Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Treasury of Great Recipes: Review

A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965) by Mary and Vincent Price is a treasure itself on so many levels. First, of all, I love Vincent Price and reading through this glorious recipe book was lovely experience. Mary was responsible for the look of the cookbook--the cover, the photos, the arrangements of the food in the photos and Vincent wrote the introductory pieces for each section and the reminiscences which precede each recipe. I could absolutely hear his voice reading those introductions to me. Vincent Price so very obviously enjoyed life and food and travel were two of his favorite parts of life. His joy in traveling the world--sampling the local food, discovering new restaurants, wheedling treasured recipes out of the chefs--that joy spills over into all the memories and tidbits that he shared with us in this cookbook.

It is also a delight to look at all the menus from a by-gone era when fresh lobster could be had fro $4.50 and desserts would run less than a dollar. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants featured in the book are gone. Some having disappeared only within the last 10-15 years or so. But it is still fun to look at the pictures from some of the best eateries of the 1960s and to know that Vincent and Mary have preserved a number of the best recipes for us.

One thing that I found amusing was the fact that Wolfgang Puck (who writes an introduction for this--the 50th anniversary edition) made a great deal of the fact that Vincent Price--movie star that he was--was just a Midwestern boy at heart. Having grown up in St. Louis, he was a down-to-earth kind of guy and ALL (emphasis mine) of these recipes were intended as helps for the average housewife. Well--either I'm not an average housewife or "average" means something quite different to Wolfgang than it does to me--because I have never served baby octopus at my house and, quite frankly, can't ever imagine myself doing so. There are several recipes that call for ingredients that this average housewife does not keep stocked in her pantry....

But. That doesn't mean that I might not get adventurous and try some of the more out-of-the-way selections (NOT baby octopus, though). In fact, I'm quite determined that a copy of this book needs to find its way into my house on a permanent basis (this one was from the library). The desserts especially look fantastic and there are several chicken recipes that I'm anxious to try. This is definitely a book for those who love cooking and who enjoy peeking into the kitchens of a different time and place....oh, and it's a definite must-read for those who love Vincent Price. ★★★★ 

Zion's Fiction: Review

Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature (2018) edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem is the first book of its kind to be published in English. As noted, it is a collection of Israeli science fiction. It also gives a brief history of the genre among Israelis--it was not generally accepted for quite a long time after it became popular in American and elsewhere. And, in fact, it was viewed with great disdain until the late 1970s. But, as is the case with most non-mainstream ideas, it had its followers and practitioners and we finally have a collection of works.

When I was in college (many moons ago), I read a collection of Jewish science fiction called Wandering Stars that provided stories by Jewish authors--primarily American--some with more obvious Jewish themes and enjoyed the stories written from a different perspective. So, when I saw this collection at the library I thought it would be interesting to read Jewish stories from a view different from American Jewish authors. I wasn't disappointed. These stories--more than any science fiction collection I can remember--provide (for this Gentile) a profound sense of other. The very first story, "The Smell of Orange Groves," drove this point home immediately. In fact, the experience was so different for me, that I must confess that I did not fully appreciate all of the nuances surrounding the ideas of memory and family connection that must relate to central Israeli ways of life that I do not understand properly.

The collection is, despite being so very other-worldly for me, a very powerful set of stories. I was particularly moved by "The Slows" (which has the shadow of the Holocaust hovering over it) and "A Good Place for the Night" which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where only a few have escaped the unnamed plague/weapon/what-have-you that has wiped out most of humanity. These stories speak to the strength of the human spirit and what qualities make us truly human. Other favorites are "Burn Alexandria" in which the non-human makes the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity and humanity's knowledge (echoes of the library at Alexandria also appeal to this book-lover) and "Possibilities" which talks about the power of story-making and makes connections to a well-known Ray Bradbury story. You can't go wrong with Bradbury. Overall, an excellent and intriguing collection that should appeal to all science fiction readers. ★★★★ 

[Finished on 2/6/19]

