Archived Book Bag Reviews

August 14, 2008 – YEAH!  A new female sleuth!  Check out Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness.  Set in Scotland and England between the wars, it’s a funny, light-hearted, predictable, but entertaining mystery about the 34th inline to the throne.    You’ll meet Wallace Simpson, the Duke, and of course Her Royal Highness herself, Queen Consort and Empress of India, Mary, wife of King George V.    Totally fun.

August 13, 2008 – 80 Mysteries Around the World 

Check out this list (above) for international mysteries set in fabulous cities around the world.  Thanks to my friend Rachelle Joy.

Books for me have been limited.  Mostly just reading things I know so I can try to fall asleep.  One book that is new is The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud  which is sort of a twist on the normal Templar Trash theme.  It’s interesting, but not compelling.  Keeps my coming back though.  I also just finished the next in the Blackbird Sisters series, Murder Melts in Your Mouth.  Predictable, funny and comforting.

July 8, 2008 Agatha Christie does it again:  One Two, Buckle My Shoe

July 6, 2008 March is Geraldine Brook’s tale of Mr. March, the father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  From the publisher:  From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated thecharacter of the absent father, March, and crafted a story “filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man” (Sue Monk Kidd). With “pitch-perfect writing” (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’s place as a renowned author of historical fiction.

June 23, 2008 – Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross is a delightful book.  I have no idea if she existed or not.  But if she did, I hope she was like the Pope Joan in the book.  She brings the 9th Century to life and creates a vivid picture of a young woman driven to learn and lead a life not sanctioned by the church or the world around her.

June 20, 2008 – Long plane rides are great for crashing through books.   Two Terry Pratchett’s, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith   Tiffany Aching is a great little witch, and this is classic Pratchett.  I laughed out loud, spit out my coffee, and collected dirty looks from fellow travelers!  Jealous much?   Tiffany learns about witching and headology from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg — and Grebo’s met his match.  Delightful and fun, of course.

Also on this trip, The Last Secret of the Temple, by Paul Sussman.  Not Templar Trash, but along the same lines.  This time, the hunt is on for the original Menorah of the First Temple of Solomon.    What was especially fun for me was having been to Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Karnak and Jerusalem, the backdrop of the book was vivid and rich.  A fun, compelling, page-turning book with semi-complex characters, some mystic ju-ju and lots of history.

Have just started Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk.  A woman on the throne of Peter?  Myth?  Mystery?  Truth?  All I know for certain is that it’s a fun, engrossing read.  Well written and whether true or not, is a hard reminder that women often have to deny who they are to get ahead in this world.

June 15, 2008 – Naomi Ragen, The Saturday Wife is a great read.  Totally compelling and hard to put down.  You just want to slap Deliliah.   Ragen transports the story of Madame Bovary in the world of New York Orthodox Jews.  From the publisher:  Like Emma Bovary, Delilah Goldgrab longs for a better life. A Queens yeshiva girl, Delilah is prayerfully remorseful after fornicating with young, opportunistic Yitzie Polinsky, and quickly marries mediocre rabbinical student Chaim Levi, who is unable to provide her with a house, much less the glossy upper-middle-class life she longs for. When Chaim accepts a position as the rabbi of an affluent Connecticut congregation, Delilah has the opportunity to indulge her ideas about happiness as the congregation’s rebbitzin, with deliciously disastrous consequences. It’s hard to like selfish, clueless Delilah or anyone else here: the pleasure of this novel is in its mercilessness, with Ragen (The Covenant) raising the stakes until the very end. (Aug.)

June 3, 2008 – I had left Thief of Time (Pratchett) in the Tel Aviv apartment.  Couldn’t resist.  So am reading again.  Sigh.  I love Igors.

June 2, 2008 Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (The Girl with the Pearl Earning and Days of Wonder) is a look at late 18th century London from the eyes of two young children who grow up next to William Blake and his wife, Kate.  One comes from Dorchester and the other child from the hard streets of London.  Both are escaping something.  Interspersed with Blake’s poems and songs, it is a story about the space between innocence and experience.  Compelling and thought-provoking.

May 28, 2008  Two books have captured my interest and I’m starting a third.  The first, Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. Written in the late 90’s, Brooks explores the hidden world of Islamic women.  She chronicles here experiences as a middle east correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and her own observations and learnings about the rising conservative backlash against the west.  She uses Mohammed’s own words to show how women are being held to a standard more restrictive then intended in order to control them and their families.  It’s an intriguing and thought-provoking set of essays.

Also worth note is Mistress of the Art of Death the first in a new mystery series featuring an 11th  century female forensic doctor sent on behalf of King Henry I from Salerno to England to solve the mysterious deaths of several children.  The town has quarantined the Jews, blaming them, without evidence, for the hideous deaths.  Many reviewers think it sucks, but I really enjoyed it.   From the publisher:  In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry I is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.

Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again…

March 23, 2008 I finished Tomb of Zeus.  Saw it coming.  Blah.  What a wonder it could have been; female archaeologist on Crete?  come one – could have been amazing.  But nope.  Boring.  Expected.  Formulaeic.    On the other hand,  Nob Hill Murders was very fun.   Not fabulous, but up there with Gaslight Mysteries.  Review:  This promising if melodramatic debut is set in 1880 San Francisco and is narrated by the spirited Sarah Woolson. Educated by her attorney father, Sarah marches into the law firm of one of his associates and demands a job. She gets it, too, and finds herself working on the case of a young widow accused of murdering her older and abusive husband. Contending with the scorn of her male colleagues, Sarah fights for her place in the firm and is soon involved in a heady stew that includes Chinese gangs and child slavery; a club in which gentlemen indulge their most forbidden habits; and other murders that, like the first, involve sexual mutilation. The language tends to the purple, and the local color is laid on thickly; however, the serenely self-assured Sarah, who has a possible love interest in the Scottish colleague she enrages regularly, keeps the reader on her side and turning pages till the end. Stay tuned.

March 9, 2008. Maise Dobbs’ new adventure, An Incomplete Revenge is wonderful. She explores the cost of hate. And prejudice. And the deadly power of a mob fed on fear and doubt.

The Tomb of Zeus is killing me. And new author for me, Barbara Cleverly’s novel just drones on. The characters are flat, one-dimensional caricatures saying and doing banal, predictable things. The dialogue is stilted and droll. The magic of ancient Crete seems dusty and worn out; thin. I fall asleep in the bathtub when I try to read it. Bah Humbug.

February 22, 2008. I gave up on Templar Trash. Too boring. The new Maise Dobbs novel, An Incomplete Revenge arrived yesterday from Barnes and Noble. I finished it at 4:30 am this morning. Next, I’ll turn to Hercule Poirot.

February 11, 2008. I know it’s a current trend, this genre of Templar Trash as my friends call it. I’m reading one that is definitely not captivating my attention. Except in fits and starts. The story opens in Acre (Akko). I’ve been there. And moves through Palestine (I’ve been there, too). And it engages with Muslims on the Syrian boarder (I’ve been there, too) and in flashes, I see this book as something contemporary. As something relevant. And equal to great literature. But not quite. It’s not fun, yet.

Try Brethren by Robyn Young. The characters are Mumluk warriors and Templar Knighs. So far it’s both interesting and boring.

February 9, 2008. Tasha Alexander’s second book, A Poisoned Season, is just as fun as her first one. The stories aren’t as strong as Anne Perry’s, and the characters are less rich, but Emily Ashton and Colin Hargreaves are delightful. A great book for the airplane or for reading while sipping coffee in bed on Saturday morning. Emily’s determination to break with conventions and lead an independent life in Victorian England is heartwarming and endearing. Her exploits to uncover the true dauphin’s identity almost get her killed and in the end, she learns partnership is preferable to isolation.

February 2, 2008. I just finished reading People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks. It captivated me. If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy this. Traversing the Spanish Inquisition, WW2, modern Israel and Australia, the story brings to life the history around the Sarajevo Haggadah. Read this. You’ll believe in man’s humanity again.

February 1, 2008. Late-night, cross-Atlantic flights are the perfect time to catch up on reading. A good book transports me from the tiny, claustrophobic 6 cubic feet of personal space to anywhere and anytime in the world. My trip back from Tel Aviv I finished Steve Barry’s Alexandria Link. This sometimes slow-paced book offers an interesting premise: Israel should be in Saudi Arabia! Based on research by Kalim Salibi which suggests the Old Testament came from Arabia, this search for the lost Library of Alexandria to prove the theory is far-fetched, but thought-provoking. What if we really have it wrong. And of course, we know we do. But just how wrong? Anyway, it’s not a great read, but it’s fun. For one opinion about the theory, check out Higgaion, a blog by associate professor of religion at Pepperdine University.
January 19, 2008 Read Pratchet’s Thief of Time while on the plane from Seattle to Atlanta. I love that book. Death by Chocolate to the Auditors! In this brain-warping tale, Death’s Granddaughter saves the world from interfering Auditors and the 5 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (yes five, Chaos comes out of retirement to join Death, Famine, Pestilence and War) ride out to help. A funny, poignant and endearing story reminding us that we chose the life we have and to make the most of every moment. And, too, that things aren’t always what they seem.

January 15, 2008 I’m off to Tel Aviv and need some good business books. So I’m pulling some off my shelf that have been sitting there and we’re off. Coming with me will be:

  • David Allen: Getting Things Done
  • James M. Kilts: Doing What Matters
  • Roger L. Marting: The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking
January 14, 2008 How Fun! I love Christie and have forgotten how much I enjoy reading her prose and ‘watching’ her heros and heroines figure it out. I just finished Spider’s Web an adaptation of one of Christie’s plays: Dame Agatha’s creaky stage mystery is here recycled as a novella by the mere expedient of expanding her stage directions into narrative. Beautiful Clarissa, who dreams of finding a corpse in her living room, one day actually finds one. Now I’m finishing Hallowe’een Party — what fun.
I also just read The Caddie who Knew Ben Hogan. A fun, touching story about the glory days of golf. If you like playing or enjoy knowing how to work the course, this little gem is full of interesting ‘conversations’ and reminders that we’ve come a long way with our clubs.
January 6, 2008 On my flight home from Los Angeles this evening, I finished Christie’s Destination Unknown . She consistently surprises me. I love Anne Perry and Victoria Thompson and Jacqueline Winspear, but I discover the answer more often than not. But with those wonderful Grand Dames of Mystery — Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh — they really had the goods. Fantastic characters, clever plots and always a surprise ending. No computers, no cyber-future-technoid gadgets. Just conversation and observation and the little grey cells. Delightful. If you’re a Christie fan, check out Destination Unknown.

