Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Murder on the Yukon Quest by Sue Henry

In Murder on the Yukon Quest, Jessie is a musher competing with her team of dogs in one of the most difficult sled races, the Yukon Quest. When one of the other racers is kidnapped, Jessie becomes embroiled in the attempt to get the girl back alive. The rugged terrain, the numbing cold and the dangerous assailants threaten not only her life, but those of her dog team as well.

I loved this book. I learned a lot about dog-sledding, dogs and the areas in which the race took place, namely Yukon and Alaska. It gave me an appreciation for winter and although I won't be taking up sledding any time soon, I think I'll probably enjoy this winter just a little bit more because of Henry.

The book is a well-written mystery with plenty of suspects and motives. I breezed through this book in just a couple of sittings because I didn't want to put it down. I didn't think I'd enjoy it so much, but Henry's writing and descriptions drew me right in.

I loved many of her passages about the area, the wildlife and scenery. Her descriptions were wonderful and left me with many vivid images. They made me feel like I was really there, right down to the shivering. When Jessie was cold, so was I. Lately, I've become somewhat of a birdwatcher and really enjoy identifying birds in our backyard. Because of that, I particularly liked Henry's descriptions of the ravens:
Overhead several ravens danced on the wind, effortlessly revolving on the thermals in swoops and dives, like kites anchored to strings.

Highly recommended. I think dog lovers and winter adventurers would especially enjoy it. I'm so glad a I have a few more books by Henry on my bookshelf. I hope to get to them soon.

The Cat Who Had 14 Tales by Lilian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Had 14 Tales is a nice collection of cat tales from the mistress of cozy cat mysteries, Lilian Jackson Braun. The stories are varied and short enough that several can be enjoyed in one sitting.

I'm a huge fan of "The Cat Who..." series. I love Jim, Koko and Yum Yum. This book is a little different because it doesn't feature these characters. It's still really good, though. Because I generally enjoy short stories, I had a blast with this one. I don't remember if I had any favourites (I read it awhile ago and am now just writing a short review), but I'm sure there were some I liked more than others.

While I enjoyed each story, my least favourites were the three in the middle of the book that were part of the “Oral History Project” of Gattville Community College. I didn’t like the interview-type style in which there were written. I might have liked them better had they been separated and place throughout the book rather than lumped together in the middle.

Recommended for fans of the series. Others might like it, too.

The Highland Fling Murders by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

In The Highland Fling Murders, Jessica Fletcher and some of her Cabot Cove friends have flown to the United Kingdom. Jessica first meets with her book publisher but then everyone travels to Scotland to visit Inspector George Sutherland, of Scotland Yard, her old friend. As one can expect, it's not long before a body shows up. It's that of a local woman who's been found with a pitchfork through her heart...just like the famous Scottish witch whose ghost now haunts the castle they are visiting.

I loved the TV series on which these books are based. While I enjoyed the whole series, I preferred the ones where Jessica lived and investigated around Cabot Cove. They just seemed more quaint. Having said that, I still enjoyed this one. The story was appealing and the characters were varied and fun to read about. It didn't seem to have any really contrived bits (that I can remember. I read it awhile ago and am now just writing the review) that I found in a few others of this series. Well, I guess the whole premise of the book can come off as contrived, but what I mean is situations or scenes where one of the characters does something extraordinary and unbelievable that just happens to yield a clue to the mystery.

Overall, this book was pretty standard for this series and quite enjoyable.

Recommended for fans of the books and/or TV show.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Murder on Ice by Alina Adams

In Murder On Ice, Rebecca "Bex" Levy is a figure-skating researcher. It's her job to put together all of the facts, tidbits, history and whatnot for the announcers when figure skating is televised. Bex has her hands full with the two announcers, Francis and Diana Howarth, bickering and trying to get one up on each other. Her producer Gil isn't about to give her a break either. When American's darling doesn't win and comes in second to the Russian, things start to get ugly. But that's nothing compared to what happens when the Italian judge is found dead. The producer, Gil, challenges Bex to find the killer in time for the gala broadcast and that gives her just four days to get to the bottom of things.

I loved this book. The story is non-stop fun. I really didn't want to put it down. I used to watch figure skating and only ever saw it from an spectator's point of view; never from off the ice. It was interesting to get a look from behind the scenes of the practice, the performance and the broadcast.