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Death in the Night: Review

Sadly, were Jeeves to find himself in the streets of Mayfair today he would undoubtedly look around himself with dismay, as if forced to acknowledge an old friend who, since one's last encounter, has made a distinctly unsuitable marriage. ~A Death in the Night (p. 11)

A Death in the Night (Nov 2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the fourth novel in his Hampstead Murders series. This time our murder takes place in an exclusive women's club in Mayfair. The book opens with one of the members walking into the club, stepping up to the desk, and asking for her key. You'd think this a fairly innocent request--but the receptionist looks at her as if she'd suddenly grown two heads. All is explained (sortof) when the club manager, Rowena Bradley, tells Professor Elizabeth Fuller that she's supposed to be dead. It seems that a woman was found dead in Fuller's room and no one who really knew the professor actually looked at the body. A fellow club member who is a doctor was called in to verify death (from what seemed to be natural causes) and the body was whisked away to the mortuary. The doctor had never met Professor Fuller, but didn't question the identity when told that she was needed in Professor Fuller's room. 

So....things get really interesting when Fuller shows up. Her husband has already been told she's dead. The people who have the body thinks it's her. When Rowena calls the mortuary to straighten things out, they decide that a postmortem is needed because of the weirdness.'s discovered that Angela Bowen (the women who wound up through a key mix-up in Fuller's room) has been suffocated. That means it's time to call in the police.

Coincidentally, Detectives Bob Metcalfe and Karen Willis were at the club on the fatal night. They and their partners attended a vintage dinner dance and met most of the prime suspects at the gala. When it becomes apparent that this will be a high-profile case (Fuller's husband Andrew is a prominent attorney) with tenuous connections to Hampstead, Superintendent Collison and his team are given the case. Their first task is to figure out whether Bowen was the intended victim or if someone thought they were killing Fuller. What makes the case really tricky is that both women have ties to Andrew--as his wife and his mistress. Andrew has a roving eye and often plays away from home--supposedly with his wife's blessing. In fact, there were more women at the club that night who have had flings with the attorney than might seem plausible. Did one of them kill thinking they'd get the wife out of the way and clear the field for them? Or was the fact that the mistress was pregnant significant? Did one of the Fullers get her out of the way before she could make life difficult for them? There are so many choices for prime suspect and it all depends on whether the right victim is lying in the morgue... 

[possible small spoilers ahead--read at your own risk]

Like Kate at Cross Examining Crime, I found the opening description of London as made up of small villages very affecting. It is one of the ways that Fraser-Sampson touches base with the Golden Age era of crime. So many of those novels took place in the small village where everybody knew everyone else (and exactly what they were up to). And that Jeeves quote above stood out to me too. One way that this book plays differently on the village theme is that the fact that perhaps some of the members of this small village (the club) don't know each other as well as they might. Even though our setting is a women's club--one that boasted Dorothy L. Sayers as a member back in the day, these women don't know one another as the women in Sayers's day would have. They use the club more like a hotel--stopping over on their way to the airport or for a single night on the town in London--rather than as the home-away-from-home that made clubs attractive in the early 20th Century. They're all just ships passing in the night, so to speak. So, it's not such a stretch to think that some of the members wouldn't recognize the victim (or wouldn't NOT recognize her as the case may be...). 

Overall, this is a terrific modern series for those of us that like our Golden Age mysteries. I’m still hoping for a five-star book, though. Each one in the series has had a small piece or two that has kept it from the full rating. This time round the one of the bits that niggled at me was the rather elaborate potential solution the team discussed that involved getting hold of the room key in advance and having a duplicate made. This didn’t make any sense–It appears that the club is run on a hotel basis and room assignment each time is random based on what’s available (unlike other clubs in other books I’ve read where the members have a room that is theirs). Otherwise, why wouldn’t Elizabeth Fuller immediately realize she’d got hold of the wrong key? And if random room assignment is the case–then the killer certainly couldn’t have made a duplicate key for Room 16 knowing that either Fuller or the victim would wind up there. It just seemed unlikely that Collison and his detective sergeants wouldn't have realized this and dropped the discussion. Instead, they spend a great deal of time hashing it out and then just go off and do other things (like the discussion never happened...).

