Monday, February 28, 2011

February Reading Wrap-Up

I love lists and keeping track of all sorts of things, so what I started in January is fast becoming a habit for me. Here are the vital statistics for the month of February:

Total Books Read: 17 (Review for #17 coming tomorrow)
Total Pages: 4612
Percentage by Female Authors: 59%
Percentage by US Authors: 53% (not bad when you consider I'm a Brit Lit girl)
Percentage Fiction: 88%
Percentage written 2000+: 29%
Percentage of Rereads: 0%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100%
Percentage Mystery: 59%

Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: Three!

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):
Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life by Zubin Mehta
The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones
McKee of Centre Street by Helen Reilly
You Can Die Laughing by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Dividend on Death by Brett Halliday

Currently Reading: Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh: At a rundown spa in World War II New Zealand, Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Alleyn finds himself investigating the bizarre murder of a would-be health seeker.

Books that spark my interest:
Leave It To Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse: The next Blandings Castle book for my Wodehouse Challenge.
The Rim of the Pit
by Hake Talbot (vintage mystery)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter H

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is sponsoring The Alphabet in Crime Fiction community meme. Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname. So you see you have lots of choice. You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow. (It is ok too to skip a week.) Link your post for the week back to Kerrie's site.

This week we are featuring the letter H.

I think I'm going to go with another female pioneer in the detective fiction world. H is for Helen Reilly. Reilly's career reached from 1930-1962. I just finished one of her early novels, McKee of Centre Street. And did a little background on her in the process. She was one of the first authors to feature police procedure in her work and she based her novels on research she had done on the New York homicide squad. Inspector Christopher McKee is her central detective and she shows him at work with a full complement of supporting officers--from fingerprint men to detectives ordered to shadow suspects. A few of her later works have been said to fall into the Had I But Known school of mysteries, but so far the three I've read have all been more centered on the police work than the suspenseful qualities of HIBK. For a taste of what her work is like, feel free to click on the title above for my review.

Meet Me On Monday (36)

Meet Me on Monday is a blogging meme hosted by Java at Never Growing Old. As she says: "Blogging is a funny thing...we tell our most intimate thoughts for all to read and yet most of the time I find myself wondering, "who is this person?" I know them...but yet I don't know them! I want to know who the person behind all those words is so I thought of a great way for all of us to "meet" each other!"

Every Sunday she will post five get to know you questions that we can copy and paste into our own Monday post and we can all learn a little more about each and every one of us. To play along click on her meme name and join up with the linky.

This Week's Questions:

1. What are you wearing right now? My "Merry Grinchmas" boxer shorts (black with Santa Grinches all over them) and an oversized t-shirt. I'm in my nightwear. Sorry, no actual pictures of me. But these are the actual boxers.

2. Do you have freckles? Yep--a light sprinkling over the nose. (I'm not a red-head & I don't have quite that many....)

3. What is your favorite Lifesaver flavor? Cherry!

4. What is the last movie you saw in the theater? Star Trek (2009). We don't do a lot of movie-watching in the theater.

5. Would you rather live without tv or without music? TV--no question. We've been unplugged from cable for years now. I don't miss it one little bit. In fact, as busy as I am with reading & blogging & writing...I have no idea when I'd watch anything if we actually got hooked up again.

Another One Bites the Dust....

One more Challenge complete. This time it's my very own Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. Given that vintage mysteries are my primary love in the reading world, this one wasn't all that difficult. Of course, it doesn't help my cause any when I pick up two challenges for every one that I complete. As with my other completed challenges, I'm not done with vintage mysteries just because I've completed my goal of 16 or more. I'll still be reading and posting about those good old classic crimes.

Here's my list for the challenge:

Take 'Em to Trial: 16 or more Books

Black Orchids
by Rex Stout (1941) [read/reviewed 1/21/11]
Cordially Invited to Meet Death
by Rex Stout (1942) [read/reviewed 1/22/11]by Rex Stout (1942) [read/reviewed 1/22/11]
The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley (1928) [read/reviewed 2/19/11]
Rope's End, Rogue's End by E. C. R. Lorac (1942) [read/reviewed 1/26/11]
The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (1878) [read/reviewed 2/8/11]
McKee of Centre Street by Helen Reilly (1933/4) [read/reviewed 2/23/11]
5 Bullets by Lee Thayer (1944) [read/reviewed 1/12/11]
The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen (1934) [read/reviewed 1/13/11]
Dividend on Death by Brett Halliday (1939)
[read/reviewed 2/27/11]
Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (1923)
[read/reviewed 1/9/11]
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers (1934) [read/reviewed 1/3/11]
Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham (1931) [read/reviewed 1/1/11]
The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham (1938) [read/reviewed 1/25/11]
A Graveyard to Let by Carter Dickson (1949) [read/reviewed 1/31/11]
Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer (1933) [read/reviewed 2/2/11]
You Can Die Laughing by A. A. Fair, aka Erle Stanley Gardner (1957) [read/reviewed 2/24/11]

