Book Reviews: Magic Trees, Mayans, and Unicorns

A well-fed city is easier to govern than a hungry one.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Christmas tree with a mind of its own, so to speak, gets between a telepathic detective and her semi-vampire lover.
Despite the strangeness it’s actually a simple premise, leading to an examination of relationships set in a fantasy world. The characters are enjoyable, especially the cop, and that’s what’s important, since she’s the lead. She’s telepathic with her twin and maybe others, including trees, which makes things more fun. Also really liked the nymph; she’s obviously magical, but in some ways so down to earth, even in the way she walks, or struts. . . or her taste in men, for that matter.
A fun passing of time.
3.5/5

Feather
“I should have killed her already. It was my job, the thing I was hired to do. . . I was an assassin, and Jane Jones was my target.”
A supernatural being is hunting another supernatural being, only to fall in love with her. Other supernatural beings, with callbacks to previous stories, either help or hurt, depending on how they feel that day. The story begins in London 100 years ago before moving to present day NY, with the connecting device a mystical hotel where non-humans can have an erotic vacation.
There’s some explanation of the earlier story, but not enough; might have been better without it. Some good moments, but mostly meh. This doesn’t know if it’s a fantasy revenge chase story or an erotic romance.
2.5/5

Christmas Kiss
Two divorce lawyers on opposite sides of a case end up sharing a cabin in Tahoe. He wants her, she hates him but thinks he’s hot. Gee, wonder what’s gonna happen. . .
That wasn’t the only time I was less than surprised; there’s a line that goes, “I’d never been as happy as I was in that moment.” Yeah, that’s not ominous at all. . .
There’s some good stuff in here, with the protagonist constantly having to readjust her assumptions of him. . . although sometimes they’re more like rationalizations so she can feel okay about taking him to bed. In general the writing is good, with some pretty funny jokes. On the other hand, the line “I pulled my hair back into a French knot” appears four times in the first half off this novella.
As always in romance stories, lack of communication and erroneous assumptions lead to misunderstandings, causing anguish until everything can be explained at the end.
Cute, but nothing special.
3/5

Mayan Mendacity
Like in the first one, the Australian librarian/archaeologist protagonist works on bones from a dig and realizes something’s wrong, in this case in a completely grisly way.
These stories are mostly soft and inoffensive, though I’m not sure I’d call them cozies. Again like the first one, it’s her large and genetically wide family that is the best part of this, along with her extended circle of friends. Even the cats get in on it, as I had a ton of fun imagining this scene in my head:
Recalling her clumsy attempt at larceny caused Elizabeth to relive a ghost rush of adrenaline. Unbeknownst to her, Loki had accompanied Elizabeth into Nainai’s room. As Elizabeth reached for the box on the bedside table she had trodden on Loki’s tail, causing the cat to scream. Startled by the yowl, Elizabeth had dropped the box. It landed on the cat’s paw, causing Loki to screech again.
That’s a cat that lives up to its name!
There’s some recipes at the end, since there’s a lot of food talk throughout.
This was a little better than the first. Hope the next one comes out soon; already wondering what archaeological alliteration the title will be. . .
(Aztec Adversity?)
4/5

Unicorn Crossing
Another collection of my favorite comic strip, featuring the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old girl and a unicorn who thinks far too highly of herself (that might have been redundant).
Right away it starts on Halloween: costumes, pumpkins, and a secret party Marigold is planning. More importantly, it guarantees an appearance by my fave character, Todd the Candy Dragon.
There’s also a beautiful plot where Marigold goes off to a unicorn spa with her sister in that magical place known as Canada, and Phoebe finds it hard to cope without her. Though these jokes do not lean heavily on the pun side, they did prove to be my favorites this time, such as “Unioncorn!” and the especially awesome “Thrones of Ermagard.”
More than anything else I love how big the panels are; each page features one full-color four-panel strip, two panels in two rows. There’s also a glossary at the end, since Phoebe’s vocabulary is a bit higher than her grade level.
Like the previous entries, this book proves why I start every morning with this strip.
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Exercise, Joy, Legalities, and Archaeology

Do you think the French and French Canadians say Monterey Jacques when ordering cheese?

