Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Glen Davis' Favorites of 2018

Last year, I tried something new on the blog. Some of the regulars who talk about books on Thursdays, for "What Are You Reading?" agreed to post their lists of their favorite books of the year. I won't be posting my own list until the end of December, but, along with all the book and entertainment magazines, some readers are ready to discuss their favorite books.

I love Glen Davis' weekly commentaries on Thursdays. He's always succinct, and has a dry wit when commenting on the books. Glen agreed to submit his list for the second year in a row.

Thank you, Glen, for talking about your favorite books of 2018.


Here goes!

Even though I read a record number of books this year, I felt like I read better books last year.  

Best Espionage Novel:

Bloody Sunday by Ben Coes; Dewey Andreas is given a relatively simple job: injecting a North Korean general with a poison in order blackmail said general. Unfortunately, Dewey gets a little of the poison himself. He has to infiltrate North Korea to get the antidote. Very exciting.

Spy Master by Brad Thor; Scot Harvath segues into a desk job, but not before stopping a Russian invasion.

Best Hard Boiled Mystery:

Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton;  Van Shaw does a favor for a friend of his grandfather's, a supposedly risk free finding of gold. Gold never comes risk free, as Van finds out. Cold and hard like the best of hard boiled fiction.

Best Cozy Mystery:

Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge by Laura Levine; Jaine Austen gets into a host of problems while housesitting. For starters, her neighbor a former child star, now a reclusive miser is murdered, and the cops think she did it. Levine in top hilarious form.

Dying for a Deal by Cindy Sample; Now a PI Laurel McKay is spending her days sitting in an office by herself, until a co-worker hires her to follow her fiance. A small time case soon enough gives MacKay all the trouble she can handle.

Best Historical Fiction:

Final Resting Place by Jonathan F. Putnam; A political assassination forces Lincoln and Speed to try to prove a man's innocence, against the machinations of Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's eternal opponent.

Luck Be A Lady, Don't Die by Robert J. Randisi; One of the Rat Pack novels. Frank Sinatra sets up a lady love in a hotel, but she skips out, leaving a body in the bathtub. Mobster Sam Giancana is also interested in the lady. Eddie Gianelli finds himself in a tight spot trying to find her.

Cold War Heroes by Tom Johnson;  A group of MPs in France have a series of MASH like adventures. Very funny and true to life.

Best Clive Cussler Novel

Raise The Titanic; The novel where Cussler and his creation, Dirk Pitt, really made their names. Very different than the current spate of novels, this is a cold war story featuring a race against the nefarious Russkis. First of Cussler's novels to be adapted to film.

Best Horror Novel:

A Ship Possessed by Alden Gansky; Also an Inspirational novel, so I guess this is a two-fer. A German U-Boat from World War 2 resurfaces in San Diego, along with other, more mysterious forces. A Navy Admiral attempts to cope with the supernatural, and its allies among humanity. 

Hook Jaw; A collection of comic book stories from Britain about a monstrous shark. Properly bloody. Anyone can die at anytime...essential for this kind of horror.

Best Children's Book:

The School Bus Driver From The Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler, pictures by Jared Lee; A kid has heard some ridiculous stories about his new school bus driver, and worries whether they are true

Serendipity Mystery, Diary of a Snoopy Cat by R.F. Kristi; The gang goes to Sri Lanka where they have to solve a mystery with the help of some leopards and elephants. Fun and educational.

Best History Book:

Scarface And The Untouchable by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz; A history of the roaring twenties and the feud between Al Capone and Eliot Ness. Exhaustively researched and very well written. Probably tells you more than you want to know about both men.

Best Health Book:

Best Hospital 2019 by U.S. News and World Report; A listing of the 500 best hospitals in the country and so much else. Makes me feel good to be living within driving distance to a number of these places.

Best Book About Wine:

Inside the Chinese Wine Industry: The Past, Present, and future of Wine in China by Loren Mayshark; The title says it all. As a bit of a wine hobbyist, I found this book very educational, especially the section on counterfeits. I really had to swirl my wine in its glass to make sure I got the real stuff!

There you have it! Some old favorites and some new stuff. Looking forward to next year!


Monday, December 17, 2018

Have You Heard?...Charlaine Harris' All Together Dead

While I'm frantically reading for journal reviews before the holidays, Sandie Herron has stepped up with some audio book reviews. Thank you, Sandie!

