Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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 participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Just starting The Caravaggio Books by Bernard Peterson. Here are my teasers (p. 33):

There was no sign of a fight, or even of a struggle. I mean, the papers were still all neatly piled up, the books open and in place, pen and pencils on the desk, nothing on the floor. There was no thrashing about, you know?

The After House: Review

Many thanks to Ryan over at Wordsmithonia for bringing The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart to my attention. Despite my love for vintage mysteries, I have only read one other book by Rinehart (The Window at the White Cat) back before my blogging days--and that one made no great impression on me. But I could not resist this one after reading Ryan's excellent review (link above will take you there).

Ralph Leslie, who has spent all his funds training to be a doctor, is just out of hospital and fresh out of cash. A bout of typhoid put him in the hospital and while he was recovering he watched a refit of Marshall Turner's schooner-turned-yacht. An intense longing for the sea takes hold of Leslie and as soon as he is discharged, he signs up as a steward for the yacht's first pleasure cruise. His job seems fairly easy, one could say smooth sailing, at first...until one sultry August night when his dream voyage becomes a nightmare of murder. One of the ship's officers disappears overboard. But the worst is yet to come. Before the night is over, three more will die at the hands of a murderer wielding an axe. With panic among the passengers and crew alike and a drunken owner in no condition to take charge, it is up to Leslie to remain calm enough to see the stricken boat back to shore and a murderer caught. IF he can stay alive long enough and that will prove to be no easy task.

I found Rinehart's writing, plotting, and use of atmosphere much more compelling in this outing than in my previous read. This is a very short book--but she uses the space well to build up a keen sense of the terror and shock those aboard the
Ella must have felt when murder was let loose in their midst. My only quibble was with the court scenes--a lot of rehashing of the story we had already been through. But it did reveal a few minor points that were useful to the final conclusion. Overall, a very enjoyable read. I'm glad I gave Rinehart another try and will certainly read more as they come along. Three and a half stars.

May 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 May:

Total Books Read: 22
Total Pages: 5815
Percentage by Female Authors: 61%
Percentage by US Authors: 18%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 9%
Percentage Fiction: 95%
Percentage written 2000+: 24%
Percentage of Rereads: 24%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100%
Percentage Mystery: 66%

Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: Eight!

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are asked to give our Top Ten Books That Ought To Be in Your Beach Bag.

For me, there is no such thing as a beach read. There is simply whatever book I happen to be in the mood for at the moment (or, as I've found in my blogging life, needs to be read for a challenge). But looking at the spirit of the thing, here are my choices.

1. Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers: the first Lord Peter book is so light an breezy, just the thing for a summer read.

2. Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers: I love Sayers. There must be two in the bag.

3. Murder, Murder, Murder: A Mr. & Mrs. North Omnibus by Frances & Richard Lockridge: This might be a cheat--three books for the price of one. But The Norths Meet Murder, Murder Out of Turn, and A Pinch of Poison are all so delightful, it's hard to pick just one. With an omnibus, I don't have to.

4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

5. Miss Fortescue Steps Out by Marion Chesney; Light, frothy, fun.

6. Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: My favorite Tey novel. I could read it anywhere...even on a beach.

7. Dead Man's Chest or Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood: The Phryne Fisher books are always fun. These two are particularly well-themed for beach-reading.

8. The Herring-Seller's Apprentice by L. C. Tyler. Comic mystery writing at its best.

9. The James Joyce Murder by Amanda Cross: One of my favorite academic mysteries.

10. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King: The first of the Holmes & Russell stories.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Religious Body: Review

Just recently I read Past Tense, the most current in Catherine Aird's Inspector Sloan series. When I was hunting around for more books to read for the Birth Year Challenge: Time Machine Version, I was interested to see that the very first Sloan book, The Religious Body, was published in my target year: 1966. It's been a long time since I read Sloan's initial outing and it was very nice to go back and remind myself where it all began.

