ATTENTION CHALLENGE PARTICIPANTS

2015 Editions of the Color Coded , Mount TBR and Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenges--as well as Read It Again, Sam (due to popular demand)-- have been posted. I am also introducing my newest brain-child: Super Book Password. Please check it out!

As in the past, I will post sidebar links for sign-up posts as well as review headquarters once the new year begins.


Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...



Thursday, June 30, 2011

Follow That Blurb Reading Challenge


So.....there I was, just minding my own business, looking through my blog feed, and guess what? Temptation wandered across my path and I found another reading challenge! As Oscar Wilde said: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." AND "I can resist everything but temptation." [Especially when it involves books.]

Anyway, so I'm signing up (like you really believed I wouldn't). And here's the scoop:

As Jennifer over at Reading with Tequila says, the importance of blurbs on book covers is often debated. A blurb on the cover of a book is usually written by an author who writes in the same genre, but occasionally you find a quote from a high-profile, but seemingly random author. After noticing a few of these peculiar choices, she started wondering - if I followed the blurbers, where would they lead me?

Well, she's developed this challenge to see exactly where the blurb-path will take us. What we have to do is choose a starting book. Read that one. Then look at the blurbs and read a book by one of the authors who have been quoted. And so on. Do this for ten books and then see where your journey has taken you. If you start with a mystery, will you end in the mystery field or will you wind up in some far off country like non-fiction? The journey will be half the fun. The challenge runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. So, if you think this sounds interesting, hop over to Tequila's site (link above) and join us. Now, I just have to figure out my starting point....

1. The Last Matryoshka by Joyce Yarrow (7/2/11) [starter book which leads to...]
2. Hot & Bothered by Jane Isenberg (7/9/11) [and that takes me to...]
3. The Case of the Deceiving Don by Carl Brookins (7/13/11) [Onward I go...]
4. The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt (7/16/11) [which will take me to....]**
5. Bone Harvest by Mary Logue (7/17/11) [blurbed by Nancy Pickard]
6. No Body by Nancy Pickard (7/24/11) [and that leads me to....]
7. Random Walk by Lawrence Block (7/26/11) [blurbed by Harlan Ellison...]
8. Shatterday by Harlan Ellison (8/23/11) [blurbed by Ursula K LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Dan Simmons, Roger Coman, Michael Moorcock, Steve Allen, William Kotzwinkle]
9. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K LeGuin (9/18/11) [blurbed by Michael Chabon]
10. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon (9/18/11)

**Could also have led to The Prop by Pete Hautman (which I read anyway because it looked interesting).

Challenge Complete 9/18/11

Booking Through Thursday: Size Matters

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question(s):

What’s the largest your personal library has ever been? What’s the greatest number of books you’ve ever owned at one time? (Estimates are fine.)

Is your collection NOW the biggest it’s ever been? Or have you down-sized?

What’s the fewest number of books you’ve ever owned (not counting your pre-reading years)?

Well, currently I have about 2,500 books. And I would say that this is the largest collection I've ever had. I've cleaned out books on several occasions, but I always manage to replace them with other books (and more!). Since I keep a running total (rather than keeping track of the number of books per year or whatever), I really can't say what the smallest number of books has been. I've always had books around me--from my very first cloth books (Here's a Bunny--my all-time favorite when I was too small to read myself. My Aunt Helen gave it to me and then I made her read it over and over and over and....). Now I have books everywhere...in a case in the living room, in bedroom bookcases, in my purse, at work (for lunch hours), in the car for travel-time reading, and more boxed up in the garage just waiting for the day when I have my dedicated library room.




Photo source (picture #4)

Theme Thursday: Fourth of July


Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

Rules
*A theme will be posted each week on Thursday
*Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from your current book that features the theme
*Post it and don't forget to mention the author and title of the book
*Event is open for the whole week
*Link back to Reading Between the Pages

This week's theme is JULY 4TH: Celebrations, Independence, Freedom, Flag, Fireworks, or anything else that strikes you that will fit the theme.

Here's mine from Scorpions: The Battles & Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Justices by Noah Feldman (pp. 180-81; RE case before the Supreme Court about the refusal of children who were Jehovah's Witnesses to salute the flag in 1935):

To its proponents, the flag salute meant something different with a world war brewing and a draft in the offing than it might have done otherwise. A child's salute has special significance when there is the prospect that the nation may go to war behind the flag. By the time Judge Rutherford argued the children's case himself before the Supreme Court in late April 1940, comparing the children to Daniel in the lion's den, the case had turned into controversy about wartime loyalty. France was poised to fall to Nazi Germany--and would fall just days after the opinion was handed down in June.



As an illustration: My son's Boy Scout Troop salute the flag at one of their meetings.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WWW: Wednesdays

WWW: Wednesdays which is hosted by MizB ofver at Should Be Reading. This is a weekly meme that I have been participating in for over a year now.

To play along just answer the following three questions....

*What are you currently reading?
*What did you just recently finish reading?
*What do you think you'll read next?

