Book: The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell

Somehow because I use a bunch of long words and write on weird theological topics, people sometimes expect me to like only “serious” books on “serious” topics. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like fun and humor. I’m reading nearly constantly, and I like books that I can pick up when I’m really tired of thinking books and just want to relax with a story.

Lillian Jackson Braun and her Cat Who series is a perfect fit for such times. I noticed recently that I’d never written anything on this blog about her books, and that’s a truly sad thing. I just completed The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell (Cat Who…) and I enjoyed it as I have so many previous books in this series. The humor is delightful. Cats are always fun. Koko rules!

I just love a fast moving, friendly tale in which I don’t have to wade through incredible evil, or pick through really obscure lists of suspects, or spend my time longing for a character to like. This book is filled with sympathetic characters. There are a few bad guys, and generally they “get theirs.” All’s well that ends well, and this whole series of books manages to do that every time.

Braun doesn’t present us with talking cats (though I don’t mind that sort of thing). She always leaves one wondering just how much KoKo has actually done. But the cat lovers will all be aware that Koko is a true genius, and truly the world 400 miles north of everything would be in much worse shape without his wisdom.

So grab one of these volumes at the bookstore or library and relax a bit. It won’t hurt you!

Book: Raining Cats and Dogs

I’ve been missing in action for a couple of weeks, as I was finishing a manuscript (non-fiction, When People Speak for God), but I haven’t quit reading.

I just completed Laurien Berenson’s Raining Cats and Dogs, a Melanie Travis Mystery. I picked up the book because it has to do with animals though I didn’t look all that carefully at the details. I do like to pick up books I have never heard of and just check them out.

What I got was some good relaxing evening reading. The dogs in this mystery don’t solve crimes or do anything other than just be dogs. Now I’m not much of a dog person. I’d prefer if it was cats hanging around being cats. There are a certain number (large to no-cat-people) of cats involved, causing a certain amount of feline trouble, but the dogs are stars.

The mystery seems to me to play out a bit in the background which is also not my preference. Melanie Travis is a detective more by accident than intent, which changes the way she operates. Nonetheless, the story line itself is interesting. The suspense is light. We are not made to feel that another crime is around the corner or that great evil is lurking. In fact, such evil as there is seems very human.

I rate this a 3 of 5. (I remind readers of the explanation for my ratings. One or two people seem to have felt that 3 was a negative rating, when in fact the bulk of my reading is works that I rate as a 3.)

Book: A Ruinous Wind

I looked back at previous notes and found a brief note in this general post in which I am not too excited about Pilkington after reading a previous work, The Maiden Bell. I did indicate that I would probably read something else by the same author, but wasn’t in a hurry. Now I have, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I would call it a four, rather than the three I gave the previous book, and I can’t actually see the difference. I just must have been in a different mood when I read this one.

Thomas the Falconer is an interesting character, a very intelligent person stuck in a hierarchical society as a commoner. He manages to do well under those circumstances and he has a good, honest employer/lord who provides him with the freedom to do what he needs. He would prefer just taking care of the hawks, but he ends up spending a good deal of time solving mysteries.

In this story, he is thrust into a situation in which both he and his lord are in great danger. A very violent murderer is on the loose, and it is almost impossible to discover his motives or where he will strike next. I was surprised by the finish, which is one criteria I have for enjoying a novel. I don’t mind figuring out who the guilty party is early provided I feel clever when I do it. If it’s obvious and just falls into my lap it tends to annoy me.

In any case, the solution doesn’t come till the end and there are plenty of moments of action and suspense between. Reading A Ruinous Wind makes me more anxious to find more John Pilkington mysteries.

Book: In the Presence of the Enemy

A couple of days ago I blogged about discovering Elizabeth George’s collection of short stories, I, Richard, and how much I appreciated those stories.

At the same time I checked out her book In the Presence of the Enemy. Now those of you who pay attention to the reading I choose here will note that I tend a bit toward active material and often shorter works, despite the fact that I do like good characterization, which is often what is lost in such books. In this case, the book is longer (535 pp.) and not nearly as light. There is good action, but there are also long sections devoted to developing the character, even the character of the murder victim. This book is in a different category from many mysteries that I read. It has more characteristics of a serious novel. At the same time I enjoyed it, though it won’t replace the kind of light reading I like to rest my mind after a hard day’s work writing or editing.

The mystery element is also excellent. I must confess that I wondered briefly about the character who is actually guilty, but had dismissed that person for various reasons and thus was surprised by the ending. I had reasons to believe that each one of the possibilities were not the right one. I do like to be surprised. There are clues to the right character for those who read more attentively than I did. Thinking back I was able to see where I should have become suspicious.

I particularly liked the development of the moral character. Two key people, Dennis Luxford, a journalist of an amoral, circulation building variety, and Eve Bowen, an MP of the ambitious variety have to face who they are and what they have done in their lives. I felt that the process in each case was quite believable and human, and provided plenty to think about.

This is definitely a 4 star book for me!

Book: I, Richard

At the library I noticed books by Elizabeth George for the first time. It’s not entirely surprising that I haven’t seen her material before, since I tend to work rather unadventuresomely from material I’m familiar with. I picked up a novel, which I am currently reading, and a collection of short stories, I, Richard. The title of the book comes from the title of the final story, which is a fine piece of writing.

