Finding Books

I know that we all have a to-read list that’s way too long, and if you’re like me, piles of books sitting around that you haven’t yet read – piles that never seem to shrink.  But sometimes, all of us, even me with my huge piles of books and daily access to a library, don’t know what to read next.  Maybe we’re bored by the same old authors and genres, or maybe we love them and want to find more like them.  Could just be that we’re in the mood for some science fiction or romance or a biography or a mystery and don’t know where to start.   Luckily, there are tons of great free resources out there for bookworms.  I know that I won’t possibly list everything useful that’s out there, so please feel free to share your favorites!

  1. Your Local Librarian!  They deal with books every day – the read reviews, order books, read books themselves, and know what other patrons read and like.  Ask them for help!  They will surely have some recommendations.
  2. Novelist – If your library has a subscription to this online database, use it!  Unfortunately, our library system had to discontinue our subscription due to the cost and underuse, but I think it’s a really fantastic tool for readers.
  3. GoodReads – A place where you can keep track of what you read, read and write reviews, and get recommendations from other readers.  You can follow other readers, and they can follow what you read.  You can follow me there!  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/17550974-watchingthewords
  4. Shelfari – Another place where you can keep track of your reading, read reviews, and share recommendations.  This is where I keep track of everything I read, even if I never review it.  I just like their interface better than others.  You can follow me here too! http://www.shelfari.com/watchingthewords
  5. LibraryThing – And yet another site that does many of the same things as Shelfari and Good Reads.  Unfortunately, I no longer keep an active account on their site since I found the interface to be a bit too clunky for my tastes, but there is tons of information available on this site.
  6. The Reader’s Advisor Online – Search based on your reading preferences for a selection of applicable titles.  Clicking on one of the titles will give you a brief description of the book.  The ability to refine your search is really nice on this site and can give you very specific recommendations.
  7. Book Reporter – A site with tons of reviews and information about upcoming releases.  They also have contests and we all need to win more books!  😉
  8. BookPage – You may have seen this magazine in your local public library, but their website has even more reviews, interviews, and contests!  You can also sign up for emails.
  9. Overbooked – Lists of starred reviews as well as “if you like…” lists by author, genre, themes, literary devices and more!
  10. What’s Next – This site gives users a simple interface for finding the in-order list of books by an author or in a series.
  11. All Readers – The search possibilities on this site are significant.  You can narrow down your search to very specific books that you like or browse through lists by genre broad categories.
  12. YA Series – A site for getting a list of the books in a young adult series, in order.
  13. Fantastic Fiction – A site for getting the list of books published by any particular author and getting the ordered list of books in any specific series.
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Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

minor adjustment beauty salonThe No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels take place in Botswana, where the traditionally-built Mme Precious Ramotswe, with the help of her assistant Mma Grace Makutsi, uses her common sense to solve the mysteries of those around her.

In this latest installment, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, Mme Ramotswe has two cases to worry about.  A lawyer has asked her to confirm the identity of the beneficiary of a deceased farmer’s estate and the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has been subjected to nasty rumors that are ruining her business.  Is someone trying to get an inheritance that isn’t theirs?  Why is someone trying to destroy the new salon’s reputation?  And, although she has yet to mention it, it has become obvious that Mme Makutsi is pregnant.  Will she mention it before the baby’s born?  And who will keep the office running smoothly while she’s out?

Reading a book in this series is always relaxing for me.  No matter the mystery, no one ever feels the need to rush; there is always time for a cup of tea and polite conversation.  Mme Ramotswe is as lovable as ever – kind, thoughtful, respectful, and insightful.  Mme Makutsi, while always quirky, becomes more likable in this installment of the series – motherhood seems to soften her, make her more aware of the importance of her relationships and those who support her.  Another fun and restful trip to Botswana – perfect with a cup of tea!

Title: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Author:Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publication: Pantheon, November 2013

critical massThe V.I. Warshawski novels follow Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski as she takes on cases that take her from the social echelons of Chicago to its seediest sides.  There were times, in the middle of this series, where I was beginning to tire of the characters and the storylines, but I am thrilled that I stuck with her; Critical Mass may be the best yet in the series.

In this latest installment, Critical Mass, V.I. is asked by her friend Dr. Lotty Herschel for help.  Lotty grew up in Vienna and lost her family during the Holocaust.  One of the children she escaped with is now living in Chicago and her daughter, a drug-addict, is in trouble.  When V.I. starts digging she uncovers a mystery that goes back to Vienna and WWII, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust, involving drug addicts, physicists, computer scientists, and corporate giants.