Current:
Scorpions: The Battles & Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldma: tells the story of four great justices: their relationship with Roosevelt, with each other, and with the turbulent world of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. It also serves as a history of the modern Constitution itself, exploring the constitutional battles of the Roosevelt era (1940s and 1950s) and their contemporary relevance. [Still reading......]

Therapy by David Lodge: Lodge crafts the story of a successful sitcom writer who has everything but what he wants the most: peace of mind.


Read Since the Last WWW: Wednesday (click titles for reviews):
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin
Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod
Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty
Death of a Chimney Sweep by M. C. Beaton

Up Next:
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen
The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks by James Anderson
The Last Matryoshka by Joyce Yarrow
Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science by Theodor W. Pietsch


Wondrous Words Wednesday

Kathy over at Bermudaonion's Weblog hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday. If you come across a word (or two) while reading that is new to you and would like to share your new knowledge, then hop over to Kathy's place and link up!

Here's what I've got this week from Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod:

1. Verdegrised:
Coated with a deposit--usually greenish or bluish in color.

Context: The hand-wrought copper silhouette,
verdigrised with time and soap fumes, depicted a lanky man sitting in a round washtub. (p. 1)

2.
Beeves: old English plural of the word “beef” (may refer to cows, bulls, oxen, etc) Saponifications: processes that produce soap, usually from fats and lye

Context: Both had been here since the late 1860s, the cannon's muzzle pointing straight towards the factory's tallow room within whose vats thousands upon thousands of
beeves had over the years rendered up their fat to be converted by the alchemy of potash and perfume into Lumpkin's Lilywhite for lovely young ladies, Lumpkin's Latherite for dirty old men, Lumpkin's Launderite for the washing you love to hang, and no doubt a good many more subtle saponifications of which Helen knew nothing. (p. 3)

3.
Oleagonious: Rich in, covered with, or producing oil; oily or greasy OR Exaggeratedly and distastefully complimentary; obsequious.

Context: He played the bass viol, or thought he did, and pontificated a good deal about music using the right words in all the wrong places.
Oleaginous creature. (p. 72)

4.
Tenebrous: Dark; shadowy or obscure; shady; murky

Context:
"It did seem awfully tenebrous trying to pin a rap on a woman I've never met just because she happens to use an unusual name." [Helen Shandy]
"And even more tenebrous to pounce on the woman's husband just because he happens to have part of his barn left." [Peter Shandy]

5.
Titivating: To make decorative additions to; spruce up.

Context: What I'd suggest, Miss Binks, is that you put on your--er--shore-going clothes and let Swope and me drive you. We could stop at my house near the college long enough for you to do any--er--
titivating you may feel inclined to. (pp 203-4)


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep: Review


Death of a Chimney Sweep by M. C. Beaton is a cozy little mystery that I won from Cheryl at CMash Loves to Read back in February. This particular Hamish MacBeth story is again set in the tiny villages of Drim and Lochdubh...places in the far north of Scotland where home owners still employ a village chimney sweep to care for their chimneys. Pete Ray has always been dependable--until the day that the master of the house whose chimney he's cleaning goes on a walk and never returns. Pete winds up missing as well, leaving the door to the house wide open and no clues behind. Except for that strange dripping noise that Milly Davenport hears when she returns from shopping. She investigates, is shocked to see that what is dripping is blood--from the chimney--and she calls in Constable MacBeth.

The body in the chimney is Milly's husband, Captain Henry Davenport, and it doesn't take MacBeth's superiors long to decide that the culprit must be the missing sweep. When his body is found with his crashed motorbike and a stash of stolen loot from the Davenport house, Chief Inspector Blair is ready to close the case. But MacBeth isn't. He knew Pete and he knows he wasn't a thief let alone a murderer. He arranges for more forensic testing to be done...and for a story to be leaked to the press and Blair is forced to keep the case open. MacBeth will have to follow a long trail of fraud, faulty business deals, and further murders before he finally lands the psychopathic killer behind the crimes.


I've discovered that the Hamish MacBeth stories are ones that I will have to take in small doses. They are well written, quick reads, and tell interesting stories, but there are some pretty formulaic parts that I just don't think I could stand if I read several of these in a row. For instance, this is about MacBeth's 25th murder case (just counting those that have been written about) and he's still considered "that loony Constable," still accused of jumping to conclusions by his superior (Blair), and never given credit where it's due. Yes, he's a little stubborn and he does have some flights of intuition, but the man has been right
twenty-five times. Surely Blair ought to know by now that he's got a pretty sharp man holding down the beat in Drim and Lochdubh. This is only the third of the series that I've read and Blair's attitude is already getting the better of me. Othewise, a fun little mystery. A nice little diversion from my non-fiction read (which is taking for-ev-er). Three stars.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Websites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today The Broke and the Bookish are celebrating their Blogoversary and in honor the event Top Ten participants are asked to share their Top Ten Bookish Websites.

