthed Book 2 as soon as I finished this one.

Joy read: THE OLD BANK HOUSE by Angela Thirkell
Old Miss Sowerby is forced to sell her family home, and she couldn't have been luckier with her buyer. Sam Adams, who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to great wealth, has acquired enough polish to make himself welcome among the County. He is generous to others, and The Old Bank House is generous to him. From there he influences his neighbors for good, especially the Marlings. We meet the Grantly family, residents of yet another rectory, follow Major Tom Grantly in his search for a career, and finally find a wife for Colin Keith. This is one of the crucial books I missed -- I'm lucky the library had it.
   "Much has been written and said about the relations between people and houses. Some of our friends live in hideous houses ... and yet so inform these graceless tenements with their own personality that after their death we think of them as palaces of delight. Others have inherited or acquired houses famous for their beauty and managed to make them feel like an unfriendly Scotch Hydro.... Again there are houses that always get the better of their owners whether rich, poor, intelligent or stupid. ...For one ugly house that degrades the owner to its own level, there will be found twenty beautiful, or handsome, or elegant houses that have exercised a good influence on everyone who has lived in them. And so it was with the Old Bank House.... To Miss Sowerby it had resigned itself meekly, knowing that although she could not afford to spend a penny on it, she would dust and polish and love as long as her strength lasted. When it saw Mr. Adams approaching, it may have felt some apprehension, but it was too well bred to show it and when it had heard and witnessed Mr. Adams's interview with Miss Sowerby it took him under its wing."

Joy read: GROWING UP by Angela Thirkell
The second of 3 Barsetshire books I picked up at the library, covering time periods I missed in my own collection. Lydia has been following her husband Noel Merton to each of his military postings, and now they have rooms in the home of General Waring (Cecil's uncle, from whom he will inherit the estate now hosting the Mertons). Also in the household is Cecil's sister Leslie, recovering from a breakdown after surviving the destruction of her ship while crossing the Atlantic. Lydia is her usual loveable but a more disciplined self, always eager to help; now she can help Leslie. Leslie isn't yet emotionally strong enough to handle a romance, and almost drives Phillip Winter away. Thirkell engagingly centers much of the action about the old railroad station at Winter Overcotes (Thirkell has a knack for inventing funny village names that sound real). IMO, this is another of the most heartwarming books in this series.

Joy read: NORTHBRIDGE RECTORY by Angela Thirkell
The charming Verena Villars has had a houseful of officers billeted on the rectory, and they can be a challenge. She also has the normal responsibilities of a rector's wife in Northbridge, even though they don't come naturally to her. As Thirkell truly comments, it takes a rector's daughter to really understand the position. For me the most dynamic storyline was the relationship between Miss Pemberton and Mr Downing, in which a pair of authors gradually learn what they want in life. There is a lot about village life as ordinary citizens gear up for wartime. This is a candidate for my favorite novel read this year.

Joy read: THE DUKE'S DAUGHTER by Angela Thirkell
Cora, the daughter of the Duke of Omnium, has several nice men to choose from, but we are rooting for our old friend Commander Sir Cecil Waring: an admirable man, a war hero learning the responsibilities of his newly inherited estate. Colin's sister Leslie and her husband Phillip need to find a new site for their successful school. We spend time with our old favorites the Beltons and the Leslies. I had missed a crucial book, so it was a delight to find Lucy Marling and the Adamses happily settled. Thirkell suddenly decided to provide partners for several of her young people so they could get on with their lives. At the end there are 4 engagements in a few days.
   The most memorable part for me was a wonderful house called The Lodge owned by Cecil Waring. I wanted to live there as much as Cecil did (except he couldn't because it wasn't big enough to be an institution for boys) and as much as Cora's brother did. I think I also missed a crucial book containing the romance of Cora's brother Lord Silverbridge.