Undulation: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young
An easier gentler version of yoga for those of us whose bodies are winding down.
As with all self-help books, be it mental or physical, the first part tries to convince you why you need this. Some of them are actually well-pointed, such as the difference between pain caused by regular physical labor and internal injury. There’s also the difference between small and large movements, as well as an explanation as to who really is in charge, the mind or the body. One line really made me laugh: eels have powerful strong cores, because that’s all they have. Eels can’t fall back on arms and legs.
Obviously it takes a while to feel the effects and benefits of any physical regimen, so I can’t tell you how successful this is yet, but I can recommend this book just for the names of the exercises, some of which genuinely made me laugh out loud:
Hip hiker—Octopus—Paint your head with the floor—Follow the music—Tailbone penmanship—Coffee grinder—Caressed by waves—Barber pole—Tree tops—Train cars—Speed bump—Inchworm—Snake charmer—Tornado.
There’s an appendix that lists the exercises alphabetically.
3.5/5

November Fox – Book 1. Following Joy
This novel was both interesting and weird on many levels, though thankfully most were entertaining. The philosophical ramblings tend to be too much once in a while, but basically it’s an enjoyable ride as we follow a young female rock star through many worlds and even time, all the while searching for some kind of enlightenment, semi-guided by a floating Rubik’s Cube that makes the subtitle literal.
November—thankfully we find out about the name early—turns out to be a happy loopy girl, the kind who says good morning to the furniture and singsongs to herself about everything she sees. On her travels she meets an elephant who speaks in a German accent and only wants cake. This guy is a hoot! Inspired characterization. At one point Captain Picard of Star Trek makes a cameo, and the Borg are mentioned, which makes November the nerdiest rock star ever.
I found it weird that there was an omnipresent voyeur narrating what’s going on with the protagonist. This narrator is even stranger than November, and talks—writes—way too cutesy and mannered. There’s a strange fascination with time, which here is called tick-tock, or cake time, depending on the character. By the end I was thinking I liked November’s story and Erica’s notes much more than the Architect’s philosophical ramblings, and could have done without them.
There was also a promise of music and/or video which could be accessed via an app, but even though there was animation at some points it didn’t work as promised.
Most importantly, November—the character—was so enjoyable. Her story could have been told just as well without the frames, but obviously that’s not what the author wanted.
4/5

Legal Asylum: A Comedy
The wacky behind-the-scenes travails of a state law school trying to be reaccredited and make the top five nationally at the same time leads to hilarity, though only for the readers, not the characters.
The main character is the dean of the law school, a driven and attractive woman who wants to be on the Supreme Court and have sex with just about everyone—compatible goals, I guess. But even with her leading the way there were so many points of view! To my surprise I rather like the member of the accreditation committee who writes notes to be transcribed like Cooper and Diane from Twin Peaks. I liked the tone of the whole thing; it’s not hilariously funny, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like when the chancellor takes Viagra at the wrong time. There’s an interesting tangent on commercialism and Chinese aspirations too.
I wanna root for the Dean of Sexiness, but she’s not exactly sympathetic. And her obsession with being top 5, even if she has an incredibly selfish reason for it, is so ridiculous I can’t stand her. At one point she beats up two librarians and gets away with it, which is the main problem I had with the plot.
Funny how I only moderately liked it as I was reading it, but the ending was uplifting enough to push it slightly higher.
3.5/5

Olmec Obituary
Archaeological mystery? I’m there!
While there is a main character, and a mystery to solve—eventually—the best part is the interplay within her giant family, which has so much genetic mix: Chinese, Welsh, Berber. There’s plenty of supporting cast as well, from fellow librarians to an archaeologist she Skypes with; my favorite was the meek geneticist. But I wrote a note about halfway through where I said I didn’t know what the mystery is supposed to be, or if there was one, which is my main problem with the plot.
Food plays an important part in this family’s life, so there’s recipes—completely incomprehensible to me, of course—and a glossary at the end. But once I look back at it I find I enjoyed it, even though I had some difficulty following the chain of evidence. Didn’t think I would like the Olmec sequences, but it turned out the ballcourt-playing princess was the most interesting character of all.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Lies, Angels, Traps, and Emily