1. Goodreads: Best place I've found so far for logging and looking up books. I've managed to make more friends (who are actually active with it) on there than on Visual Bookshelf (hooked up with FaceBook). Any number of my friends have started an account with Visual Bookshelf, but then haven't done anything with it.

2. Stop, You're Killing Me!: A terrific resource for those who love mysteries, thrillers, and crime of all sorts. I've added so many titles/authors to my TBR list....and found more titles for authors I'd already discovered.

3. Fantastic Fiction: Another great site for looking up books and authors. This one covers all genres.

4. Monroe County Public Library: Website of our spectacular local library. Rated among the top ten in the country for various services.

5. Dell Pocketsize Covers: I love these old pocketsize editions and just love looking at the nifty covers. Cover art just isn't what it used to be.


That's it....at least till I get home and double-check what I've got bookmarked on the laptop. It seems like I'm missing a few.

Teaser Tuesdays

MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.
*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from Death of a Chimney Sweep by M. C. Beaton:

The captain made a fool of them. I'll swear to God one of them hated him violently and the others are covering up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Who Needs Donuts?: Review

Who Needs Donuts? is an absolutely delightful children's book by Mark Alan Stamaty (both story & pictures). I have no idea how I missed this one growing up. And only discovered it now thanks to my good friend Richard. In a conversation that started with the closing of H&H Bagels in NYC, we wound our way 'round to Who Needs Donuts. Richard was amazed that I'd not heard of this book. I managed to lay my hands on it (thanks to a deal with Amazon), have it delivered today and whizzed through it in half an hour. But that's just a preliminary run-through. I suspect I'll be going back to look at this one--sneaking peeks off and on like I used to do with my son's Where's Waldo? books.

In fact, Donuts has a very Waldo feel to it. The pages are jam-packed with illustrations that have what seems to be millions of things going on in them. The story is a simple one: Sam is a little boy who loves donuts. He takes off on his tricycle to the big city where he suspects there must be all the donuts he could ever want. He makes friends with a man who collects donuts and it would seem that Sam's dreams have come true. But then he learns a valuable lesson. Who needs donuts when you've got love?

First published in 1973, Donuts never received the recognition that Waldo and other densely illustrated books have enjoyed. It's a shame because the drawings are outstanding--you could look at them for hours and still not see everything there is to see. The downright kookiness embodied in the illustrations is sure to appeal to kids....and those of us with a kid still hiding inside. Four and a half stars.

Vane Pursuit: Review

Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod is one of my loosely construed academic mysteries. MacLeod has two sets of series characters: Professor Peter Shandy & his lovely librarian wife Helen and Sarah Kelling & Max Bittersohn. Both series are very literate and very funny and feature an eccentric cast of supporting characters.

Peter Shandy teaches at the fictional Balaclava College and Helen is one of the college's librarians. They manage to get into all kinds of non-academic scrapes and Vane Pursuit is no different. Helen has been asked by the Balaclava Historical Society to document and photograph all of the remaining weathervanes designed by the county's very own Praxiteles Lumpkin. She is also to write up a report for the Smithsonian Institute. However, Helen's job becomes dangerous when a gang of ruthless robbers decide to steal the priceless antiques. It seems that Praxiteles's handiwork has become a hot commodity among collectors--collectors who don't care how they acquire the desired object. It soon becomes apparent that somebody has been using Helen's researches to lead them to the valuable vanes. After a local weathervane which used to grace the Lumpkin Soap Factory is stolen and the factory is burned to the ground, Helen travels to Maine to get a photograph one of the last remaining vanes. Once the photos have been taken, she and her friends decide to relax with a bit of whale-watching--only to have their boat commandeered by the vane-snatchers. Meanwhile, back on the farm (almost quite literally--Balaclava College is an agricultural institution), Peter is getting into trouble of his own. In an effort to get to the bottom of the factory arson and the local vane thefts, he and Cronkite Swope have a run-in with a group of shaggy and demented survivalists. He manages to escape their clutches, rush off to rescue Helen, and then finger the mastermind behind the thefts and arson.

Just so you know, this isn't meant to be a serious, life-like mystery. This is meant as good clean fun and will need a good dose of belief suspension....but it's well worth it. Lots of extraordinary circumstances paired with delightful literary references and witty interactions. Some of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. I love the doings of Peter Shandy and the rest of the Balaclava county residents. The only thing missing in this one is President Svenson wading in and taking on the bad guys single-handily--Svenson loves nothing so much as a good brawl with a group of ruffians. Three and a half stars.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.


Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review):
Panic in Box C by John Dickson Carr
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin

Currently Reading:
Scorpions: The Battles & Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman: tells the story of four great justices: their relationship with Roosevelt, with each other, and with the turbulent world of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. It also serves as a history of the modern Constitution itself, exploring the constitutional battles of the Roosevelt era (1940s and 1950s) and their contemporary relevance.

Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod: A dastardly gang of rogues is sneaking around Balaclava county, snatching priceless antique weather vanes. Before they disappear entirely, Helen Shandy decides to photograph as many as she can for the Balaclava Historical Society files and the Smithsonian Institute. A good thing, too. Helen gets a shot of the vane atop the Lumpkin Soap Factory only hours before thieves set the building ablaze and run off with the treasure. Both Helen and her husband Peter Shandy find themselves doing battle with ruffians before the mystery is solved.

Books that spark my interest:
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen
The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks by James Anderson
The Last Matryoshka by Joyce Yarrow
Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science by Theodor W. Pietsch

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Five Best Books of 2011 (so far)


The 5 Best Books meme is hosted by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston.

I first found this meme through Bibliosue and thought it sounded like fun. This week we are asked to list our Five Best Books of 2011 (so far). Given that I don't really read current fiction--particularly not up-to-the-minute books of this year--I'm interpreting "Best of 2011" to mean best books that I've read in 2011. Mine are below--pretty much in order and with links to my reviews.

1. Howards End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill. A book about books for book lovers.
It isn't often that a book comes along that I want to underline just about every sentence....or at least snag them for my quote collection. Susan Hill's book is such a one. (Five stars on my five stars rating system)

2.
What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen. An incredibly well-told re-telling of the most famous serial killer ever. (Five stars)

3.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A story about story-telling and truth. A lovely, well-written book that I am sure to recommend over and over. (Four & 1/2 stars)

4.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. A haunting, disturbing, multi-layered novel. It tells the story of Esme (Euphemia) Lennox, a woman who has been locked away in a mental institution for over sixty years. (Four & 1/2 stars)

5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. This was a delight to read. As always, it is a perfect commentary on the social mores and expectations of the time. I also enjoyed the send-up of the Gothic novel. [Four stars]

Honorable Mention: Winner of the most difficult book that I loved category--
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner. I hate stream of conscious books. But I loved this one. Absolutely marvelous story about race and integrity....if you can manage to wade through the stream. Intruder earned Four stars...but would clearly have been a five star winner if not for that dratted S-of-C.

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Wilders Walk Away


It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week I'm highlighting Wilders Walk Away by Herbert Brean (1948).

As the The Library of Crime Classics edition published by IPL says on the back cover, this book is "a walk on the Wilders side." In the tiny New England village of Wilders Lane, all the school
children grow up chanting

Other people die of mumps
Or general decay,
Of fevers, chills or other ills
But Wilders walk away.

And that would seem to be true. Ever since Revolutionary War times on, members of the Wilder family have just walked away--apparently disappearing into thin air. It begins with
Jonathan's disappearance in 1775 and extends forward to the novel's 1940s present. There have been footprints on a beach that simply stop. And the father of the current Wilders walks into his office's storage room and is never seen again.

Into this legend of vanishing Wilders walks Reynold Frame, a photojournalist on assignment from Life. When he comes to the village in search of a place to stay, he arrives at the home of Constance Wilder, her sister Ellen, and their Aunt Mary. Ellen is on her way to visit another aunt and Frame helps her carry her heavy suitcase to the bus stop. It isn't long before there are rumors that Ellen has "walked away" for good. But, this time there is proof that the missing Wilder didn't just vanish--Frame finds her murdered and buried in a freshly dug grave. This leads to the discovery of Constance and Ellen's father's body as well. A day or two later,
Aunt Mary gets up from the dining table, goes into the kitchen to fetch dessert, and vanishes. As a journalist and a man smitten with the beautiful Constance, Frame is impelled to investigate and he eventually gets to the bottom of the mysteries--both past and present.

I remember Wilders as an engrossing twist on the "impossible" crime. Not quite as good as John Dickson Carr, but still a highly enjoyable mystery and one that I recommend. And....for all of you who are still working on your challenge levels for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, there
just happens to be a copy of this little gem on the prize list.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter X

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise sponsors The Aphabet in Crime Fiction community meme. your post MUST be related to the first letter of the book's title, the first letter of the author's first name or the first letter of the author's surname. You can write a book review or a bio of an author so long as it fits the rules somehow.

Here we are ready for the last three letters of the alphabet and this week we are featuring that most difficult of Letters--X! And I just happened to finish reading A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin today....Honestly, when I got my hands on this one for the A-Z Mystery Authors Challenge, it hadn't even occurred to me that it was also time for the Letter X here at the Crime Fiction Alphabet. But it worked out rather nicely and I thought I just give you my review.

So....as I mentioned I picked up A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin because I needed an "X" author for the A-Z Mystery Authors Challenge. Well, okay, needed is a bit strong considering I've already met my commitment (doing authors A-I)...but given that the bulk of what I read is mystery-related, I thought surely I could manage the rest of the alphabet too. But I digress. I found this book by doing a search for "X" mystery authors on Fantastic Fiction. In case you didn't know...there aren't exactly oodles of "X" authors out there--mystery or otherwise, so I was pleased to find an author that would work.

