Archive for the ‘Gotta Read Them All’ Category

P.D. James: Mistress of Mystery

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Of course she has been inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame! Baroness Phyllis Dorothy James has 20 books to her credit (including one science fiction outing and an autobiography). Beyond that, she writes some of the most intelligent mysteries around.

The poet-policemen, Adam Dalgliesh, who solves most of her mysteries, is unlike any other fictional crime hero. Instead of quirky behavior he brings intense focus to the crimes he solves, acting with British reserve. In addition, her books are beautifully researched — often drawing on her first-hand knowledge of  the police and criminal law from years of working in the British Home Office.

As she entered her 90s, James retired her Dalgliesh series, stating it would be unfair to leave an incomplete manuscript. Instead, she ventured where most would fear to tread: bringing murder and mayhem into the world created by Jane Austen. Death Comes to Pemberly is  joy for both Austen lovers and mystery fans, set six years after the marriage of Mr  Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

I’ve only read a dozen of James’ books so far but will absolutely read the rest. Will Pemberly be her last? I hate to think so, though her website has no hints about future books. James has always been about quality of writing over quantity of output. Her last book shows that when it comes to quality, she still stands head and shoulders above most others. Is she does publish again, I expect nothing but the best. Because that’s what a Hall of Famer delivers.

Alison Weir’s Historical Novels

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I came to Alison Weir’s historical fictions after enjoying a number of her very readable non-fiction histories. The first time I came across one of her fictional books (with the seemingly mandatory cover image of a woman in period dress with her face partially obscured — what is up with that?) I was a touch amused.

I imagined Weir being at least a little put out that Philippa Gregory was selling circles around Weir’s carefully researched non-fiction works. So, why shouldn’t Weir translate her vast historical knowledge into books that would reach people who might never pick up an actual history — and sell a lot more copies in the process.

I say good for her. And good for us as well.

Enjoyable to read as well as informative, Weir’s fictions shine a light on women of history who are too often overlooked. I’ve read two of her novels now (along with about six of her histories) and look forward to reading more.

Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor Aquitane couldn’t be more different from Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey. But then those two women couldn’t be more unalike, either.

Lady Jane was a child pawn whose only value to her family was as a possible path to the English crown, a move that put Jane in mortal danger as a mere teen. Eleanor, on the other hand. was a ruler in her own right, who proceeded to marry two kings, produce two future kings, and exhibit so much moxie her husbands sometimes despaired of her.

Weir does justice to them both. Her Lady Jane novel depicts royal childhood in a way that may shock contemporary readers. In effect, children were treated as miniature adults, held to high standards, and beaten when they fell short. Please, don’t let that put you off — the character of Lady Jane is truly fascinating and you’ll be impressed by how she deals with what life has given her.

Eleanor, on the other hand, is quite the manipulator herself. And a hot, lusty lady as well. Dissatisfied with the attentions of her husband, the French king, she plots an annulment so she can wed the ambitious man who plans to become the king of England. Considering we’re talking about the 11th century here, that’s pretty bold.

I appreciate that Weir’s novelistic style gives room for these two polar opposites to breathe and become “real.” But even more, I value knowing that for Weir, decades of research and dedication to facts came before her foray into fiction. Okay, Gregory has studied history, too, but she hasn’t written any.

To me, that makes a world of difference.

For more about Alison Weir, her novels, and her histories, click here.

The Loving Vampires of Christopher Moore

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Christopher Moore’s novels tend to be funny, outrageous, and in general a delight to read. Strangely enough, while everyone else seems to be piling on the vampire (and zombie) band wagon, he seems to be abandoning it. While that’s a shame in some respects, he has created such a delightful little trilogy with his three books about blood suckers I wanted to spread the word.

Moore started his vampire series in 1995 with Blood Sucking Fiends. This comic love story positively bounces with quirkiness and good spirits. Boy meets red-headed vampire and, of course, love ensues. And, of course, there are obstacles to that love —  beyond the expected day vs. night shift problem. And wait till you meet the Animals — actually the stoner night stockers at a local grocery. It’s pure fun all the way.

You Suck continues the story of the young lovers. Moore waited 13 years before writing this equal (guess he saw the time was ripe for more vampire antics). I can’t tell you much without revealing too much of the first book, but wait till you meet vampire minion Abby Normal. Ha! Much of the book is “good vampires” against the “bad.” And, with any page turn, you may find yourself amazed at some new oddity Moore’s imagination creates.