“You win! Your prize is you get to have sex with me!”
“I’ll take the equivalent in cash!”
Someone handed her a dollar.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett
A teenage loner in small-town Pennsylvania tries to solve the mystery of the death of the local prom queen type in what luckily only bears superficial resemblance, mostly in the intro, to Twin Peaks.
There’s actually very little about the mystery; it’s mostly about the protagonist, who has a unique way of seeing the world. A lot of meandering, especially in her mind, but I suppose that’s a teen’s life. There’s a good meditation on being out of control and the unfairness of life, “do everything right and still get killed by a drunk driver” kinda thing. The only time the character really annoyed me was when she thought, “Even if the monster killed me, at least I would die having the best day of my life.” The fact that being scared was the one thing that made her feel so alive. . . I’d liked her up to then, but that just made me feel sorry for her.
Likeable despite her quirks, and the same can be said for this book.
3.5/5

A Shadowing of Angels
The story of a hostage rescue in Iraq, showing how complicated such missions can be. After a prelude in Afghanistan, to show the protagonists’ cred, the plot quickly goes to the long preparations necessary to carry out such an assignment, with only the last few chapters the actual mission.
Oh oh. Despite the excellent craft, the writing is stilted from the start. Descriptions are overly long and at times too technical, especially with things like munitions. In contrast, the scene where the two main characters blurt out their feelings for each other is short and perfunctory, though happening only after numerous similarly-sounding moments of “she hoped that she would one day be able to tell him.” Stop beating me over the head with this, please.
So it’s not exactly polished prose. There are small touches that tell me this author has not been writing long; even the moments when they’re simply thinking of each other read inexperienced writer. The other problem I had was grasping the battlefield, which felt too big, too much to take in, confusing at times.
But what saves this is the tradecraft. I particularly enjoyed the main character in pregnant disguise. Gritty as needed but not overdone, and the writing will only get better in the next book.
3.5/5

The Trapped Girl
A body pulled up in a fishing trap turns out to be a much deeper—no pun—mystery than anyone thought, especially the detectives.
The main character—not counting the investigators—goes from supposed victim to possible serial killer and back, and everywhere in between. From being conned into marriage—though I never understood her husband’s motive for that—to becoming a new woman in more than a changing-identities-kinda way, her story was well done and the best part of the novel.
I love reading mysteries set in places I’m familiar with, and Seattle has always been a favorite, squeeing about spots I’ve been. In this book there’s a prominent scene up in the Alki Point lighthouse, which I’ve been to but never for an occasion like this. Now I feel like an intruder.
So this turned out to be one of the best mystery novels I read this year, keeping me guessing throughout. The killer was well thought out, and I loved detective Tracy, which is the most important thing.
4/5

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson: America’s Favorite Recluse Just Got a Life!
Life lesson: You can never go wrong by starting with a James Bond parody.
If the famous poetess were alive today, how different would her life be? She’d probably still be a recluse, but having much more fun with it due to social media. The author takes snippets from Emily’s life and poems to show what could have been.
Some highlights:
Angie Dickenson made the family tree.
“(Dogs) are better than human beings, because they know but don’t tell.” Her dog can speak, but only says “Ruh-ro.” (Okay, he says “Woof!” once.)
Emily as advice columnist? Fashionista? Top chef?
There’s Facebook, Instagram, dating websites, emojis, apps like Spinterest, and of course Twitter, because she liked birds. There are pages that only contain silhouettes, as well as exhortations for book donations for the museum library.
The drawings are simple sketches, but really that’s all that’s needed.
Some good stuff, but not quite as funny as it thinks.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Hookers, Dogs, and Lawyers

“Don’t tell anyone, under penalty of noogie. . .”