Our first look at Inspector C. D. Sloan is of a man perplexed. He "had never been inside a Convent before. He had, he reckoned been inside most places of female confinement in his working life--hospitals, prisons, orphanages, offices, and even--once--a girls' boarding school." But never a convent--and he's not quite sure of the rules nor how the rules will shape or interfere with his investigation. You would think that in a closed society where everything runs according to form and schedule that anything out of the ordinary would immedately be noticed--not so in the case of the sudden death of Sister Anne. Her fellow nuns have been trained to "the custody of the eyes"--not to notice what does not concern them, which apparently is most anything that might help Sloan in his investigation.

Sister Anne has been hit over the head with the proverbial blunt instrument and then flung down the convent's cellar steps in the hopes that the death will be put down to accident. Unfortunately for the murderer, the sharp-eyed doctor who attends the nuns notices some irregularities in the "accident" scene and insists that the police be notified. Enter Inspector Sloan and his assistant Detective-Constable Crosby who must try to find out why anyone would want to kill a cloistered nun. While delving into her past, Sloan discovers that Sister Anne came from a moneyed family...and depending on the timing of various deaths stood to inherit a fair sum. She had spoken of her expectations and her desire to see the convent benefit. Did one of her sisters speed her death thinking the inheritance more definite for St. Anselm? Could a nun under vows do such a thing? Or, has one of her relatives, hastened her death to prevent the money from leaving the family? Sloan finds himself looking into the past for the answers he seeks before he can bring the case to a successful conclusion.

Catherine Aird writes a very nice modern version of the classic British mystery. They are cozy and satifying with just enough of the understated British wit. I like the little mental asides that accompanying most of Sloan's interactions--very wry and not quite sarcastic. And this is an excellent debut novel. The characters are well-grounded and her descriptions give you a very definite sense of place. I originally gave this mystery four stars...I stand by that rating now.

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):
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Howards End Is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Currently Reading:
The Religious Body by Catherine Aird: "Sister Anne," said the Mother Superior unperturbed, "died on Wednesday evening sometime after supper, probably in the corridor leading from the Great Hall to the kitchens. Her body was put into the broom cupboard and later thrown down the cellar steps. "Who would want to kill a cloistered num? But, astonishingly, someone had. It was as much of a surprise to the sisters of the Convent of St. Anselm as it was to Inspector C. D. Sloan, Criminal Investigation Department. But now it was up to the Inspector to find the motive and the murderer.

Books that spark my interest:

The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey
The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Howards End Is on the Landing: Review

Books help to form us. If you cut me open, will you find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted into me? Alice in Wonderland. The Magic Faraway Tree. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Book of Job. Bleak House. Wuthering Heights. The Complete Poems of W. H. Auden. The Tale of Mr. Tod. Howards End. What a strange person I must be. But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA.

Howards End Is on the Landing (p. 202)
~Susan Hill

It isn't often that a book comes along that I want to underline just about every sentence....or at least snag them for my quote collection. Susan Hill's book is such a one. Howards End Is on the Landing
is Hill's journey through her books. One autumn afternoon she is in search of a certain book, but her collection is strewn throughout her house in various rooms, on sundry bookshelves. There is no definite order. Certain books have congregated together--but the logic sometimes escapes her. And as she searches she discovers old friends fondly remembered and strangers that she has never read or even forgotten she ever bought. This discovery sparks a decision to spend a year reading only books from her shelves, sending her on a journey to get to know her own collection again.

Her journey takes her from Shakespeare to Dickens, from W. H. Auden to Roald Dahl, and from Virginia Woolf to Iris Murdoch. Along the way, she shares conversations with authors she has known, visits to libraries she has loved, and the books she has devoured through a lifetime of reading. She gives us comments on the writers, insights into reading, and a window into what informed her own writing. This is a marvelous book for those who love reading. It is part memoir and part review and is very conversational in tone. And I find myself in total agreement with her on the subject of books--no electronic reader can ever give the satisfaction of holding a book in your hand or walking into a room completely shelved in books, whether that be a personal or public library or a bookstore. There is something special about the presence of books that a glowing screen cannot match. Borrowed from the library, but destined to be owned as soon as possible. Five stars.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Library Loot: May 25-31

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.

