Turbo Twenty-Three–Janet Evanovich

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The new Evanovich!

Well, new is relative. It’s the most recent Evanovich.

Here’s the thing. I used to really love these books. But they’ve become so formulaic it’s not fun anymore. It’s just…another one of these books. It’s like paint by numbers for mysteries, which is sad because this was such a unique concept when she first started them.

Checklist for a Stephanie Plum mystery:

  1. Find a dead guy in a weird and creepy way. Check, she found an ice cream factory guy in a stolen refrigerated truck, covered in chocolate and nuts like an ice cream bar.
  2. Still torn between Ranger and Morelli? Yep. Double dipping a little bit? Yep.
  3. Wacky side gig for Lula? Check, she and another recurring character are working on an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid” which involves a lot of random activities and hijinks.
  4. Grandma Mazur side plot? Yep. Involving dating? Yep.
  5. Stephanie has to take an undercover job she’s terrible at? Yep.
  6. Poorly executed attempts at capturing felons? Not so many as usual but still present.

I just want to see some progress. SOMETHING. Can we get a little movement on anything? Character growth? Circumstances changing somewhat? A DIFFERENT PLOT LINE, PLEASE I AM BEGGING YOU.

If you like to read the same book over and over, this is a great addition to the Plum series.

 

Sacred Clowns–Tony Hillerman

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I’m finally back to this series–my library inexplicably only had it in hard copy until recently, when they got the e-version, and since I do most of my reading on my phone these days, I paused the series.

I love these books. They almost make me forget how much I hate the heat and dryness of the desert.

This book begins with Jim Chee and his girlfriend with some other people, sitting on the roof of a house, watching a ceremonial dance. This dance comes from a different tribe, so they don’t really understand all of it. One of the components is a group called “sacred clowns” who act like clowns but are used to show how silly and bumbling and flawed humans are compared to the gods, who are also portrayed in the dance.

By the end, one of the clowns has been killed.

This appears to tie to an earlier murder at a school. A popular shop teacher was killed in his classroom, and silver and other things used in shop were found in the home of a local drunk who knew him. Case closed, but it doesn’t feel right. If he’d killed the teacher and stolen silver, he’d have sold the silver immediately.

The two murders are connected–the nephew of the killed dancer was friends with someone in the shop teacher’s class, was seen at the school that night, and has gone missing.

Chee and his boss have to figure out why someone would kill a clown dancer, who had no enemies as far as anyone knew, and how that connects to a well-loved and generous teacher at the local school.

 

How to Murder Your Mother-in-Law–Dorothy Cannell

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I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed any of the Dorothy Cannell books yet.

The first book in this series is called “The Thin Woman” and is, in my opinion, a classic in the cozy mystery genre.

This is a later book.

These books are centered on Ellie Haskell, a young wife and mother. Her life is filled with absurdity. The books are clever and witty and charming.

In this book, she has the idea to invite her in-laws for a formal dinner. Her mother-in-law is a devout Catholic. Her father-in-law is a devout Jew, and so she thinks it would be nice to celebrate their anniversary. She cooks a reasonable good dinner (although I always wonder why she cooks at all, since her husband is a professional chef) except for the chocolate pudding, which she inadvertently made with chocolate flavored laxatives.

But the biggest issue is that she invited a local woman who had been a friend of her in-laws when they were young and that they haven’t spoken to in forty years. As it happens, they had stopped talking because the mother-in-law thought her friend Tricks was trying to seduce her husband.

There’s a terrible fight and the husband takes Tricks home, only to be returned by the cops because they decided to skinny dip in the ocean and lost their clothes. At that point, the Magdalene (the mother-in-law) kicks him out.

As it happens, there’s a rash of problematic mothers-in-law in town. Trick’s daughter-in-law suffers from her mom’s cavalier attitude towards life. The local member of the aristocracy, Lady Kitty, dominates and tortures her husband and daughter-in-law. The local vicar’s mother-in-law smokes in the house and is cheeky to the bishop.

They all complain and try to find a way to solve their problem, but when Lady Kitty is killed when the brake lines on her bike are cut, they start to suspect each other. And then Tricks is poisoned.

They have to find out who is bumping off the mothers-in-law before they are all killed and ideally also get the women out of their houses before they lose their minds.

 

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet–M.C. Beaton

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It’s been a while since I reviewed one of this series. I’m re-reading the series now, so you might see more of these. This is a cozy mystery series, following the adventures of Agatha Raisin, an abrasive former PR consultant who took early retirement in the Cotswolds and continues to stumble into murders.

In this book, she returns from vacation to find that there’s a new, handsome vet in town. Being single and perpetually on the hunt for a man, she trundles her cat along in there, and discovers that he’s not that great of a vet, he’s a little rough with the cat, but she brushes it off because he’s so handsome and charming.

He takes her out to dinner and tells her he wants to start an animal hospital and is raising money for that cause. She thinks she’ll give him a small amount, but never gets to it. Before she can see him again, he’s found dead, of an apparent accident. He was about to perform a surgery on a racehorse, and the paralytic injection got him instead, killing him more or less instantly.

She can’t help but notice that a lot of women came to his funeral, and that several of them were very bitter about him, including one woman who had given him her cat for treatment and he had decided unilaterally to put it down, and his ex-wife, who hated him, and several women who had given him large amounts of money fro the animal hospital.

It turns out that he’s a compulsive gambler, and had been raising money for the supposed animal hospital for years, with no sign of any actual hospital to show for it. His partner had been propping him up for years, and was the beneficiary of his estate. His ex-wife had lost all her money because of his gambling. And there was, of course, a long line of angry women and some disgruntled husbands who were upset with him about the money.