Joy read: POMFRET TOWERS by Angela Thirkell
Alice Barton is terrified when she is invited to a weekend party by Lord Pomfret. If her brother and her sole friends Roddy Wicklow and his sister Sally weren't going too, Alice would have shut herself up in her studio and shivered for days at the very thought. But she finds people willing to be friendly, and has a better time than she expects. While Alice's story garners a lot of our sympathy, the stories of Sally and the heir to Pomfret, and the children of obnoxious author Mrs Rivers, have the most energy and momentum. It is easy to see why this is the book that started the momentum of Thirkell's career.

Carla read: THE CROOKED CROSS by Michael Dean
Thought-provoking novel about the resistance to Hitler in 1930s Munich and the dilemmas faced by a good man living in bad times. Review.

Carla read: THE SINS OF THE FATHER by Catherine Hanley
Enjoyable medieval murder mystery, set in England 1217 against the background of the political turmoil following the death of King John. Young Edwin Weaver, standing in for his dying father as bailiff, has to solve the murder of an earl in order to prevent the lands of his lord (and his own home and family) being destroyed for treason. And he only has two days to do it. Review.

Joy read: LOVE AMONG THE RUINS by Angela Thirkell
The youngish Barsetshire men think there are no girls left in the county to marry, and the youngish Barsetshire women think they will spend unfulfilled lives continuing the jobs they held in wartime because there are no men left to marry. This gives us several interesting plot strands to follow, especially that of Susan Dean, the pleasant and competent Red Cross librarian who could win a place for her wealthy family in county society, as changed as it is by the upheaval caused by the War. Thirkell, I may repeat, lived through these times and takes the opportunity to express her strong feelings about them.

Joy read: PRIVATE ENTERPRISE by Angela Thirkell
An attractive widow settles in Barchester, and the young men are falling over each other to get near her. Unlike most such novels, Mrs Arbuthnot isn't a designing temptress; she has readers' sympathy.
   PRIVATE ENTERPRISE is the longest-seeming Thirkell novel I have read. She spends a lot of time blaming the Labor government for the privations suffered by private citizens after the war. She may be right, I don't know, but she doesn't need to put us through so many conversations about it. It's too bad, because Mrs Arbuthnot's story is quite appealing.
   I have 3 of Thirkell's books published in 1947, presumably including the ones held over from wartime and "the peace," when there wasn't enough paper for the publication of books that would normally have come out.

Joy read: PEACE BREAKS OUT by Angela Thirkell
David Leslie earned no one's respect in WILD STRAWBERRIES, and now he has pulled another pair of attractive young girls into his orbit. The Leslies have as guests Anne Fielding and Silvia Halliday. David thinks both of them would be quite worth cultivating, careless of the resulting heartburning. He doesn't get his just deserts, but he does get his come-uppance.
   When WWII came to an end in England, the population didn't settle back with a sigh of relief. They had been not only losing their young men to the war, they had been under a very large siege. Supplies they normally imported had been sunk by German subs or sent to supply the army, and in PEACE BREAKS OUT we see gentry cutting up their clothes to patch other clothes, pubs running out of beer before supply day, and parties held by thin people whose main topic of conversation was food rationing. Thirkell lived through this, and she expresses her strong opinion that all of it, even the weather, was the result of government stupidity. It presents an authentic contemporary view to us in today's Western world. 

Joy read: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding
The memoir of the young con man and forger who pretended various professional identities, so well that police all over America and Europe took years to catch him. At first he loved the chase, then he couldn't stop the momentum of flight, then he used his experience to find a career that was just as challenging but not so perilous.
   I was appalled at his experiences in French prison. Their penal system was a straightforward continuation of the dungeons of the middle ages.

Joy read: GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED by Ann Rule
The good thing about Ann Rule is that she is interested in the motivations of everyone involved in the case. I was in a rare true crime mood and this was all I had in the house. Not a bad choice, for someone more interested in minds than blood.
   At first she catalogues a long parade of teenaged girls who seem to have the instinctual drives of lemmings. I'm the one generalizing here -- she doesn't. While she takes a sympathetic look at each victim, I was wondering how these girls could blithely place themselves in such fatal situations.
   Then Rule follows the development of the case, the clues and frustrations. Gradually Gary Ridgway comes to the fore: the raging son with the chameleon skin and the ability to hide in plain sight. Her description seemed to create the Green River Killer right in front of me, even though true knowledge of such a being can, thankfully, never be achieved by a civilized human.

