Saturday, April 30, 2011

Library Loot: April 27-May 3

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire (The Captive Reader) and Marg (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader) that encourages bloggers to share the books they've checked out of the library. If you'd like to participate, just write up your post, feel free to steal button, and link up using the Mr. Linky on Claire's site this week. And, of course, check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Here's my haul for this week--I keep adding (or having my husband add since he's my library workhorse at the moment) to my piles of recovery reading:

The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Roberts (This is the second of a series. When it caught my eye, I had to search for the first one--see below): Robertson's second mystery featuring barrister Reggie Heath, whose chambers are located at Sherlock Holmes's legendary address, offers pacing, prose, and plotting at a level far above that of its predecessor, 2009's The Baker Street Letters. On returning to London from California, Heath finds underwhelming demand for his professional services as well as pressure to abide by the terms of his lease by responding to letters addressed to the fictional character. An attractive solicitor, Darla Rennie, retains Heath to represent Neil Walters, a cab driver accused of murdering a young couple. Despite having been burned in his previous criminal case, Heath dives into defending Walters, only to end up in jeopardy himself. He must rely on his brother, Nigel, for help in escaping his peril, which may be connected with a letter writer to Baker Street who signs his correspondence Moriarty. An extremely clever evil scheme will delight readers. (Publishers Weekly)

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Roberts: London solicitor Reggie Heath, who's just leased office space on Baker Street, finds his obligations include making sure letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes at 221B are answered, if with formulaic replies. After a senior clerk is bludgeoned to death and Heath's younger ne'er-do-well brother disappears, the lawyer suspects both events are connected to a letter an eight-year-old girl, Mara Ramirez, sent nearly 20 years earlier asking the great detective to locate her missing father. Heath follows the trail to Los Angeles, where he succeeds in tracking down Mara and learns current crimes may be connected with her father's disappearance. Readers will want to spend more time with the appealing Heath and company, but the conceit of having future mysteries to solve based on letters to Baker Street may be hard to sustain. (Publishers Weekly)

The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh: Imogen Quy, who as a small child was taken to tea with E. M. Forster, is the college nurse at St. Agatha's College, Cambridge. Compassionate, intelligent and capable, Imogen (her last name rhymes with why ) is a kind young woman who believes in thinking things through. When a brilliant scholarship student is found dead in a pool of blood in Wyndham Case, a small library established by a 17th-century bequest, Imogen not only helps the police solve the case but also clears the dead boy of suspicion of theft. To do so, she weaves together threads involving a missing priceless book, a medical student drowned in a fountain, a professor imprisoned in a dungeon, feuding librarians, unrequited (and requited) love and a student on the run. In spite of a few frayed patches in the plot's fabric, Walsh produces a clear, sequential mystery, unmuddied by extraneous elements, whose intricate plot is resolved with surprising revelations in the final chapters--all related with precision, grace and a lovely sense of place.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: A masterpiece of modern Gothic literature,
Something Wicked This Way Comes is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a "dark carnival" one Autumn midnight. How these two innocents, both age 13, save the souls of the town (as well as their own), makes for compelling reading on timeless themes. What would you do if your secret wishes could be granted by the mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark? Bradbury excels in revealing the dark side that exists in us all, teaching us ultimately to celebrate the shadows rather than fear them.

One Book on Tape (CD):
Heavy Weather by P. G. Wodehouse: It's Heavy Weather for Lord Emsworth and the Empress, especially with the appalling Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe snooping around with designs on the prize pig.

Plus two books I picked up in the Library Used Bookstore:
The Body in the Bookcase by Katherine Hall Page
Watchers of Time by Charles Todd

Leftover Loot:
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Birth Year Challenge: Time Machine Update

I have fulfilled my commitment to the Birth Year Challenge: Time Machine Edition. I dedicated myself to read eight books from 1966 (my husband's birth year) and I have now done so. But there are still some interesting books out there to read from that year, so I'm still going to be reading and adding candles to his cake (I promise not to add more candles than you deserve, dear). Here's the list of books read:
1. Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov (4/30/11)
2. The Magic Finger
by Roald Dahl (4/16/11)
3. Third Girl by Agatha Christie (4/18/11)

4. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout (4/26/11)
5. Flying Finish by Dick Francis
6. Live or Die by Anne Sexton
7. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (4/17/11)
8. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (4/28/11)

I will do another Wrap-Up post when I'm all done reading 1966 books.

April Reading Wrap Up

I'm still keeping up with my love of lists and keeping track of all sorts of things (especially bookish things), so here are the vital statistics for the month of April:

Total Books Read: 20
Total Pages: 4610
Percentage by Female Authors: 20% (that's down)
Percentage by US Authors: 20%
Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 10%
Percentage of Rereads: 5%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100%
Percentage Mystery: 55%

Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: Seven!

