The Alpine Winter — Mary Daheim

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Sorry Mary Daheim, but this went over like a lead balloon.  While there were six of us at the meeting, only one of us finished the book.  We abandoned it after the first chapter, after thirty pages, and someone gave up half way.  Tom heard bad reports and didn’t even TRY to read it.  The biggest complaints we had were:

• Too many characters

• No redeeming characters

• Ridiculousness

• It was mostly gossip

• Poorly edited – there were typos

• Factual errors

• Plot holes

• Generally being “just a mess.”

That being said, “favorite” characters were the guy who was murdered, though he was barely liked, Emma, sort of.  And the priests were occasionally interesting.

Least favorite characters were most characters, Vida, Curtis, and the newspaper, which had a poor hiring process, and seemed to only print gossip.

As for any redeeming qualities, the location was good.

(Rating by the reader who finished it)

(Rating by all who wanted their opinions known)

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When Falcons Fall — C. S. Harris

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On the whole, the group enjoyed this book.  A lot.  Only one of us didn’t finish it and that was because she forgot when the meeting was, while another member plowed through it with little enjoyment, just to “get it done.”  It wasn’t her favorite type of book.

Our initial conversation dealt with the pronunciation of “St. Cyr” and Joan has feelers out to find out what’s right — “Sincere” or “Saint Sire.”  It made for an interesting discussion.

We enjoyed it for the multiple mysteries, the historical research, and the mixed motivations.  There were a lot of characters, but in a many-layered story such as this, it was to be expected.

Sebastian was a fascinating character as was his wife, Hero.  Not only was there relationship very modern-feeling, but Hero’s modern point of view was intriguing.  The mysteries were compelling and the setting was very atmospheric.

We did have a few issues with the amount of walking around that was done and we got a bit bogged down with the family tree stuff, but on the whole we liked the historical bits, pulling in smuggling, Napoleon, and that parliamentary act that ruined so many villages and people’s lives.

Joan was glad that Sebastian’s search for his father made a small step forward.  It would have pissed her off if he’d just been spinning his wheels on that for the whole book.

Favorite Characters – Sebastian, Hero.  Lovely, lovely people.  Dapper, upstanding, yellow eyes, empathic.  Charles Bonaparte.  What a fun boy.  Archie Rawlins, Reuben (a true detective), Emma (the victim).

Least Favorite Characters – Creepy guy married to Liv, Major Weston and the aristocracy as a whole.  The horrible woman who owned the school, Rowena LaMont.  “To coddle the fruits of sin is to condone the act that created them, and I believe we must never be lured into such errors by the temptations of misplaced kindness.”  Special, just special.  Reverend Benedict Underwood.  Yuck.  His wife was pretty awful, too. Jude Lowe, Lady Seton, the coroner Higginbottom

 

Windigo Island — William Kent Krueger

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Those in attendance were Darla, George, Pam, Tom and Bruce

With Joan’s unfortunate absence, we missed out on a review of William Krureger’s life as an author.

With some ambivalence, we sort-of liked the book. It did give reader’s insight into the western Great Lakes area and the lives of the Native Americans who live there. It also highlighted the problem of sex trafficking, although we did not know how accurate it was in regard to Native Americans specifically.  Unraveling the mystery of the missing girls was compelling and well portrayed (at least until the end).

There were a number of dislikes expressed.  We agreed that the ending was pretty formulaic and the weakest part of the book.  One objection was the book’s seeming alignment with current efforts of making women be the heroes.  Another objection was the portrayed investigation being ‘by committee,’ although given the wide geographic and political area covered in the story, it would be necessary to work with many different jurisdictions.  The heavy emphasis on the mystical beliefs of the Native Americans got somewhat tiresome and seemed a bit stereotypical.  We also thought that running with an axe down a pant leg with only a slight limp was improbable!