Dividend on Death: Review

So...I said recently that I'm not much into hardboiled detective novels. Yet here I am again with Brett Halliday's Dividend on Death (1939). And not a bad little detective novel at that. Yes, we've got the tough-talking detective, and the curvy dames, and the over-the-top bad guys, but somehow Halliday makes it all work.

Dividend on Death is Halliday's first Michael Shayne novel. It doesn't really read like a first effort though. Shayne is well-developed as a character and it is obvious from his interactions with other characters that he has a firmly established background. He hasn't "just appeared" here in print. So, while this may be our first taste of Shayne at work, this isn't his first case.

In this story, Michael Shayne winds up with more clients than you would think he could keep track of. First up, Phyllis Brighton who wants Shayne to tell her she's not crazy and going to kill her mother like "everyone" says. She hires Shayne to protect her from herself. Then along comes Dr. Pedique, one of the folks telling Phyllis that she's crazy. He hires the detective to protect Mrs. Brighton from her crazy daughter. Next, Roy Gordon who wants Shayne to find an art critic and prevent said critic from delivering a painting to the Brighton household. And then there's Monty Montrose who also has an interest in the painting and wants our hero to guarantee the painting winds up in the hands of Brighton. Finally, we have Police Inspector Peter Painter who will eventually hand over $2,500 in reward money when Shayne hands him the solution to this convoluted case on a silver platter.

Somehow, Shayne manages to juggle all these various client balls without any of them bumping into each other. And has time to figure out who really did kill Mrs. Brighton and the beautiful nurse and why they're trying to pin the rap on Phyllis. It's a fun ride for any mystery lover and I would expect those who favor the hardboiled school to especially enjoy this one. Halliday can write and he delivers the tough-guy detective very effectively. I enjoyed this one much more than the A. A. Fair book that I just recently finished. Three and 3/4 stars...almost a four.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge

Cristina at Rochester Reader is sponsoring the As My Whimsy Takes Me Reading Challenge. All Lord Peter Wimsey all the time. How could I resist? (I know I say that about every challenge...)

If you'd like to join in, the more the merrier! She will be reading the books in chronological order and we are welcome to join her in that endeavor or just dip in and out during the year. It's quite informal but a review of the books you read would be appreciated. Help yourself to the button above and link your reviews and/or posts back to her page as well as a comment on the post so she can add your review.

Books (in order of publication):

1. Whose Body? (1923) [read 3/25/11]
2. Clouds of Witness (1926) [read 5/25/11]
3. Unnatural Death (1927) [read 7/15/11]
4. Lord Peter Views the Body (1928) [Short Story Collection] (read 8/28/11)
5. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928) [read 8/29/11]
6. Strong Poison (1930) [read 9/15/11]
7. Five Red Herrings (1931) [read 9/17/11]
8. Have His Carcase (1932) [read 10/2/11]
9. Hangman's Holiday (1933) [Short Story Collection incl. non-Wimsey stories] (read 10/29)
10. Murder Must Advertise (1933) [read 11/1/11]
11. The Nine Tailors (1934) [read 1/3/11]
12. Gaudy Night (1935) [read 11/23/11]
13. Busman's Honeymoon (1937) [read 11/27/11]
14. In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939) [read the final Wimsey stories 11/27/11]
15. Striding Folly (1972) [read 11/27/11}

Optional (books by Jill Paton Walsh):

16. Thrones, Dominations (1998) [unfinished manuscript completed by Jill Paton Walsh]
17. A Presumption of Death (2002)
18. The Attenbury Emeralds (2010)

Quote It! Saturday

Freda's Voice has an awesome Saturday meme for quote lovers called Quote It! And I have another blog, Quote Mistress, which is entirely devoted to the quotes I have collected over my lifetime. So my Saturday Quote It! may be found on my quote site. I'd love for you to visit...and be sure to visit Freda's Voice too!