Fantastic Voyage: Review

 Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov was actually a re-read for me. But it has been many moons since I was in my hard-core science fiction phase (like 30 years or so) and so I couldn't resist adding this one to the list when I saw that it would fit into the Birth Year Challenge that I'm doing.

Fantastic Voyage is not an original Asimov story. That tells--just a bit. It is a novelization of the movie and it involves the minaturization of a crew of scientists and doctors in an atomic sub who are then injected into a dying man's carotid artery. They make a dangerous journey through the heart and lungs and even the inner ear where the slightest sound may be enough to destroy them. It's not enough that they have to make this journey battling against the defenses of the man's body...but there seems to be within their midst a traitor. Equipment begins to fail and there are a string of "accidents"--is it just coincidence or is there someone who would prefer that the mission fail? Forstanding in the balance is not just one man's life....but possibly the fate of the world. The dying man is a great scientist who has defected from "The Other Side" of the Cold War (it's amazing how Russia is never named) and who holds a great secret in his brain. The crew's mission is to operate on a blood clot that threatens that secret--a blood clot that cannot be reached from the outside.

There is plenty of action and a little bit of romance between the token female and the hero (feminists might have a problem with some of the dialogue and action, but one would do well to remember that it is a product of its time). The identity of the possible traitor is a well-kept secret until the end and the reader is left to guess until then. And, if one didn't know that this was written during a time of "happy endings," one might even wonder if the mission were going to be successful.

Asimov rarely disappoints--particularly when the material is all his--and has not done so here. Even though I can tell that this is not pure Asimov, it is still a very good story and a fun and exciting read. I gave it four stars when I read it before...three and a half now.

An Award for Finishing

Today I wrapped up the A-Z Blogging Challenge. It's hard to believe that we've made it all the way through the alphabet already. Each day in April (except for Sundays) I have posted on something related to the Day's letter. If you missed my posts, you can click on the "Bloggin A-Z" label and find them that way. Although it was difficult to come up with something for a couple of the letters, I've had a great time and am really glad I joined in. AND--just because I finished--Elizabeth Mueller at Author Elizabeth Mueller has given me (and all the finishers) this lovely Award. Thanks, Elizabeth! And congrats to you and all those who finished the challenge!

Saturday Snapshot: April 30

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.

As you may have noticed from my Follower News Alert at the top of my blog....I'm currently in recovery from surgery. Everyone has been so very nice and I have received "Get Well Goodies" from my parents, the folks at work, and my wonderful Grad Students. I just had to share....

A lovely Spring bouquet from my parents....

Balloons from my very sweet co-workers (shhh, I wasn't supposed to tell you she's a sweetie)...

Gorgeous (and HUGE) bouquet of flowers from the Graduate Students....

A-Z Blogging: Letter Z

Wow. It's the last day of April and the last day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. It's hard to believe that we've made it all the way through the alphabet already. April 30th is brought to you by the Letter Z.

Z is for Zowie! As in Zowie are we at the end already? Z is such a difficult letter especially for someone like me who is trying to stick to a book and/or reading theme. So, here are a few literary related Z words for the final day of the Challenge.

Z is for Zenda. As in The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. A late Victorian tale of swordplay, derring-do, and a gallant gentleman who just happens to be an exact double for a King. I just finished this one recently--click the title for a review.

Z is also for Zelda Fitzgerald. I've also read a biography about her this year as part of my reading challenges. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: an American Woman's Life by Linda Wagner was a fascinating look at the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife--and an attempt to focus on Zelda as Zelda rather than on her life as the wife of a famous American author. (Again, you may click on the title for my review.)

And Z is for Miss Zukas. Miss Helma Zukas, the librarian turned amateur detective, who is the star of a cozy mystery series written by Jo Dereske. These are very nice mysteries--just right when you want good writing with interesting characters but don't want to think real hard when it comes to the puzzle of the mystery. I haven't read any of these since I started blogging, so I have no reviews to offer--but I can say that I always grab them up when I find one I haven't read yet.