The third, and I suspect final (because it ends so completely), installment is the recently released Bite Me. Not only are all the outrageous characters of the first two books still around for your entertainment, there’s also Chet — the giant shaved vampire cat who now leads a growing band of vampire kitties. Then the vampire clean-up crew comes to town and the action really starts.

Keep in mind, these are not your typical vampire stories, full of nastiness, angst, and fear. Moore’s books are filled with frolic, fun, and fearlessness in the face of impossible odds. And, as each book’s subtitle reads, they are all “a love story.”

There’s also one related story, which includes plenty of weirdness, including possibly the birth of a baby Death, as well as many of the same supporting characters: A Dirty Job. Read ’em all and have fun!

Want to know more about Christopher Moore and his other works (including the amazing Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend)? Click here.

What’s This Thing about Lee Child?

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Lee Child seems to make women swoon. Why is that?

There are probably hundreds of mystery and thriller writers I have never read — many of them quite well known. Lee Child was one of them until I went to a book reading by Steve Berry and overheard a group of women talking about different writers. Someone mentioned Lee Child’s name and — in unison — every woman in that group went, “Lee Child! Oooh!”

That got my attention.

Now that my ears were perked to his name, I noticed that same reaction from women again and again. I had to read for myself.

Jack Reacher is Lee Child’s recurring character, and he certainly strikes me as a man’s man, not a woman’s fantasy. He’s a rolling stone, with no possessions other than the clothes he wears and a folding toothbrush. A loner by nature, he inevitably gets ensnarled in some evil activity and must use his wits and formidable physical skills to fight for survival — for himself and the inevitable other victim(s).

Blood is spilled. Often copious quantities. He has sex, which he appreciates but not enough to hang around for more. He is uncontainable and untamable.

So why do women find him so darn attractive? And his creator Lee Child by association (Lee Child’s cover picture looks a lot like his description of Jack Reacher. Accident? I think not!)?

Lee Child writes a good thriller — his language, pacing, and story structure are all strong. Especially for this genre. But I would think the aloofness of Jack Reacher and the bloodiness of his (always for good) actions would limit his appeal, not strengthen it.

Then I remembered Clint Eastwood and his movies from the High Plains Drifter era. Jack Reacher is very much a modern interpretation. I didn’t get why women liked Eastwood then and I don’t get why they like Lee Child now. But I watched those movies because they were good entertainment. And while I will never swoon, I will read every Jack Reacher book that Lee Child turns out.

Jasper Fforde Takes His Alternate Universe Literally.

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Let me make this crystal clear: Jasper Fforde does not write science fiction. He writes highly amusing mystery books to delight people who love to read. And they take place in an alternative universe set in the 1980s.

In his alternative universe, literary creations like Miss Havisham, Heathcliff, and Falstaff have lives beyond the characters they play in books and plays. In fact, sometimes they enter the physical world, and vice versa. Sound confusing? Just accept it as fact, like knowing what a television does without having a clue as to how that is possible.

I strongly suggest starting with the first of his Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair), because like all worlds Fforde’s universe becomes increasingly and hysterically more complex the more you learn about it. The more familiar you are with classic literature, the more “inside” jokes you will enjoy. But even if some of these sweep by you unnoticed (I sadly have a shabby classic literature history), there is still much to enjoy.

Thurday Next is a detective — a Literary Detective with SpecOps, which is where the mystery plots come in. She has a pet dodo, a disppeared husband (in every sense of the word), and a propensity for winding up in trouble in every investigation she undertakes. Her first involves finding Jane Eyre — some rascal has stolen Miss Eyre from her book and the world is aghast.

Fforde also has another mystery series that focuses on detectives in the Nursery Crime Division (The Big Over Easy is the first in that series). You don’t need to read any of the Thursday Next books to enjoy these and there’s no huge reason to read them in order, either. To give you an idea of what you’re in for — Humpty Dumpty is the focus of a murder investigation in the first one.

His Shades of Grey, which is scheduled for release in December, 2010, takes another tack entirely. I can’t wait to see what new ingenious insanity Fforde has ready to dish out next.

If you’re uncertain about whether Jasper Fforde is for you, take a trip to his website by clicking here. Personally, I feel nothing but glee anytme I open the cover to one of his books.

Loving Douglas Adams.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

He may be too soon gone but I hope he is never forgotten. To label Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books as science fiction does them no justice. They are fiercely funny, outrageous delights. Outer space might be the setting (sometimes), but these treats have nothing else in common with the genre.