Saturday Snapshot February 26

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 have a direct link to your post on the Mr. Linky on her blog. Please don't use random photos that you pull from the internet.

Here are my son and a fellow scout on his first trip to the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Bleah. Thanks, Snoopy (and Charles Schulz). That says everything that needs saying about Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I could just leave the review at that. I realize that isn't very professional. But wait, I'm not a professional. I'm just your average, book-loving blogger who wants to record her thoughts on what she reads. But, you say, why did you think it was bleah? [Possible spoilers ahead...beware.]

Well, maybe because nothing happened in the first third of the book. Nothing substantial that is. Oh...Mary Katherine went to town to get library books and groceries. And she thinks the townspeople all hate her & her family. What's left of it. Okay. Great. Oh, and there's these little snippets that tell you that there used to be more people in Mary Katherine's family. Before they were all poisoned. And her sister, Constance, was accused and acquitted of the murders. Well, that ought to grab the attention, right? Not so much. Not even when you consider that I love mysteries. But quite frankly there was nothing in this book that made me the least bit curious whether Constance really did it or not, and, if not, who did. If all the build up was supposed to produce a gothic feel, then, I'm sorry Shirley Jackson, but it Did Not Work. At least not for me.

Sure, this is one weird little family which gets a whole lot weirder when Cousin Charles shows up. And there's a fire. And we find out who poisoned the family. But...I Did Not Care. There wasn't anything about this story that grabbed me. Not the characters. Not the story itself. Not the setting. Not the writing. This was a big ol' black hole of a novel--it sucked up a whole day's worth of reading and gave me nothing in return. I'm not even sure I can award it one star on the ol' rating scale. But I star for giving me one read in the Gothic Reading Challenge.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Back At The Hop

It's Friday and that means it's time for the Book Blogger Hop sponsored by Crazy-For-Books. It's a time to talk about books and blogging and to venture out on the internet and visit other blogs. Hop on the link to participate.

I'm back in the Hop groove. Here's this week's question:

Do you ever wish that you had named your blog something different?

Not exactly. The only difference I wanted was to name it just "Reader's Block" instead of "My Reader's Block." But somebody out there had already claimed it. And posted like three times several years ago and then abandoned it. That kind of annoyed me. But I got over it. The idea behind the name was that I am a reader and a writer wanna-be. I wanted to get the flavor of "writer's block" and the fact that I'm reading and reviewing books (putting them on the chopping block so to speak).

Do the Write Thing for New Zealand

Margot Kinburg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is sponsoring Do the Write Thing, a charity raffle to raise money for Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake relief.
Here are the details from her post and you should click on the link above to do all the things she talks about below:
Several authors have already very kindly offered to donate signed copies of their books (Thank you!!) for this raffle. I’ll assemble the books into “book packages” that will be raffle prizes.
Once the list of authors and titles is final, I’ll announce the “packages.” You’ll then have the opportunity to win one of them. How do you get into the raffle? All we’ll ask is that you make a donation to the New Zealand Red Cross. Once you do that, you’ll be entered into the raffle, and you will have a chance to win a “book package” of terrific reads by very talented authors.
If you are an author who’d like to donate a signed copy of one of your books, please click the Email Me button on my sidebar (MargotKinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and let me know that you’d like to be a part of Do the Write Thing and which title you’d like to contribute. Your donation will be greatly appreciated!! If you've already been in touch, thank you! I truly appreciate it.
If you’re not an author, but you want to get into the raffle, please stay tuned. Very soon (hopefully one day next week), I will have the final list of authors and titles, so you’ll get a chance to see the great prizes you could win. I’ll then post the prizes and include a clickable donation link so you can easily enter the raffle. You’ll have two weeks to enter the raffle. Then, at the end of two weeks, I’ll announce the winners. And don't worry; this is an international raffle. Helping others shouldn't be restricted.
Even if you would rather not donate a book or enter the raffle, please do me a favour. It would help me greatly if you’d pass the word along. Tweet it, Email it, or post a note on your own blog.
Thanks again for your support. Let’s all do the write thing!
Bev Again: Please join me in supporting Margot in her efforts. And, as she says, at the very least pass the word!

Friday 56

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

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Link it up at Freda's site.