The main thing that I loved about the book was the sense of humour. Both the author and the main character, Bex, were sarcastic and hilarious. I laughed-out-loud many times while reading the book. Sometimes the characters are a little over the top, but not totally unbelievable. I'm sure at least some of what the author describes has actually happened.

Adams used to be figure-skating researcher and feature producer for some major networks. It's no wonder she a lot about the figure skating world. This knowledge really added credence to the story.

Highly recommended. Especially for the figure-skating lovers and cozy mystery readers. I hope to read many more books by Adams.

Want to read another review? Check out the one on Books and Quilts.

Dead Cert by Dick Francis

In Dead Cert, Alan York, a steeplechase jockey, is also a millionaire. He doesn't have to race, but he loves it. When one of the other jockey's is killed during the race, York is convinced it isn't an accident and sets out to prove it and find the killer. He's even more determined after he gets beat-up by a gang of thugs and then wakes up in the hospital with some memory loss after his own racing accident.

I love Francis' writing. His stories are complex with fascinating characters. I always learn something about horse racing and human nature from him. I get wrapped up in the story and usually don't want to put the book down. All of this is true with this book. I really enjoyed it.

Highly recommended for horse racing enthusiasts as well as anyone looking for a solid, well-written, interesting mystery. I'm so glad I have a bunch more of Francis' books to read.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master by Kat Tansey

Choosing to Be: Lesson in Living from a Feline Zen Master is a fictional account of how author Kat Tansey overcame depression by learning and practicing meditation. With help from her beloved cat, Poohbear, the feline Zen master; Catzenbear, the new kitten; and some human teachers, Kat outlines her journey on the road to recovery.

A delightful, insightful and peaceful read. I enjoyed it immensely. Her writing is serene and Zen-like. It instantly made me relax. I'm so used to reading thrillers and mysteries which leave me pumped up and a little anxious. This book was a nice respite from that.

I love how Tansey blends her real life depression with advice from her fictitious talking cat. Oh, the cat is real, I just don't think he actually talks. However, if Tansey had said he talked, I'd believe her. I love cats. Unfortunately, I also have an allergy to them. I do, however, try to have contact with them as much as possible and just put up with the symptoms. Other family members have cats as do many of our neighbours. When I see these cats, I greet them as friends. I always thought they were special. Tansey just confirmed my suspicions. Poohbear and Catzenbear were Maine Coons. It's not a breed I'm that familiar with. I'll have to do a little searching on the internet for more information.

Each chapter in this book starts with an inspirational quote and a relevant photo of one of the cats. The quotes are wonderful and each photo is adorable. The cover photo is my favourite. The look on Poohbear's face is enough to stop anyone in their tracks. You just know he's important and intelligent. I'd certainly follow any advice he gave. ;)

While I found most of the story light-hearted and soothing, I became emotional when Kat was describing her relationship with her father. It came on suddenly and surprised me. I think it reminded me of my relationship with my father which wasn't as close and loving as it should have been.

Tansey provides some suggestions for further reading on Buddhism and meditation. She also provides additional information on her website. It's definitely worth a visit or two.

Highly recommended for cat lovers, those interested in meditation or for anyone trying to overcome depression.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Best of 2008

I thought I'd try something different this year and assemble a "Best of 2008" list. Other people do it so why not me, eh? Anyway, I still have a few reviews to post for books I read this year (I hope to get them done by year end, but I might not), but I think I'm ready to assemble my list. Note that these are books I read this year and not necessarily published this year.

[It's no coincidence that there are a lot of books from HarperCollins on the list. That's because I have received some awesome books from their First Look program as well as the The Reading Group on Facebook.]

In no particular order, here's Daisy's Best of 2008.

Hitman: Forty Years Making Music, Topping the Charts, and Winning Grammys by David Foster
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
Broken by Daniel Clay
Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Downtown Owl: A Novel by Chuck Klosterman
Fuzzy Navel by J. A. Konrath
The Last Oracle by James Rollins
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Belong to Me by Marisa de Los Santos
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
Ines of My Soul: A Novel by Isabel Allende
Crooked Little Vein: A Novel by Warren Ellis
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Bound by Sally Gunning
Promise of Wolves Dorothy Hearst
The Paris Enigma by Pablo De Santis
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. [Technically, I read this one last year, however, I wanted to mention it here because it's a recent Canada Reads pick. Besides, it's one of the best books I've ever read and it makes the list an even 20].