Just one book this week:
The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart: Newly out of the hospital and totally out of funds, young Ralph Leslie longed for a sea voyage. So he jumped at the chance to sign aboard millionaire Marshall Turner's luxurious super-yacht as a steward to the passengers lodged in its after house. His job was easy sailing--until one sultry night the dream voyage suddenly became a nightmare of blood and terror. One ship's office was thrown overboard. Another was hacked to death with an axe. The killer struck again and again, and the Ella was awash in a wave of panic that engulfed passengers and crew alike. Only one hand aboard--ex-landlubber Leslie--seemed enough in control to stay the bloody hand of the murderer. But he'd have to stay alive to do it--and that wasn't going to be easy!

And a find in the Friends of the Library Book Store:

The Seance by John Harwood: A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth, by the author of The Ghost Writer. "Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there . . ." So begins The Séance, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late-Victorian England.

Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance’s sister, the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a séance: perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest that will blight her life.

It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains—and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house and a mystery. Years before, a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside with a sinister reputation.Now the Hall belongs to Constance. And she must descend into the darkness at the heart of the Wraxford Mystery to find the truth, even at the cost of her life.

Leftover Loot:

The Religious Body by Catherine Aird
The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Death Under Sail

It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week the spotlight is falling on Death Under Sail by C. P. Snow.

It is funny how one book leads to another. In Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter mentions a book where a scientist fakes data to try and cover up mistakes that have been found in his experiments and a discussion ensues about academic integrity and what sacrifices should be made in its name. This reference is to the plot line which runs through The Search by C. P. Snow and a little research on Snow led me to discover that in addition to this book and the series for which he is so well-known (collectively known as Strangers and Brothers) he had written two detective novels, Death Under Sail and A Coat of Varnish. I immediately added them to by TBF list (To Be Found)....this was no easy task. It was over twenty years between my first reading of Gaudy Night and the Red Cross Book Sale where I found Death Under Sail. But in my opinion, it was well worth the wait.

The plot of Death Under Sail seems very simple. A small party of friends--five men and two women--plan to spend two weeks sailing on a small boat. Even though they are friends, the boat is small enough that there is danger that they might get on each others nerves. It winds up that this is not the only danger--for before the close quarters have a chance to work on their temperaments, their host, Roger Mills, is murdered while steering the boat--discovered with a bullet through the heart and a jovial smile on his face. How was this possible? And how could it have happened in such a small, restricted space? Mills had many enemies, but he had no thought that one of them would be among his guests. Who among this decent, educated, and charming group of people had a motive for such violence? The boat is brought to land and two detectives soon enter the scene--the suave civil servant and amateur detective Finbow and his counter-part Detective-Sergeant Aloysius Birrell. What follows is a delightful investigation of "civilized" murder.

Written in 1932, Death Under Sail is another fine example of the witty and genteel Golden Age mystery. We have the closed setting (small boat in the middle of a waterway), limited suspects, the refined and gentlemanly amateur detective, and the policeman who needs the amateur to show him the way. Finbow is a delight all by himself. I am, in addition to being a vintage mystery addict, a collector of quotations. I have several pages devoted to Finbow's bon mots--clever little bits on everything from detection itself to human nature. Finbow's thoughts on human nature stem from his interest in psychology and it is psychology that he uses to solve the mystery. I wish I had read this after I had begun blogging--I would love to have a thorough review of it.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter T

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

This week we are featuring the Letter T. T is for Tyler, as in L. C. Tyler. Tyler is a current British writer of humorous crime fiction. His series stars Ethelred Tressider (who just happens to be a crime writer as well) and his chocolate-loving literary agent, Elsie Thirkettle (all sorts of Ts there).