How to describe his writing? How about this sample: “Flying is easy — all you have to do is throw yourself at the ground and miss.” This absurdist attitude shines on every page. The description of earth in the eponymous guide consists of two words, “Mostly harmless.”

Don’t think for a moment Adam’s works are much like the fairly recent (and fairly bad) movie of the same title. Though Adams was helping with the script, I can’t help but feel that his untimely death led to an inferior product. After all this was the man who said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly past.” So he probably was procrastinating more than writing. At least that’s what I chose to believe.

Besides taking you to the end of the universe and back again, Adams also created a couple of equally imaginative and impossible detective novels starring Dirk Gently. Other works include The Meaning of Liff, a dictionary of words Adams felt were missing from the English language and therefore invented for us.

To get a bigger sampling of his creativity, check out this website. It’s a group of quotations, some from his books and some from life. If that doesn’t convince you that Douglas Adams is a first rate humorist… well, I just have to wonder about your sense of humor.

You can check out his official website by clicking here, but I don’t think it’s worthy of the man. Do read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the first book in the series. The journey it takes you on may be short but it’s packed with pleasure. You’re sure to want to read the next installment.

I know I’m still pining for more. If only…

I Can’t Resist Robert B. Parker.

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Is it the ulta-terse writing? The incredible love match? The fascinating supporting characters? The fact that his books includes ample references to food? Why am I so addicted to the work of Robert B. Parker?

I don’t think it’s the plot lines. Don’t get me wrong — I LIKE the plots. But what I LOVE is Parker’s style of writing and his characters. And he just keeps turning those “gotta read them all” books out.

First it was the Spenser mysteries. Then along came the Jesse Stone series and the Sunny Randall books. More characters to love. More books to read. Parker also writes a lot of western-style books, but I have to draw the line somewhere. So I’m sticking with the ones where a tough and sometimes outside-the-law P.I. gets the bad guy and loves his woman (Spenser); where a flawed small town sheriff gets the bad guy and is confused by his women (Stone); and where a female P.I. with authority issues gets the bad guys and is confused about her ex (Randall).

If you decide to try Robert B. Parker’s books yourself, don’t feel like you have to read them in any order. Yes, there are some references to the past, but they won’t get in the way of enjoying what’s right in front of you at the time. After a few books you’ll discover that minor characters sometimes have a way of showing up in different series. That just adds to the fun.

For a long time I considered Parker’s work to be a guilty pleasure. No more! He probably won’t win any Pulitzers, but the last two Pulitzers I read weren’t near as enjoyable as his work. and shouldn’t you enjoy what you’re reading? Whether it’s Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Jeffry Lent, or Robert B. Parker?

I thought you would agree.

I love Robert B. Parker. I’m always pining for his next book. And he knows not to keep fans like me waiting too long.

Here’s a link to his website.

The Thrillers of Steve Berry

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

The Short Take:

Hints to the location of a vanished legend come to light. But more than one party is in a race to capture the prize, no matter what the cost. The resulting thrillers not only keep you immersed from first page to last, they also send you to the Internet to learn more about the historical context of Berry’s novels.


A winning combination of break-neck action and mysteries of the ages make Steve Berry’s thrillers truly enjoyable reads. He one-ups Dan Brown by cutting down on the talkiness; then he amps up the action. The results are must reads for pure escapism.

The secrets of Fatima, the treasure of the Knights Templar, the Amber Room of Imperial Russia — these are just a few of the mysteries Berry sends his protagonists in search of. His heroes not only have to solve riddles and seek out clues around the world, they must contend with the nefarious deeds and traps set by others who seek the same goal but for more sinister reasons.

Yes, it’s a formula. But there’s a book-load of difference between each of Berry’s books. He doesn’t even get around to introducing a continuing hero until his fourth book, The Templar Legacy. But his Cotton Malone, a retired elite operative for the U. S. State Department, is certainly worth the wait. Cotton has since been joined by a circle of enemies and friends. But, no worries, you can pick up Berry’s book in any sequence and not miss a thing.

But you’ll miss plenty if you pass this author by.

I’ll confess right now to loving this genre. Mysteries and thrillers that bring in ancient (or even not so ancient) lost treasures or secrets always intrigue me. But Steve Berry gets it spot on. I can’t wait to get my hands on his next thriller, coming out in December.

Want to learn more about the Steve Berry and his books? Check out his website by clicking here.


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