The history and the science could’ve made the story overly detailed and boring, but it didn’t.  Instead, it added depth and interest to an already fascinating story.  This page-turner has me eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Title: Critical Mass
Author:Sara Paretsky
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 480
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, October 2013

dustThe Kay Scarpetta novels follow medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the rest of her team – her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, her niece, computer genius Lucy, and detective Pete Marino.  The series starts with Kay as the medical examiner in Virginia, but at this point in the series she is in Boston.  The crimes she is involved in solving are always brutal, the violence always graphic, but at one point, the stories were always page-turners.  Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore…

I was very disappointed with her last book in this series, The Bone Bed, and was hoping for a return to better writing, character development, and storytelling in this latest installment.  But it was even worse.  The book starts off with Kay sick in bed, having just returned from working the scenes of the killings at Sandy Hook.  Why this was incorporated into the story at all is a mystery to me – it added nothing to the storyline and just seemed like a blatant attempt to incorporate current events.  Personally, I found it disturbing and insulting that it was included at all.  But even putting that aside, the rest of the story was painfully slow – there is a serial killer on the loose and the FBI seems to be working against the good guys – but I just couldn’t care for long.  Marino has left working for Kay to become a cop again – too much of the story is just nonsense about Marino and Benton and Kay and their personal issues and some love triangle that was played out a long time ago.  Again, I couldn’t care less.  Lucy never changes and grows as a character.  Honestly – all of the main characters seem to be stuck in destructive and annoying cycles of their lives.  Unfortunately, this will be the last second-chance I am giving to the series…

Title: Dust
Author:Patricia Cornwell
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 523
Publication: Putnam Adult, November 2013

silent nightThe Spenser novels follow Boston private investigator Spenser with the most common recurring characters being his love interest Dr. Susan Silverman and his best friend Hawk.

A scared kid shows up at Spenser’s office door, looking for help.  The home for homeless boys where he has been living is being threatened.  Without it there will be a bunch of kids on the streets.  Spenser, with help and back-up from Hawk, follows the trail to drug kingpins and ultimately saves the boys and their home.

What I have loved most about this series is the interactions between Spenser and Hawk, hilarious dialog with a core trust and friendship that both men share with few others.  With the death of Robert B. Parker the series has been turned over to Ace Atkins who has done a wonderful job catching Parker’s voice.  However this Christmas novel, started by Parker, was completed by his agent Helen Brann who seemed to give the characters, and the actual detecting, little attention.  It was unfortunate, but it was also a quick read over the holidays so I’ll let it go and hope for more from Ace Atkins soon!

Title: Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel
Author:Robert B. Parker, Helen Brann
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 240
Publication: Putnam Adult, October 2013

Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

w is for wasted

The Kinsey Millhone series is a set of mystery novels set in Santa Teresa, California during the 1980s.  Kinsey is a former police-woman turned private investigator who lives in a converted garage owned by Henry, her elderly but vibrant friend and neighbor.

In this latest installment, W is for Wasted, there are two mysterious deaths to be solved.  Pete Wolinsky, a shady private investigator, is found dead of a gunshot in a nearby park.  They a homeless alcoholic, R.T. Dace, is found dead with Kinsey’s name and address in his pocket.  Surprisingly, he turns out to be a distant relative of Kinsey’s, has made her the executor of his will, and has left her half a million dollars.  As she tries to investigate his past and learn more about this man she finds herself in a complicated maze of connections that will eventually tie the two men and their fates together.

Title: W is for Wasted
Author: Sue Grafton
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 496
Publication: Putnam, September 2013

storm front

The Virgil Flowers novels are a spin-off of the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford.  Virgil is a detective in Minnesota, a member of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) which is led by Davenport.  Virgil is thrice-divorced, in his cowboy boots and rock band t-shirts, spending his extra time fishing and attracting women, he is much more laid-back than Lucas, but no less effective.

In this latest installment, Storm Front, Virgil gets a phone call telling him to meet an Israeli artifact expert who needs his help in recovering an important artifact stolen from Israel.  It seems that a local minister/professor was in Israel on an archaeological dig when he absconded with the ancient stele that may reveal secrets about King Solomon.  The thief is dying of cancer and seems to want to sell the artifact to the highest bidder, and there are a lot of interested parties – a TV star, Hezbollah, a Mossad agent, an archaeology professor…  Throw in a Middle Eastern college student, a “loose” single mother of five, and the CIA and there is bound to be more than a little chaos.  There was more humor in this book that others in the series, but the whole story seemed a little out-of-control at times, dependent on luck for resolution.  Not as much of a page-turner as some of the other Virgil Flowers novels, but still a fun read.