All Together Dead                                                                              

Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 7
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Time:  10 hours, 21 minutes
Publisher:  Recorded Books (May 18, 2007)

Wedding fever has hit Bon Temps, Louisiana, and Jason Stackhouse finally gets hitched when were-panther Crystal Norris discovers she is pregnant again.  Jason asks his sister Sookie to attend.  Quinn the were-tiger, accompanies Sookie, enhancing her status.  This wedding is unique since Sookie must vouch for Jason as his closest living relative and agree to take the penalty if Jason does wrong.  

Telepath Sookie Stackhouse is dating one of the last were-tigers. She knows there is more about Quinn that she needs to learn; what makes him the legend about which other shapeshifters whisper?  Sookie is also hosting witch Amelia who fled New Orleans after transforming her boyfriend Bob into a cat, since she would owe a penalty to the witch community.  However, Amelia needs help finding the spell to turn the cat back into her boyfriend, but since she cannot risk contact, Bob’s fate is uncertain.

Sookie must leave Amelia in Louisiana to attend the vampire summit in Rhodes.  Louisiana vampire Queen Sophie-Anne has requested that Sookie accompany her and read the minds of any humans she deals with to detect deceit or malice.  The Queen’s power has declined following hurricane Katrina and so has her wealth.  While the Queen and other vampires fled New Orleans, they have yet to return.  Even the human population has offered assistance, since it will bring tourism back to the city.  Queen Sophie-Anne will seek support in the rebuilding efforts while at the summit.

Several months ago at a reception celebrating the nuptials of the Queen of Louisiana and the King of Arkansas, betrayals and hidden agendas bring about an attempt on the Queen’s life and the murder of the King.  In the Queen’s defense, her personal bodyguard killed the King, instigating a brawl among all vampires present.  At the summit, Queen Sophie-Anne will go on trial for murder if she cannot negotiate a settlement.

The summit is all about power struggles within kingdoms and among rivals, between vampires and humans.  Even Sookie becomes embroiled, so when the Queen’s bodyguard demands that her loyalty be fortified, Sookie and Eric must exchange blood, hence becoming blood bonded. When Sookie encounters Texan Barry Bellboy, the only other telepath she knows, they compare experiences and realize that each person has their own tolerance for what they can live with and what they consider to be way outside the lines.  This inner turmoil helps to define each of them. 

The summit is full of mysterious goings on.  Guards from another dimension protect the King of Kentucky, but no one can discern why.  Sookie discovers a bomb outside the Queen’s suite, but who placed it there?  What do the extra suitcases and caskets hold, since no one claims them?  Rumors fly about the Church of the Sun.

This seventh entry into the unique world of Sookie Stackhouse brings many magical creatures together at increasingly complex and dangerous events.  Very entertaining and definitely recommended.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Have You Heard...Donna Andrews' Owls Well That Ends Well

Thanks, again, to Sandie Herron, for a review for Have You Heard. Today, she reviews the audio book of  Donna Andrews' Owls Well That Ends Well.

Owls Well That Ends Well                       
Written By: Donna Andrews
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
Series: Meg Langslow, Book 6
Length: 8 hrs and 59 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (10/24/16)

The world of Meg Langslow is always a bit chaotic, and never more so than OWLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL.  Humorous doesn’t begin to describe the yard sale Meg and her boyfriend Michael have chosen to host at their new home, the run-down Sprocket Victorian mansion a bit outside of town.  The house sale had included all the furniture and clutter that Edwina Sprocket had accumulated.  What would have been a large yard sale only grew when Meg’s family learned about it and wanted to participate.  Ultimately taking up 2 acres of land, each relative, friend, and neighbor had their own tables set up.

Dawn arrived with bargain hunters ringing the doorbell even though the posted opening time was 9 AM.  Fencing and the dog Spike guarded the sale area until then.  Meg’s dad was more concerned with the owls nesting in the barn, especially the fledglings.  Signs were posted saying to keep out of the barn.  Of course, no one listened.  The worst offender was an antiques dealer who kept hiding his finds in the barn until he paid for them.  He was overheard arguing with an English professor about a particular book by a favorite author.  The dealer claimed to have a wonderful copy while the professor balked at the price.

Later that morning, the dealer’s body was found stuffed into a trunk hidden in the barn by yet another shopper.  Next to the trunk was a bookend the professor had planned to purchase but was now bloody from bashing in the dealer’s head.  The police were called, and the yard sale was shut down to quarantine the crime scene.  The dozens of shoppers did not want to clear the yard so they could guard their choices.  Traffic clogged the road so when the media arrived, they parked in the front of the house, as did various vendors selling funnel cakes, snow cones, and more.  Even the sheep from the farm across the road were let loose when the ever-growing carnival spread to that lot.  While solving disputes and problems during the sale, Meg was able to snoop quite a bit to try and determine who the murderer might be.