January 1, 2008
Agatha Christie. That’s the name for 2008. I love her. I so enjoy her books. She, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey … amazing women who created the modern mystery genre. Wilke Collins and his Woman in White may have begun the whole thing but Christie perfected it. Destination Unknown is one I had never heard of before today. So far, wonderful. I think I will try to invest in the classics this year. I tried a few years ago, but starting with A Tale of Two Cities really knocked me flat.
December 28, 2007 Terry Pratchet did not disappoint. Making Money was fun! I just finished reading And Only to Deceive. A fun, intriguing book by a new author, Tasha Alexander. Victorian widow takes on the underworld of antiquities and art forgeries. Very fun. Have picked up Gerladine Brooks’ Nine Parts of Desire, exploring the hidden world of Islamic women. Having just returned from Egypt, I’m really looking forward to this read.October 25, 2007 Terry Pratchet has a new book out: Making Money I’m so hoping it will be the read I want. Funny, insightful, irreverent. We’ll keep you posted.
September 23, 2007 Found it! I’ve found the switch for my reading gene. Check out Naomi Ragen. She wrote The Ghost of Hannah Mendes and The Covenant. I read her book Sotah when I was first in Israel, not realizing she was the author of the Ghost of Hannah Mendes, which I loved when I read it many years ago.
August 19, 2007 Finished a great little sleeper: Witch Way to Murder, by Shirley Damsgaard. What a fun little read. A bit formuleaic, but not too predictable. For the first in a series, this is a great find. A reluctant witch, Ophelia, and her grandmother, the Apalachian medicine woman, take on drugs, rage and impending eveil. The characters are fun and engaging. I look forward to her next book.
August 11, 2007Rachelle has given me some new Templar Trash. So I’ll see how it fares.
July 28, 2007 I LOVE YOU HARRY POTTER. Finally. Last weekend I could not settle down with Harry and so put off picking up the book until yesterday afternoon. I had read the spoilers. Had heard the news. The tidbits of the truth. It didn’t matter. Some of what I, and countless others, had guessed about ‘The Scar’, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and of course, the fate of He-Who-Lived was right. Some wasn’t. I am content. My questions are answered. What’s next.
July 14, 2007 I’m bored with my reading. In fact I haven’t been engaged for months. Harry Potter – where are you? Please send me suggestions for my reading list.

As much as it pains me to say this,
I can’t recommend the Laura Child’s mystery series about a scrapbook store owner and a zany cast of scrap-happy New Orleans women. They are forumlaic and boring and oh-so-disappointing for this scrapbook loving reader. Too bad. It could have been great fun.
Just finished reading:Susan Vreeland: The Forest Lover My take on this book: not quite a hit. Parts of it were glorious, but I never connected with Emily, which was the point of the book, I think. The glimpses into the plight of the First Nations people of Canada, and Emily Carr’s work to raise awareness and preserve their traditions is interesting and revealing, but it never grabs my heart and I am not better for having read this book. But I do want to see Emily’s art, so maybe Vreeland did her job after all.From Barnes and Noble:It was Emily Carr (1871-1945)-not Georgia O’Keeffe or Frida Kahlo-who first blazed a path for modern women artists. Overcoming the confines of late Victorian culture, Carr became a major force in modern art. Her boldly original landscapes are praised today for capturing an untamed British Columbia-and its indigenous peoples-just before industrialization would change it forever. In her latest novel, Susan Vreeland brings to life this fiercely independent and underappreciated figure. From illegal potlatches in tribal communities to prewar Paris, where her art was exhibited in the famed Salon d’Automne, Carr’s story is as arresting as it is vibrant. Vreeland tells it with gusto and suspense, giving vivid portraits of Carr and the unconventional people to whom she was inevitably drawn: Sophie, a native basket maker; Harold, the son of missionaries, who embraces indigenous cultures; Fanny, a New Zealand artist who spends a summer with Carr painting in the French countryside; and Claude, a French fur trader who steals her heart. The result is a glorious novel that will appeal to lovers of art, native cultures, and lush historical fiction.Recent reads :Laura Childs: Death by DesignDonna Leon: Quiety in Their SleepAnne Perry: We Shall Not SleepKate Jacobs: Friday Night Knitting ClubAgatha Christie: Death on the NileVictoria Thompson: Murder in ChinatownMargaret Alice Murray The Splendor That Was Egypt

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