A Pair of Jade Frogs isn't your standard mystery story. There isn't a recognized detective. There isn't even a suspected crime until the very end. And there isn't a nice and tidy little wrap-up to explain all. The book begins with a case of bullying. Youyun is an "educated youth" who is sent to teach in a countryside elementary school during China's Cultural Revolution. At the time of the local country fair, one of his students is harassed by a group of young men who are determined to kidnap her. It is suspected that they intend to hold her for ransom--her father is said to have hidden a "national treasure" and the men want to get their hands on it. Youyun steps in and soon the other villagers who have been watching (and doing nothing) join him in getting the girl away from her would-be captors.

The girl's father arranges a marriage for her to get her out of harm's way and eventually passes the treasure--a pair of priceless jade frogs--on to Youyun. He says that the young man's bravery in saving his daughter has proven that Youyun is a worthy guardian. In the meantime, the young teacher has begun a passionate affair with one of the older girls in the village. His possession of the frogs would seem to be a gateway for his marriage to Renping, but then events don't necessarily follow the path he envisions.

This was a very fast read. Probably because the translator has given the story to us in the most basic English. And speaking of the translation, there are some obvious points where it could have been more expertly done (example: "The thought brought on sweating cold sweat."). But for the most part, the story flowed and it was easy to follow. I found myself disappointed primarily because my research had led me to expect a bonafide mystery and a good two-thirds of the book focuses on the affair between Youyun and Renping. It seems to me that this book is more a comment on the times in which it is set than a real mystery. It is more about Youyun's search for self-respect and a settled place in life than about the mystery surrounding the frogs. The reader is left to her own conclusions at the end. I have no doubt that a betrayal has taken place and what the real crime is, but there is no satisfying wrap-up where the culprit is exposed.

A Pair of Jade Frogs: Review


So....I picked up A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin because I needed an "X" author for the A-Z Mystery Authors Challenge. Well, okay, needed is a bit strong considering I've already met my commitment (doing authors A-I)...but given that the bulk of what I read is mystery-related, I thought surely I could manage the rest of the alphabet too. But I digress. I had found this book by doing a search for "X" mystery authors on Fantastic Fiction. In case you didn't know...there aren't exactly oodles of "X" authors out there--mystery or otherwise, so I was pleased to find an author that would work.

A Pair of Jade Frogs isn't your standard mystery story. There isn't a recognized detective. There isn't even a suspected crime until the very end. And there isn't a nice and tidy little wrap-up to explain all. The book begins with a case of bullying. Youyun is an "educated youth" who is sent to teach in a countryside elementary school during China's Cultural Revolution. At the time of the local country fair, one of his students is harassed by a group of young men who are determined to kidnap her. It is suspected that they intend to hold her for ransom--her father is said to have hidden a "national treasure" and the men want to get their hands on it. Youyun steps in and soon the other villagers who have been watching (and doing nothing) join him in getting the girl away from her captors.

The girl's father arranges a marriage for her to get her out of harm's way and eventually passes the treasure--a pair of priceless jade frogs--on to Youyun. He says that the young man's bravery in saving his daughter has proven that Youyun is a worthy guardian. In the meantime, the young teacher has begun a passionate affair with one of the older girls in the village. His possession of the frogs would seem to be a gateway for his marriage to Renping, but then events don't necessarily follow the path he envisions.

This was a very fast read. Probably because the translator has given the story to us in the most basic English. And speaking of the translation, there are some obvious points where it could have been more expertly done (example: "The thought brought on sweating cold sweat."). But for the most part, the story flowed and it was easy to follow. I found myself disappointed primarily because my research had led me to expect a mystery and a good two-thirds of the book focuses on the affair between Youyun and Renping. It seems to me that this book is more a comment on the times in which it is set than a real mystery. It is more about Youyun's search for self-respect and a settled place in life than about the mystery surrounding the frogs. The reader is left to her own conclusions at the end. I have no doubt that a betrayal has taken place and what the real crime is, but there is no satisfying wrap-up where the culprit is exposed. Two and a half stars.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: June 25

Saturday Snapshot is a meme hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books. All you have to do is "post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken and then leave a direct link to your post in the Mr. Linky on [her] blog. Photos can be old or new, and be of anything as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give is up to you." All she asks is that you don't just post random photos that you find online.



This is another shot from our Scout trip to the Boundary Waters. I don't know what kind of flower this is (anybody recognize it?) and I didn't even notice the bee in the picture until I was going through my pictures later.

Support Your Library: Challenge Complete!


Just finished library book number 52 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge sponsored by The Book Junkie. Way back in December I signed up for the Mega Size level: Check out and read 51+ library books--so that means I've officially crossed off another book challenge for 2011! Listed below are the books I checked out from the library with links to reviews. Onward and upward to the next challenge.....