The book did generate significant discussion of the plight of Native Americans.  Topics discussed included the reality of poor treatment by the government, even up to recent times; lack of good education and lack of employment opportunities on reservations; the reality of families being disrupted by children forcibly sent to government boarding schools, which affected an entire generation; and the general difficulty of subsistence cultures transitioning into a cash based economy.

Characters we liked:  Henry, Daniel, Cork, and Louise (added by Joan).

Characters we disliked:  Cork, Windigo, Manny, and Jenny (added by Joan)

(We didn’t discuss her, but we might also include Louise, who was a terrible mother but became a little more sympathetic by the end).

(Many thanks to Bruce for providing this report ~ Joan)

Murder of Mary Russell – Laurie R. King

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Because Joan was out of town, our meeting this month was run by Darla and George.  Only four people showed up, but they still had a good discussion.  And Joan’s notes are included here.

This book was such an interesting concept.  The author has created a wife for Sherlock Holmes, as well as an in-depth background for his housekeeper, both rather minor characters in the Sir Conan Doyle-created canon.

Ruth did not find it interesting, as she doesn’t particularly like Sherlock Holmes or the time period. Tom thought it was OK. George was disappointed in that there was so little action or “thrills”, i.e. did not live up to the title!  Darla really enjoyed the story telling part of Mrs. Hudson’s history, letters, etc. and she does love an interesting “tale told well”, but Darla was somewhat disturbed by the ending and the possibility that Mrs. Hudson would be returning to her old life after so many years with Holmes.  Joan thought Mary Russell was a really fascinating character, she completely adored Clarissa Hudson and found her whole way of life fascinating.  A long and convoluted journey, rich in detail and story covering many many years.

Holmes is so intense.  And this book was so dense and rich.  Sort of like eating a fabulous multi-course meal that you want to savor all the flavors of, but along the way, you kind of forget just what it was you ate.

Questions remaining at the end – Just what was it that Holmes saw in the picture of the knife stabbed into the wall?

Favorite characters: Mrs. Hudson.  George liked The Bishop (he said he was very up front and honest in his rule as crime boss).  Billy, Mary and to a lesser degree, Holmes.

Least favorite characters: Samuel, Mrs. Hudson, Alicia, Father and son Hudson, and Hugh Edmond.  The Bishop, Jr.

Hard Row – Margaret Maron

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To paraphrase Bruce who said, in his written report delivered before the meeting, we “quite liked this book.  Good overview of the challenges of farming.”  This was also an interesting look at the migrant worker’s plight, what they have to put up with, and the dangers of coming to this country.  Would not have thought this was a problem in North Carolina.

We enjoyed the mystery and thought it was cleverly plotted.  And while the slow dropping of body parts was gruesome, it kept our attention.

The head-hopping might have been confusing, but the chapter heads kept things in line, even when there was a change of head mid-chapter.  The farming-related quotes with the chapter heads were annoying, though.

Our only real complaint had to do with the family tree we had to muddle through.  Way too many characters to keep track of.  But we did like the look at how the various family members were adjusting their thinking about how to manage the various parcels of family land.  Those portions of the book rang true, as did the legal aspects.

Bruce ended with this.  “All in all a very clever plot, well written with likable and believable characters, and all within a back ground of the dangers of pesticides and overt and hidden racism.”  Joan is hoping he’ll take over this blog…

Favorite characters – Deborah.  Joan was entranced with the fact she is a judge.  Refreshing to see something different.  We liked Dwight because he was nice, and laid back.  Cal the stepson was nicely portrayed and the growing relationship with Deborah was well-done and authentic.  Mike Diaz, who was industrious, an entrepeneur, honest, and just basically good people.

Least favorite – The victim, because he was just awful.  Buck.  Jack Jamison, who was declared to be wicked.  Mrs. Harris.  [SPOILER — A few of us thought she did it.]

 

P.S.  There are a number of copies of our next book, Murder of Mary Russell available at the library.  Just ask at the front desk.

~ Joan

Devonshire Scream – Laura Childs

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So. Many. Loose. Ends.