Title: Storm Front
Author: John Sandford
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 384
Publication: Putnam, October 2013

davidson

The Goldy Schulz novels follow the caterer as she manages to blunder over one dead body after another in Aspen Meadow, Colorado.  And no matter how much the police detective (who also happens to be her husband) wants her out of harm’s way, she seems to stumble into that as well as she tries to get justice for the recently deceased.

In this latest installment, The Whole Enchilada, her friend Holly drops dead after leaving a birthday party catered by Goldy.   Even as the police try to figure out whether she was actually murdered, and if so, how, it becomes apparent that Holly had plenty of secrets and there are plenty of available suspects.  Why was she broke?  Who were all those boyfriends she kept talking about?  Why did someone also try to hurt Holly’s son and their priest?  And who’s after Goldy and why?  She doesn’t think she knows anything, but someone is convinced that she does.  Joined by her friend Marla, some friends from the police department, her catering partner Julian, and her husband Goldy unravels yet another mystery.

Title: The Whole Enchilada
Author: Diane Mott Davidson
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 384
Publication: William Morrow, August 2013

Mystery Mayhem

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of a good (and even some not-so-good) mysteries.  I thought I’d share some more quick thoughts on what’s new in some of my favorite series.

last word

The Spellman Novels follow the antics of Izzy Spellman as she fumbles her way along as a private investigator working for the family business, Spellman Investigations.  Izzy is a disaster, professionally and personally, but she knows it, and that’s what makes these books so much fun.  Most of the mysteries are pretty low key, not a lot of death or blood or high-stakes crime, but it’s not really about the mystery anyway – you know that is going to work itself out.   The real joy comes from reading about this amazingly dysfunctional family and their interactions.  Hilarious and touching at the same time.

In this latest installment, The Last Word, Izzy has arranged a hostile takeover of the family business and has discovered that being the boss isn’t that much fun.  Her parents are boycotting work and if they do show up at the office it may be in their underwear.  And are they having marital difficulties?  Dad didn’t come home last night…  Her sister is off starting her own questionable side business with the help of another wayward employee.  Her brother keeps trying to make her babysit his completely obnoxious toddler.  Her benefactor is literally losing his mind, but someone seems to be trying to rush it along, and he wants Izzy to have a conversation with his assistant about personal hygiene.  Like real life, not everything has a happy ending, but getting there is worth it.

Title: The Last Word
Author: Lisa Lutz
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Publication: Simon & Schuster, July 2013

bombshell

The FBI Thriller novels follow Savich and Sherlock as they solve crimes as part of the FBI.  The crimes ten to be pretty gruesome, but the bad guys never win for long with this married couple on the case.  Their relationship is warming as they balance doing their job with raising a family and their urge to protect one another.

In this latest installment, Bombshell, they are joined by Griffin Hammersmith, last seen in Backfire, who has been recruited by Savich to join their unit of the FBI.  On his way to D.C. Hammersmith decides to stop in Maestro, Virginia to visit his sister Delsey, a music student.  Before he gets there he receives a phone call telling him that his sister has been found naked and unconscious in a pool of blood that is not her own.  As Hammersmith tries to protect his sister and solve the mystery of what is going on in Maestro, Savich and Sherlock are dealing with the dead body of a young man that was found displayed in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The book jumps back and forth between the stories of what is happening in Maestro and D.C., but it isn’t distracting, instead keeping to book moving along at the quick pace I’ve come to expect from Coulter’s FBI novels.  Hammersmith is a nice addition to the team, his seeming ability to “see” what is going to happen is not overplayed, but an interesting twist.  A fun, fast ride through two completely different worlds of crime.

Title: Bombshell
Author: Catherine Coulter
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Publication: Putnam, July 2013

never go back

The Jack Reacher series follows the former MP as he wanders the country aimlessly, with no possessions to weight him down, and becomes entrenched in one disastrous situation after another, usually to help out a beautiful woman.  These books are mysteries, but are heavy on the action and suspense, with healthy doses of romance and humor.