Here's mine from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [there was nothing on page 56 of my edition, so I have decided to go with page 55]:

I can't help it when people are frightened; I always want to frighten them more.

Book Beginnings on Friday

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 liked or did not like that sentence. Link-up each week at Katy's place.

Here's mine from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.
[Um. Okay. Let's add one more and see where that gets us]

I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance.
[Great. Anything interesting to tell us???]

I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had.
[There we go!]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Follow Friday 40 & Over! (39)

Yay! The good news is that Java is going to keep this hop and her Meet on Mondays going while she takes a little break from daily blogging. So.....

It's (almost) Friday and time again for the Follow Friday 40 & Over blog hop. Sponsored by Never Growing Old, this blog hop asks: Are you a blogger over 40? Yeah, welcome to the club! Please join in the fun and get to know your fellow bloggers!!

The RULES to join in are very simple:

*Grab the button
*Add your link to the list on the blog site
*Visit as many blogs as you can
*Follow the ones you like (and comment to let them know you're following)

You Can Die Laughing: Review

You Can Die Laughing (1957) is a Bertha Cool & Donald Lam mystery written by Erle Stanley Gardner under the name A. A. Fair. I picked this one up on one of my used bookstore hunts simply because it's one of those pocket size editions that I love. I'm not a big fan of the Perry Mason stories--nothing personal, they just don't happen to be my cup of tea--and I never expected to read this one based on what I'd heard about the Cool/Lam series. Then I signed up for the A-Z Reading Challenge and found myself in need of a book whose title began with "Y." It seemed a shame to go hunting for a book at the library when I had a suitable book sitting on the shelf. So, I dove in.

It was pretty much what I expected. American private eye team; a bit of tough talk from the cop who has a love/hate relationship with them; curvy dames. You know the routine. In this particular outing, Cool & Lam are hired by a big, forthright Texan to track down a missing wife. Not his wife. Someone else's. But the lady in question happens to hold rights to a bit of land that this Texan wants. Except now he doesn't...want the land that is. At least, when questioned he denies ever saying that he mentioned land or mineral rights or anything interesting of that nature--all he wants is to find the lady. Just to talk to her, I guess. Lam does a bit of investigating and finds a nosy neighbor who claims that the husband, Drury Wells (if you happened to want to know) has murdered the wife. Nosy neighbor spins a tale that convinces Lam to contact his friend the cop.

But then the "corpse" shows up and is one fine-looking lady. "She had red hair, blue eyes and a figure like one of the babes in the comic strips." Suddenly, the husband is wanting to sue Cool & Lam for defamination of character and the neighbor has had an attack of amnesia. She never said such awful things to Donald Lam. Why would she make up such stories about such nice neighbors? Of course, by this point Lam is smelling something fishy like someone has parked a whole truckload of tuna in the desert sun. What exactly is going on? Has anybody been killed? And the big question, at least for Cool & Lam, will they get paid?

This was a decent private eye story. I guessed part of the solution, but not all. So, Gardner did a fairly good job of keeping me in the dark. The best part for me was the relationship between Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. I'm sure that those who enjoy American private eye novels and who like Perry Mason would rate this much higher than I will. Three stars--decent read, but nothing to knock my socks off.

Booking Through Thursday: Something Old; Something New

This week Booking Through Thursday wants to know: All other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical speciman, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?

Well, given that I have a love for vintage mysteries (definitely pre-1960 and mostly earlier than that)...I'd have to say used. But naturally I prefer vintage books in excellent condition to those that are barely holding it together. I really like hardbacks in good condition and those pocket-size editions (Pocket Books, Dell, Bantam, etc) that have the interesting color covers.

Theme Thursday: Touch

Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

* A theme will be posted each week (on Thursdays)
* Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
* Post it and don’t forget to mention the author and the title of the book
* Since we may take a few days to finish a book, this event is open for one whole week

This week's theme is TOUCH. Here's mine from You Can Die Laughing by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner) [p. 30]:

Corning started to say something, checked himself, threw me to one side over against Bertha's desk, twisted the knob, yanked the door open and stalked out of the office.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

McKee of Centre Street: Review

It's been a while since I've read a more straight-forward police procedural. McKee of Centre Street (1934) by Helen Reilly sounds from the frontispiece to be not only a very straight-forward police procedural, but one of the tough, mean street variety:

The line-up, the radio room, the morgue, the mysterious depths of the fingerprint department--all the varied and exciting activities of one of the greatest police departments in the world are in this startling new mystery. Not even Scotland Yard houses an organization of more deadly and ruthless efficiency than the gray stone building on Centre Street which is the headquarters of the New York police....In [this novel] you will meet Inspector McKee, tight-lipped, cold-eyed, a hunter of men and the most absorbing sleuth since Lieutenant Valcour; listen with him as the telephone call that is the first information in the case of the murdered dancer comes into Spring 7-3100; watch as he throws out swiftly the far-flung net for a subtle and brilliant killer.

