March 2009


Author Rating: A-

Tim Cockey writes humorous mystery fiction. So far they all feature Hitchcock Sewell as the protagonist. Cockey also writes noir-ish detective fiction under the pseudonym Richard Hawke.

Sewell is a solver of mysteries and every woman’s hot dream — tall, good looking, with a sense of humor and a steady, if somewhat creepy, job. He’s an undertaker. Sort of by default but an undertaker nonetheless.

Cockey handles the parts of the back story that are necessarily repeated in each book very nicely, providing different insights into the character of HS. In lesser authors, these bits can make reading more than two or three of their books very tiresome.

The Hearse Case Scenario (read 4/10/09) Recommended

Very entertaining. Murder mystery set in Baltimore, Maryland. Third novel by Cockey. Hitchcock Sewel’s childhood friend Lucy is accused of murdering her boyfriend in his hospital bed where he was after she shot him.

The Hearse You Came In On (read 4/26/09) Recommended

This is Tim Cockey‘s first published novel (and, of course, the first “Hearse” mystery). A woman comes into the funeral home to arrange her own funeral but she’s not who she says she is. The person she claimed to be turns up dead. And someone is blackmailing the police commissioner who wants more than anything to be elected governor. A bit darker than The Hearse Case Scenario, it is an entertaining and intelligent read.

Hearse of a Different Color (read 5/1/09) Recommended

This is the second “Hearse” mystery. Even though it is not necessary, I would recommend reading these in order of publication. Reading them in order would give you, I think, a slightly enhanced experience. Someone dumps a woman’s fresh corpse on the funeral home porch while a wake is underway inside. Who is she and why, other than convenience, would someone dump her there.

Backstabber (read 5/21/09) recommended

Surprise! No “hearse” in the title but the series continues with Hitchcock Sewell out to solve more crimes. HS gets a very early morning call, after a very late night out. An old friend wants him to help get rid of the murdered husband of the friend’s girlfriend. While at a nursing home to pick up a “customer,” HS crosses paths with an elderly woman whose husband owned a diner where HS and his friends hung out when he was a kid.

Author Rating: A

Moll Flanders (recorded book 3/08) Recommended

I had read Moll Flanders back in the early ’80s. Virginia Leishman does an excellent job reading this wonderful novel for Recorded Books.

Robinson Crusoe (recorded book 3/21/09) Recommended

I somehow missed reading Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is a wonderful writer. Ron Keith does an excellent job reading it for Recorded Books.

Author Rating: A+

Photo by Robin Mathews

Photo by Robin Mathews

Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors. His Discworld novels are especially hilarious and delightful.

This first group are Pratchett’s non-Discworld novels (although some people claim that some of the children’s novels I list here are Discworld):

A Hat Full of Sky (read 7/07) Recommended

Not a Discworld novel. Written for the “juvenile” market, this is a reasonable offering for your ten to twelve-year-old.

The Wee Free Men (not yet read)

For children.

The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents (not yet read)

For children.

Good Omens (read 8/18/07)

I have always been a bit leery of co-authored novels but Pratchett and Neil Gaiman really pull it off.

It is the coming of the End Times: The Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgment will soon descend upon the human race. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the angel of the Garden of Eden) and the demon Crowley (who, when he was originally named Crawley, was the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple), respectively the representatives of God and Satan on Earth, as they’ve actually gotten quite used to living their cozy, comfortable lives and, in a perverse way, actually have taken a liking to humanity. As such, since they’re both good friends (despite supposedly being polar opposites, representing Good and Evil as they do), they decide to work together and keep an eye on the Antichrist, destined to be the son of a prominent American diplomat stationed in Britain, and thus ensure he grows up in a way that means he can never decide simply between Good and Evil and, therefore, postpone the end of the world.

Nation (read 2/1/10)

Another of Pratchett’s novels for kids, but there is nothing juvenile about it.

Worlds are destroyed and cultures collide when a tsunami hits islands in a vast ocean much like the Pacific. Mau, a boy on his way back home from his initiation period and ready for the ritual that will make him a man, is the only one of his people, the Nation, to survive. Ermintrude, a girl from somewhere like Britain in a time like the 19th century, is on her way to meet her father, the governor of the Mothering Sunday islands. She is the sole survivor of her ship (or so she thinks), which is wrecked on Mau’s island. She reinvents herself as Daphne, and uses her wits and practical sense to help the straggling refugees from nearby islands who start arriving. When raiders land on the island, they are led by a mutineer from the wrecked ship, and Mau must use all of his ingenuity to outsmart him.

* * *

The following are all Discworld, in order:

The Color of Magic (read 5/07) Recommended

Pratchett did not intend to write a series when he wrote this first one but it was so successful that he followed it up with a second.

The Light Fantastic (read 5/07) Recommended

Pratchett understood he was on to something. The rest is history.

Equal Rites (read 5/07) Recommended

Features the witches.

Mort (read 5/07) Recommended

One of my favorites, featuring Death.

Sourcery (not yet read)

Features Rincewind

Wyrd Sisters (read 7/07) Recommended

Pyramids (read 6/07) Recommended

Guards! Guards! (read 6/07) Recommended

Another of my favorites, featuring Captain Sam Vimes.

Eric (read 8/07) Recommended

I love Rincewind and the Luggage!

