Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life (Armand Gamache Series #1)Still Life. Finished 9-1-13, rating 4.5/5, mystery, 312 pages, pub. 2005

Book 1 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series.

I made a small 2013 reading list based on other blogger’s best-of lists and whether I had the book or not (here). Still Life was on Staci’s 2012 list and I can see why.  I am really anxious to get my hands on the next one on the series. Thanks for the recommendation, Staci! I’m guessing this will end up one of my favorites of the year too.

Is this is a cozy mystery? Yes, but it’s one with that thing that makes it extra special.  To me, that means it never turns into classic caricatures following the same whodunit script.  The characters were real, even if some still have their secrets.  That can only be a good thing as the series continues.

Chief Inspector Gamache is a well-respected detected up in the Montreal area.  He is caring, thoughtful, patient, insightful, a bit of a rebel, a teacher and he gets the job done.  This was not his first case, he’s been around the block a few times and I loved that it felt like I was meeting a fully developed character, not just the bare bones version that sometimes happens in the first book of a new series.

The people of Three Pines are a varied collection of characters and I was fully invested in Jane  even though she died on the first page because of the way her friends saw her.  They loved her and that made me love her. I’m actually sad that she won’t be around for the next book!

It did take me a little while to get used to the writing style.  My eyes often had to drift back or forward to figure out who was talking, but once I got it I was hooked and I couldn’t put it down until I knew who had killed Jane.  And there were no shortage of suspects, even to the very end.

Highly recommend to every mystery lover.

This was from my own library.

The Cleveland Connection, by Les Roberts

The Cleveland Connection (Milan Jacovich Series #4) by Les Roberts: Book CoverFinished 12-30-09, rating 4/5, mystery, pub. 1993

Book 4 in the Milan Jacovich mystery series

I don’t kid myself that I’m changing the world during my brief tenure here, but I’d like to believe I’m at least making a little dent.  I think we all nurture a secret terror that our living and dying will go unremarked, unmourned, that unlike Jimmy Stewart in that perennial Christmas movie, our life won’t make a damn bit of difference to anyone.

Chapter 2

Milan is a 40 year-old divorced police officer turned private detective who has spent his whole life in Cleveland, Ohio.  When an old classmate hires him to find her missing grandfather and his good friend, Ed, starts receiving death threats, Milan is forced to bully, and bribe, and hope that he will still be in one piece when the day is done.  There’s never a neighborhood bar he can’t find trouble in and rarely a woman not interested in this ex-football player. 

There are many mysteries to be solved, but the main focus is on war criminals of World War II and the losses of the Serbians at the hand of the Nazis.  It’s an interesting history lesson of the war and of Cleveland.  Roberts really does capture the vibe of this city I live in the shadow of.

This book is much more introspective than the first three.  Milan is single and lonely and it has made him melancholy.  Milan is a great character who is always trying to do the right thing, but the right thing is not always black or white.  I never know for sure what side Milan will come down on in complicated issues and that makes him a very interesting character. 

I love this series and think it only gets better with each book.  Roberts manages to keep many storylines going at once without ever confusing the reader and I appreciate that I can never see how it’s all going to come together until the end. 

This book was from my personal library.

Murder in the Air, by Ellen Hart

Cover ImageFinished 12-23-09, rating 4/5, mystery, pub. 1997

Sophie Greenway Mystery series #4


I haven’t got much time.  By now, you’ve heard what happened.  Don’t believe what the police tell you, please!  Wait until you hear the story from me.

Opening Lines

Sophie Greenway and her radio talk show host husband, Bram, live at the fancy hotel she owns and runs in the Twin Cities.  The hotel is the temporary home to actors who have come to St.Paul to work in a new live radio mystery theatre serial.  The new owner of the radio station, Heda Bloom, has decided to use this series to change public opinion  that her son murdered his lover 30 years before and is still on the loose.  By bringing back the original actors from this series all the players from the time of the crime are back.  She has hired a reclusive writer for the series, one she has never met but who seems very familiar with the all the players in the Justin Bloom story. 

This is a mystery that is brimming with characters and plot.  I was engrossed in the story and had to pay attention to keep up with everything that was happening, so that I was completely unprepared for the end.  I mean I was floored, didn’t see it coming at all.  I don’t usually start a series in the middle, because I want the story of the characters from the beginning, but I picked this up at a used bookstore because I needed one more holiday book for my quiz and I’m so glad I did.  As much as I don’t want to start another series right now I may have to look for the first one.