Serena’s Plight
. . . turns out not to be a plight at all.
A recent high-school graduate—barely—is offered a business deal by an ex-boyfriend who got into an Ivy League university: she becomes a paid companion—as opposed to out and out whore—he’ll be her pimp, and they’ll both make a lot of money.
This was much better, much more than I anticipated; so much more than just the sex. Love the main character and her sense of humor. I was surprised by her insights, of which there were a lot, as this was first person. Obviously I’ve never wondered what a young call girl thinks of, but the author made me like the character, care about her.
It’s also great how she cares about her boys, helps them with their social anxieties and disorders, especially Bartholomew and James. She’s almost like a therapist with benefits. More than anything else, she’s a good person. Her biggest problem is a couple of her would-be johns are mean to her; she got spoiled by the first couple of nice boys.
It’s not often a book leaves me pleasantly surprised. I look forward to the next.
There’s one booboo: near the beginning Sam says he received a scholarship to be on the wrestling team at Cornell, but Ivy League schools do not award athletic scholarships. But that’s the only nitpick. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but there’s definitely a “to be continued.”
4/5

Fifty Nifty Facts about Dogs
Like the one about cats, this is basically a printed version of a slideshow you click on from Facebook. Dogs stick their heads out cars for the odors? For me that was the most interesting one, along with noseprints for dogs=fingerprints for humans
A few were fun, most were general knowledge. No big.
3/5

Doubt
A newly minted lawyer who used to be a hacker gets an impossible first case: “prove something no one has ever proved before—that GMOs have the capacity to kill people.” Facing an opponent that will kill to win, she has to find a murdered scientist’s paper and then a witness while facing threats from within as well as without.
The great lead character is the best part of a book that could have been serious and dour, but thankfully is peppered with humor. My favorite line was the little kid who admits, “I haven’t pooped since Denver.” Most of this takes place in Los Angeles—the Huntington and UCLA are mentioned—with trips to Vegas, Northern California, and the east coast, though there isn’t much time for sightseeing when you’re being hunted by assassins.
Perhaps one too many twists at the end, but overall just the right amount of suspense without becoming overwhelming.
4/5

Moral Defense
The second in the new series by Marcia Clark, featuring an amazing lead character: a bend-the-rules defense attorney who’s always taking on more than she can chew.
The main case involves a family being murdered, with only one survivor, who is now her client, partly because it’s so high-profile but mostly because it’s personal for her. Another job has to do with a loose end I remember from the first book, so glad to see it picked up here. There’s a couple of other threads as well, so it helps that she has two able and funny assistants. More importantly, a lot of writers would have made the cases tie together at the end, which I always find too much of a coincidence to buy, but thankfully that doesn’t happen here.
What often makes a good book despite other problems—which is not the case here, just an example—is the lead character. It takes skills for a defense attorney to be on the run from gangbangers, drug dealers, and crooked cops all at once, and none of them had anything to do with the primary case. When she stops at In-n-Out I love her even more.
So this was great, but maybe a little less great than the first. This one was a little too convoluted, especially at the end, but still well worthwhile.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Spain, Emojis, and Star Trek

Lao Tzu
We make a vessel from a limp of clay; it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

A Darker Sky
In the first of a new mystery series, a woman on the run from a stalker goes to a yoga retreat and is killed after a hookup. The amateur detective in this case is the editor of the Scandinavian weekly, soon assisted by a former cop now working for the embassy.
This is one of those stories that takes place in two timelines, the present and an incident from the past, though the way it was first written made me think it happened earlier that day rather than years ago. At this point I guessed the killer. . . though I admit I changed my mind a few times between then and the reveal. While not sympathizing with the killer, gotta admit I wasn’t devastated when the final victim got his. And despite not going into detail, the settings were well done. I’ve been to these Spanish islands and I don’t remember them being big enough for all these places, but then I wasn’t there very long. I certainly had no idea so many Scandinavians lived there.
There were some early clues that didn’t seem like clues at all, making me wonder why they were included; the most dramatic of them was the minister having sex with the male masseuse. By the end I realized this led to some really good twists when it came to suspects. . . so good, in fact, that it made me wanna go back to read previous stuff from these authors.
4/5

