JOY'S THUMBNAILS 2008
 

 


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Favorite read of 2008 - Serial novel

ENDERíS SHADOW, Orson Scott Card

SHADOW OF THE HEGEMON by Orson Scott Card
2nd in the Shadow series. After Ender won the war against the Buggers, all his generals went home to Earth. Ender could never return to Earth, because his very presence would be seen as a weapon in the hands of whatever country could use him. All of the child generals are now at large -- for just as long as it takes for someone to kidnap them and use them as a military brain pool.
Bean is the wily exception. He and Ender's cunningly ambitious brother Peter can help each other minimize the inevitable wars.

SHADOW PUPPETS by Orson Scott Card
3rd in the Shadow series. There are several nations and a few people who believe they should control a united Earth. Peter Wiggin is Hegemon: he doesn't intend for his office to remain an empty title for long. Achilles leaps from protector to protector, as each previous one discovers his psychopathic ambition. China bursts its bounds again; India fights back and then gets ambitious. The united Muslim world goes into jihad mode. Behind them all are the children of Battle School, their talents loosed. Bean, Petra, Peter, and companions are trying to pull the world back together, with a dagger already in their backs.

SHADOW OF THE GIANT by Orson Scott Card
4th of the Shadow series. An Emperor, a Caliph, and a Goddess, all from Battle School, are the final contenders for power. Peter the Hegemon is making headway among the smaller nations, as their citizens begin to recognize that the Hegemony means peace and justice. But Bean's children offer the dire probability that the whole thing will start over again in the next generation.
    SHADOW OF THE GIANT shows the mopping up operation for the Shadow series, but lays the grounds for more if Card should decide to go back to it. The Shadow series is basically one, intelligent, high-momentum novel, my favorite read of 2008.

Short Story

The Look of Eagles by John Taintor Foote
About the choosing of a star racehorse. Full of great characters, and wonderfully, movingly written; with all the excitement and reverence felt by those who love the Game of Kings.
   For most of the year I thought this would be my 2008 favorite Ė it was just overtaken at the wire. I found this story in THE DICK FRANCIS TREASURY OF GREAT RACING STORIES edited by Dick Francis and John Welcome, but it's bound to have been published somewhere else before that.

Mystery

SOMEBODY ELSE'S MUSIC by Jane Haddam
This will give a grim satisfaction to anyone who was the school target. Liz Toliver, tormented all through school, went away and became a celebrity author. The gang of bullies who made her life miserable were cheerleaders, the prom queen, the "popular" group -- meaning everyone in town was afraid to offer Liz/Betsy any help. Now she's back, and all the stay-at-homes, the bullies who never fulfilled their promise, can't bear it. Surely that isn't motive enough for someone to murder the gang members one at a time. Liz, her family and close friends, and Gregor Demarkian and his friends, tackle the murders during the outbreak of a storm as terrible as the storm in the mind of one of the townspeople.
    Haddam's series just keeps getting better, as her characters take on more and more depth.

THE EDGE by Dick Francis
One of my favorite Dick Francises. Tor has a dangerous amount of wealth and a knack for going unnoticed. He makes this combination work, as an investigator for the British Racing Commission. They want to reel in Julius Filmer, serious bad guy in the racing world, but witnesses against him have a habit of dying. Only Tor can sneak in close enough to stop Filmer bringing mayhem onto a highly publicized train full of racehorse owners.

THE RIVER GOD'S VENGEANCE by John Maddox Roberts
8th in the SPQR series. Decius won the election he was campaigning for in THE TRIBUNEíS CURSE. In addition to providing showy Games for the populace, it's now his job to see to the repairs of Rome. The river men say a big flood is coming. Tenements are collapsing. Decius's sense of the way things should be is offended, especially when one of the city's big contractors dies unexpectedly. To me this was one of the most enjoyable books of the series -- yes, there can be such a thing as adventurous administration.

Adventure

HANNIBAL'S CHILDREN by John Maddox Roberts
A parallel history. Romans were driven into exile by Hannibal, and more than a century later, they are prepared to win their homeland back. Marcus, the honorable scion of the Scipio family, and Norbanus, a New Family man hungry for glory, lead a scouting team into the Carthaginian empire to report back on the possibilities. The rivalry between Marcus and Norbanus, and even more between the Old and New Families, looks likely to affect the fate of the Mediterranean world as far away as Egypt. HANNIBAL'S CHILDREN is only part of the story, and must be followed by THE SEVEN HILLS.