The book isn’t perfect.  Sophie’s son is preparing a commitment ceremony with his boyfriend and while not a major storyline, felt a little like a public service announcement for tolerance (a good theme, but seemed forced into the story).  Although I guess she could have been following up on a major storyline from an earlier book.  See the questions I have when I don’t read a series from the beginning?!  And while I loved the big payoff at the end of this mystery I wanted a little more, maybe to see a little more of the fallout. 

I would recommend this for mystery lovers.

You will choose 50 of the books I will read next year.  If you help me you could win a $20 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  Go here to vote. (Right now there is a tie for the top vote getter between A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb)

The Girl on Legare Street, by Karen White

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White: Book CoverFinished 12-16-09, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 2009

Book 2 in the Tradd Street series

“And?” I prompted.

“They found human remains inside.”

I didn’t respond.  I was on my knees following the trail of salt, realizing too late that the grainy spills resembled footprints.  I held my breath as if preparing to dive into water, and stopped when I saw that the trail of salt led to the back stairway.

“Jack?” I whispered. ” I think we have a problem.”  And then I dropped my phone and started to scream.

Chapter 5

Melanie is a successful and attractive Charleston realtor who also has the uncanny gift of being able to interact with ghosts.  She has recently reconciled with her recovering alcoholic father and when her mother, who has been absent from her life for 30 years, waltzes back into town she has enough.  Her mother pulls strings with Melanie’s boss and she s forced to help her mother buy her childhood home, just a short walk to her own home.  Melanie is uptight and plans every detail of her life and her mother and friend with sparks, Jack, do not fit into her plans. 

The historical home that her mother bought has been haunted since her mother was a child and the spirit is gaining strength and hatred.  The two must come to terms with each other.  And Jack has started dating a woman who rankles Melanie and much of the book is spent with the silent treatment being used by both of them.  But the puzzle of the past and the details of who this evil spirit may be brings them together, if only to solve the riddle of Melanie’s heritage.

As with the first book, I really enjoyed the ghostly elements of the story.  These evil ones can do real damage!  I enjoyed Melanie more in this one, but Jack less.  I really thought he behaving stupidly, but maybe that’s not too far from reality.  Melanie and Jack keep dancing around each other and a little of that can go a long way.  And I confess that I really didn’t like the very end.  The plot all comes together in a satisfactory way, but the addition of the last page or two was unnecessary.

I would recommend this book and the first one, even if you are not into ghosts, I’m certainly not and I think these are fun mysteries.

tlc tour hostStop by the TLC website and see who else has reviewed this book.  I received this book from the tour for review.

You will choose 50 of the books I will read next year.  If you help me you could win a $20 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  Go here to vote. (Right now the top vote getter is A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving)

Killing Floor, by Lee Child

Cover ImageFinished 11-21-09, rating 4/5, mystery, pub. 1997

Jack Reacher series, book 1

They had come prepared.  They’d known there was going to be a lot of blood.  They’d brought overshoes.  They must have brought overalls.  Like the nylon bodysuits they wear in the slaughterhouse.  On the killing floor.

Chapter 12

Jack Reacher is an ex-military cop who is roaming the United States, seeing the country he barely knows after a lifetime (36 years) spent on military bases around the world.  A random memory of a story that his brother told him makes him step off the Greyhound bus and walk 14 miles to the small, pristine town of Margrave, Georgia.  As he is having breakfast at the diner he is arrested for the murder of two bodies found while he was on the road.  And this is where the fun begins.

Jack has an alibi, but that will not save him from dangerous time in prison or from people trying to frame him.  He does get some help from new friends, but he will have to rely on his own considerable skills to get him out of this mess.  And Jack is more than able to take care of himself.

I love graphic, gritty, and grisly mysteries.  I wouldn’t want to read a steady diet of them, but occasionally that’s all that will fit the bill.  This one fits all of those descriptors and a few more.  It is an amazing debut novel from Lee Child, it even won a few mystery awards when it was first published. 

I really liked this book and it can be read as a stand-alone novel.  There is nothing left hanging that will make you finish the series unless you need more of Jack Reacher.  And for me, Jack is not a guy I fell in love with.  He’s a hard man and while some of the book may have had too much detail, there was too little time spent addressing Jack’s sense of right and wrong.  So, I was left feeling a little uneasy about him. 

I liked this book and if you like the Jason Bourne type character then I think you will like this one.  I will read the next in the series to see the growth of Child and Reacher from book one to book two. 

This was a library book.

