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    Book Club in a Bag

    Staff Picks: 47 Sorrows by Janet Kellough

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Sometimes we pick up a book and have a totally different reading experience than we expected. I checked out 47 Sorrows: a Thaddeus Lewis Mystery because it was a Canadian historical mystery written by a Canadian author. What more could one ask for? Janet Kellough certainly delivers on those expectations, but there is a whole different element to this book.

    Her story starts with a body being discovered on the beach. It is set in southern Ontario in the mid-1800s. Young Luke Lewis is travelling from his brother’s homestead near Lake Huron to Montreal to train as a doctor. This is where the book becomes much more than I expected. Luke stops in Kingston to assist the doctors, nuns and volunteer workers who are dealing with the influx of Irish immigrants. Thousands have fled the potato famine, many of them suffering from typhus. Luke and his father Thaddeus do solve the mystery of the body on the beach, but this becomes secondary to the plight of the immigrants.

    I have often heard of the potato famine and the Irish immigration of that time, but this book raised my awareness of the plight of the immigrants as their lives and families are torn apart by the epidemic. I might have guessed that this would not be a happy read by the title – 47 Sorrows – but I am glad that I read it. This look at history brings a greater understanding of the dislocation suffered by the immigrants of that time and by the experience of many in modern times.

    - Pat

    How to Find a Great Mystery Series (Part III)

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    In this final installment in a series of posts dedicated to great mystery series, we have arrived at the dark end of the mystery spectrum. Here you'll find more violence, blood, gore, and disturbing characters and situations that may have you losing sleep, so beware!

    Vampires:

    You were promised vampires... and with Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, you'll get vampires galore and many more supernatural creatures. If you like to read the whole of a series without interruption, now is the perfect time for this one! The last book has recently been released, and it's also just been announced that the upcoming season of True Blood (the popular HBO show based on the books) will be the final one. Before you get hooked (on either the books or the show), be warned: as the series progresses, the gore factor increases.

    Charlaine Harris

    Harris's immensely popular Sookie Stackhouse series has a Southern flavour that seems to go down smoothly with its dark mix of vampires, murder, romance, and small-town gossip. Start at the beginning with Dead Until Dark. The main character, Sookie Stackhouse, has been dealing with the curse (in her opinion) of being able to read people's minds her whole life. This makes living in a small town very nearly unbearable, and many of the locals aren't too keen on having her in their midst, either. Then one day, she meets her first-ever vampire. And is fascinated that instead of the constant flow of noise from hearing people's inner thoughts while trying to ignore them, this vampire sounds like... silence. Having been labelled a freak herself, she is inclined to find out for herself what she thinks of vampires, who have recently revealed their existence to the world, rather than being hasty to judge. And so it begins.

    Crime & Detectives:

    The world of crime and crime-fighters has always been the mainstay of the mystery tradition, from police procedurals to hardboiled detectives and ruthless criminals. These authors present a dark vision of this world.

    Giles Blunt

    Here's another Canadian mystery author who is also an award winner. (Of three posts on mystery series, each one has featured an award-winning Canadian author!) Blunt has just won the Crime Writers of Canada 2013 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel for Until the Night, which is the latest installment in his series featuring John Cardinal. This author comes highly recommended, and is next on my "must-read" list. Here's a little more detail from Novelist:

    The novels of Canadian writer Giles Blunt are known for their potent combination of eloquent language, piercing psychology, and strong sense of place. This is well-evidenced in both his literary novels and the books for which he is best known, the John Cardinal series of police procedurals. Set in rural Ontario, these meditative novels capture a small, hardscrabble town's foreboding atmosphere and follow the hero's troubled personal life and investigations of gruesome homicides. Blunt balances effectively and informatively-written police work with deeper contemplations of the human condition and the nature of evil. Start with: Forty Words for Sorrow.