Finally (although, I'm sure there are more Z-words out there), Z is for Zafon--Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of the absolutely fabulous The Shadow of the Wind (read before blogging & reviewing began) and The Angel's Game, which is on my TBR list for a few of the challenges I've got lined up this year. Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind has sold millions of copies worldwide and earned many international awards. The story takes place in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona and focuses on a boy, Daniel Sempere. His father has introduced him to the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books: a huge library of forgotten books preserved by a small group who know the secret. Traditionally, those who have been initiated into the secret may choose one book from the collection and then are bound to protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carfax. He likes the book so much that he searches for other novels by the author, but cannot find any--and, more importantly, he finds that a man using the name of a character from Carfax's book has been buying up and destroying all of the author's work. It is up to Daniel to discover the secrets behind this man's behavior.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Prisoner of Zenda: Review

The Prisoner of Zenda is a fun little tale of adventure and derring-do written at the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is) by Anthony Hope. It is a well-known tale. There is danger to a famous personage (in this case, the King of Ruritania) and there just happens to be a distant cousin who looks exactly like him on the spot who can fill in and help out. There have been many a book and many a film based on this idea (Danny Kaye starred in perhaps five different versions of this sort of thing), but told right it makes for a good story. Fortunately, Anthony Hope tells it right.

In Zenda we have Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman whose family has distant ("wrong side of the blanket") ties to the royal family of Ruritania. These ties are evidenced by the red hair and straight nose which shows up every couple of generations...and which our hero, Rudolf, of course, displays. At the beginning of the novel, Rudolf is being chastised by his sister-in-law for not doing anything. He is a younger son who, in these days before two world wars will so change everything, has enough of a competence that he doesn't have to do anything. To please her, he says that he will, in six months, take up a post as an attache to an ambassador. In the meantime, the subject of Ruritania has come up and he decides that he will take a vacation to that land of his distant kin.

Quite by chance, he finds himself at the same inn as the soon to be crowned King and it is remarked how similar they are in feature--save that the King is now clean-shaven and Rudolf sports a mustache and an "imperial" (beard, presume). When trouble enters the picture and it becomes apparent that the King's half-brother is plotting to take over the kingdom, Rudolf bravely offers his services to foil the plot. This plot begins with drugged wine which so incapicitates the King that it seems he won't be able to attend his own coronation--that is the opening that "Black Michael" is waiting for. Rudolf agrees to impersonate the King at the coronation ceremony and afterward to help protect the monarch. The plot takes many twists and turns--involving the kidnapping of the King, a longer impersonation than planned, and many swordfights and midnight chases. Things are made all the more difficult when Rudolf falls in love with the King's intended, Princess Flavia.

This is an old-fashioned tale about when men were men and loyalty meant something. It is also a great story of the triumph of good over evil. In today's world, it may seem a little overwrought and dramatic, but there's nothing wrong with a good, solid story of good men and good deeds. Oh, and don't forget the good women. We have one who risks her life to aid and warn those loyal to the King and we have Princess Flavia who is willing to deny herself her one true love in order to do her duty to her people and fulfill her own brand of loyalty. A very stirring tale on all counts. Four stars.

Black Sheep: Review

Abigail Wendover, "on the shelf" at 28, is determined to prevent Fanny, her pretty and high-spirited niece, from becoming attached to Stacy Calverleigh, a good-looking town-beau and an acknowledged fortune-hunter of shocking reputation. Miles Calverleigh, the black sheep of his family, enormously rich from a long sojourn in India, has a scandalous past, and is not at all inclined toward good manners. Could he be Abby's most important ally in keeping her niece from a most unfortunate match? But Miles turns out to be the most provoking creature Abigail has ever met--with a disconcerting ability to throw her into giggles at quite the wrong moment....

Normally I find Georgette Heyer's Regency romances very soothing at the very least and exceptional historical writing at the very most. While Black Sheep was soothing to a certain extent, I didn't find myself quite so caught up in the world of the Regency era as I have in the past. I'm not sure if that says more about me and my restlessness in the recovery room or the book. Heyer's story was a fine one--of course, it followed the well-worn trend of these romances to have the apparent black sheep wind up being the hero in disguise. But I just felt a little jaded while reading it. Usually, there are at least one or two characters in Heyer's work that really grab my attention and make the book for me. I can't say that this happened this time. Having a fondness for Heyer's writing, and knowing that I may be a little out of sorts because of the surgery, I am giving this one a solid three stars. I may have to come back to this one another time and see if it's better than what I think at the moment.

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 up at Freda's site.

Here's mine from The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope:

The King's interest demanded secrecy; and while secrecy lasted, I had a fine game to play in Strelsau, Michael should not grow stronger for the delay!

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 The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope:

"I wonder when in the world you're going to do anything, Rudolf?" said my brother's wife.

Something tells me...just from the title....that he (or someone) is going to do something. Pretty soon.

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter Y

Ready for the last three letters on the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Here we are at Day 25 and April 29th is brought to you by the Letter Y. Which was a hard one for me. Especially since I'm trying to keep my entries tied to books and reading. But after much racking of the brains....

Y is for Margaret Yorke. Margaret Yorke is the pen name for Margaret Beda Nicholson, a British mystery writer and chairman of the Crime Writer's Association from 1979-80. She has been awarded the 1999 Diamond Dagger for her contributions to the field and the Martin Beck Award from the Swedish Academy of Detection for her novel The Scent of Fear.