List:

1. Publish & Be Murdered by Ruth Dudley Edwards (1/19/11)
2. The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives by David Bainbridge (1/21/11)
3. Live or Die by Anne Sexton (1/21/11)
4. The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (1/28/11)
5. Use Trouble: Poems by Michael S Harper (1/29/11)
6. Flying Finish by Dick Francis (1/29/11)
7. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope (2/1/11)
8, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: An American Woman's Life by Linda Wagner-Martin (2/14/11)
9. The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippmann (2/15/11)
10. Something New by P. G. Wodehouse (2/17/11)
11. Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life by Zubin Mehta (2/21/11)
12. The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones (2/22/11)
13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (2/26/11)
14. Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro (3/5/11)
15. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee (3/7/11)
16. The Trail of the Red Diamonds by L. Ron Hubbard (3/11/11)
17. The Girl in Blue by P.G. Wodehous (3/12/11)
18. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (3/15/11)
19. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (3/20/11)
20. Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker (3/23/11)
21. The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (3/29/11)
22. Ten Little Herrings by L. C. Tyler (4/6/11)
23. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (4/10/11)
24. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (4/11/11)
25. Burial Deferred by Jonathan Ross (4/11/11)
26. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl (4/16/11)
27. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (4/17/11)
28. Third Girl by Agatha Christie (4/18/11)
29. Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection by Michael Cox (ed) (4/26/11)
30. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout (4/26/11)
31. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (4/28/11)
32. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (4/29/11)
33. Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov (4/30/11)
34. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (5/2/11)
35. The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh (5/3/11)
36. Heavy Weather by P. G. Wodehouse (5/4/11)
37. Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner (5/9/11)
38. A Piece of Justice by Jill Paton Walsh (5/12/11)
39. Killer Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh (5/14/11)
40. What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen (5/15/11)
41. Past Tense by Catherine Aird (5/16/11)
42. The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes (5/27/11)
43. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (5/28/11)
44. Howards End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill (5/30/11)
45. The Religious Body by Catherine Aird (5/30/11)
46. The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart (5/31/11)
47. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L Ulin (6/7/11)
48. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (6/8/11)
49. Oscar Wilde & the Vampire Murders by Gyles Brandreth (6/13/11)
50.
The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez (6/15/11)
51. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay (6/18/11)
52. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills (6/25/11)

The Savage Garden: Review


The Savage Garden, the second novel by British author Mark Mills, is a literary mystery in the tradition of juxtaposing historical and contemporary events. Set in the post-World War II era, it focuses on Cambridge student Adam Strickland who is in search of a subject for his art history thesis. His mentor suggests that he research an Italian garden found on the estate of Signora Francesca Docci. The garden was built by the villa's first owner, Federico Docci, and has been recognized as a tribute to his wife Flora, who died when she was only 25. From the moment Strickland first walks through the garden he begins to suspect that there is more to the tranquil setting that meets the eye and that the statues placed in various sections may be more than a tribute to the mythological guardians as has been assumed for hundreds of years. As he endeavors to unravel the puzzle of the garden, his conversations with Signora Docci, her family, and her long-time companion make him aware of a more recent mystery. Emilio, the Signora's eldest son, was killed during the German occupation--apparently by drunken German soldiers. But there have already been two versions told of the murder. Is there a third, more accurate version yet to be told?

I had a very rocky start with this novel. The first chapter has, what seems to me, a completely pointless scene with Strickland and his then girlfriend. She is a writer and they are discussing a portion of her book when all of sudden Mills throws in a description of how her breasts were straining against the fabric of her shirt. And I'm thinking "Have I stumbled into a bodice-ripper when I wasn't looking? Will there be 'throbbing' next?" Totally unnecessary description and it almost caused me to stop reading. Because if every time a female character was brought onstage we were going to be given unnecessary sexual descriptions, then I was not interested. It didn't help that the girlfriend was pretty much not essential at all and that it didn't matter that she was a writer. She dumps him...and that makes him all the more eager to go to Italy for his research, but that could have been established in a much better way. Fortunately Mills gets the torrid romance novel prose out of his system early on (he handles future romance scenes much more deftly) and soon gets down to business with the literary mystery. I was completely enthralled with the secrets of the garden and the quest to discover its hidden meaning. Given my reading over the past year, I should have picked up on the literary clues that were essential to the solution, but even though I missed those references I did see the basic secret long before Strickland.

Mills does a very good job balancing the historical and contemporary mysteries, although I must admit that I was more interested in the secrets of the garden than I was in the murder of Signora Docci's son. Overall, Mills also does very well with his characterization--giving the individuals depth and making the reader interested in their motives. The only reservations I have are with the character of the contemporary villain--we aren't given enough to provoke either sympathy or revulsion--and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Strickland's mentor, Professor Crispin Leonard.


This was a very satisfying and interesting literary mystery. I learned quite a bit about Italian art and history. There was plenty of action and adventure and (after that first chapter) even a bit of romance. A fast-paced, good summer-time read. Three and a half stars.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Memes

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme sponsored by Katy at A Few More Pages. Here's what you do: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section. Include the title and author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line and if you did or did not like that sentence. Link up each week at Katy's place.