After an exciting start, which really caught our attentions with gems, jewels, murder, and mayhem, it was a long, slow, tea and scone-infused slide into cozy.  And annoying.

17 books.  Why are people still coming to Theo for help?  She’s just not that good at investigation.  She’s easily misdirected and distracted and is continually breaking the law.  The person behind the smash and grab isn’t even on her list of suspects.

During the smash and grab, some of us who hadn’t read prior books thought Haley was much younger, particularly because of the way Theo took care of her.  Like she was a child.  Who knew Haley was actually a genius chef who we all wanted to adopt?

The group found the story and mystery to blah and not very interesting.  The deaths were brushed off and the ending was downright horrible.

But Darla and George brought shortbread made from the book’s recipe, dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s a truth universally acknowledged that good food makes a bad ending palatable.  We DID enjoy the lightweight, entertaining nature of the book, with all its food and tea, though it was unlikely that three different teas would be presented in one week — Not good business practice and it must have been exhausting.  We also liked visiting historic Charleston, even if it was a one-sided, high-end look.  The over-the-top characters were amusing and entertaining.

But back to the loose ends

  • Why did the academic crash the jewelry thing in the first place?
  • Why did Theo and Drayton snoop around the house of the guy she shipped the ice axe to?
  • Where were the thugs hiding between gigs?
  • Who WERE the thugs and why wasn’t THEIR sudden presence in town noted?
  • What about the dog?!?
  • Why didn’t she ever snoop around the rich people’s houses?
  • Why didn’t Drayton and Theo walk the brooch to that guy’s office themselves and just send it off willy nilly with Haley?
  • What was the point of the Fire Garden, especially seeing as how they had initially talked of going to the yacht harbor?
  • Lots of women business owners, and yet, only a man could be behind the smash and grab.

Very much a love letter to Charleston, which makes Joan want to visit it.  Once.  She hopes she doesn’t run into Theo.

Favorite characters:  Drayton, Haley – We all wanted her to cook for us.  Theo, Luke and Sabrina (the yacht sales couple), Detective Tidwell.

Least favorite characters: Theodosia, Delaine, Grace, both FBI guys.

 

Dead Man’s Puzzle – Parnell Hall

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This had SUCH potential!  The concept of including crossword puzzles and a Sudoku puzzle as part of the way to solve the crime was inspired.  Until they became annoying and confusing.  As for revealing clues, we totally didn’t get it.  And we totally lost interest.  There was a lot of skimming by the group, some of us missed later murders, and some of us didn’t finish the book.

While we liked the mystery itself, with its ties to a really old crime, we found there to be too many red herrings, the legal process was completely disregarded in both the murder cases and the probate, and police and legal procedure as depicted was laughable.  And if Mobile, Alabama hasn’t cleaned its drains in 50 years, Joan is a monkey’s uncle.  A completely unbelievable bunch of nothing.

We didn’t like the main character, Cora, which is never a good sign.  She was declared to be an annoying busybody with delusions of hotness.  She was described as being a cross between Jessica Fletcher and Groucho Marx and some of us completely agreed.  She was not believable and not competent at anything she did, though she did seem to have a weirdly wired brain that allowed her to see the stranger byways of crime.

Favorite characters – Cora, who was declared to be spunky.  There were those who liked how she was brave and got to climb in windows, etc.  Cora’s dog, the poor thing.  The coroner, who at least retained some control over his world by locking the door and not answering the phone.  Chief Harper, who had is own bumbling way of going about things.  The niece’s new husband, who took a chance at happiness and married into the crazy family.

Least favorite characters — The author.  Dennis Pride.  Cora.  The heirs, real and otherwise.  Chief Harper, the pantywaist who allowed Cora to run roughshod over him, his department, the victims, the suspects, and pretty much anyone who lived in town.  The killer — an opportunistic despicable person wrapped up in his own self-interest with no scruples.

(And I rounded up!)

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