Catching up with Kate: A view from the halfway mark of the Kate Shugak series

for_white_backgroundsIf you read my blog from time to time, you may have noticed how often I seem to be reading a Kate Shugak novel. Kate Shugak, for those who don’t know, is the main character in an ongoing mystery series by Dana Stabenow. The series is currently 20 books strong, and the author is supposedly working on #21.

How did I get started with the Kate books? I honestly don’t know.

Perhaps I picked up the first one due to my obsession with Alaska.

Or maybe I picked up book #1 after seeing the series mentioned by Diana Gabaldon in her Methadone List.

Either way, something just clicked for me — and here I am a little over a year later, just wrapping up my read of book #10, Midnight Come Again.

I started the Kate Shugak series via audiobook, and enjoyed the first several volumes that way until I decided that I really wanted to gobble up the stories at a faster pace than the audiobooks allowed. Fortunately, my local library has kept the hard copies coming, so I was able to get the next book pretty much as soon as I put down the last.

The first book in the series, A Cold Day For Murder, was published in 1992. I listened to it in March 2015, and here’s what I had to say about it at the time, according to my Goodreads review:

I just finished the audio version of this book, and truly enjoyed it. A murder mystery set in the Alaska Bush, A Cold Day for Murder includes offbeat characters, gorgeous settings, politics, greed, snowmobiles, mines, shotguns, roadhouses, and so much more. The audiobook narrator does a great job of giving the various characters distinct voices, and the whole story moves along at a fast pace with never a dull moment. Main character Kate Shugak is a tough-as-nails crime investigator with local roots, family and clan loyalties, and an unerring sense of justice and the ability to sniff out clues.

Highly recommended for mystery fans, as well as for anyone wanting a little taste of Alaska.

I continued onward, and grew to love Kate herself as well as the sprawling cast of supporting characters more and more with each book I read. Kate is a smart, tough loner, a damaged soul, and a woman committed to justice and truth. She lives alone on a homestead miles from anyone, within the borders of a fictitious national park in the Wrangell area of Alaska. After a brief career in the district attorney’s office in Anchorage investigating horrible crimes, Kate seeks solitude and quiet, with just her enormous companion Mutt — half wolf, half husky — at her side throughout the Alaskan winters.

Kate is also a member of a large Aleut family, and her relationship with her grandmother, the domineering and well-respected tribal leader, forms a major theme throughout the books. Kate continually gets pulled back into the world of crime investigation, and each book has Kate at the center of one crime or another, not always willingly.

Through Kate’s experiences, we travel the state, from the Park to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the fishing harbors of Prince William Sound. Besides providing an up-close view of the natural wonders and man-made curiosities of Alaska, the books also weave into the story the ongoing corruption, political maneuvering, and favor trading that goes on behind the scenes. We get a crash course in Alaska politics and hot-button issues, like the exploitation of resources, the battle to keep tribal rights to subsistence fishing, the tourist and fishing industries’ impact on local economies, and so much more.

You can tell that my enthusiasm for Kate’s adventures stayed strong by reading my comments on book #4, A Cold-Blooded Business:

Another excellent addition to the Kate Shugak mystery series! Kate herself is a magnificent main character, tough as nails, ultra smart, and with a fierce love for her people and her land. In this book, Kate is hired to investigate drug dealing at the Prudhoe Bay oil facility, which means we get to see Kate outside of her comfort zone, in an entirely new setting, but still doing what she does best. It’s a surprisingly nuanced look at the impact of the oil industry in Alaska, as well as a terrific, dangerous adventure. Highly recommended!

What’s funny is that I’m not usually a mystery reader. In fact, while I generally enjoy the crime story in each of the Kate books, what truly draws me back over and over again is the people angle. I’ve just really fallen for Kate and the gang — Chopper Jim, Bobby Clark, and the rest of the folks living in and around Niniltna and hanging out at Bernie’s Roadhouse. And, as I mentioned, I’ve got this thing about Alaska. I’ve been for a few visits now, and can’t wait to go back… and meanwhile, the next best thing to being there is traveling there in a book!

Okay, but then I got to the 9th book, Hunter’s Moon, and I almost threw the damn thing across the room:

Damn you, Dana Stabenow! How could you do that? My heart is broken into a million teeny pieces right now. I love this series, but this one is just devastating. NOOOOO.

Ahem. That said, bring on the next book!

Not to be spoilery or anything, but man, that book just killed me. I won’t say why. Read it yourself and find out!

I couldn’t stop there, of course, so I continued on with #10, Midnight Come Again, which I finished (much) earlier today:

Appropriately, I finished Midnight Come Again just past midnight. It’s one of those books that is best read straight through, even if it means giving up a little sleep.

Midnight Come Again is an installment of the Kate Shugak series that’s hard to put down — less for the mystery than for the character development of Kate. The mystery is kind of “meh” in this book — Russian mafia, money laundering, involvement of FBI and state troopers. The personal side, though, is terrific.