Donna Andrews brings us a yard sale where everything that could go wrong, does.  Each catastrophe (real or perceived) brings on laughter, chuckles, and even guffaws from us readers, not the characters.  Most of them are in great distress, one way or another.  All the stereotypical traumas that might occur are brought to light in this book.  I’m sure it took a very organized mind to present so many concurrent disasters with so much charm and many giggles.   

Ms. Andrews has definitely hit her stride with this sixth entry in the Meg Langslow series.  I found it enjoyable, hilarious, and entertaining.  Even after a suspect was arrested, so many alternatives became apparent that Andrews incorporated in the now twisting, turning mystery.  The ending was unexpected, with many crimes and situations resolved.  Except the yard sale. 

Bernadette Dunne’s narration was wonderful.  Her calm voice brought us through characterizations but was mainly Meg’s voice since this is told from a first person perspective.  However, I would know her mother and dad’s voices anywhere, so well defined by both narration and writing.  A fabulous rendition of a terrific tale.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Have You Heard...We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews

Thank you, again, to Sandie Herron, for reviewing audio books for the "Have You Heard?" feature. I always appreciate it when Sandie can step in when I've been busy and don't have a book to review. Thank you, Sandie.

We’ll Always Have Parrots     
Written by Donna Andrews
Series:  Meg Langslow, Book 5
Unabridged Audiobook
Publisher: Books on Tape (12/13/2005)
Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel (2004), Lefty Award (2005)

Meg Langslow, blacksmith, has accompanied her fiancé Michael, drama professor, to a convention run by Friends of Amblyopia, fans of the cult TV show "Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle."  Michael plays the part of Mephisto, a Machiavellian sorcerer, on the show.  His presence at the convention is required by his contract and by Tamerlaine Wynncliffe-Jones, the aging woman who plays Queen Porfiria and owns the production company.
Trouble is brewing right from the start when room service delivers parrots, freed by monkeys from the jungle-like lobby display, along with breakfast trays.  The health department insists they remove the live animals yet somehow each time they are captured, they are set free again.

Meg is attending the convention to be with Michael; however, she also has a booth where her swords are for sale which she shares with Alaric Steele.  She’s honored when the show’s blade master, in charge of teaching the cast fencing and stage fighting, asks for her help in a demonstration.  Wandering the convention as though lost is Ichabod Dilley.  Ichabod Dilley was the artist of the original comic strip that inspired the TV show, but this Ichabod Dilley is not an artist but a motivational speaker.  Meg takes him under her wing to escort him to his panel at the convention.

It takes much coaxing to get Porfiria, or the "QB" (Queen Bee) to open her hotel room door, where it is obvious she’s been drinking.  She is due on stage and to sign autographs afterwards.  No one really likes Porfiria, and she keeps employees and cast members for only short lengths of time.

Later on, as the charity auction is winding down, there’s no Porfiria there to judge the look-alike contest.  Meg trudges up to her room where the door has been opened a crack by security, but only as far as the chain will allow.  Meg goes into her room next door and climbs over the balcony to enter the QB’s room.  What she finds inside is a grey parrot shrieking "Leave me alone" each time someone knocks on the door and a dead body next to the bed.  Queen Porfiria has been bludgeoned with a wine bottle.

Writer Donna Andrews has hit her witty stride in this fifth installment of the Meg Langslow series.  Andrews has a way of finding the hilarity in a situation and then exploiting it to make it even more entertaining.  As always, Meg’s dad fancies himself a solver of mysteries and has his travel medical bag along just in case.  Salome, the tiger, another of the jungle animals on display, has been saved from a life of misery.  The fans are getting the ever-present police to autograph their programs along with the stars.  All sorts of commotion ensues with almost no one feeling any remorse that Porfiria is dead, unless you count all the people who may now have to find new jobs with the continuity of the series in question.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS could have gone over the top in someone else’s hands, but Donna Andrews has a good grip on the wild situations.  This audiobook features narrator Bernadette Dunne who does a great job bringing us the hilarity but keeping a “straight face” in doing so. She was able to punctuate her reading without the reader knowing it which made it clear when dialogue was being spoken and also kept the narration flowing.

Ultimately Meg must defend her life against a killer, which nets her far more than she ever imagined.  I can’t wait to find out how it all comes together in the next tale.