The story revolves around the murder of Rita Rodriguez, a beautiful dancer in a high-tone speakeasy. The murderer takes advantage of the dim lighting, the audience's attention to the silver-clad beauty dancing on the stage, and the spotlight which oh-so-conveniently brings his target into sharp outline. Although the police are called in immediately by the ultra-alert spotlight handler, there are still fish which escape the net and it is McKee's job not only to sift through the statements of everyone still within the establishment, but also to try and discover who is missing.

When he is finished he's left with a small group of suspects. There is the missing waiter; the rich playboy, his wife, and step-son; the wife's very attentive friend, the colonel; the young woman found hiding in the phone booth; and the couple who can't quite decide where they were when the dancer fell to the floor. As he follows up their stories (and amended stories), he soon discovers that there are connections between the characters that lead back to the past....with blackmail and stolen emeralds lurking in the shadows.

What follows is a detailed account of how the police department of the 1930s operated. The reader follows closely on McKee's heels and is given what is described as "real inside information, high-pressure thrills, suspense." Reilly manages to deliver without boring the reader with those details. I had read other (later) mysteries by Reilly and was a bit disconcerted by the description of McKee as a tight-lipped, cold-eyed hunter of men. This didn't really connect with the McKee I had met in these later novels. Granted, this earlier version of McKee is a bit more steely and there is far more procedural detail given, but in the end he is the same detective I recall...showing a good deal of compassion and humanity in the closing scenes. Not quite the cold hunter of men that the blurb served up.

Reilly has constructed a mystery that kept me guessing. I didn't guess the solution, even though there was fair play with the clues. I
should have known who the culprit was. All-in-all a decent mystery. Not quite as good as The Silver Leopard (the first McKee I read), but a nice outing. Three and a half stars.

Read My Review: World Wide

Read My Review, Hosted by A Trillian Books is a chance for book bloggers to share new and old reviews--all related to a theme.

What to do:

*Find one of your reviews that fits this week's theme (you can be as creative as you like when choosing what fits). It can be new or old, good or bad.
*Create a post on your blog explaining your book choice and leaving a link to your review there.
*Leave your link with Mr. Linky at the bottom of her post.
*Visit some of the other reviews and leave a "quality" comment (at least a couple of sentences).
*Grab the button and let people know about Read My Review.

This weeks theme is World Wide (Non-American/British). A large majority of the books reviewed out in the blogosphere are by American and British authors, so let's dig out reviews for books by authors from other countries!

Unfortunately, I'm one of those bloggers who reads primarily British authors with a bit of American thrown in and very little else. I know I should widen my horizons..... But, searching through the reviews I have done, I found Literary Murder by Batya Gur! Hurray! Batya Gur was an Israeli writer and the work that I'm familiar with is her mystery series starring police detective Michael Ohayon: an educated, pensive, and intellectual detective. I talked about her book over the course of two blog posts--please forgive the time I was a brand-new blogger, so I didn't know what I was doing and the posts may be a little rough. The book was very good, though! Click on the book title for the first post and her name for the second.

Whatcha Reading Wednesday

1. Grab your current read, go to the page you are on and post the next full sentence you are about to read.

2. Link back to Busy Moms Who Love To Read

Here's mine from McKee of Centre Street by Helen Reilly (p. 38):

The assistant D.A. neither drank nor smoked, had a bad digestion, a sound legal training, plodding brains, very little imagination, and a suspicious nature. He suspected everybody: the police, of negligence in the pursuit of duty; and the rest of the world, of every sin in the decalogue.

I couldn't resist adding an extra sentence. It just adds to the flavor of the description of the assistant D.A.

WWW: Wednesdays

WWW: Wednesdays is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading.