How to Speak Emoji
This author rewrote Moby Dick with just emojis, so he’s the right person to do this book. This seems more impressive than the Peter Rabbit edition of hieroglyphs, but then it’s a lot easier to make an emoji of a whale.
This book starts with a dictionary, from the most simple onward. But by the time you get to the phrasebook and idioms it seems like more work than it’s worth. The pickup lines are the worst I’ve ever heard. . . wait, I’ve never heard a good one. Never mind. Insults, on the other hand, I can get behind. (That’s what she said.) The proverbs are fairly funny, reminding me of a similarly-themed book I had for Latin. Even better were lyrics, though I don’t know if anyone who likes Love Is a Battlefield will figure out that emoji chain. Eye of the Tiger, on the other hand. . .
But it’s the movies and TV shows section that’s the funniest, particularly Fight Club. Breaking Bad is novel-sized!
I’d imagine most people use emojis to emphasize what they’d written; this book is mostly about substituting for words completely. It’s fun for a while, but I wonder how many people would actually use it. . . well, I suppose if you cut and paste. . .
3.5/5

Lone Wolf
A tiny redheaded veterinarian in Montana falls for a rancher while treating an injured eagle. If only life was that simple. Sigh.
It doesn’t matter where you set a romance novel, or what kind of fantasy character you put into it (in this case a wolf shifter, of which there’ve been a lot lately); in the end you know there can only be one outcome, regardless of how many obstacles are randomly thrown at them. What I did find amusing was how in this story’s universe shifters are known and accepted.
The prose quickly left me bored. Every other paragraph talks about how much she wants him; I didn’t understand her any more than him. He’s of course an alpha who tries really hard not to fall for her, for one of the few reasons ever used in these kinds of books.
This had possibilities–different settings and circumstances that gave it a chance–but those were thrown away to make it generic, so that by the end it was nothing special.
3/5

Boarding the Enterprise
A few months ago I read a book about Star Wars that was a retread trotted out because of the new movie. Now with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek the same thing is done here, with a book written ten years ago for the 40th anniversary.
Basically this is a collection of articles, much like a fanzine in the early days. There’s a piece on some classic sci-fi stories that were adapted to Star Trek, and I agree with the author when he wondered how great it would have been had others been done, especially Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star. But then you get another chapter that was simply author bios. C’mon.
One chapter that started out interesting was a discussion about how the Prime Directive, while a good idea, probably wasn’t, but even that succumbed to overthinking. Possibly the best entry was a funny one that reminded me of an Asimov short story, a report on Earth done by an alien. I love this part: “crew members being flung from their seats by various impacts on several occasions, and the resources to install improvised seat belts were clearly available; we must conclude that either seat belts were unknown, or there were reasons not to install them that outweighed the obvious benefits.” The conclusions are hilarious.
Another great line: “It’s not some utopian dream of peaceful cooperation that has prompted the Federation, but the perceived need for defense— the Federation serves the same purpose as a street gang.” There’s a fantastic argument for why the most trustworthy officer on board is Scotty, but this pretty much exemplifies the few good aspects of this book: “It’s easy to find faults, but without Star Trek, I would never have become an astronomer.”
Unfortunately there’s more that doesn’t work than does: it’s much better than the Star Wars one, but that’s not saying much.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: All Kinds of Detectives

“Every guy notices you.”
“Even the gay ones?”
They want to be you.”
“Ha!”

An Untimely Frost
An innocent actress in 1880s Chicago falls for a rogue who steals her money and smacks her around before moving on to his next victim. Broke and angry, but realizing there isn’t much she can do to catch him, she instead redirects her idealism into helping other women by answering an ad to be a Pinkerton agent. Of course it’s not easy, for even though they want women detectives now, they prefer them more seasoned with life experience. But since she’s an actress, she’s able to fool the family of Pinkertons by playing different roles until one gets accepted, and soon she’s Lilly Long, female operative.
What a fantastic character she turned out to be, so much so that I didn’t concentrate on the plot all that much. Of course she’s not perfect, being quite stubborn, especially when there’s a guy she finds attractive. The same reason she fell for the first guy keeps her from doing anything positive here; she just doesn’t know how to act around men, so she resorts to playground antics, and more often than not the guy falls into that too. But at other times her pugnaciousness is more than welcome, persevering in solving the case with humor and compassion.
The other interesting thing in this book was the settings, especially the empty house that is the basis for her case. Everyone assumes it’s haunted, more so when she finds evidence of the famous crime still in place. What was really interesting was how an empty house could elicit so much of her backstory.
There were a few twists, particularly the boxer and the preacher, that were obvious long before the reveal; I might have given this a 5, or at least a 4.5, if not for that. There were also a few instances of unnecessary verbs which the author should get better at with time. The most important takeaway, though, is that this was quite fun to read. The first ingredient in a successful story of this type is a likeable protagonist, or at least sympathetic, and Lilly is more than just that.
4/5