Murder on Nob Hill, by Shirley Tallman

Cover ImageFinished 1024-09, rating 4/5, mystery, pub. 2004

Book 1 in the Sarah Woolson series

Despite claims to the contrary – some, I fear, voiced by members of my own family – I pride myself on being an honest woman.  As a matter of principle, I hold dissimulation of any kind in contempt.  That said, I probably should add that I also subscribe to the old adage “God helps those who help themselves,” even if this sometimes entails being economical with the truth.

First paragraph of the book

Sarah Woolson is a strong young woman living in a time when strong women were frowned upon.  It’s 1880 and she has managed to get an interview with a leading law firm, but she is promptly shown the door because of her sex.  Not willing to step aside she steals a client and the firm takes her in to save face.  Now she must travel around San Francisco trying to prove her client innocent of murdering her rich husband and one of his powerful friends. 

Sarah is take no prisoners kind of gal and this really irks the lawyer who is assigned to following/helping her with the case.  And her brothers prove helpful as does her judge father.  She is not afraid of getting her hands dirty, but her mind is her best asset.  There is a lot to like about Sarah. 

The mystery was good.  I didn’t figure it out until right before Sarah did and it was a satisfying ending.  The family was a warm and fun and accepting of Sarah, well except for one brother running for California Senator, and I look forward to learning more about them as Sarah continues her adventures in the next book.

This did remind me of the Deadly series by Brenda Joyce if you are a fan.  Not any romance in this one, but I do see potential.

This was a library copy.

Rough Country, by John Sandford

Rough Country (Virgil Flowers Series #3) by John Sandford: Book CoverFinished 10-21-09, rating 3.5/5, mystery, pub. 2009

Book #3 in the Virgil Flowers series.

Walking out to the dock, Johnson said, “The old bag kinda climbed my tree.”

“One rule when you’re dealing with people close to a murder victim,” Virgil said.  “Try not to laugh.”

Chapter 2

Virgil Flowers works with Lucas Davenport (the Prey series) in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, investigating high profile crimes.  When Lucas sends him to solve a crime at a women’s retreat in northern Minnesota, single and always available Virgil, is happily surrounded by women.  But most of them aren’t looking twice at Virgil, they are too busy eyeing each other. 

A successful businesswoman is shot while canoeing and her love life leads him to an all-girl band with a talented singer going places.  The singer, Wendy, has an active love life and a crazy brother and dad, leading Virgil to link another murder to the one of the businesswoman. 

Virgil is a laid back, good looking man who exudes charm and cool and he is also the most successful closer in the Bureau.  The contrast between his humor and sexuality to his quoting Bible verses when the situation fits makes for an interesting character.  I like Virgil and would love to hang out at a bar listening to music with him (and my husband, of course)

This is another solid mystery by Sandford, but I did have an issue with the heavy handed way he dealt with gay women in this one.  I know people use derogatory language for many different groups and it usually doesn’t bother me if it defines the character, but in this case a few too many characters had issues.  And some of the storylines involving gay women seemed stereotypical. 

And for some reason there were numerous breaks in book, the kind that usually tell you the action has ended and you’re going somewhere else.  Except after the break you were back at the same place, with the same people, and still in the middle of conversation.  This didn’t really take enjoyment away from the story, but it did make me wonder what the point was. 

This was a library book.

Death Takes the Cake, by Melinda Wells

Death Takes the Cake by Melinda Wells: Book CoverFinished 9-29-09, rating 4/5, mystery, pub.2009

Book 2 in the Della Cooks Mystery series.

“With what I’ve got planned, you’re going to be the Miss America of Cake!”

I felt a sharp intake of breath.  “No.  Absolutely not.  I won’t wear a bathing suit on television!”

He eyed me speculatively.  “What’s the problem?  You still look good.”


“If I hadn’t read your TV bio, I wouldn’t have guessed you’re in your forties,” Addison said.  “Maybe late thirties- but you should think about doing a little glamorizing.”

Chapter 1

Della is a 47-year-old widower with a cable tv cooking show, her own cooking school, and a new venture to sell her fudge to the masses.  Her life is already busy, but when her boss tells her she’ll be baking in a reality show with a $25,000 prize she knows it could help her pay off some of her debts.  Until she learns it is being sponsored by Reggi-Mixx, the most awful cake mixes on the market and owned by her old college nemesis, Regina Davis.

The competition begins and as soon as Della shows up to her test kitchen she discovers Reggie, face down in a bowl of batter, dead.  She is a suspect, but only until the police find a more likely one, the husband of her best friend, Liddy. 