I do have to say that I latched on to the murderer fairly early because reasons [which I would tell you, but it would definitely spoil the plot for you]. But this didn't affect my enjoyment at all. I always enjoy following the team as they work their way through the investigation so I treated this one as more of a Golden Age style police procedural than a puzzle plot that was meant to baffle me. Great fun and one of my favorite current mystery series. ★★★★  and a half.

Finished on 1/30/19

February 2019 Monthly Key Word Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, Feb 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Calendar of Crime Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Mount TBR Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Virtual TBR Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February Just the Facts Reviews linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

Blind Corner: Review

Blind Corner (1927) by Dornford Yates (Cecil William Mercer) is more adventure/thriller than classic golden age mystery. Richard Chandos is on holiday in France when he manages to witness a murder. Does he report it to the authorities? Of course not. Instead he runs up to the dying man, breathing the fire of the righteous, to tell the man that he will hunt the blighter down and get him. But the man tells him not to bother--he just wants Richard to take care of his dog. And--since Richard admits that he overheard talk of a treasure--he tells him that if he looks in the dog's collar, he'll find that "she can pay for her keep." Then he dies.

Richard heads back to England where he hooks up with Jonathan Mansell and George Hanby. They discover a paper hidden in the dog's collar that gives instructions on how to find a great treasure. A treasure hidden on the grounds of an Austrian castle. Mansell is a great one for planning and soon the young men are kitted out with supplies and trusty servants and they take off for the continent. But they aren't the only ones in the hunt. The murderer in France has joined up with the villain  "Rose" Noble and his gang--and they are determined to have the treasure even if they have to kill six men to get it.

Yates plays fast and loose with the "Boys Own Adventure" rules--Mansell and company have no problem with killing in a good cause and certainly don't mind running off with a treasure that doesn't really belong to them. They resort to dirty tricks (draining the other side's auto's oil pan, for one) in order to outwit their opponents and their cars have secret compartments for getting the loot past the customs officials. But it's all in the name of adventure--and, of course, having the good guys win out over the baddies. So, settle back, buckle up, and get ready for an adventurous ride. Not much mystery going on here and crime detection is out the window, but if you're in the mood for adventure, treasure-hunting, and a simple world where the good guys always win (regardless of method). Then this great fun. ★★

[Finished on 1/27/19]

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Book Challenge, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, European Reading Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Charity Challenge, Mystery Reporter

Calendar of Crime = May (events take place)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Terror on the Titanic: Mini-Review

Terror on the Titanic by Jim Wallace was a second Choose Your Own Adventure book to catch my eye when I was looking to find a title to read for the PopSugar Reading Challenge. I decided that rather than have to choose between the Tower of London and the Titanic I'd just bring both home and read them. This book plays a little more fast and loose with history than the Tower book did--sure it brought in ghosts, but the information it gave about the historical figures and the sections of the Tower were primarily factual. In this book, included among the options you have are those that allow you to save the Titanic and prevent one of the greatest steamship disasters in history. But, that's okay, the CYOA books are definitely more imaginative and fictional than the Chilling Interactive Adventure books--so we can give the author more poetic license. 

I loved these books when I was in elementary school (though I never read this one) and even as an adult it is fun to find yourself in the story, making choices that will determine how your adventure ends. The Titanic is also a big draw for me and it was fun to follow the adventures on the luxury liner. ★★★★

Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure

The PopSugar Reading Challenge has included a "Choose Your Own Adventure" prompt this year. When I saw that the library had a series of Chilling Interactive Adventures, I decided to give one a try to fulfill the prompt. These books take historical places and events and provide a choose-your-own-adventure plot line that is fun and educational. Each book gives historical information and descriptions of the people and events involved. This particular entry, Tower of London, takes readers on a tour of the Tower grounds. You and your friend Jerry get separated from the tour group and the various choices allow you to meet the ghosts of historical figures from Sir Walter Raleigh to Lady Jane Grey and to observe ghostly renditions of events that took place within the buildings and vicinity of the Tower...and, if you don't choose wisely, you may find yourself joining the ghostly inhabitants of the Tower.