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: McKee of Centre Street by Helen Reilly (another of my vintage mysteries). This is a detective novel of Centre Street and the New York police. In it you will meet Inspector McKee, tight-lipped, cold-eyed, a hunter of men and the most absorbing sleuth since Lieutenant Valcour. I'm not very far into to it, but this strikes me as a very early police procedural. The story centers on the death of a dancer at a high-tone speakeasy. Who shot Rita Rodriguez as she twirled and whirled on the dance stage?

Read Since Last Wednesday (click titles for reviews):
Something New by P. G. Wodehouse
The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley
Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life by Zubin Mehta
The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones

Up Next:
Leave It To Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse: The next Blandings Castle book for my Wodehouse Challenge.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (need to get started on my Gothic Challenge)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A-Z Blogging Challenge

I told you I wouldn't be able to resist adding more challenges now that I've completed two. Here I go again.....

From Tossing It Out (challenge sponsor): The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays. In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet. Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.

You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge. There is an unlimited universe of possibilities. You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about. You don't have to be a writer to do this. You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork. Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z."

For more information and reasons to join, click on the challenge link above.

I don't know if I'll be able to to do it....but we shall see. I'm going to give it the ol' college try, anyway. Wish me luck.

It's Tuesday Where Are You?

It's Tuesday, Where Are You? is a meme hosted by An Adventure in Reading. The object is to tell us about the book you are reading by describing where you are fictionally. So far, it doesn't look like she's posted yet, but I really enjoyed this last week, so I'm going to forge ahead...

This week I am in a gloomy old manor house. We're only allowed 40 watt bulbs and no exciting music may be played on the 18th Century organ. I'm thirteen years old and for as long as I can remember I've been trying to do in my twin brother. Why, just this morning I sprinkled his cornflakes with a very special little concoction. Too bad he accidentally stuck his elbow in the bowl while reaching for the milk and the cornflakes wound up spread all over the table....But, anyway, please stop by anytime and we'll explore the incredible amount of rooms in my old home. And if you're very good, maybe I'll show you the working guillotine.

(The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones)

The Thornthwaite Inheritance

This is an incredibly fun book! I have mentioned before in blogging that Young Adult Fiction is not my thing. I'm not sure it was ever my thing when I was a young adult. But when I saw the review for The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones over on Fleur Fisher's blog I was sucked right in. The premise was fresh and interesting. I mean, how many books are there about 13 year old twins trying to kill each other off? And that's just what we've got going on.

Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite have been trying to do each other in for so long that they have forgotten who made the first try. Was it the working guillotine? Or was it the exploding iced lolly? It really doesn't matter...where other children have simple sibling rivalry, Ovid and Lorelli have machineries of death. They finally decide that enough is enough and plan to call a truce. A truce that will be sealed with a will...cutting the surviving twin out of their vast inheritance if both of them don't make it to age sixteen. The trusted family lawyer is called in to draw up the will, but before he can do so the murderous attempts begin again. Which twin has broken their word? Or is someone else trying to eliminate the heirs?

This tale is full of twists and turns and surprise revelations. Just when you think you've come to the bottom of the mystery, Jones adds another twist. In fact the final scenes reminded me of the ending of the movie Murder by Death. Just when you have one explanation presented, another character barges in and says, "No, it was really this way." Several of the revelations were surprises to me, but I have to admit that the ultimate surprise wasn't news. I'd guessed that (Ahem) was a baddie--but that didn't dampen my fun. I enjoyed every minute of this mysterious adventure. Four stars out of five.

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 spoil the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT particpants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Here's mine from The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones:

"Honey? Why would she put honey inside the bike tubes?" he wondered out loud. Then the answer to his question stepped into sight.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books to Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're being asked to list our Top Ten Favorite Books to Movies. As painful as book to movie adaptations can be, the changes they make, the things they leave out... there are some great ones out there, even if they aren't as good as the book (they pretty much never are) they are enjoyable. Here we go (in no particular order)....

1. Around the World in 80 Days (Brosnan version)

Although I have a fondness for David Niven and his version of the Jules Verne classic, I have a passion for Pierce Brosnan. I love him as the proper English gentleman who has to keep his word on the bet. I also like the transformation he goes through as Princess Aouda influences his thinking.

2. The Great Train Robbery

The play between the Sean Connery & Donald Sutherland characters is great. This is an instance where I like the movie better than the book. And it's one of the few heist movies that I really like. Probably because it's set in the Victorian era.