Her series detective is Patrick Grant, an Oxford don who shares her love of Shakespeare. Grant appears in five novels written during the 1970s. She has also written almost forty non-series mysteries. Her novels cover everything from the cozy mystery to the suspenseful thriller.

One more letter to go!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Theme Thursday

Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

*A theme will be posted each week on Thursday
*Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading 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 Atmosphere (something that suggests "spooky," "tense," "romantic," etc) and was suggested by yours truly! Let's see what I can do with my own suggestion [not a whole lot as it winds up, I read over a hundred pages before coming up with this]....

Here's mine from Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (page 186):

But no one watching her as she moved among her guests on Thursday evening, would have suspected that anything had ruffled her serenity....

An Author Bites the Dust: Review

I am so glad that I discovered Arthur W. Upfield. His An Author Bites the Dust is an absolutely delightful mystery and I think I'm in love with Inspector "Bony" Bonaparte. He can train his deep blue eyes on me and ask those penetrating questions all he wants to. Oh, darn. He's married and so am I. :-)

Upfield writes intelligent prose that gives the reader exactly what she needs and nothing more. The descriptions of both people and place are apt and brilliantly done without being too wordy. He has gotten the characterizations of "snooty" literary folk down to a "T." The dialogue is sharp and witty and there are no wasted words. I've definitely found myself a new current favorite. And am particularly interested to try more work by an Austalian author. I tend to focus primarily on British writers.

In this mystery a literary clique is gathered for a house party at the home of Mervyn Blake. Blake is a famous author and critic who is used to character assassination and back-stabbing--as are his guests. But the house party is shocked when Blake is found dead in his writing room and the cause of death is not immediately apparent. The local inspector decides that it must be natural causes, but his superior is not satisfied and brings in Detective Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte to see if he can find fresh evidence. Bony finds himself in a world that is a far cry from the bush characters that he is used to and must find clues among the literary hates and jealousies. And the clues are few and far between...a cat and his favorite ping pong ball, an alcoholic gardner, and a mysterious return visit by one of the guests when he believes himself unobserved. But it is Bony's shrewd knowledge of human nature that ultimately wins the day.

If this is how Bony manages an investigation when he's out of his element I can't wait to see what he's like at home. Four and a half stars out of five!

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter X

Ready for the last three letters on the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Here we are at Day 24 and April 28th is brought to you by the Letter X.

And X is for......"Mr. X" or just "X." The designation often given to the unknown villain in detective novels. When the detective doesn't have enough information to guess much about the culprit in question, s/he often refers to them as "X." Or, conversely, if the detective thinks he knows who the villain is, but isn't yet ready to divulge the information. Philip MacDonald even went so far as to name one of his mysteries "Warrant for X."

X, of course, could also stand for "X marks the spot." Many classic crime novels employed the use of a map in the story. And often the site of the crime was marked with a nice tidy little X. Just so the reader would absolutely know where the foul deed was done. For those stories that involve a bit of a treasure hunt..."X marks the spot" takes on another meaning. Then it represents the place where the treasure seekers will find the hidden booty...whether that be pirate treasure in an adventure novel or the missing will in a mystery story. X can mean so many things...what does it mean for you?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Reader's Block: Blogiversary!

I knew it was going to happen....I knew that I would miss it. But, as of April 24th, I have been blogging for a whole year. Happy Blogiversary to me! My goodness, how time has flown. And how much I've learned since those first, few tentative steps into the blogisphere. I've had such a good time with this. What started out as a plan for a simple reading journal has put me in contact with some of the most fabulous people. I have enjoyed getting to know all of you out here--both my fellow book bloggers and those of you who have other interests.

And I want to say a big THANK YOU to all my followers...whether you visit all the time and comment like crazy or just peek in every now and then...I'm grateful to know that there are those out there who are interested in what I do here. I can't believe that I'm almost up to 300! I had thought I might do something when I reached 250, but life was a bit too crazy then. So...when I do reach 300, we're gonna party like it's my birthday. Or at least like it's my blogiversary!

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 An Author Bites the Dust by Arthur W. Upfield:

Mulga forests: The mulga can be a small tree up to 9 m, with a well-defined main stem and angled branches, or a shrub 2 to 5 m tall with highly angled branches. The species has a very wide distribution, from Western Australia near Shark Bay, through central Australia to mid-west Queensland and New South Wales.

Gibber flats: barren places that are covered with small stones; characteristic of the Australian Outback

Context: It is a far cry from the inland plains and mulga forests and gibber flats, swooning in the grip of the relentless sun, to the Valley of the Yarra, bright green an luscious and temperatre. (p. 22)

Verdure: The lush greenness of flourishing vegetation.