Joy read: THE BRANDONS by Angela Thirkell
Men don't care that charming Mrs Brandon has teenaged children. She flirts captivatingly to keep herself amused, while she tries to arrange for her friends and family a life as comfortable as her own.
   The current crisis is the last days of invalid Aunt Sissy, who has been threatening for years to leave her manor to a distant cousin instead of her Brandon nephew and niece. The manor is such a white elephant that the Brandons and the cousin, Hilary Grant, all hope that she won't leave it to them.
   The Vicar, Mr Miller, is enchanted by Mrs Brandon, when what he really needs is a practical lady like Miss Moore, Aunt Sissy's companion. Unfortunately there was a feud between Mr Miller and Miss Moore's father. Will Mrs Brandon's advisor Sir Edmund step up to the mark instead?
   Light comedy infused with Mrs Brandon's charm. A delightful read, published in 1939.

Joy read: AUGUST FOLLY by Angela Thirkell
Charming story of 2 families and the neighborhood of their summer retreat. Spoiled Richard, who did badly at Oxford in spite of his intellectual parents. His sister, dutiful, neglected Margaret who has grown up nicely in other people's homes. Beautiful, universally loved Mrs. Dean, and her nine children. The local J.P.'s wife, so determined to produce Greek plays that she ropes her neighbors into acting. An individualistic, 20-year-old donkey and his feline friend. Out of a bubbling brew of personalities comes a group who grow more likeable as they get to know themselves. My favorite novel so far this year.

Joy read: CHEERFULNESS BREAKS IN by Angela Thirkell
All of Barsetshire, not to mention Rose Birkett's parents, breathe a sigh of relief when Rose is safely married to a Lieutenant who knows how to manage her. She has barely arrived safely in South America when World War II breaks out. Barsetshire is inundated with evacuees from London.
   The young women, many left without their men, dedicate themselves to the new hospital. The mature women are busy keeping their community afloat. It would be exhausting except that so many people care so much about their neighbors.
   After much jostling and juggling, the right couples end up together, except that there's a war on. The quite unwarranted cliffhanger sent me on a frantic hunt through the other books to see who was around in later years.

Joy read: WILD STRAWBERRIES by Angela Thirkell
Summer for the Leslie family includes a visiting niece Mary, a coming of age birthday for their heir Martin, and a French family renting the vicarage for a month. Mary is attractive to two of the family sons, David and John, and because this is one of the Barsetshire novels we can expect a happy ending.
   The Barsetshire novels have interweaving plots. In WILD STRAWBERRIES we also have the story of Martin and the French family, from whom he is taking French lessons. Agnes, the Leslies' daughter who entertainingly notices almost nothing but her children, acquires an admirer. A "professional guest" and a woman radio executive stir up events. Martin's birthday party has varied effects, little of them according to plan. The personalities are vividly drawn and cleverly observed. To cleverly observe them, Thirkell has to keep her distance.

Joy read: O, THESE MEN, THESE MEN! by Angela Thirkell
When Caroline's marriage with James shudders to a disastrous halt, she calls for the help of her cousins Hugh and Francis, longtime close friends. Knowing she needs care, Francis delivers her to the home of James's parents. A year after the divorce Caroline is still recovering. She and her cousins haven't sorted out how to be together. Their neighbors in the country and James's family: all of the people affected by James's behavior haven't yet come to terms -- when James returns.
   Another of Thirkell's early novels, before she had settled in Barsetshire, although she does once mention the Dean of Barchester. O THESE MEN does not have the disadvantages of ANKLE DEEP; Thirkell gives her characters hope and isn't as deeply involved in making them be object lessons.