Novels

A VIRGIN RIVER CHRISTMAS by Robyn Carr
A young marine widow hunts for the best friend of her casualty husband. She finds Ian transformed into a frightening hermit, but nearby is the community of Virgin River, welcoming her and ready to welcome Ian if he is willing. Carr is writing a series about Virgin River. Based on this one book, with its warmth and emotional truth, I sought out and enjoyed the previous three books, and look forward to the next in the series.

THE GREATEST KNIGHT by Elizabeth Chadwick
12th century Europe. William Marshallís ability and character raised him to be one of the foremost nobles of his time. Elizabeth Chadwick shows him as a whole person, a practical, striving man whose successes win him enemies as well as friends. A man of honor, he is forced to serve rulers who do not deserve him. I read way late into the night to finish this.

Romance

FLASHPOINT by Patricia Gardner Evans
Ariel stands accused of killing her drug dealing fiancť. The Assistant DA doesn't think she did it, and he sends his brother Ryan to rent a room in Ariel's Montana home and protect her from any other drug dealers who might want to kill her. I thoroughly enjoyed this hot, suspenseful romance. Ariel and Ryan are stand-out characters and I loved the small town Montana setting. I found FLASHPOINT in the triple book named Stranded!

Non-Fiction

FLOATING UNDER A RED BERET, Roger Payne, OAM
A British paratrooper collected funny stories of military life from his many buddies and wrote them up in lively style. Raunchy, kneeslapping humor tailored to veterans and other military buffs.  
   OK, so Iím publishing this one. Itís still my favorite non-fiction of 2008.

Series

NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING by Jane Haddam
NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING tells about the string of murders in Bennis's family mansion. This is how retired FBI man Gregor Demarkian meets Bennis, a rich woman from Philadelphia's high society.

PRECIOUS BLOOD by Jane Haddam
The sequel to NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING. In this one, a poor, dying woman returns to her home town and stirs up memories of a horrifying incident in the past of several successful people. I was convinced of the wrong killer, but aside from that, it works very well psychologically.

ACT OF DARKNESS by Jane Haddam
A cynical presidential candidate collapses while hosting a cocktail party. Politicians give Gregor Demarkian hives, but he goes where the murder is. Between a batch of greedy opportunists and a pair of obsessed mothers, someone is finding it hard to breathe. It was hard to put this book down.

QUOTH THE RAVEN by Jane Haddam
Independence College makes a religion of Halloween. Father Tibor, a temporary lecturer there, asks Gregor and Bennis to join him because he misses their Cavanaugh Street neighborhood. Gregor can justify the trip by giving the students a talk about murder detection. And here's the perfect object lesson for the lecture: a secretary who has been dosed with lye, and her missing boss. QUOTH THE RAVEN has vivid, long-lasting imagery in addition to the gory poisoning.

A GREAT DAY FOR THE DEADLY by Jane Haddam
 In the middle of a flood evacuation, the body of postulant nun Brigit Ann Reilly is found covered in water moccasins -- the snakes, not the shoes. Then a bank official is found dead at the convent. Gregor digs into some fascinating human intrigues, from the love affair between a TV star and the local librarian, to the bank president and her 40-years-younger, boytoy husband.

FEAST OF MURDER by Jane Haddam
Gregor and Bennis take a Thanksgiving sail on a more-or-less authentic replica of the Mayflower. The crime is grounded in a combination of drugs and insider trading, hosted by a billionaire just out of prison. No one seems to want Gregor to find out whodunit.

MURDER SUPERIOR by Jane Haddam
For some unknown reason, a nun's convention decides to serve potentially poisonous sushi, and a malicious radio host makes sure all of Philadelphia knows it is going to happen. If only the horrible Mother Mary Bellarmine had been the one to get a bite of it. The ending takes an unusual but satisfying turn.

FESTIVAL OF DEATHS by Jane Haddam
Someone is murdering nice, seemingly unoffending employees of The Lotte Goldman Show. Lotte switched careers from psychiatry to the sex talk show that has made her rich, and she likes to help immigrants. Now she and her intimidating producer DeAnna Kroll are juggling murder detection with a television road show. Haddam's characteristically interesting people make the book, especially an appealing couple divided by religion. The killer has a good camouflage.

AND ONE TO DIE ON by Jane Haddam
Tasheba Kent, former star of the silent screen, is almost one hundred years old, so she is killing two birds with one stone. Birthday party and an auction for some of her movie memorabilia is an efficient use of her time. She and her partner Cavender Marsh have been hiding from the curious on a small Maine island for fifty years, ever since Cavender was accused of murdering his wife, Tasheba's sister. Now they have invited a small group of people to their island, which is immediately isolated by a storm.
    I admire Jane Haddam's individual personalities and the way she makes them interact. Her stories depend on character, not on amount of gore. AND ONE TO DIE ON sneaks in echoes of Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE; it deserves the comparison, because Haddam learned her craft from the Golden Age mystery writers. They are puzzles of character and reasoning. It was clear fairly early who was responsible for the murders, but I had major surprises waiting for me.