Context: So here he was a thousand miles or so from his own stamping grounds, seated at ease a few yards from a main highway instead of a winding camel pad, living in a country of flowing water and green verdure instead of flowing sand and brick-red, sun-baked earth. (p. 23-4)

Favorite Authors: A-Z

I saw this meme posted at What Red Read...who found it over at The Book Stop. We're supposed to list our favorite authors from A-Z--one for each letter of the alphabet. I knew that because of my mystery addiction, I could probably fill up an alphabet with just mystery to make it a bit more challenging, I've done two lists one with general fiction and poetry and one with mystery authors only. Let's see how I did:

General Fiction & Poetry
A: Jane Austen
B: Julian Barnes
C: Lewis Carroll
D: Emily Dickinson
E: Umberto Eco
F: Gustave Flaubert
G: Oliver Goldsmith
H: Robert A. Heinlein
I: [only if I count my mystery author, Michael Innes]
J: James Joyce
K: Maxine Hong Kingston (actually for non-fiction)
L: David Lodge & D. H. Lawrence
M: Edna St. Vincent Millay
N: Vladamir Nabokov

O: Michael Ondaatje

P: Katherine Anne Porter & Edgar Allan Poe

Q: [only if I count my mystery author, Ellery Queen]

R: Rainer Maria Rilke

S: Robert Louis Stevenson

T: Mark Twain

U: Samrat Upadhyay

V: Jules Verne

W: Oscar Wilde


Y: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Z: Roger Zelazny

Mystery Authors
A: Margery Allingham

B: Leo Bruce

C: Agatha Christie; John Dickson Carr; Edmund Crispin

D: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

E: Margaret Erskine

F: E. X. (Elizabeth) Ferrars

G: Kerry Greenwood

H: Cyril Hare

I: Michael Innes

J: P. D. James

K: Laurie R. King

L: Frances & Richard Lockridge

M: Philip MacDonald & Ngaio Marsh

N: Simon Nash

O: Anthony Oliver
P: Stuart Palmer
Q: Ellery Queen

R: Ruth Rendell

S: Dorothy L Sayers

T: Josephine Tey

U: Arthur W. Upfield

V: S. S. Van Dine

W: Henry Wade


Y: Margaret Yorke

Z: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I did much better with the mystery field. I'm doing the Mystery Authors A-Z Challenge and have a name down for X (Ye Xin: A Pair of Jade Frogs), but I haven't been able to find and read it yet, so I didn't feel like I could claim it for X.

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter W

Heading into the home stretch on the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Here we are at Day 23 and April 27th is brought to you by the Letter W.

W is for

WWW: Wednesdays which is hosted by MizB ofver at Should Be Reading. This is a weekly meme that I have been participating in for almost a year now. This week we'll be taking a look at two week's worth of reading....because last Wednesday I was too busy having surgery to pay attention to what I'd been 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?

An Author Bites the Dust by Arthur W. Upfield.
A literary clique is gathered together at a house party put on by Mervyn Blake. Blake is a famous author and critic who is used to character assassination and verbal backstabbing. The house party is shocked when an actual assassination takes place and their host if found dead in his writing room. The cause of death is not immediately apparent. Detective Inspector Bonaparte finds himself in a world that is a far cry from the bush characters he is used to and must find clues among the literary hates and jealousies. It is Bony's shrewd observation of human nature that will win the day.

Read Since the Last WWW: Wednesday (click titles for reviews):
The Innocent Bottle by Anthony Gilbert
The New Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen
My Foe Outstretch'd Beneath the Tree by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley
The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Third Girl by Agatha Christie
The Porcupine by Julian Barnes
Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer
Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection by Michael Cox (ed)
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout

Up Next:
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner
Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Death of a Doxy: Review

Death of a Doxy marks a few unusual passages for Rex Stout's famous orichid-loving sleuth. Nero Wolfe finds himself taking on a case with no pay in sight and, more importantly, he stands in the presence of a woman. That's something he does rarely in the presence of men, let alone ever in the presence of sex that he is so uncomfortable with. And, by the end of the book, she is calling him Nero. Not Mr. Wolfe. This is one of the few times that Stout invested more of his creative energy in one of the non-series characters and he did so to good effect. Julie Jaquette more than gives Wolfe a run for his money With so many out-of-the-ordinary factors, one might think that this book would not sit well with a tried-and-true Stout fan. Not so. This winds up being one of my favorite Wolfe books.