Joy read: ANKLE DEEP by Angela Thirkell
Very differently from most Angela Thirkells, ANKLE DEEP focuses with hothouse intensity on only one plot line. An unhappy wife falls in love with a man who loves women, emphasis on the plural. Every character in the novel looks likeable at first, but as the author peels away their conventions, they look more and more real, and finally leave a bad taste in the mouth. This book was written in 1933 with penetrating understanding and no sympathy. As I started by saying, ANKLE DEEP is very different from most of Thirkell's books.

Joy read: THE UNFINISHED CLUE by Georgette Heyer
The name of General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith is longer than the amount of time it would take anyone to learn to dislike him. The only guests he wanted his wife to invite for the weekend were his flirt Camilla Halliday and her invalid husband. He was more than grumpy when his crowded house party turned out to include his son Geoffrey and Geoffrey's fiancee, an "exotic" dancer.
   The General's death comes just in time to stop him from destroying several lives; we won't know them all until the murder is solved. Unlike my previous read, this Heyer mystery presents characters who have layers, and who obviously continue to live even while the focus is on someone else.
   I thought Heyer must have learned more about writing after BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON and before THE UNFINISHED CLUE, but it turns out THE UNFINISHED CLUE was written two years earlier. Mystifying.

Joy read: BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON by Georgette Heyer
The Matthews family is thrown into chaos by the death of the Master of the house. Inconceivably, he is found to have been poisoned. He has ruled his family and his neighborhood so heavily it is hard to imagine anyone having the gumption to kill him. However, that same rule gives everyone a motive.
   In my opinion Heyer's mysteries don't have the sparkle I expected after reading all her Regency romances. This book didn't even come alive until the Heir rode in. Randall Matthews bears a resemblance to Francis Cheviot of THE RELUCTANT WIDOW, giving him an ambiguous interest.
   The characters are surface only, no flesh or blood under the skin. The story of the murderer just couldn't happen. I didn't really dislike it, but found it disappointing.

Joy read: FIRE AND ICE by Dana Stabenow
First of the Liam Campbell series, and my first read of it. I had actually intended to read something else, but I glanced into the beginning and by the third paragraph I was captured.
   Liam's life has imploded, but he is kept moving by his sense of justice and his interest in people. Posted as trooper to an Alaskan fishing town, he collides with a former lover and a sadistic racketeer, plus a murderer who has kept too many secrets for too long. I felt a connection with several of the characters. The one problem I had with reading it was that there were too many unfamiliar characters to keep track of, because they didn't appear in the narrative long enough for me to remember who they were by name. I want to know more about old Moses and Bill, and find out how Liam works out his relationship with a girl and a raven.
   Author Dana Stabenow doesn't handle Liam as believably as Kate, since of course she understands her own sex better. The story is intricate and completely based on emotional issues, not touching the Alaskan dilemmas that are an important part of Kate's series.

Joy read: HUNTER'S MOON by Dana Stabenow
I tried to reread this next book in the sequence. The blissful first few pages just made the appalling event later in the book that much less possible to face. No matter what emotional landscapes it opens up for the next books, I could not make myself go through it again. I finally gave myself permission to skip over it. What it is to care so much about a set of characters.

Joy read: KILLING GROUNDS by Dana Stabenow
This is a great creation of a fishing harbor in salmon season, the fleet, the camps, and the fisherpeople. Kate is crewing for Old Sam's tender, her "aunties" are working at the family fishing camp, and Kate's lover Jack and his son have dropped in.
   Cal Meany is a shark on legs, hated by his fellow fishers one and all. It is generally considered that whoever killed him committed a public service. Unfortunately the killer doesn't stop with one, Kate being the toughest target.
   Stabenow looks from yet another viewpoint at the question: How to let outsiders enjoy the natural wonders of Alaska while protecting the state from destruction? "The act of observing an object changes the object." -- physics truism.