Here's mine from The Savage Garden by Mark Mills:

Later, when it was over, he cast his thoughts back to that sunstruck May day in Cambridge--where it had all begun--and asked himself whether he would have done anything differently, knowing what he now did.




The Friday 56 is a bookish meme sponsored by Freda's Voice. It is really easy to participate.

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.

*Find any sentence that grabs you.

*Post it.

*Link up at Freda's site.

Here's mine from
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills:

It was Emilio who insisted on going to investigate, more out of curiosity than anything, because the gunfire was accompanied by the unmistakable sounds of music and laughter.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Theme Thursday: Male Person


Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

Rules
*A theme will be posted each week on Thursday
*Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from your current book that features the theme
*Post it and don't forget to mention the author and title of the book
*Event is open for the whole week
*Link back to Reading Between the Pages

Since we just celebrated Father's Day, she thought it would be only fair to mention the remarkable men who are or have been part of our lives. This week's theme is Male Person.
Here is mine from The Savage Garden by Mark Mills (p. 6):
"I was just thinking," he lied, "that your narrator's a man. Unless she's a woman who happens to play cricket for the village team."
"So?"
"It's a challenge, I imagine, writing a male narrator."
"You don't think I'm up to it?"
"I didn't say that."
"Four brothers," she said, holding up three fingers.


Booking Through Thursday: Reading Soundtrack

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question:

What, if any, kind of music do you listen to when you’re reading? (Given a choice, of course!)

I don't usually listen to anything when I'm reading. It's not that I can't or it's too distracting. I've been known to get lost in a book and not hear much of anything. At this stage of my life, though, I figure if I'm just going to tune the music out, then there isn't much point of having it on.

But if I do have music playing, then it has to be instrumental--preferably classical or soft jazz.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter W

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise sponsors The Aphabet in Crime Fiction community meme. your post MUST be related to the first letter of the book's title, the first letter of the author's first name or the first letter of the author's surname. You can write a book review or a bio of an author so long as it fits the rules somehow.

We are heading into the home stretch and this week we are featuring the Letter W. And I'm going to put the spotlight on Patricia Wentworth. Wentworth was the pen name for Dora Amy Elles. She was a British crime fiction writer best known for her series of 32 novels featuring Miss Silver. Miss Silver is a detective made in the mold of Jane Marple. A retired governess, whose experience with young human nature has sharpened her insights, Miss Silver is often seen at work with Inspector Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard and frequently is brought into cases by her former charges. There is generally a romance in the offing and, of course, the young people--if suspected--are soon exonerated and all is right with the world. A nice line of cozy mysteries. The only draw-back to the series, in my opinion, is that someone, sometime should offer Miss Silver a cough drop. Her little, deprecating cough gets on the nerves...just a bit. Wentworth also wrote 34 mysteries outside the series.

Miss Silver Novels:

  • Grey Mask, 1928
  • The Case is Closed, 1937
  • Lonesome Road, 1939
  • Danger Point (U.S. title: In the Balance), 1941
  • The Chinese Shawl, 1943
  • Miss Silver Intervenes (U.S. title: Miss Silver Deals with Death), 1943
  • The Clock Strikes Twelve, 1944
  • The Key, 1944
  • The Traveller Returns (U.S. title: She Came Back), 1945
  • Pilgrim's Rest (also published as Dark Threat), 1946
  • Latter End, 1947
  • Spotlight (U.S. title: Wicked Uncle), 1947
  • Eternity Ring, 1948
  • The Case of William Smith, 1948
  • Miss Silver Comes to Stay, 1949
  • The Catherine Wheel, 1949
  • Through the Wall, 1950
  • The Brading Collection (also published as Mr. Brading's Collection), 1950
  • The Ivory Dagger, 1951
  • Anna, Where Are You? (also published as Death at Deep End), 1951
  • The Watersplash, 1951
  • Ladies' Bane, 1952
  • Out of the Past, 1953
  • Vanishing Point, 1953
  • The Silent Pool, 1954
  • The Benevent Treasure, 1953
  • The Listening Eye, 1955
  • Poison in the Pen, 1955
  • The Gazebo (also published as The Summerhouse), 1956
  • The Fingerprint, 1956
  • The Alington Inheritance, 1958
  • The Girl in the Cellar, 1961

WWW: Wednesdays

WWW: Wednesdays which is hosted by MizB ofver at Should Be Reading. This is a weekly meme that I have been participating in for over a year now.

To play along just answer the following three questions....

*What are you currently reading?
*What did you just recently finish reading?
*What do you think you'll read next?

Current:
Scorpions: The Battles & Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldma: tells the story of four great justices: their relationship with Roosevelt, with each other, and with the turbulent world of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. It also serves as a history of the modern Constitution itself, exploring the constitutional battles of the Roosevelt era (1940s and 1950s) and their contemporary relevance.