In this one, Wolfe finds himself involved in a murder case when Orrie Cather, one of his sometime operatives, is collared for the death of a doxy--mistress or paramour to a rich man. Orrie had been fooling around with Isabel Kerr but decided to end the affair when he fell in love with a stewardess. Only Kerr didn't want things to end and kept a few mementos in her apartment. When she is found dead in her apartment and the items pointing to Cather are found as well, the cops put two and two together and get five. Nevermind that Nero Wolfe has told them that Cather is innocent (haven't they learned yet that Wolfe is never wrong?)--they've got all the circumstantial evidence they need and look no further. It's up to Wolfe--aided by Archie Goodwin and other legmen, Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin--to dig up the clues that will lead to the real culprit.

It doesn't take them long to discover that Miss Kerr had been the kept woman of a very prominent man of business and that there were several people who might not have wanted that fact to get out. Also in the picture is a nasty blackmailer and a sexy lounge singer. Wolfe starts out to solve the crime purely out of obligation to Orrie Cather (and with no fee in sight) at the end he finds himself faced with the puzzle of how to earn fifty thousand dollars--which he can only do if certain facts are not made public. Can he do that and still see justice done?

The puzzle itself is not a difficult one. I actually stayed neck and neck with Wolfe on making deductions--that's rare enough. What made the book for me was the character of Julie Jacquette and her interactions with Nero Wolfe. And her scene with Inspector Cramer was worth the whole book in and of itself. Four stars out of five.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection

Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection, edited by Michael Cox, gives us a sampling of some of the finest tales written from the 1840s to the early 20th Century. Authors include everyone from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe, and Sax Rohmer to Baroness Orczy. Readers are given a vast array of murderers and miscreants, detectives and villains, and methods and motives. There are old familiar favorites such as "The Purloined Letter" and virtual unknowns like "The Clue of the Silver Spoons" by Robert Barr. Something for every taste and mood.

I am well-acquainted with Poe's "Purloined Letter" and with both of the Holmes stories included here ("The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and "The Lost Special")--and while I delight in the stories of these masters of the early detective novel, it was even more delightful to discover new Victorian treats.

Here are the best of those new treats:

"The Murdered Cousin" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I just discovered Le Fanu this past fall. I read a collection of his ghost stories for one of my Fall Challenges. "The Murdered Cousin," written in 1851 is billed as one of the earliest locked room stories. The story is full of atmosphere and leans more towards the gothic than detective fiction. There is no final summing up and the villains get away, but it is still a very satisfying story.

"Hunted Down" by Charles Dickens. A tale of murder done and a revenge that's due. It starts off slow but builds to a wonderful climax.

"Levison's Victim" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (of Lady Audley's Secret fame). Another story of revenge for murder committed. This time the revenge stays within the bounds of the law.

"The Mystery at Number Seven" by Mrs. Henry Wood. Very suspenseful and enjoyable. A bit of a surprise at the end.

"The Mystery of Essex Stairs" by Sir Gilbert Campbell. A short and tidy little mystery which manages to include a dramatic courtroom scene.

"Daggers Drawn" by C. L. Pirkis. I have long had The Experiences of Loveday Brooks, Lady Detective on my list of books to look for. I am very glad to have had a chance to read one of the short stories included in that volume. "Daggers Drawn" pays homage to Sherlock Holmes and I find Miss Brooks' way of keeping clues to herself very much in the Holmes style. Very feminist characterization for the time period.

"The Ivy Cottage Mystery" by Arthur Morrison. A tidy little mystery with an interesting twist. I guessed part but not all.

"Murder by Proxy" by M. McDonnell Bodkin. A rather ingenious "locked room" story. Elegantly told with very interesting characters.

"The Clue of the Silver Spoons" by Robert Barr. A nifty bit of sleight of hand...both in the story itself and by the author of this intriguing little mystery.

Overall, I enjoyed the stories in this volume very much. Some were a bit obvious...but I'm sure they were much more startling to the reading public at the time. Given the many years of mystery-mongering between the Victorian Age and now, it's much more difficult to surprise today's reader. But there were some definite gems. 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 Story of The Spaniards, Hammersmith" by E. & H. Heron collected in Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection by Michael Cox (ed):

"The ways of spirits are strange to us simply because we need further data to help us to interpret them."

"It's a new point of view," returned Houston, "but upon my word, you know, Low, I think you're wasting your time!"

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter V

Heading into the home stretch on the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Here we are at Day 22 and April 26th is brought to you by the Letter V.

V is for Vintage Mysteries. Of course. Anyone who knows me or follows my blog just had to see that one coming. Just what do I mean by a Vintage Mystery? Loosely speaking--anything written before, say, 1960 (according to my Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge). Although, there are some Vintage Mystery authors whose work spills over that deadline. What I'm really looking for is a style of mystery. What has been dubbed by others as "Golden Age." I'm partial to British mysteries of the period. But any mystery from anywhere that follows the fair play rules will do. I'm looking for mysteries where all the clues necessary are laid out for the reader. There may be oodles of red herrings and it may seem near impossible to distinguish the real clues from the false--but a careful reader can go back through the book and see that, had they been paying enough attention, they could have solved the mystery.