Joy read: BREAKUP by Dana Stabenow
Fabulously fun. Come to grips with staggering, untamable nature. The season of thaw in Alaska is call Breakup, and people do crazy things then. This breakup has to be one of the craziest on record. Kate Shugak is so distracted by bear encounters, an engine that drops off an overflying jet, Mandy's rich visiting parents, and a running series of shootouts, that she hardly has time for the subtle murder.
   This has to be my favorite mystery so far this year.

Joy read: SITKA by Louis L'Amour
Jean LaBarge raised himself, in the outback of Pennsylvania in the mid 1800s, until good luck and a merchant he happened to help changed his life. Decades later he is an expert in the wilds of the West, and in the ballrooms of San Francisco. Then Alaska puts its stamp on him, and he will risk everything for its people, including a lovely woman.
   While not a sailor by any means, I found some of the events in the Alaskan channels have imprinted themselves on my memory.
   I recently read the beginning of SOLDIERS OF THE NORTH, a non-fiction covering this period in Alaska's history when Russia was losing its grip and the US was sharpening its focus. It was interesting to see how L'Amour made some of the people and situations part of his novel.

Joy read: BREAKING DAWN by Stephenie Meyer
Thank goodness for the weekend. Series completed for a second time this spring.
   A couple of people have asked me if I think this book appropriate for young people. Adults, yes, no question. I would say, it will be mostly girls who want to read this, not boys, and I recommend mothers read this first. Bella has a deadly pregnancy, and young girls will need their mothers to explain that no, this isn't what human pregnancy is like. I wouldn't want anyone at an impressionable age to get scarred.

Joy read: ECLIPSE by Stephenie Meyer
See below: ditto.

Joy read: NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer
I resented work because it kept me from reading.

Joy read: AGENT TO THE STARS by John Scalzi
Tom Stein is a rising agent in Hollywood, when his boss asks him to create a publicity campaign for a race of aliens. They have an image problem: They look and smell terrible. So if they are to be accepted as friends or humans, Tom is going to need some really creative positioning ideas.
   In the meantime he has issues with his main client, a sexy but brainless blonde. A co-worker and a slandering writer for a gossip rag are out to get him. His neighbor's lonely dog makes itself at home in his house. All of this could be considered serendipity. What starts out as funny fluff -- and continues that way most of the book -- turns out powerful in the end.

Joy read: ZOE'S TALE by John Scalzi
A parallel novel to THE LAST COLONY, in which a colony led by
Old Man's War series hero John Perry finds itself in unplanned territory with alien enemies hunting for it. The presence of Zoe, John's adopted daughter, has riveted the attention of even more aliens to the situation. It's going to be a scrimmage. Zoe refuses to escape to her alien friends, but she is willing to be an ambassador to them.
   Scalzi's readers get the humanity and humor they expect. In his acknowledgements he talks about the women who read the manuscript to make sure Zoe's voice is authentic. Blessedly, he has avoided spoilering the clever surprise ending of THE LAST COLONY.
This book is suitable for a younger average audience than the rest of the series: teens and up.
My life pattern seems to be setting up routines and then escaping them. I can't even make it all the way through a great mystery series. I spent two days proofreading, and then jumped the traces again to pick this recent purchase off the top of my tbr's. One evening, one read.

Joy read: BLOOD WILL TELL by Dana Stabenow
Kate reluctantly agrees to go to Anchorage with her grandmother for a tribal convention. This meeting is especially important because a decision must be made about industries wanting to log over sections of the tribal territories. That would have a negative impact on the wild plant and animal life that support the tribal lifestyle. Kate's grandmother has allies in her attempt to protect their territory, but those allies have started dying. It's unnaturally convenient for someone, especially for Kate's cousin's lobbyist boyfriend. Then, Kate's lover Jack and his son are threatened by Jack's ex-wife. The Law is no help in either case. It's up to Kate to take measures.
   There is no stopping place during the reading of BLOOD WILL TELL. There is also a lot of humor included, in what has become an overwhelmingly multidimensional series which teems with humanity.