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #1-3
Having read and reviewed, and more importantly enjoyed, some of the newer works in this long series, I had to check out how it started once I saw those tomes were available, possibly for the first time in English.
Wish I hadn’t. I’m surprised the series lasted long enough to get there. These were dull and amateurish in comparison.

Treachery in Bordeaux
This first book is so sloppy and hamfisted, with long digressions and explanations about things that have nothing to do with the plot. Once in a while there’s a tiny clue amongst these long ramblings from the obvious author avatar, but by then you’re zooming by and miss it. There’s actually one point where the protagonist says, “Okay, I’ll stop there. I think I’ve overwhelmed you.” No kidding! As if long boring info dumps weren’t bad enough, the subjects—there’s a long piece on shoes!—had me skipping past them, which at least made for fast reading. It’s a good thing I read and enjoyed others in the series, because had I started here I would not have continued. . . zzzzzzzzz.
I’m going to give it a little bit of a break, as it was the first one, but still. . .
1.5/5

Grand Cru Heist
Cooker gets carjacked in Paris and ends up in the hospital, but he’s more interested in the car and his notebook than anything else.
Even after the reveal at the end, I’m confused. Couldn’t follow the “logic” of how he solved the case I didn’t even know he was on!
2/5

Nightmare in Burgundy
There’s a line near the beginning that goes, “It is an honor to be named Chevalier du Tastevin in a setting as glorious as the Vougeot château.” Is this a real thing? Because the authors make it sound so pompous. As always I’m reminded of the line, “I Wouldn’t want to be in a club that would have me as a member. . .”
Someone is graffitiing bible verses. Two “artists” are shot for it, though nobody knows why they were doing it.
Even bigger problems in this book than the previous two. Besides more of those long boring digressions, the killer turns out to be someone we never heard about throughout the entire story! This makes everything written beforehand irrelevant, along with all those long asides that already were. More importantly, it’s insulting to the reader.
1/5

As a whole. . .
1.5/5

Buried Crimes
Sophie Allen is back! I love this British crime series, and most of all the character; it’s like visiting an old friend. This time she’s tasked with solving a cold case involving two small bodies found in a yard.
This novel feels like the first one. After the heaviness of the past two, this was a welcome respite. The other cops also feel a bit like family now, and even though it seems like a little bit of a digression the subplot featuring the transgender cop is well done.
All in all, much better! Almost as good as the first, definitely an improvement on the previous. Less of the mildly irritating daughter too.
4/5

Dead and Buried
A girl in the 60s dies after an illegal abortion, putting the story into action fifty years later.
Calladine is back for his fifth case and is as big a mess, if not worse, than the last book. It doesn’t help that his right hand is away on maternity leave, and that he’s still falling for any pretty face that talks to him. (I expect this particular dalliance to blow up in his face in an upcoming book.)
As for the plot, there’s far too much here that’s easy to figure out, like the new officer’s motivation, the original crime, even the burial; that’s a little disappointing. There’s also some plot holes, but in general it’s as enjoyable as the first ones in the series. And of course I’m always happy to see more of Imogen.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Murders and Syria

“Here I am trying to be mad at you, and you come out with the truth. Is that any way for a boyfriend to act?”
“Mmmm, I think so. . .”
“Oh, right.”