Thus far his mystery series sits at three:

  • The Herring Seller's Apprentice (2007)
  • Ten Little Herrings (2009)
  • The Herring in the Library (2010)
And so far I have read the first two and thoroughly enjoyed them both. The first one was read before I started blogging, so I have no review for that one. But here's a synopsis from Publisher's Weekly:

Fans of comic mysteries will welcome British author Tyler's debut, the first in a series to feature novelist Ethelred Tressider and his chocoholic literary agent, Elsie Thirkettle. When the body of Tressider's ex-wife, Geraldine, turns up near his West Sussex home, the police mark Tressider as a person of interest. Aided by Thirkettle, Tressider investigates other suspects, as the official theory switches from possible suicide to a serial killer. One-third of the way in, Tressider's Wodehousian narrative voice (You'll have found the same thing yourself, of course. Just when you think you have committed the perfect crime, things most unfairly take a turn for the worse) switches to that of Thirkettle, who doesn't miss a beat sustaining the light tone (If there's one thing that gets up my sodding nose, it's starting a new chapter and finding that the poxy narrator has changed). The resolution may not satisfy everyone, but the lively characters and amusing banter will bring most readers back for more.

Earlier this year I read the second installment, Ten Little Herrings, and you may find my review by clicking the title.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale: Review

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.

Vida Winter in Tales of Change and Desperation

So we're told before we even begin Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale. The tale is a fairly intricate one. Vida Winter, a world-renowned writer who has managed to keep her life story shrouded in mystery throughout her life, is very ill and decides to share that story with Margaret Leo, an amateur biographer. It's not that Miss Winter hasn't told her life story before....she has. Countless versions--all different. How can Margaret be sure that this time the story will be true? Each woman is hiding a secret pain, a pain that may be more similar than they know, and they strike a bargain for the story-telling. As Miss Winter begins unfolding the story, Margaret--and the reader--is mesmerized. There are gothic overtones and a legacy of strange behaviors in the Angelfield family, from Isabelle and Charles to the wild twins Adeline and Emmeline. There is also a ghost, a determined governess, a topiary garden, and a horrible fire. There are hints of James' Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. [But I have to say that Setterfield does a much better job with her story than Jackson did with hers.] As the story becomes more and more gothic, Margaret continues to question Miss Winter's truthfulness. She soon finds that the story is unfolding as it should and together they confront the individual ghosts that have haunted them.

This is an absolutely marvelous book. Just like Margaret in the story, I was mesmerized by the story-telling. The language and descriptions were perfect to set the stage for the gothic tale that Miss Winter has to tell. Setterfield gives full, vivid pictures with no wasted words--but every bit as much as needed. She deftly handles the various characters involved in the story and, no matter how small a part they play, allows them their moment to shine. This good, old-fashioned story-telling at its best. At its heart, it is a book about identity and family and loss. It's about endings and new beginnings. And on top of all that, it's a book that should appeal to readers. Margaret is a bibliophile and it shows. She has many little tidbits about being a reader, reading, and stories that are bang on target:

A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

For me to see is to read. It has always been that way.

All reading truths that should resonate with book bloggers. In the end, this is a lovely, well-written book that I am sure to recommend over and over. It is also a book that I will grab up and buy at my earliest opportunity. Four and a half stars.

Saturday Snapshot: May 28

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.

In honor of the Memorial Day weekend and in memory of all those who have given their service and their lives for our country and our freedom....my favorite picture from my 2008 NYC trip.

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 Quote It! may be found on my quote site. I'd love for you to visit...and be sure and visit Freda's Voice too!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Bloody Wood: Review

The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes was first published in 1966 and is the twenty-first Appleby mystery out of about 37. This one involves the deaths of Grace and Charles Martineau, by drowning and bullet respectively. Grace Martineau was already a dying woman--did someone hasten her death or did she take the easy way out of a slow, painful ordeal? Or perhaps her husband helped her along and then took his own life? But then there are also other motives--filled with greed and fear. There is a large estate to inherit and there are secrets to be kept hidden. Sir John Appleby, Inspector with Scotland Yard, is on the scene and it will take all of his deductive powers to get to the bottom of the tangled mystery.