A very good format to encourage young readers to learn about history while having adventures of their own. I thoroughly enjoyed the Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was growing up and would have loved these non-fiction-based stories had they been available then. ★★★★

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Secret Adversary: Review

The Secret Adversary (1922) is Agatha Christie's second venture into the mystery field and the first to feature that daring young duo, Tommy and Tuppence. The young people, who have been friends since childhood, are trying to make their way in the world after being demobbed after World War I. Tuppence is one of seven children to a timid, Victorian-minded archdeacon who doesn't know what to do with his modern daughter. She's determined not to go back home and make life uncomfortable for her father. Tommy has pretty well gone through the money allotted him at demobilization and has had no luck at all finding a job. They run into one another by chance at the Dover Street Tube exit and settle down for tea and a catch-up on old times. By the end of the tea, they have decided to start a Join Venture--calling themselves The Young Adventurers Ltd and putting out an advertisement that they are for hire. "Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good."

But before they can even place the ad, they find themselves plunged into a grand adventure full of spies and Bolsheviks and a mysterious man by the name of "Mr. Brown" who runs the whole show on the baddies side of things. There's a missing girl who has amnesia and, just by chance, probably knows where some top-secret, hush-hush papers are. Throw in the mysterious Mr. Carter (also not his real name) who is in British Intelligence and winds up hiring our heroes and the rich American cousin of the missing girl and we're in for a fast-paced adventure. First Tommy gets captured and escapes. Then Tuppence gets captured and rescued. The missing papers get found twice. The bad guys have them. No, they don't. The Young Adventures get the papers to the good guys...or do they? It's all a rollicking, confusing good time that keeps readers on their toes. 

If there is one theme running through The Secret Adversary, it is coincidence. As Tuppence says once their adventures begin: 

“I've often noticed that when coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way. I dare say it's some natural law that we haven't found out.” 

Their story begins with their coincidental meeting. Tommy overhears two men talking about Jane Finn. Jane winds up being the missing girl with amnesia. One of the gang approaches Tuppence and she and Tommy try to put one over on him...later Tommy and Julius (the rich American) just happen to see the gang member with a confederate and they follow them. Mr. Carter just happens to be an Intelligence man that Tommy saw once in the war--so Tommy immediately knows he's a good guy. And so on. 

But all this coincidence doesn't ruin the story. No. In the world Christie has created for us, it's perfectly believable and we're ready to go along with it for a really good story. And it is a really good story. Tommy and Tuppence are great characters and Christie's ability with dialogue really shines with their conversations. The adventure is fast-paced and fun and I was very glad to revisit it after all these years. ★★★★

The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes

The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes (1990) by June Thomson is another collection of Holmes stories purporting to be from that battered tin dispatch case mentioned by Watson in "The Problem of Thor Bridge." Just imagine how big that case must have been (or how many separate pieces of that case there were)...given all the "discovered" stories that have appeared over the years. Thomson takes on the task of providing the world with the details behind Mr. James Phillimore's strange disappearance upon going back into his house for an umbrella; the secrets of the Amateur Mendicants; the case of Isadora Persano and the remarkable worm; and the real activities of the Notorious Canary Trainer...among others. Thomson gets a great many things right with these short stories--the relationship between Holmes and Watson, historical detail, and Watson's voice as narrator being the most notable. She does come up a bit short on story delivery in about half of these, however. Out of seven stories, one isn't solved at all and two are only half-solved. Not a great percentage for one of the greatest detectives of all time. And quite honestly there are only two solutions that I agree were necessary for Watson to keep quiet about--and only one due to national security. Given the great air secrecy shrouding these stories in the Canon, one can be forgiven for feeling a bit disappointed when the reasons for the delayed publication don't quite meet the level of caution implied in Watson's original accounts.