Secret Crimes
Third in a great series of British detective novels, this one takes Sophie Allen to new places, forcing her to concentrate on her job more than ever due to the events of the previous book, which left her wracked with guilt over how she’d treated her absent father, if only in her head. (I was expecting something like this, but not to this extent.)
Oddly enough, that part of the story was spot-on, and it was the plot that was a bit of a letdown this time. As always there are great moments of detective work, this time with more behind-the-scenes stuff, as it were. For example, it was kinda weird seeing the witnesses’ point of view of the detectives, but definitely interesting. But for once this author didn’t give his readers a fair shake; the bad guy seemed to come out of nowhere, and while that might happen in real life investigations, it’s not good to not leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to figure it out on their own.
So definitely not satisfied with how this story turned out, not up to the standards of the previous two. Still love the characters, not as much the story/plot.
3.5/5

Aleppo
History of the city which was one of my favorite in the Middle East, now pretty much destroyed in three years of civil war.
The first quarter of this book is a history of the city, strangely zeroing on specific eras rather than providing an overall view. But after that it’s all first-person historical accounts. One is an entire chapter on food, while another is a long piece on farming.
The bad part is that the author included entire chapters, where a lot of the writing had nothing to do with Aleppo; a little editing would have been welcome, but then I guess it would have been an even shorter book. Some of the historical accounts hardly mention the city, could have happened anywhere. At least the first section offered context. These records might be understood by a historian, but there’s so much there that’s not because it was written about an age I have not studied.
It occurs to me that this author did a lot more work reading rather than writing or editing. He chose what the reader would see, but like being a DJ doesn’t make one a musician, this doesn’t make one a writer.
The last section, another big chunk, is notes, bibliography, and index.
2/5

Blood Defense
With the resurgence of OJ Simpson stuff in the media, most people have heard of Marcia Clark, who has now become an author and a very good one. This is my first of her books, but now I feel like going back to read the previous ones because this one hit the right spot with me.
A young, semi-famous actress is killed in her home along with her roommate. The protagonist is a first-person young lawyer who left the public defender’s office to go private. From some of the cases she works on and others referenced, you can see this might not have been a good idea, but she hopes defending the cop accused in this case will change that.
This was a long but surprisingly easy read. Definitely enjoying the main character; I do love a snarky lady, at least in fiction. At three chapters in I made a note that the writing was top notch, though nothing I hadn’t seen before. And then came the huge twist!
It’s funny that she has criminals of all walks owing her favors, seemingly very loyal to her; even racists in jail look out for her. There are a lot of little legal tidbits strewn throughout, most of them interesting and unusual for someone not in that area of the legal profession, or at all.
If I had some negatives, one would be that there might have been too many characters; I had to go back to check who Chas was. The other, much bigger problem–to the point where it cost half a point on its final grade–was the ending. As I always say, a mystery writer has to leave breadcrumbs of clues for the reader to at least attempt to figure out who the killer is; in this case the bad guy came out of nowhere.
The only mystery left is what she did with DeShawn’s heroin. . .
4/5

Guaranteed to Bleed
This is a mystery set in 1974, second in the series. I haven’t read the first one, and it looks like that matters, because the protagonist’s husband was killed and there’s plenty of references to it that had me in the dark. Like many amateur investigators, she’s a magnet for dead bodies, finding one underneath the stands at a high school game, then later having another shot in her backyard. Because of all that, she’s familiar with the police investigator, as well as a lawyer her overbearing mother is determined to set her up with.
Unlike most, she doesn’t set out to find the killer. In a nutshell, her motivation is: “A boy was dead and it was up to me to carry out his dying wish. I couldn’t afford to feel guilty about how I went about fulfilling that wish.”
The only things that really scream 1974 are the phones and the attitude towards gay relationships and cross-dressers, although come to think of it those last two might not be all that different today. “Who was I to judge? My late husband had engaged in much stranger things than dressing like a woman.”
There’s was one point I didn’t like, when the housekeeper gets an emergency call and leaves her all alone; a little too obvious that something’s gonna happen, and of course it does. Other than that it’s a serviceable mystery if you have a high tolerance for dramatic teens, overbearing mothers, nosy neighbors, and country club politics.
3.5/5

;o)