In this latest installment, Never Go Back, Reacher has finally made it to Virginia to look up Susan – the woman currently running his old MP unit – who he felt a connection with during a series of phone calls made several books previously.  When he gets there a number of surprises are waiting for him – Susan is in jail, he’s being accused of murder, and he may be the father of a teenager.  Forcefully re-enlisted into the military Reacher will need to unravel this latest mystery and find out what’s really going on.  Overall, what we’ve come to expect from a Jack Reacher book, fast-paced and fun.

Title: Never Go Back
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 416
Publication: Delacorte Press, September 2013

davidson

The Goldy Schulz novels follow the caterer as she manages to blunder over one dead body after another in Aspen Meadow, Colorado.  And no matter how much the police chief (who also happens to be her husband) wants her out of harm’s way, she seems to stumble into that as well as she tries to get justice for the recently deceased.

In this latest installment, The Whole Enchilada, her friend Holly drops dead after leaving a birthday party catered by Goldy.   Even as the police try to figure out whether she was actually murdered, and if so, how, it becomes apparent that Holly had plenty of secrets and there are plenty of available suspects.  Why was she broke?  Who were all those boyfriends she kept talking about?  Why did someone also try to hurt Holly’s son and their priest?  And who’s after Goldy and why?  She doesn’t think she knows anything, but someone is convinced that she does.  Joined by her friend Marla, some friends from the police department, her catering partner Julian, and her husband Goldy unravels yet another mystery.

Title: The Whole Enchilada
Author: Diane Mott Davidson
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 384
Publication: William Morrow, August 2013

And they still lived happily ever after…

When I started reading some light summer “beach books” there were some noticeable trends.  Earlier, I wrote a post about those that focused on weddings and romance (Summer Wedding Reads), but then I hit a couple that focused on the opposite – divorce and the ending of marriage.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the happy endings went away….

ladies night

Successful blogger and lifestyle star Grace Stanton catches her husband cheating on her with her assistant and promptly drives his expensive sports car into their swimming pool.  She finds herself locked out of her palatial home, her bank accounts, and even her blog, forcing her to move in with her widowed mother above her rundown bar.  To make matters worse, the judge forces her to attend divorce counseling with an unstable counselor.  When the counselor’s behavior becomes increasingly odd, Grace and the other members of the group head to her mother’s bar for their own “therapy” sessions.  While they spend time together in the bar, they begin to help each other with their betrayals and Grace begins to develop a relationship with Wyatt, the one lone male in the group (who didn’t see that coming?!).

It took me awhile, but I did like Grace once she got past being a spineless spoiled brat.  Her efforts to renovate a house and her relationship with her mother were entertaining.  The relationship with Wyatt, while too soon and unrealistic, was still sweet.  Her career as a blogger and multimedia celebrity was timely and interesting.  However, I simply could not connect with the other members of her therapy group.  Their personalities were not well formed (other than their vengeful acts which would have landed most people in jail) and the connections did not feel real.  The mystery surrounding the divorce counselor seemed oddly thrown in and really didn’t add anything to the story.

Overall, it was a quick beach read, not awful, but not amazing.

Title: Ladies’ Night
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 464
Publication: St. Martin’s Press, June 2013

last original

Leslie Carter is the last original wife.  All of her husband’s friends have moved on to newer (and much younger) models than the original.  No longer are evenings at the club an enjoyable time to catch up with her old friends, now she just sits back in horror at the new wives and their antics, feeling old and out of place.  To make matters worse, she recently had an accident while in Ireland.  Not only did Wes (her husband), not realize she was missing for some time, he then left her in a hospital with a concussion and broken bones.  Why?  He had a tee time to make!  Throw in a couple of rotten kids, using their parents as babysitters and as a bank, and Leslie has had enough!  Throwing a few things into a suitcase she heads to spend some time with her brother at his home in Charleston.

While in Charleston, she reconnects with a high school sweetheart, but does not use him as the solution to her problems, instead taking the time to focus on herself.  Wes is not evil, just oblivious and incredibly self-absorbed.  Leslie and Wes embark on therapy, giving us a look into the inner thoughts of each, and there are moments where Wes is almost likable, but what he wants most is for things to go back to the way they were and what Leslie needs most is for them to change.

Overall, it was a quick and enjoyable read, not as much of a southern flavor as in her previous novels, but still enough to add charm.   Her interactions with her family once she got tough were entertaining; the whole lot of them seemed entirely clueless.  I loved her relationship with her brother and her journey to self-awareness, although I never found the old beau entirely convincing.

Title: The Last Original Wife
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 368
Publication: William Morrow, June 2013