A variation on the Faust theme. Eric is a singularly inept sorcerer who conjures up an even more inept wizard, Rincewind, and a sentient (also treacherous, vindictive, and unruly) footlocker named, of course, the Luggage. Not having got anything like what he bargained for, Eric is fated to go through the usual zany ordeals of a Pratchett protagonist, until he wishes he’d never been born. Nor do things really all work out in the end, even if Eric is better off than he expected to be through most of the book.

Moving Pictures (read 7/07) Recommended

Reaper Man (read 11/26/08) Recommended

You got to love Death! In this one, Death gets fired and takes a vacation.

Witches Abroad (read 7/07) Recommended

Small Gods (not yet read)

Lords and Ladies (read 7/07) Recommended

Men at Arms (read 7/07) Recommended

Captain Sam Vimes has retired and Corporal Carrot is now in charge but someone wants to make him king.

Not since Stephen King’s “It” have clowns gotten such bad press as in “Men at Arms.” They seem to be the saddest creatures on Discworld. One of them, Beano is murdered and ends up playing ‘Knock Knock – Who’s There?’ with Death, who is trying to develop a sense of humor.

Humor will never be the strong suite of a hooded, seven-foot skeleton with glowing blue eyes, but Death does get in one inadvertently funny line. He tells Beano to think of his newly deceased state as being ‘DIMENSIONALLY DISADVANTAGED.’

Soul Music (not yet read)

Interesting Times (read 7/07) Recommended

This is one of my favorites and features the wizard Rincewind.

Maskerade (read 8/07) Recommended

Feet of Clay (read 8/1/07) Recommended

Another favorite.

Hogfather (read 8/30/07) Recommended

A bit chaotic but Death is an absolutely fabulous character.

Jingo (read 9/9/07) Recommended

This is another revolving around the Night Watch. Yay!

The Last Continent (read 9/29/07) Recommended

You have to read this one. Rincewind is hilarious.

Carpe Jugulum (read 10/4/07) Recommended

This is my favorite of the witch stories.

The Fifth Elephant (read 5/07 and 10/6/07) Recommended

One of Pratchett’s best.

The Truth (read 11/10/07) Recommended

Another Night watch — yay!

Thief of Time (read 11/18/07) Recommended

Not one of the best but still worthwhile.

The Last Hero (read 6/07)

Hilarious.

Night Watch (read 5/07) Recommended

The stories about Sam Vimes and the Night Watch are my favorites.

Monstrous Regiment (not yet read)

Going Postal (read 5/07)

This was the second Discworld novel that I read, features Captain Sam Vimes.

Thud! (read 5/07)

This was the first Discworld novel that I read and features Sam Vimes and the Night Watch.

Making Money (not yet read)

Unseen Academicals (not yet read)

Author Rating: A

Tortilla Flats (read 3/20/09) Recommended

People are most familiar with Steinbeck through Grapes of Wrath but, in my opinion, you haven’t read Steinbeck until you’ve read Tortilla Flats.

First published in 1935, Tortilla Flats explores the trials — and meaning — of friendship and life. Each chapter is a short story which stands independently of the rest.

This is the story of Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s House. It is a story of how these three became one thing, so that in Tortilla Flat if you speak of Danny’s house you do not mean a structure of wood flaked with old whitewash, overgrown with an ancient untrimmed rose of Castile. No, when you speak of Danny’s house you are understood to mean a unit of which the parts are men, from which came sweetness and joy, philanthropy and, in the end, a mystic sorrow. For Danny’s house was not unlike the Round Table, and Danny’s friends were not unlike the knights of it. And this is the story of how that group came into being, of how it flourished and grew to be an organization beautiful and wise. This story deals with the adventuring of Danny’s friends, with the good they did, with their thoughts and their endeavors. In the end, this story tells how the talisman was lost and how the group disintegrated.

If you don’t read this book, you will miss something wonderful.

Author Rating: C

Atomic Lobster (read 11/08) Recommended

An amusing crime caper set in Florida, Dorsey’s writing style is imitative of Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen (both of whom had cameo appearances in his first book, Florida Roadkill) with the unfortunate difference of a non-linear story line — things that happen later are told first — which I found to be somewhat confusing. I listened to this in the recorded book format and found it to be entertaining and well read by Oliver Wyman.

The Big Bamboo (read 5/23/09) Meh

I listened to the first CD of the recorded book, read by George K. Wilson, and the non-linear story line that bothered me somewhat in the first book became an aggravation. The confused aimlessness gave me no incentive to continue with the next CD. There are better ways to spend your time.

Author Rating: D

Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson (read 3/21/09) AVOID

I had high hopes for this book based on the title and the concept, but the only place George Alec Effinger will be a legend is in his own mind and that of his fanboy Mike Resnick, who I understand is also a writer and whose writing I will avoid given his abject lack of judgment about what constitutes worthwhile writing.

After reading the first two stories, I realized it was pretty lame but by the time I had finished the fourth I realized there really is nothing redeeming about this book.  Effinger presents the stories as though narrated by Maureen’s best friend Betsy, but it is badly done to the point that it becomes actually painful.

I recommend giving anything written by Effinger a miss.  Life is too short.

Author Rating: B

The Final Solution (read 1/27/08) Recommended

Gentlemen of the Road (read 3/29/09) Recommended

Two very different books. Although I think they are both well written, I like the second — an adventure story — better than the first.

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