D Is for Dunning: Bookman’s Wake by John Dunning

A former Denver cop who now runs a rare book store makes for an appealing amateur sleuth in the traditional Cliff Janeway mystery series. The big appeal for many fans I talk with is the knowledge readers gain about book collecting and values. Bookman’s Wake has many scenes in the Northwest (downtown Seattle; around North Bend). I think I knew enough about this series to recommend them without reading them, and now you do, too.

B is for Balzo: Bean There, Done That by Sandra Balzo

A barista and coffee shop owner stars as our amateur sleuth in this cozy series (Bean There, Done That is the third). Maggy Thorsen is a forty-something newly single woman who left a PR job to open Uncommon Grounds in an upscale bedroom community (Brookhills) outside of Milwaukee. In this installment, Rachel Thorsen (the new “Mrs. Thorsen,” married to Maggy’s ex, Ted) asks for Maggy’s help proving that Ted was cheating on Rachel at the same time he was cheating on Maggy. Soon Rachel disappears and a solid puzzle of a plot keeps things moving along Kirkus said, in a starred review: “Balzo gives an old formula new life with crisp dialogue, complex characters and a puzzle that can’t be beat.” I like this character and the series,
Books in the series so far: Uncommon Grounds; Grounds for Murder; Bean There, Done That; Brewed, Crude and Tattooed, From the Grounds Up.
Recommend to fans of Jill Churchill, Mary Daheim, M.C. Beaton and maybe to some who like Evanovitch (but not if they say they like Evanovitch because she’s wacky).
Another cozy author in the B’sMaggie Barbieri (academic setting, English prof)

2010: The year of reading alphabetically

I had this really great idea last summer to read my way through some of the mysteries that are on the shelf at the library where I work. I was going to read one author for each letter. I made a whole bunch of rules for myself, like: Had to be a book on the shelf, should be a book I might at some point recommend to a library reader, had to be an author I hadn’t already read, I had to stretch myself a little, and blah blah blah. One a week. I figured I’d get through the alphabet by the end of the year.

Well, listen to this: I made it to D! Wow, right? Actually, the good news is that the little experiment was immensely helpful to me already as I regularly recommend my B and C and D authors (Rhys Bowen for her historical mysteries set in 1900s New York; Robert Crais for being almost as good as Michael Connelly and being in L.A.; Lindsay Davis for the two people in the universe who like historical mysteries but haven’t already read all of hers) to voracious readers at our library. Gosh, that parenthetical phrase seems all twisted when I mentioned Lindsay Davis. Let me try again: When it comes to detectives sleuthing the mean streets of Rome (circa 70 A.D.), there’s no beating Marcus Didius Falco, the unforgettable lead character in 19 of Davis’s novels.

Back to 2010 A.D. … and the reason I’m blogging again: I’m going to do it all over again. And this time it doesn’t have to be one a week (because that little rule will have me looking for short books). There is no time limit. And I can read whatever I want, although it will be good to stretch a little bit. And just to prove I’m not a slacker, I’m starting all over again. That’s right. I’m in the A’s.

‘The Year of Fog’ by Michelle Richmond

Photographer Abby Mason and her fiance’s daughter, six-year-old Emma, are enjoying the day at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Abby stops to photograph a dead baby seal, a diversion that lasts maybe 20 or 40 seconds – seconds that will replay endlessly in Abby’s mind during the next year; a few seconds that were long enough for Emma to disappear. When Emma isn’t immediately found, the assumption is that she must have drowned in the unpredictable currents. Most people give up, but Abby continues to believe that Emma is out there – she just needs to be found.

Memory plays a big part in this story, as Abby examines how we remember things, confabulation (filling in gaps in memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts) and how memories disappear. Abby struggles to find Emma, struggles to keep her relationship with Emma’s father and struggles to understand why Emma’s mother, who has been absent from the little girl’s life for three years, is back in a picture that has no Emma.

The plot recalls Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean, but I think this book does much more on a literary level. The writing is spare, managing to be more vivid and emotional than you assume. My friend Susan said it’s “underwritten,” and that is a perfect description. Emotion, too, is off the pages, as if hiding in the margins and waiting to unfold in your head. The Year of Fog has a perfect balance of story and underlying philosophical ideas.

Talk about Books: Four Big L’s

Laura Lippman and the Three Lisa’s – Lisa Gardner, Lisa Unger and Lisa Scottoline – are four mystery and suspense writers I depend on for page-turning stories with strong women characters.

In one month I read the newest titles from these four with a 75 percent success rate.
What the Dead Know by Lippman is her best stand-alone novel yet. (In fact, it deserves a separate blog entry. I’ll get right on that.) Hide by Lisa Gardner brings back D.D. Warren , a thinking woman’s kind of detective. Sliver of Truth, a follow up to Beautiful Lies, presents Ridley Jones, a magazine reporter still caught up in the mystery of her own identity.

But Daddy’s Girl? That’s the latest from Lisa Scottoline. I can’t believe I even read a book with that title (and check out that cover. Ug!). Natalie “Nat” Greco teaches law at Penn. She’s not exactly an inspired lecturer, and she offers even less when trying to save herself from being framed for a murder. Not only can I not believe I read a book with a title like this, I can’t believe I finished this one. Nat bumbles along – and not in an endearing way — to the last page, making me wonder how she ever got a job at an Ivy League school, let alone as a main character in a Scottoline novel.