There is also a certain atmosphere to this sort of mystery. It is a time when life seemed to play out a little slower. There are large country houses where one can attend weekend parties. There tend to be butlers and maids and other servants running around and helping to make things a little more mysterious. There is more respect for the law and there is a lot less emphasis on psycological thrills and blood and gore. Often, the murder takes place off-stage. The primary focus of the book is the puzzle--who did it and how? We're not so much interested in the fact that murderer was neglected as a baby and then ridiculed as a young man and that's why he did it. Not that those sorts of books aren't interesting--but that's not what we're here for.

I like my Vintage Mysteries because they take me to a time and place that doesn't exist any more. They offer harmless escape from a world that is "too much with us"--from a world where blood and gore seem to hold the headlines every day. I like having a place where I can pit my "little grey cells" up against the likes of Poirot...and even if I can't get to the solution before he does, I know I will be satisfied with the ending.

Monday, April 25, 2011

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):
Third Girl by Agatha Christie
The Porcupine by Julian Barnes
Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer

Currently Reading:
Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection: An Oxford Anthology by Michael Cox (ed & selected by)
In this entertaining anthology Michael Cox ha assembled a wide ranging selection of 31 stories from authors such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mr. Henry Wood and Fergus Hume. There are police detectives, gentleman amateurs, lady detectives, professional consulting detectives and even an "anti-detective." The villains against whom they pit their wits are equally various, as are their crimes--from fraud and forgery to theft and abduction, and, of course, murder most foul.

Books that spark my interest:
Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner
Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter U

Day 21 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day in April (except Sundays) I will be doing a post for each letter of the alphabet. I have been sticking to my plan and making most of my posts about reading and/or books. April 25th is brought to you by the Letter U.

U is for Upfield. Arthur W. Upfield. Upfield was a mystery writer who was born in Britain but lived in Australia all his life. He is best known for his series starring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte ("Bony") of the Queensland Police Force. Bony was created and based upon a man whom Upfield had met in his travels. "Tracker Leon" Wood was a "half-caste" (in the language of the day) Aboriginal man who was employed by the Queensland Police. Upfield's novels are known as detective stories that are good puzzles and yet have solid characters and backgrounds. They tend to avoid the more familiar patterns found in other crime novels of his day.

Upfield is on my mind because I have one of his novels on my TBR list for some of my challenges. Looming in my future is An Author Bites the Dust. In this one, a literary clique is gathered together at a house party put on by Mervyn Blake. Blake is a famous author and critic who is used to character assassination and verbal backstabbing. The house party is shocked when an actual assassination takes place and their host if found dead in his writing room. The cause of death is not immediately apparent. Detective Inspector Bonaparte finds himself in a world that is a far cry from the bush characters he is used to and must find clues among the literary hates and jealousies. It is Bony's shrewd observation of human nature that will win the day.

Spring Serenity Read-a-Thon: Starting Line

The Spring's Serenity Read-a-Thon is off and running. Sponsored by The True Book Addict, it runs from today, Monday, April 25th, through Sunday, May 1st and from 12:00 am Monday through 11:59 Sunday. You can join in any time through the week and read as little or as much as you want. It's all about personally challenging ourselves and also having fun as a community of readers. I'm in and I hope you'll join in as well. Click the link above and visit her site to sign up at the starting line.

I am beginning my reading in mid-book. Starting at page 258 of Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection by Michael Cox (ed). Not sure where I'm headed after that...but the book's 600 pages long, so I've got a while to think about it!

Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection by Michael Cox (ed) (4/26/11) [320 pages]
2. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout (4/26/11) [174 pages]
3. An Author Bites the Dust by Arthur W. Upfield (4/27/11) [224 pages]
4. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (4/28/11) [279 pages]
5. Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (4/29/11) [168 pages]
6. Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov (4/30/11) [186 pages]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Behold, Here's Poison

 When Gregory Matthews was found dead in his bed one morning, most of his family thought it was due to blood pressure and over-eating. The doctor was even willing to sign off on the death certificate....but then Matthews' meddling sister takes one look at the corpse and decides she's not satisfied. What a surprise for the family to find out that it wasn't the roast duck that did Gregory in, but a dose of nicotine poisoning. Now it's up to Inspector Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway to get to the bottom of the family secrets.