    Jo Nes

    I've just finished one of Jo Nesbø's standalone crime thrillers, Headhunters, which was compelling, fast-paced, and well-written (also a good translation by Don Bartlett). It was an absorbing novel with satisfyingly twisted plots and characters--the only thing stopping me from picking up his mystery series, featuring detective Harry Hole, is that the level of violence and the gritty tone are a bit beyond my reading preference at the moment. If you've enjoyed Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (which kept me riveted, despite the gruesome and violent aspects of the plot) and are not put off by its disturbing content, you should try Jo Nesbø. If you're looking for a series to read, start with The Bat. The English translations are by the same translator who did Headhunters, so these should be excellent, and it looks like the second volume in the series, The Cockroaches, will soon be available, completing the series for English-speaking world! Read a little more:

    Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is best known for his intricately plotted, gritty, and thrilling mystery fiction. His twist-filled, fast-paced crime stories frequently feature the personally troubled and substance-abusing Detective Harry Hole as he wades through the seedy underbelly of Oslo to solve brutal murders. While Nesbo's haunting stories contain explicit depictions of disturbing violence, his gripping page-turners also demonstrate a keen and sensitive understanding of the social realities of poverty, drug addiction, and organized crime in urban environments. (Novelist)

    Kathy Reichs

    Because I generally avoid anything that gets too violent or disturbing, I've only read a few of Kathy Reichs's novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. The gruesome details of crime scenes and autopsies combined with the threat of imminent violence in the plots proved to be a bit too much for me, but the novels are complex, very readable, and introduce a fascinating cast of characters. If gory details do not put you off, you'll likely enjoy this series, which is the inspiration for the popular show Bones, although not really similar in tone or plot. (Both feature a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan, although on the show she's much younger and writes a hit series of thrillers featuring a fictional character named, of course, Kathy Reichs.) The first novel in the series is Déjà Dead. Read more from the catalogue summary:

    A born storyteller, Dr. Kathy Reichs walks in the steps of her heroine, Dr. Temperance Brennan. She spends her days in the autopsy suite, the courtroom, the crime lab, with cops, and at exhumation sites. Often her long days turn into harrowing nights. It's June in Montreal, and Tempe, who has left a shaky marriage back home in North Carolina to take on the challenging assignment of director of forensic anthropology for the province of Quebec, looks forward to a relaxing weekend. First, though, she must stop at a newly uncovered burial site in the heart of the city. One look at the decomposed and decapitated corpse, stored neatly in plastic bags, tells her she'll spend the weekend in the crime lab. This is homicide of the worst kind. To begin to find some answers, Tempe must first identify the victim. Who is this person with the reddish hair and a small bone structure?

    Fans of dark and disturbing mysteries: what are your favourites? Leave a suggestion in the comments!

    How to Find a Great Mystery Series (Part I)

    by Sonya - 8 Comment(s)

    Sometimes life is all about change. Whether you encounter good changes in your life or difficult ones, it takes a certain amount of energy just to adapt. So, if you're looking for a measure of stability, why not escape into a great mystery series? I enjoy reading novels across many genres, and when I'm in the mood for something comfortable and familiar I reach for a favourite series.

    In the next few weeks I'll be featuring a few great mystery series from all ends of the genre, and to start it off this week, I'll highlight mystery series from the lighter end of the spectrum.

    Cozy:

    This genre is a staple of the mystery tradition, along the lines of Agatha Christie: the murder (if there is one) takes place off-stage, and the focus is on solving the puzzle. Often featuring a cast of characters in a small village or equally pastoral setting, the fun of these mysteries is in getting to know and love the characters better with each installment while trying to solve the mystery before the author reveals all.

    M. C. Beaton

    This author, whose style is described by a fan as "coziest of the cozy," has two popular mystery series that will keep you engaged without risk of blood spatter.

    If you like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series, The Agatha Raisin mysteries are a good bet. Start with the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (part of the volume Introducing Agatha Raisin). If you prefer to try audio for this title, now is your chance to get into the ebook revolution! It is available as an audio ebook from Overdrive. Here's a brief summary from Overdrive:

    After years of bullying and cajoling others as a high-flying public relations boss, Agatha Raisin's early retirement to the picture-postcard village of Carsley in the Cotswolds is a dream come true. And how better to begin making herself a local leading light than by entering the village quiche-making competition? Unburdened by old-fashioned ideas of fair play, the ruthless Agatha decides to ensure she wins by buying her entry from a London delicatessen. Alas, Agatha's perfect product is soon exposed—as not only store-bought but poisoned. The contest judge succumbs after eating it, and with him go Agatha's reputation and her chances of rural bliss—unless she can expose the poisoner...