Kate is dealing (not well) with the aftermath of the events from the previous book, Hunter’s Moon — and no, I won’t be forgiving Dana Stabenow for that any time soon! She’s a mess who’s shut down emotionally, living under a false name in the tiny town of Bering. When Jim Chopin — Chopper Jim — gets assigned undercover work in Bering, he’s instrumental in cracking Kate’s shell and helping her start her slow crawl back to life.

Kate is an amazing character, and she’s been through hell. I can’t wait for the next book, and plan to keep reading the Kate Shugak series until I’m all caught up!

Of course, I’m going to continue onward with #11 just as soon as my library hold request comes in. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to have reached the halfway mark… and also, to have finally made it out of the 1990s! I have ten more books to go before I’ll be all caught up (#20, Bad Blood, was published in 2013). I’m not binge-reading or anything. I think of the Kate Shugak books as my reading comfort food (although the last two were about as far from comfort as I could imagine). I like to pick up a volume or two in between other things, both for the sake of getting a long-distance taste of Alaska and for the opportunity to check in with Kate.

Kate is one hell of a terrific character, and I’m invested in her life! I want that woman to be happy. Are you listening, Dana Stabenow? Ha, just kidding, don’t worry about me. A happy Kate probably wouldn’t have nearly as much drama in her life.

For those of you who’ve read further in the series — don’t tell me anything! For those who haven’t given the books a try yet, consider this my recommendation, yet again. The Kate Shugak books have heart, humor, drama, adventure, an amazing setting, and truly quirky and wonderful characters. Not to mention the odd grizzly bear.

Bundle up, light a fire, pour some hot cocoa, and curl up over at Kate’s homestead!

kate 2

 

Agatha Christie, where have you been all my life?

I’ve finally read my first Agatha Christie book! What on earth was I waiting for?

and thenSynopsis:

(via Goodreads)

“Ten . . .”
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U.N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .”
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .”
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die.

“Seven . . .”
Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal – and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion.

 

My Thoughts:

How do I even begin to review a book like And Then There Were None? It’s a classic mystery, considered one of Christie’s best, for a reason. Having never read her books before, I was excited to see whether the build-up would pay off. Trust me, it did.

I was totally charmed by the clever plotting, the tricky twists, the seeds of doubt that accompanied every apparent clue. The drama of this book is so carefully constructed that even though I looked closely for the tip-off to the solution, I never found it.

The introduction in my edition is an excerpt from Agatha Christie’s autobiography, explaining the challenge of pulling off what she accomplishes in this book:

I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I had made of it. It was clear, straightforward, baffling, and yet had an epilogue in order to explain it. It was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.

I really enjoyed And Then There Were None, and I’m glad I chose it as an introduction to Agatha Christie. It’s a very quick read, almost begging to be finished in a day’s worth of binge-reading.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Christie’s books, and I’d love recommendations on any favorites!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: And Then There Were None
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 1939
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased

Flashback Friday: A Thief of Time

ffbutton2Flashback Friday is a weekly tradition started here at Bookshelf Fantasies, focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. If you’d like to join in, just pick a book published at least five years ago, post your Flashback Friday pick on your blog, and let us all know about that special book from your reading past and why it matters to you. Don’t forget to link up!

It’s mystery time this week on Flashback Friday!

A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, #8)

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
(published 1988)

 Synopsis (Goodreads):

A noted anthropologist vanishes at a moonlit Indian ruin where “thieves of time” ravage sacred ground for profit. When two corpses appear amid stolen goods and bones at an ancient burial site, Navajo Tribal Policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth the astonishing truth behind a mystifying series of horrific murders.

I always knew that there were quite a few books in Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries series — but ye-gads, I didn’t know just how many until today! According to Goodreads, the series consists of 18 novels, with the last one published in 2006.

The author, who died in 2008, was known for his detailed portrayal of tribal life and his respect for the cultures he portrayed, as well as for creating compelling mysteries and exciting lead characters.

A Thief of Time is the 8th book in the series, but was the first one that I read — picked up at random, as I recall, after hearing a friend mention it. And you know what? It was completely enjoyable, and didn’t leave me feeling as though I’d walked in in the middle of a story. A Thief of Time sucked me right into the story, and it didn’t matter that there was a backstory for Chee and Leaphorn that I wasn’t familiar with. I was able to enjoy the mystery and the characters, and picked up enough as I went along to fill in the blanks.

Over the years, I’ve read a few other Hillerman books (again, randomly), not in any sort of numerical order or by the publishing chronology, and I’ve always come away satisfied. In fact, I’d say that the Navajo Mysteries are fine to be read as stand-alones, so if you’re interested in sampling some compelling police drama featuring unusual settings and characters, grab a Hillerman book — any Hillerman book — and give it a try!

What flashback book is on your mind this week?

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday fun:

  • Grab the Flashback Friday button
  • Post your own Flashback Friday entry on your blog (and mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the host of the meme, if you please!)
  • Leave your link in the comments below
  • Check out other FF posts… and discover some terrific hidden gems to add to your TBR piles!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!