Joy read: PLAY WITH FIRE by Dana Stabenow
Picking with her friends among a bumper crop of mushrooms, Kate comes across a human body -- an old one. Why did no one complain about a missing person almost a year ago? The answer seems to be a secret protected by a group of militant, fundamental Christians who settled in the area a few years ago.
   It isn't just Nature that is red in tooth and claw here. We get a down-to-earth view of forest fire and eagles, but also Christians who cannot disobey their pastor, and who are determined to forbid any school teaching that disagrees with their frame of mind.
   PLAY WITH FIRE was difficult for me to read because the author laid out so clearly the terrorist function of religion. It was a shuddery experience on first reading and still difficult the second time through. Thank God for Kate, Bobby, Dinah and all the rest of her friends, who managed to give this story its verve anyway.

Joy read: A COLD-BLOODED BUSINESS by Dana Stabenow
Kate is working on the Alaska Pipeline. She's a bus driver on the face of it, but is really looking for the source of a major cocaine distribution among the workers: workers who are bright, riotous, rich, and thoroughly entertaining. There's a description of a turtle race that had me rolling with laughter. For Kate, disposed to hate the Pipeline because of its wake of destruction, the workers she spends time with give the Pipeline a face, and Kate develops a new viewpoint. Even being nearly killed by the drug dealing ring doesn't change that.
   Stabenow doesn't hesitate to explore the controversies involved in keeping alive one of the last remaining great wildernesses. She knows there is no one good answer, and she helps readers to see the various angles. As always the setting is crisp and all-encompassing. If you are sensitive to cold, wear a sweater while you read it.

Joy read: DEAD IN THE WATER by Dana Stabenow
Kate goes undercover as crew for a crabbing boat that has been losing crew in suspicious circumstances. It isn't just that the ship is so real that its fittings shoulder right up to you. It's not just that Kate and her shipmate Andy have a funny friendship of two very different personalities. It isn't even the Aleut women or the group of Russian fishermen or ... actually, I couldn't list all the elements that make it high in adrenaline, slyly humorous, movingly reminiscent. It packs a punch in a lot of ways.
   By accident, this third in the series was the first Kate Shugak book I read. The first two pages had me hooked and energized. From DEAD IN THE WATER, I immediately went out and bought books 1 & 2 and have continued to buy each new one as it came out. The best way to convey the many reasons I like them so much is to get you to read them.

Joy read: A FATAL THAW by Dana Stabenow
As spring thaw comes, moments of madness come with it. An inhabitant of the Park shaves nicely, cleans his cabin, and walks out with his new gun to kill his neighbors. Nine bodies are left lying in the snow. One of those was shot by someone else.
   Lisa Getty was a beautiful predator, into anything that would provide her with money or gratification, and richly deserved her death. But the Anchorage DA's office doesn't know Lisa the way the Park does, and they hire Kate to find Lisa's opportunistic killer.
   A FATAL THAW has some truly awesome sections, especially in a climactic encounter with an aurora borealis. Kate could be considered an aurora borealis herself, she is such a powerful character.

Joy read: A COLD DAY FOR MURDER by Dana Stabenow
I didn't want to leave Kate's world yet, so I started the series over. This one won the Agatha for Best First Mystery.
   A mouthy Park ranger disappears, and so does the investigator sent in to find him. Kate, back in the Park recovering from a deadly encounter with a child-raper, knew the investigator well, so she agrees to find them, never imagining the kind of conflict she is stepping into. This is where we meet the people who have been important in Kate's life, and some that will be important in future. We also see how politics can cover even daily personal lives. The gradual unveiling of Kate in the first pages grabs our permanent attention.