3. War of the Worlds

This is one of my favorites by Wells. And I don't care how many times they remake it, you can't beat the 1953 version.

4. Hound of the Baskervilles (Jeremy Brett)

Much as I love the Basil Rathbone version which is actually true to period--unlike most of the Holmes movies with Rathbone, Jeremy Brett lived and breathed the essence of Holmes. He read the original stories and was a stickler for making sure the writers stayed true to the canon. Absolutely the best Holmes ever!

5. The Thin Man

The movie is absolutely better than the book here. Myrna Loy and William Powell play Nick & Nora to perfection. And I love the screwball comedy. The series of movies gets a little out of control towards the end, but they're all fun.

6. Gone with the Wind

Love Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett. She's feisty and determined. I just wish she'd figure out sooner who she really loves. Ashley is such a waste of her time....

7. Murder on the Orient Express

David Suchet is the better Poirot. But I love the 1973 version with its star-studded cast. I thought this version captured the over-all feel of the Christie classic. (I still need to see the Suchet version....)

8. Rebecca (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock certainly knew what he was doing with suspense. The casting is perfect. Dame Judith Anderson is wonderful as the woman you love to hate, Mrs. Danvers. I love the old classics.

9. Gettysburg (Killer Angels by Michael Shaara)

I'm not usually a war movie buff. There are just a few that I've seen that I actually like. I love this movie and have watched it over and over again. It would be worth it just for the visuals and the music. But I like the way it follows characters from both sides of the war. I enjoyed learning more about Joshua Chamberlain (one of my favorite personalities from the Civil War) and General John Buford. Two officers who made a difference by holding their ground when it counted.

10. The Maltese Falcon

I love it when a movie takes a genre I don't usually like (like private eye/hard-boiled) and turns it into something I like to watch. Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade--can't be beat!

I made it to ten!

Monday, February 21, 2011

To Brag or Not to Brag....

That is the question. Oh, what the heck. Why not? I've already admitted that I'm a Challenge Addict. Big-time Challenge-aholic. Got 20 challenges going all at once and have already managed to knock out two of them. That being the case, Gina (Hott Books), one of the sponsors of the Reading Challenge Addict Challenge has declared that I am one of two Reading Challenge Addict Over Achievers. Senora G at Reading, Reading and Life joins me in this honor. What we got to say to the rest of the Challenge Addicts out there: "We don't, We don't...We don't mess around!"

There...that's my bit of extrovert behavior for the day. I'm going to go back in my corner and start reading again. So I can knock out another reading challenge. Oh, yeah!

Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life

I am not as "well-read" in the music world as I would sometimes like to be. Before coming across Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life, the autobiography of an apparently world-renowned conductor, while searching for a book whose title began with the letter "Z" (for one of my many reading challenges), I had never heard of Zubin Mehta. I have heard of many of his friends and the musicians and singers with whom he has worked, but not him.

In this book, Mehta tells us his story...from growing up in India, a member of the minority Parsi religious group, to his musical education in Vienna to his growing career as a world-reknowned conductor. For the most part the story is very well-told. I felt as if I were sitting with Mehta and listening to him tell me his story out loud. I would not say that he rambles, but one story leads to another the way stories often do when you're just sitting around chatting with your friends. It makes me wonder if he wrote this autobiography by hand or recorded his thoughts verbally and then transcribed them to written form. The feel of the book has me strongly favoring the latter.

Although I have long been a minor fan of classical music (it was always my favorite background music for studying in college) and have a very small knowledge of composers and their works, it was a real treat to be taken inside the world of classical music and the way the conductors and orchestras bring these works to the public. I very much enoyed Mehta's stories and they were made all the more enjoyable with the interludes from his personal life. Make no mistake, this is a professional autobiography. Mehta is telling the story of how he became a conductor who worked with orchestras from the New York Philharmonic to the Israel Philharmonic to leading the Munich Opera Festival performances. The more personal stories merely serve as a counterpoint to the rest.

My only quibbles (and for this my musical background may be at fault) are with some of the technical descriptions. Musical terminology that the average reader may not be familiar with and which make it hard to follow. I also became a bit bogged down in the sections where he went from description of one practice session (and how that didn't work so well) to the next. But overall, this is a very informative book, told for the most part in a very conversational tone that was highly enjoyable. Three and a half stars.