BAPTISM IN BLOOD by Jane Haddam
Quite a gruesome story. A growing number of non-Christians are moving into a small, extremely fundamentalist Christian Southern town. Even one of their pastors is afraid the fundamentalists are going to start some kind of pogrom, though he won't let himself form the word in his head. Now in the middle of a hurricane an especially sweet baby is found murdered like a Satanic sacrifice. Other bodies appear, murdered and deposited on the property of a refuge for battered lesbians. What drove someone in the community over the edge?

DEADLY BELOVED by Jane Haddam
A colorless wife surprises everyone by shooting her sleeping husband and moving out -- and disappearing. Only a trail of exploding bombs indicates that she is still around. Why would she set off a bomb at a reception for a famous photographer? Gregor Demarkian has to rescue Bennis, buried in the explosion, before he can pursue the culprit.
   Patsy MacLaren Willis has even more mysterious a past than her abruptly ended present. I have read this one before, and two of the characters stayed in my memory for many years. Patsy is one, the other is Evelyn, wife of the author of a popular diet book. Her husband, Henry, is the quintessential food police. I had every sympathy with Evelyn when she turned on him.

SKELETON KEY by Jane Haddam
A very rich cousin of Bennis is found murdered. Kayla is young, beautiful and responsible, so of course she has enemies, and not only the people who want her family money. Bennis, in the middle of a personal crisis, turns her dear friend Gregor Demarkian loose on the local police investigation.

TRUE BELIEVERS by Jane Haddam
A pair of deaths lands Gregor in the unstable territory between three fervent and opposing churches. That isn't the end of the deaths, or the riots. Roy Phipps, leader of the charismatic church down the street from the two cathedrals across the road from each other, is unarrestable because he is so good at staying behind the scenes as he stirs up trouble. Add into the confrontation an unstable atheist couple down the block.
   It's a good thing Gregor Demarkian can see past the passions to the oddities. Again, Gregor and his Armenian neighborhood are the beating heart of the story. My cavil about this one is that I can't see any foundation at all for the designated murderer.

SOMEBODY ELSE'S MUSIC by Jane Haddam
This will give a grim satisfaction to anyone who was the school target. Liz Toliver, tormented all through school, went away and became a celebrity author. The gang of bullies who made her life miserable were cheerleaders, the prom queen, the "popular" group -- meaning everyone in town was afraid to offer Liz/Betsy any help. Now she's back, and all the stay-at-homes, the bullies who never fulfilled their promise, can't bear it. But surely that isn't motive enough for someone to murder the gang members one at a time. Liz, her family and close friends, and Gregor Demarkian and his friends, tackle the murders during the outbreak of a storm as terrible as the storm in the mind of one of the townspeople.
    Haddam's series just keeps getting better, as her characters take on more and more depth.

CONSPIRACY THEORY by Jane Haddam
I didn't expect to like this one, with a title like that, and the blurb saying Father Tibor's church is destroyed by a bomb. For some reason I was surprised to find myself surrounded by the same warm community and the people I like, interacting with a new set of interesting characters. The paranoid rhetoric scattered throughout may or may not be quotes, but the listed conspiracy websites are real, Haddam says. That's the part I skip over or skim. I was able to pick out at least one character with plenty of practical motive to commit the murders. Haddam always enjoys writing social commentary, and especially so in CONSPIRACY THEORY.

THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE by Jane Haddam
Mark DeAvecca is boarding at Windsor Academy, a high school for liberal rich kids, and not handling it very well. In fact, strangers mistake the formerly sharp, insightful, handsome youngster for a homeless man, and most people at Windsor think he is a druggie. Mark still has enough of his fine brain functioning to call Gregor Demarkian and ask for help. It isn't just the mystery of what has happened to Mark that makes the story, there are also Haddam's usual great range of characters -- especially the headmaster's wife, Alice Makepeace, who seems to walk in her own personal spotlight. The corruptions of this gorgeous woman are only part of what threaten the foundations of Windsor.
    This was a reread for me. When I read it two years ago I felt sympathy for Mark, but I reached a whole new level of sympathy on this reread, after meeting him as his true self in SOMEBODY ELSE'S MUSIC. It made the ending especially triumphant.

There are more I haven't read yet. As of January 2009:
HARDSCRABBLE ROAD
GLASS HOUSES
CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE

 

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