    The other series from Beaton is the Hamish MacBeth mystery series--up to 29 books and counting! Hamish MacBeth is a police officer. In fact, his person makes up the entire police force of Lachdubh in northern Scotland. In the first title in the series, available as an ebook, Death of a Gossip, we meet a group of eight people who are there to relax, enjoy the Highland scenery, and take in the fishing. Unfortunately, when one among them is found murdered, nobody is too upset (in fact, as she found a way to alienate them all, they are secretly a bit relieved). From our catalogue summary:

    Jane Winters--Lady Jane--was a noted gossip columnist enrolled in the Lachdubh School of Casting (fish casting, that is). She had something on everyone in class--and so, bobby Hamish Macbeth figured, any one of them could have killed her.

    If you're already familiar with M. C. Beaton's books, here is an award-winning Canadian author you might be interested in:

    Alan C. Bradley

    Bradley writes the Flavia de Luce series, featuring the unforgettable 11-year-old chemist (specialty: poisons) and amateur sleuth, set in the English countryside post-World War II. Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, in which Flavia comes upon a stranger on the grounds of Buckshaw, the family estate, as he takes his last breath:

    "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet's custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family's loyal handyman, Dogger... or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime -- even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it's up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim's identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces' murky past. A thoroughly entertaining romp of a novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is inventive and quick-witted, with tongue-in-cheek humour that transcends the macabre seriousness of its subject.

    Funny:

    There are many great series which combine a mystery framework with offbeat characters and farcical situations. The real key with humour is whether the author's particular brand of hilarity and rhythm of delivery "clicks" with your own sense of humour--then you have a winner! Here are a few I'd recommend:

    Janet Evanovich

    Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series offers wacky characters in... let's say unlikely scenarios, with a splash of romance thrown in to the mix--as far as I can tell, the combination works! She's up to 19 novels in this series, and judging by the hold lists, I'm not the only one who waits in line for the next installment. Start with One for the Money (part of the omnibus of volumes 1-3, Three Plums in One) and see if this series can make you chuckle. From our catalogue summary:

    Stephanie's all grown up and out on her own, living five miles from Mom and Dad and doing her best to sever the world's longest umbilical cord. Her mother is a meddler and her grandmother is a few cans short of a case. Out of work and out of money, Stephanie blackmails her bail-bondsman cousin Vinnie into giving her a try as an apprehension agent. Stephanie knows zilch about the job requirements, but she figures her new pal, el-primo bounty hunter Ranger, can teach her what it takes to catch a crook. Her first assignment: nail Joe Morelli, a former vice cop on the run from a charge of murder one. Morelli's the inamorato who charmed Stephanie out of her virginity at age sixteen. There's still powerful chemistry between them, so the chase is interesting.

    Lisa Lutz

    One thing I really love about Lutz's writing is her perfect timing for dialogue--it's unsurprising that the author has written screenplays as well as novels. In The Spellman Files, you'll get to know Izzy Spellman and her eccentric family of PIs. Izzy is the resident underachiever, working in the family business, and trying to keep her nosy family out of her private life--no easy feat when practically every member of the family is busy investigating (and blackmailing) each other! The wry humour, plot twists and quirky but realistic characters will pull you in, but as the series progresses, you'll find there's also a well-hidden warm heart at the core.

    From the catalogue summary:

    Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors -- but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman. Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry, Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee. The Spellman Files is the first novel in a winning and hilarious new series featuring the Spellman family in all its lovable chaos.

    Spencer Quinn

    The fabulous Chet and Bernie mystery series is published under this pseudonym of author Peter Abrahams. Chet is the narrator of our series, the canine half of the PI team with retired cop Bernie Little. If you've ever had or known a dog, you really shouldn't miss this series! While avoiding trite fluffiness, Quinn perfectly captures the canine inner voice while crafting fast-paced mysteries full of plot twists and interesting characters. Start with Dog On It, and get ready to recommend it to all your friends!

    From our catalogue summary:

    In this irresistible new detective series featuring a canine narrator, Quinn speaks two languages--suspense and dog--fluently. Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and in a few places terrifying . . . [a] one-of-a-kind novel (Stephen King).

    Do you have a favourite light mystery series? We always love to get recommendations--leave yours in the comments.