Joy read: WHISPER TO THE BLOOD by Dana Stabenow
A mining company is going to open a pit mine in the middle of the Park. They plan to create many jobs for Park dwellers, which is supposed to make everyone forget the acids which are used to refine gold and then released into the environment. The Native Alaskans who live on subsistence hunting and fishing are facing the literal death of their natural surroundings, and possibly responding with violence. In the meantime outlaws are hijacking travelers on the river highway, and the story of Louis Deem continues to have reverberations. Kate would be trying to fix things anyway, but now she is reluctant Chairman of the local Native Association, so the whole situation is her responsibility.
   Stabenow's series has become so popular that she can use it to tackle head-on the issues that Alaska is facing, as mineral developers attempt to get at the riches underneath one of the few unspoiled places left on earth. Alas, this is the end of the series for now, with A NIGHT TOO DARK not due out until some time next year.

Joy read: A DEEPER SLEEP by Dana Stabenow
It's an intolerable situation. Louis Deem has gotten away with the murder of his third wife. He loves killing, and it's especially gratifying to kill each wife when he tires of her. Other people are being murdered, too. The Park can't do anything about it, because whenever he goes to trial he threatens the families of the jurors. Acquitted and free, Louis hooks up with a newcomer named Smith whose means of dealing with laws he doesn't like -- such as protecting wildlands and wildlife -- is to pretend the laws don't exist. Thhe alliance is cemented by Louis's engagement with Smith's eldest daughter.
   The situations created by Louis and Smith are appalling, an offense to my sense of rightness. There can't be a good solution, but solution there is. The reason this book is enjoyable is Kate, her friends and community. An important change occurs in Chopper Jim's life, and another one is about to occur in Kate's.

Joy read: A TAINT IN THE BLOOD by Dana Stabenow
30 years is a very old case. Victoria was convicted of the murder by arson of her teenaged son, and after she spends 30 years in prison, her daughter Charlotte hires Kate Shugak to prove she didn't do it.
   Victoria is the daughter of one of Alaska's most powerful families. Considering all the unscrupulous maneuvers made by the family's patriarch, why did they ever let her get convicted? I knew who committed the original crime within the first few chapters, but that didn't stop me from relishing the story. Kate, dressed to kill, dares Anchorage society to do its worst, and someone very nearly does.
   We have Kate's usual colorful friends, including her loyal half-wolf Mutt and trooper Jim Chopin. Then we have the teenaged boys who kind of need Kate to rescue them, and the police researcher who loves having Kate finally within romancing reach. It's a great brew.

Joy read: A GRAVE DENIED by Dana Stabenow
A body found in a glacier cave turns out to be the Park's competent but low-profile handyman. He was murdered roughly 6 months ago, so alibis are pretty near impossible. So little is known about him that motive is difficult to find, too. A solution would have been impossible except that the killer feels it necessary to kill more people to protect the secret.
   If you haven't read the Kate Shugak series, you have a treat in store. Here Kate is recovering from the death of a lover, with the help of her unofficial adopted son Johnny Morgan. Her friends Bobby and Dinah Clark, patrolman Jim Chopin, and the other inhabitants of the protected Alaskan Park keep the atmosphere vital and energetic. In spite of the serious handling of serious issues, humor keeps it lively.
   When I paused in the series a couple of years ago, it was because the introduction was from the viewpoint of Johnny, and I wasn't in the mood for a child's mind. Now picking up the series is like home.

Joy read: GENUINE LIES by Nora Roberts
When I started GENUINE LIES, I stopped it just as fast. I hate books in which the hero/heroine is the chief suspect in a murder. Because of Roberts' knack for relationships of all kinds, and after a gap of about ten days, I eventually gave the book a chance.
   Movie goddess Eve Benedict summons biographer Julie Summers to write her authorized biography, in which Eve plans to expose all the secrets she has kept hidden throughout her life. Trouble is, most of the secrets aren't hers to tell, and a lot of people are upset about this rattling of their skeletons. Julie is too, as it turns out. She is forced to accept some of Eve's closest friends into her own life.

Joy read: TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyers
After watching the movie, I reread the book. The movie has changed some of the faces I see in my mind: the actors who played Jacob, Alice, Carlisle, Charlie, James, Laurent, Michael and Angela are all part of my visuals this time. I expect I'll go through the rest of the series again.


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