Gregory Matthews, true to crime fiction form, was one of those crusty, difficult men who liked having power over his relations. So, everyone in the house had a reason to be glad that the old man was out of the way. Everyone from Guy, his nephew, who most certainly did not want to be shipped off to South America to Stella, his niece, who didn't like being told that she couldn't marry the doctor. Even Gregory's sisters will find the house a little easier to manage without his demanding ways.

Behold, Here's Poison follows in the Heyer mystery tradition--lots of alibis, a bickering family, an unlikeable main character who just happens to turn into the romantic lead. It's all here. Most of the time, that's a good thing--and this is noted as being one of Heyer's most popular detective novels. I'm not sure if I'm feeling a little more picky because of surgery or what--but this time it didn't go over quite as well for me. The bickering in the opening chapters seems a little too strident to me. The sudden transformation of the unlikeable main character was just that--too sudden. Heyer generally does this sort of thing well, so you might take my rating with a grain of salt. The best part of the novel for me was when Hannasyde and Hemingway showed up. I enjoy their characters very much and the dialogue and interactions with them was bang on target. Two and a half stars.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flaubert's Parrot: Review

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes could also be titled A Book in Search of a Plot. 'Cause if you're looking for're not gonna find it here. This is not exactly what I would call fiction. And it's not exactly what I would call biography or memoir. Some folks (in GoodReads and Visual Bookshelf Reviews) are calling it metafiction or postmodern. It's some kind of mix of all of that. Barnes pays tribute to Flaubert in all of his human shortcomings, artistry and genius.

Supposedly the narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite--a retired physician who is also an obsessive amateur Flaubert scholar--sets out to uncover the truth about Flaubert. And, more importantly, the truth about the parrot that Falubert mentions in Un coeur simple. Is there a real parrot? If so which of the parrots that Braithwaite encounters in his journey is the real parrot?

This novel is about love and infidelity, language and life, hubris, pride and humility. It is about the ways we try to get to know other human beings and how we almost always fail to do so as thoroughly as we think.

Is this the kind of novel I really like? No. Would I have deliberately sat down to read it if I had truly known what it was going to be like? No. Am I glad I read it? You betcha. Difficult as it was for me to ease into, Barnes writes so well that I found the unexpected postmodern metafiction thoroughly enjoyable. Three stars out of five.

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Letter T

Here we are at Day 20
of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day in April (except Sundays) I will be doing a post for each letter of the alphabet. I have been sticking to my plan and making most of my posts about reading and/or books. April 23rd is brought to you by the Letter T.

T is for TBR. That mystical "To Be Read" pile or list. Towers of books. Tons and tons of books. Piles all around the back room. Shelves of books just waiting to be read. If you're like me, there are more than enough books on that TBR list to last for the rest of your life. I figured it out--based on the the average number of books that I read a year and going to one of those sites that will estimate your life expectancy--if I don't buy another book to add to my TBR piles, I still won't have time to read everything I've got in the house right now. (Shhhh! Don't tell my husband. He'll just offer that as proof that I don't need to buy any more...) But that won't keep me from adding to the piles.

And that doesn't even count the TBR lists that exist virtually--the books that I've come across through other bloggers or someone has recommended to me or I've just seen somewhere and thought might be interesting to read sometime. And then there's the TBO list (To Be Owned)--those are the vintage mysteries and other books that I have on my "gotta have 'em" list. That's the list I take with me whenever we go on vacation--because you never know when you might find a used bookstore.

It sortof sounds like I'm addicted, doesn't it? Well, at least it's a harmless little long as I don't start spending the grocery money on my books.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Four Things...Just for Fun

What Red Read has tempted me into doing this fun little meme...Answer each question with four things.
Four jobs I've had in my life:1. Lawn mower
2. Car hop at root beer stand
3. Prep cook
4. pharmacy tech
Four books I would read over and over again: Link1. Any Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy L Sayers
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3. Any Phryne Fisher novel by Kerry Greenwood
4. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

Four places I have lived:
1. Wabash, IN
2. North Manchester, IN
3. Spencer, IN
4. Bloomington, IN

Four books I would recommend:
1. Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers
2. The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson
3. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
4. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

Four places I have been:
1. New York City
2. Estes Park, Colorado
3. Boundary Waters (between Minnesota & Canada)
4. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Pizza
2. Mom's macaroni & cheese
3. Chocolate Chip Cookies
4. homemade bread

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. England
2. Estes Park, Colorado (Rockies!)
3. Silver Lake, Michigan (most beautiful beach ever)
4. Disney World

Four of my favorite drinks:
1. diet 7-Up
2. iced tea
3. lemonade
4. apple juice

Four people that are very special in my life:
1. husband
2. son
3. Mom & Dad
4. all my good friends (Kristal, Heather, Paula, Nikki, Richard, Nick....)