This was an amusing read, but not quite the knock-out Holmes pastiche that I expected. I had read enthusiastic reviews of her work featuring Holmes and looked forward to strong stories. It looks like this was her first collection of Holmes stories--perhaps her later collections are stronger. ★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Century of Books, Cloak & Dagger, Book Challenge, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 52 in 52 Weeks, Charity Challenge

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hitler's First Victims: Review

In Hitler's First Victims: The Quest for Justice, Timothy Ryback recounts the background and events of one of the many "What If" situations leading up to World War II. At its most basic, the book argues that there may have been a great difference made in history if the rule of law and Germany's judicial system had worked as well as it had previously been capable of in the years leading up to the war. In the first instance, if Hitler and his, then, smaller band of followers had received a stiffer penalty for their actions in what became known as the "Beer Hall Putsch," much might have been avoided. At the most extreme, it was possible "since Hitler's stated goal was to topple the Weimer Republic, he could have been dispatched to the Reich Court in Leipzig, where a conviction for treason could have resulted in a death sentence." As it was, the procedures were botched and the group faced a sympathetic local judge and received a ridiculously light sentence. Hitler and company were unrepentant and left the court (albeit to short prison sentences) in a celebratory mood more fitting to the victors of a conquest.

Once Hitler rose to the Chancellorship and the Nazi forces began to take over, there was still the remnants of judicial power left to those who wished to see the country returned to a free republic. As the first concentration camp (then called a detention camp and work camp for political prisoners) was formed at Dachau, it still fell under the jurisdiction of state police authority and due process. When political prisoners--nearly all Jews--began to die in suspicious circumstances, Josef Hartinger, a German prosecutor, began collecting evidence and meticulously examined every coroner's report looking to build a case that would bring justice to the camp and seriously hamper the power of the SS men who were gaining control of the camp. His efforts managed to halt the killings temporarily, but the steamroller that was the Nazi movement soon ran him--and the few good men helping him, such as state medical examiner Dr. Moritz Flamm--over. Ryback poses the question: What if there had been hundreds of Hartingers and Flamms throughout Germany, standing up to Nazi rule? Would the weight of judicial evidence and power been enough to strangle the Nazi movement before it hurtled Germany into World War II? Of course, we'll never know--but he makes a strong case.

The book is meticulously researched and gives an excellent portrayal of a country on the brink--unsettled and with its citizens often caught unawares by the movement of power and unsure how to fight back. Even those with some power--like the judiciary and state police--found it very difficult to work within the laws to try and combat the creeping evil. The records of Josef Hartinger and Dr. Flamm make it all too clear how quickly the political landscape could change--taking with it the rules, conventions, and laws that hold a society together. 

An absorbing historical account of men who, as they watched their way of life going off the rails, tried their best to stave off the coming Nazi deluge. It is disturbing to read of these early Nazi atrocities (which actually pale in comparison to what was to come), but it was also heartening to read about men who were trying to do what they could to maintain a system of justice in perilous times. ★★★★

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Charity Reading Challenge 2019

Charity Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: January-December 2019
# of books: You decide: I'm going for 12
Read for a good cause! Buy books at a charity shop, or, even a friends of the library book sale, or, donate a certain percentage of money for each book you read for the challenge. You can choose your own goal of how many books to read, what charity you'll be donating money towards, how much money, etc. (For example, you might want to donate $1 for each paperback you read, or, $3 for every hardback you read. You can work out the details yourself.) For full details click on link above.

Last year I read much more than 12 from my Friends of the Library (FOL) and charity sale books, but given the number of challenges I've signed up for (and I could have sworn that I already signed up for this one for 2019), I'm just going to commit to 12 again. In addition to reading books that I had already bought in support of the library or charity, I also spent $169.39 on new books from those sources--most of that went towards the Hoosier Hills Food Bank community book sale. Let's see how much I give to charity this year in exchange for good books.

Books Read:
1. Tales of Terror & Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (1/23/19)
2. The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson [Hoosier Hills Foodbank Book Sale] (1/25/19)
3. Blind Corner by Dornford Yates [Historical Society Community Rummage Sale] (1/27/19)