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Attachment by Isabel Fonseca

I generally finish every book I start. There are, of course, exceptions and unfortunately Attachment is one of them.

In the book, Jean opens an "erotically charged" email intended for her husband, Mark. Apparently, it's from his lover, Giovana. Instead of confronting him, she poses as her husband and corresponds with Giovana via email. I thought that sounded like a great premise and showed some promise, but the story didn't resonate with me. I've read about a 1/3 of it and I struggled with every page. I just didn't really care about the characters; nor did I find the story engaging. That's not to say it isn't well written, it is. It's just not for me.

One of the things that sort of bugged me in the book were the few graphic bits about sex. At the risk of sounding like a prude, I found them gratuitous and jarring against the other parts of the book. As much as I didn't care for those parts (they really were few and in between), they would not have stopped me from reading the book had I been enjoying it in the first place.

While this book wasn't my favourite, shall we say, I really don't think it deserves the harsh criticisms that I found on Amazon. In my opinion, no author deserves such treatment.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone I know, but I'm sure there are lots of people who would enjoy it. You could do a whole lot worse. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Midlife Can Be Murder by Jane Isenberg

[I'm currently reading some older books that have been gathering dust on my bookshelves. Better late than never.]

In Midlife Can Be Murder, Bel is a middle-aged community college professor who, at the urging of a close friend, has decided to have her bat mitzvah. While at her study group at the synagogue, she runs into a former student, Ashley. Ashley's is upset because her colleague has died after a suspicious rock climbing episode. She convinces Bel to look into the matter. With her friends, Bel starts snooping by going undercover and investigating what looks like corporate espionage and other dangerous activities.

Good, fun read. I learned a little about Judaism, surveillance, "middle age malaise", and through Bel's profession a little about teaching in a community college. Isenburg's storyline was appealing and her characters were believable and hilarious. I especially liked the beginning of each chapter in which Isenburg features an email or similar correspondence from one of the other characters. Bel was my favourite character because of her dedication to her students, her commitment to her studies and her determination in solving the mystery despite her hectic and busy life. Other than Bel, there are a number of other wonderful characters in the book, but for me two of them stood out: Nathan and Illuminada.

Recommended for cozy mysteries lovers, especially if you're in midlife or interested in Judaism in funny situations.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth by Tamar Myers

[I'm currently reading some older books that have been gathering dust on my bookshelves. Better late than never.]

Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth is the first book in the Pennsylvania-Dutch cozy mystery series featuring Magdalena Yoder. Magdalena runs an inn and with her current group of guests, she has a lot to contend with: vegetarians, animal rights activists, avid hunters, an Amish cook who doesn't know the first thing about cooking for vegetarians and oh yeah, two dead guests. Well, they don't show up like that. They actually walk in the door under their own steam, however, like any good cozy mystery, it doesn't take long for the bodies to start piling up.

I'm glad I finally dug this one out of the box to read. I usually end up reading series out of order and then complain that I don't have any of the back story. Myers provides plenty of background information so that the reader know just how Magdalena ends up in this mess...I mean, opening an inn and catering to lots of different people. The one thing I noticed right away that's different from the other/later books in the series, is that Magdalena has not yet picked up the slightly annoying habit of calling everyone "dear". Other than that it's pretty much like the others, in that it contains lots of comical situations to make you laugh (despite the deaths), a fun mystery to follow and some delicious looking recipes to try.

Speaking of recipes, I tried one: Susannah Yoder Entwhistle's Boiled Cookie recipe. While the cookies turned out ok, the batter spread out a little too much (in my opinion) on the parchment. I'd suggest adding an extra 1/2 cup of oatmeal or 1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut to the mix before spooning them out. I really liked the peanut butter in this one. Yum.

Back to the book: I would like to read the rest of books in order, however, it's not likely. I'm definitely going to read more of them, though and I'll probably just grab any old one off the shelf to read. I love this series.

Recommended for cozy mystery fans.