I like the short story form, and this material is exquisite. I enjoyed every one. The settings vary somewhat, from England, to New England, to California. We join a study group in England learning about architecture (Exposure), a very eccentric neighbor (Good Fences Aren’t Always Enough), a very nearly (not so) perfect murder (The Surprise of his Life), a very shocking reason to tell someone you love them (Remember, I’ll Always Love You), and finally there is the fine tale of a man who just wants to finally exonerate Richard III of the crime of killing the princes (I, Richard). The lengths he’ll go to accomplish that may surprise you.

This is an excellent collection, and I’m glad it was my start in reading Elizabeth George.

Two Books from Familiar Authors

It’s been my goal to post on this blog 2-3 times per week, with either something original or a translation included weekly. Obviously, I have failed to meet that target by quite a margin. I don’t want to post an entry for every book by authors about whom I’ve blogged before, however, so here I will just mention two that I’ve read recently.

The first is yet another J. D. Robb book, Portrait in Death, which didn’t change my option of J. D. Robb as a fiction writer. I still enjoy her work for light reading, and after long days in front of the typewriter, I’m looking for something that’s fun, flows well, and yet interesting enough. Robb’s Eve Dallas books fill that niche just fine for me. In this case, the story is about a person who combines art and murder in a somewhat unusual way. It’s good reading.

The second is an older book by J. A. Jance, Name Withheld, a J. P. Beaumont mystery. Jance is one of my favorites in the mystery area, though I generally read her books in the same mental state as I pick up Robb’s. In other words, I don’t want to be seriously intellectually challenged, but I want a fun mystery with good characters, and a solution that isn’t too obvious. They both work out well on that count.

I’m continuing my reading with an author who is new to me, Elizabeth George. I will write about one of her books in a separate entry, and I’m also reading a novel that I’ll write about later.

Note also that the little Amazon link to the right now cycles through about ten books that are either on my immediate future list (it’s on my shelf ready) and my most recent reading.

Book: Sherlock Holmes and the Kings’ Governess

Well, I’m a bit behind the times on this series, but I must admit that I have very little liking for continuations of various series by new authors. In this case, however, Barrie Roberts does a very good job of catching Arthur Conan Doyle’s style, and thus, of course, Dr. Watson’s.

We’re taken to London during Queen Victoria’s jubilee, and presented with a character who is almost instantly identifiable as the main character in The King and I. Sherlock Holmes finds himself more in the role of preventing a crime than in solving one, but he has plenty of mysteries on which to demonstrate his skills. I felt that a little less time was spent on the investigating a bit more on the action than I would expect if Doyle were the author, but overall the feel is pretty authentic.

The story itself is fun, but not “I can’t put this down” fascinating. I’ll rate this as a three, but you should regard it as a four if you really like the Holmes style mysteries. It’s just that I’m locked into my ratings, and a three shows where books in this series and by this author will be in my list.

Book: Imitation in Death

What more can I say about J. D. Robb and the various books about Eve Dallas? I just enjoy the character interaction. They’re not too over the top in forcing me to think, thus being good reading after I’ve read all the serious stuff for the day, and did I mention the characters? They’re just fun.

In Imitation in Death, J. D. Robb/Nora Roberts brings us the summer of 2059 and a serial killer who imitates serial killers, but not the same one twice. This one will lead us through a walk through history (and the series fictional history) and a look at some of the things that just might make a murderer.

In the meantime, Peabody is distracted by preparation for her detective exam, and also the terror of actually taking it. How will the pair work their way out of this one? At least Roarke and Eve aren’t fighting.

Book: Innocent in Death

OK, it’s another book. I’ll get around to writing another story or something soon. That’s what you were waiting for, right? No? I’m so disappointed!

Anyhow, my wife brought home another J. D. Robb, and I had to read it. It’s pretty good. In this most recent book, Eve gets to feel her dislike of schools as she deals with murders that occur in a school. At the same time she’s dealing with jealousy over Roarke, but is it justified? Everything seems so confusing until she follows an unlikely track and fights her way through to the conclusion. Oh, and is it possible she’s making a truce with Summerset?

This continues the interesting future world, and all the very interesting characters with which Roberts/Robb chooses to populate it. It’s honestly not my usual fair, because I find near future science fiction a bit troubling. Even Star Trek has been made somewhat obsolete by the advancement of actual science, but that’s part of the game. Near future seems to get me comparing the technology then and now more carefully, so even though it should be easier to be accurate, I’m more likely to quibble. Of course, I’m just as likely to be wrong.

In any case, I find the cultural background of this series believable and enjoyable. I’ll continuing borrowing the copies my wife gets from the library on a pretty regular basis.

Book: The Dragon Scroll

I like historical mysteries, so I was fairly interested in trying this one, a mystery of ancient Japan, even though I have no acquaintance with Japanese history. In general, however, the book was a disappointment. I found the writing not too terribly engaging. It was simply a series of episodes set end to end. I solved the mystery too early, well before the lead character and got to wondering when he would catch on. To be fair (to a fictional character?) he did not have as much information as the reader of the story.

Since I don’t know the culture and period of history involved, I can’t comment on how realistic the book is. I was disturbed by the number of exceptions to cultural norms that were allowed. The reader is repeatedly informed that some action of the main character is a terrible insult, and yet there never seem to be any consequences to such insults. He can do things that just aren’t done, and yet everything goes on as though that had not happened.

Having criticized all of that, if one settles in to read this as a historical novel, and not a mystery or a novel of suspense, one can enjoy portions of the story. Most of the suspense failed to keep me in suspense.

As it stands, I’m rating this book a 2 or 2.5. It’s possible I’ll read another in this series, but not all that likely.