Della’s standard poodle, Tuffy and rescue kitty, Emma are there to provide support, as is her boyfriend NDM, who has now been elevated to being called his given name, Nicholas.  All of her friends are back and this is a perfect continuation of the series.  Della is still awesome and the mystery is a good one with real consequences for her and Liddy.

I actually enjoyed the cooking in this one a little more and there are recipes in the back.  You can see how to make those holiday fruitcakes edible and learn how to make an awful cake mix taste good with Della’s Orange Dreamsicle Cake.  One of the other reality show contestants is a Mary Kay consultant and I should note that we are not all quite so…pink.

I want to thank Melinda for sending me a copy of her book.  I loved it!

My review of book 1 here.

The Xibalba Murders, by Lyn Hamilton

The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton: Book CoverFinished 9-4-09, rating 3.5/5, mystery, pub.1997

Book 1 of An Archaeological Mystery series

“I cannot tell you more about it right now, but I can assure you that it is – – what is that American expression? — right up your alley, and that it will interest and possibly even excite you?”

“You’ll have to tell me more than that!”  I laughed.

“This is not a subject for discussion over the telephone,” he replied.  “The risk is too great.”

And then, perhaps fearing I wouldn’t come on the strength of so little information, he relented a little.

“I will give you a hint, then, since you are a student of the Maya.  We seek what the rabbit writes.” And that was all he would say.

It was a ludicrous request, so of course I went.

IMIX chapter

Lara McClintoch is fresh off a bad divorce that left her jobless and a student once again.  An old friend and museum expert on the Maya, Dr. Hernan Castillo, asks her to fly down from Toronto to Merida, Mexico, to aid him in a new project.  She jumps at the chance to work with him and visit old family friends in the city and is soon in Merida.  Only Dr. Castillo is nowhere to be found and Lara finds his dead body, casting suspicion on her in his murder.  With her passport confiscated, Lara thinks the only way to clear herself is to find the killer.  Instead she finds another dead body and is now under house arrest. 

This is mystery is heavy into the Mayan history and the current struggles of the people trying to retain their culture.  It was a little too detailed for my taste, but I did appreciate learning more about a culture I know little about.  The mystery was very good.  Although I suspected who might be behind the murders I did not know for sure and there were enough suspects to keep me guessing.

Lara was an interesting main character and this is the first in a series of archaeological mysteries that take her all over the world.  I wouldn’t mind reading the next in the series, but I won’t be rushing out to get it.

The Broken Window, by Jeffery Deaver

Cover ImageFinished 8-31-09, rating 4.5/5, mystery, pub. 2008

“But tell me if those benefits are worth somebody knowing every detail about your life.  Maybe you don’t care, provided you save a few bucks.  But do you really want ConsumerChoice lasers scanning your eyes in a movie theater and recording your reactions to those commercials they run before the movie?  Do you want the RFID tag in your car key to be available to the police to know that you hit a hundred miles an hour last week?”

Chapter 23

This is the 8th book in the Lincoln Rhyme series

Quadriplegic forensic specialist Lincoln Rhyme is back with his most personal case to date.  His cousin, Arthur, has been arrested for murder and his wife comes to Lincoln even though the two men haven’t been friends since high school.  Lincoln feels the familial bond and takes a look at the case and discovers that they may be dealing with a serial killer.  As Lincoln and his girlfriend, Amelia Sachs, try to prove the innocence of more than one person in prison, they become immersed in the new world of Big Brother. 

SSD, Strategic Systems Datacorp, is a data mining company that specializes in knowing everything about you.  No really, everything.  And they do know it all.  And it would not be difficult for an employee to commit awful crimes and pin them on someone else or even to steal a person’s life and destroy it piece by piece.

I loved this book.  We learn more about Lincoln’s personal life than in any book since the first one and I enjoyed learning more about his childhood and family.  And Amelia had her own things to deal with involving Pam, the teen from two earlier books who is now in foster care.

This book knocked it out of the park as far as scaring me to the point of paranoia.  I think most people recognize  that many of our individual freedoms are being stripped from us little by little, and some of us are okay with it and some of us aren’t.  But this book takes it to the next level.  Our whole lives are fodder for commercial gain and government dossiers.  It is frightening and although this is a novel, it hits home because it is happening right now. 

This book is a timely novel that will please Lincoln Rhyme fans and fans of fast paced thrillers.  I loved it.