Read Since the Last WWW: Wednesday (click titles for reviews):
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
The Detections of Dr. Sam: Johnson by Lillian de la Torre
Panic in Box C by John Dickson Carr


Up Next:
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Panic in Box C: Review

Sometimes it doesn't pay to go back and reread. I'm not sure when I read John Dickson Carr's Panic in Box C the first time--but I liked it well enough to originally assign it four stars on Virtual Bookshelf. I'm not sure why. This is one of Carr's later mysteries and reading it this time around...well, it just didn't sit quite right.

The story begins on board ship. Dr. Gideon Fell and his friend Philip Knox, a writer, are sailing from England to America. Each have been invited to the States for a lecture tour. While crossing the Atlantic, they are introduced to an odd assortment of characters--Lady Tiverton (the former actress, Margery Vane), her latest young lover, and her female companion of over 30 years. There is, as Fell remarks, an atmosphere surrounding Lady Tiverton and she brings that atmosphere to him as she insists on meeting both Fell and Knox and gathering them into her circle. As they are all exchanging secrets, as it were, a shot rings out. Did someone intend to kill and miss? Or was it just a warning?

Some weeks later, all paths lead to a dress rehearsal of Romeo & Juliet in Connecticut at a theatre recently endowed by Miss Vane--a theatre where she happened to begin her career. Unfortunately, it will also be the theatre where her career will end. While occupying Box C at the theatre, Miss Vane is struck by a quarrel (a bolt from a cross bow) which has apparently been shot at her from either the stage or the box opposite. Who among this new crop of actors could want their benefactress dead? Or is it someone she brought with her? Or maybe even someone from her past?


The mystery is a bit of a disappointment. Dr. Fell is not nearly as prominent as one might like and the wit and humor that one is accustomed to falls flat. There is a bar scene with grown men singing college songs and a bit of a brawl that's obviously meant to be funny, but isn't. The supposedly snappy dialogue between the men and women doesn't work all that well either. The explanation of the "impossible" crime is a good one (as always). Truly, the best parts are the intro scenes aboard ship and the wrap-up at the end...but there's a long way in between the two. I miss the Gideon Fells of the vintage years. Out of fondness for those, I'll give it three stars on this go-round.

Top Ten Tuesday: What I Love About Blogging.


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today The Broke and the Bookish are celebrating their Blogoversary and in honor the event Top Ten participants are asked to share the Top Ten Reasons We Love Blogging.

Here we go:

1. All the marvelous people I have met in the blogosphere. Book Bloggers, especially, are some of the nicest people on earth. I have made so many virtual friends that I know I'd love to meet in person. It's been awesome.

2. It's been the best way to track my reading. That was the initial reason I started blogging. I just wanted a place to write about my books and what I thought and how much I love to read and how much I love vintage mysteries....and I get to do ALL of that and anything else too.

3. Challenges. I love the challenges. If I'd never started blogging, would never have found all the challenges. Challenges to stretch my comfort zone. Challenges to get me to read books that have been gathering dust on the TBR shelves way too long. Challenges that help me feed my mystery habit. Love them.

4. And I've discovered that I love sponsoring Challenges as well. I've been having a grand time with my Vintage Mystery Challenge and the Color-Coded Challenge.

5. Reviews by my fellow bloggers. I don't have all that many people in my life who read like I do. So, having people suggest books to me doesn't happen all that often. You'd think it would since I work in an English Department at a university...but not so much. I love reading the reviews and finding new books to put on the TBR list (like I need more...but that's another story).

6. It allowed me to "meet" Carol K Carr, author of India Black: A Madam of Espionage Mystery and read her fabulous book as an ARC. Never would have happened without blogging.


Okay...that's it. I'm sure there are many more reasons why I love blogging. But I can't think of them at the moment.....


Teaser Tuesdays

MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.
*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from Scorpions: The Battles & Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman (p. 3):

The mingled smells of oiled mahogany paneling, polished brass, and good tobacco were familiar ones to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Folding his slim frame into a leather-upolostered chair in the new, three-story clubroom of the Harvard Club of New York, the recent graduate was exactly where he belonged.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Detections of Dr. Sam: Johnson: Review


Lillian de la Torre wrote a series of short stories for Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine (over 40 in all) which featured Dr. Samuel Johnson as a great detective as well as a great lexicographer. These stories were later collected into four volumes, of which The Detections of Dr. Sam: Johnson is one. These stories set Johnson up as a Holmes-like character with James Boswell acting as his Watson. The mysteries themselves are good without being great, but the main attractions are the personality of Johnson, the Boswellian commentary on events, and the obvious amount of research de la Torre put into her stories. Notes at the end of each story reveal that the fictional accounts have their basis in either actual events and characters from the 18th Century or legends that were circulating during the time period.

This was a very quick, light read. The first story, "The Stroke of Thirteen," is very good and she even tries her hand at a locked room mystery. Interesting period detail and pleasant mysteries that didn't require a lot of heavy-duty brain work. The most difficult part for some readers might be wading through some of the 18th C terminology--but quite a lot can be inferred from the context. I thoroughly enjoyed Johnson as a character and will certainly be keeping my eye out for the other collections. Three and a half stars out of five.