Agatha–along with her handsome neighbor James Lacey–investigates the crime, until as usual, she gets too close and her cats get kidnapped. She traces the clues back to the perpetrator and nearly dies before Lacey and the police arrive to save her.

These are fun books. As with many series the earlier books are the best. I like Agatha Raisin, despite her prickliness and man-eating ways, I think she’s a realistic and sympathetic character. I suppose the popularity of these books says that I’m not alone. I hear there’s a TV series of these books but I haven’t seen it and can’t speak for the quality of it or the lack thereof.

 

The Man in the Brown Suit–Agatha Christie

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It is a common thing to denigrate the thrillers that Agatha Christie wrote. They aren’t as good as her cozies, people will tell you. I’m not at all sure that’s strictly accurate. I think the thrillers are more parody than earnest fiction, and as such, they’re amazing.

Regardless, if you like the early 20th century thriller, you’ll probably like her thrillers, too, so it’s all good.

This is one of her thrillers. It follows the thrilling (HA!) adventures of Anne Beddingfeld, an impoverished orphan. Her father, an esteemed anthropologist, dies and leaves her penniless. She moves in with her lawyer’s family in London and looks for a job, but in the course of so doing, she encounters a man on the train. Clearly from a more enjoyable climate, with a tanned face and a jacket that smells like mothballs, he becomes alarmed at something behind her and steps off the subway platform, dying instantly. The man behind her announces he’s a doctor and examines the body, but as he’s leaving, Anne follows and discovers a piece of paper that he dropped, a paper that smells of mothballs. It came from the dead man’s jacket, clearly, and has a series of numbers and words on it.

Later it comes out that a beautiful foreign woman was found strangled that same day, in an empty house. The dead man had that house’s address in his pocket. A man in a brown suit had been seen leaving the empty house and is the presumed killer.

Anne realizes that the numbers and words refer to a boat that is sailing from London to South Africa. She spends the rest of her money on a first-class ticket and takes off. There she encounters Suzanne Blair, a rice society lady, her friend Colonel Race, and Sir Eustace Pedler, who owns the house the dead woman was found in.

She also encounters a suspicious pastor and a very touchy young man who is serving as Pedler’s secretary.

During the course of the journey she and Suzanne become friends and confidantes, and Suzanne has a film canister filled with uncut diamonds dropped into her cabin in the middle of the night. Colonel Race tells a story of two young men who were caught smuggling diamonds out of Africa. The rich one was disowned and then killed in the war, and the poor one was reported missing in action. Clearly these two events are related.

Once they land in Africa, Anne is kidnapped and held hostage, escapes and takes the newly opened job as Pedler’s secretary, is lured into a ravine where she nearly dies, and solves the mystery of who stole the diamonds and why they framed the two young men, as well as unmasking a criminal mastermind.

I think what I love most about the earlier Christie books is the atmosphere. The early 20th century was a tumultuous time and it’s hard for modern writers to get all the details and differences correct. It’s hard to believe that this book is not quite a hundred years old, because while there are many familiar aspects, the differences (no planes!) are so dramatic.

Cat Among the Pigeons–Agatha Christie

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This is one of my favorites of Agatha Christie’s books, and I read it often.

The book opens with two old school friends, one of whom is a British pilot. The other is the ruler of a small middle eastern country. There’s a coup coming and their lives are in danger. The prince hands the pilot a small bag of jewels and asks him to find a safe way out of the country for them, in case the two of them are killed. After some thought, he goes to the hotel where his sister and her teenage daughter are staying and hides them in their luggage.

He is forced to leave the country with the prince before he can tell anyone where he hid them. He and the prince are both killed in the escape attempt.

His sister and niece travel by sea back to England, where, after the state department searches their luggage, the niece goes to her boarding school. His sister’s house is robbed and then the boarding school starts having trouble.

Muddying the waters a bit, there’s a girl at the school who is also middle eastern royalty and who claims to have been engaged to the dead prince. She knows about the missing gems, and she is constantly talking about how she’s likely to be kidnapped for them, or perhaps that someone will find the gems and bring them to her for a reward.

And then the game’s mistress is killed. Although many people have often thought about killing their physical education teacher, most people don’t actually do it.

Not long afterwards, one of the school administrators is also killed in the gymnasium.

The French teacher tries to blackmail the murderer and is killed herself.

Will the jewels be found? Who is the killer?

I love this book.

 

Mindless Eating–Brian Wansink

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This is a great book. The author is a food researcher and basically, unless you are consciously thinking about every bite you ever eat, you have no idea what you are doing. You may think you’re making decisions for yourself but nope nope nope, you are not.

For example, if you’re watching a movie and eating popcorn, you’re eating more than you think. If the container is bigger, you’re eating more, even if the popcorn is terrible.

If you’re eating in the dark, you might not know what the hell you’re eating. That strawberry yogurt might be chocolate yogurt, actually.

Basically, this is a fun book to read and tell your friends about how you’re all so easily tricked by your environment, but the biggest takeaway for me, diet-wise, is that your body does not really feel a 20-30 percent difference in calories either way. In other words, you can eat about 30 percent more calories than you normally do without realizing it and gain about 10 pounds in a year, or you can cut yourself back that much and lose that much without even noticing it.

Which explains what happened when I took that desk job where you could get homemade waffles every Friday for a dollar in the cafeteria. It did not go well for my weight, is my point.

This is not, despite what the other people on the internet seem to think, a diet book. This is mostly a psychology book, about the psychology of how we make decisions, specifically about food. Each chapter DOES have some take-aways on how to apply that chapter’s information can help you improve your diet and weight situation, but it’s not really a diet book. Don’t go into this thinking you’re going to lose a bunch of weight immediately. Take it for what it is.

It is really interesting and fun, though.