Generally speaking, I enjoy the Appleby mysteries by Michael Innes. They are literate and witty, albeit sometimes odd. I actually enjoy the more surreal stories. But this one, although it starts out very beautifully with literary references to nightingales and an undercurrent of the sinister, just really didn't do much for me. I spotted the culprit right away and found the investigation to be handled rather clumsily. At this point in Appleby's career, he has enough experience that the case should go down much more smoothly. And, apart from Appleby and his wife, Judith, there were no sympathetic characters. There was no one that it really mattered to me if they were the guilty party or not. If I were wrong in fingering the culprit, it would have made no difference to me. Any of the cast of characters could have been carted off to jail and it would not have mattered one bit. A thoroughly disappointing read by one of my favorite authors. Two stars.

Mystery Bookmark Swap

Ariel over at Mysteries and My Musings is hosting a Bookmark Swap. If you like getting new and interesting bookmarks and wouldn't mind creating a few to share with fellow book bloggers, then this is the swap for you. Hop on over to her blog for full details, but in a nutshell:

*Find out how to sign up at her place by May 31
*Commit to making and sending three bookmarks (deadline to send June 27)
*Get ready to receive spiffy bookmarks in return

Pretty easy, huh? I'm feeling kind of crafty, so I've decided to join the fun. Love to see you join in too!

Friday's Lists: Nine Questions

I saw this over on Joy's Blog. And, since I cannot resist lists--especially lists about books I had to grab it and do it. She had stolen it from the Shelf Awareness newsletter. If we all steal it and do it does that make it public property?

On your nightstand now:
The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes (current read)
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. HeinleinThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan HillThe Religious Body by Catherine AirdThe Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Favorite book when you were a child:Any Nancy Drew and The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright

Your top five authors:
Dorothy L Sayers, Jane Austen, David Lodge, Julian Barnes, Oscar Wilde (three out of five subject to change at any given moment)

Book you've faked reading:None that I recall. If I say I read it, I did. If I couldn't finish it for whatever reason, I'll tell you that too. I don't see a point to claiming to have read something if I didn't. It's not like there is some cosmic prize for books read. But wouldn't it be nice is there were?!

Book you're an evangelist for:
The Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books and The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson

6. Book you've bought for the cover:
Um. I can't think of one. If I buy it, it's because I think the story is interesting. I do like the covers on those pocket-size WWII editions. Very pulp ficitony and thriller-like.

7. Book that changed your life:
The Bible

8. Favorite line from a book:Oh my, there are so many....We'll go with this one:
"The trouble with bookshops is that they are as bad as pubs. You start with one and then you drift to another, and before you know where you are you are on a gigantic book-binge." Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell (one of my all-time favorites!)

Book you most want to read again for the first time:Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers (or any of the Wimsey mysteries). I envy anyone who has not yet read Sayers and will discover her for the first time.

Friday 56

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

*Grab a book, any book.

*Turn to page 56.

*Find any sentence that grabs you.

*Post it.

*Link up at Freda's site.

Here's mine from The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes:

But Judith was frowning too. "You're not hunting after a mystery are you?"

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

Here's mine from The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes:

"Do nightingales eat apples?" Bobby Angrave asked idly. He was a small, dark and handsome youth, in his second year at Oxford.

Such a mild beginning to a murder mystery with "bloody" in the title......

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Theme Thursday: Conversation

Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

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

This week's theme is Conversation.

Here is my selection from The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes (pp. 26-7):

"It brings in the whole business of love."

"It certainly does."

"The cruel madness. May I fly that net."

Appleby was startled. For now the young man was really speaking out of some vivid experience--experience more sudden in its impact than could have been his gathered perception of the present state of affairs at Charne. And experience, surely, that was strictly traumatic, that might really wound or maim.

"I'm not clear," Appleby said slowly, "as to what this is about. But I think that the cruel madness may really be in what you are saying and feeling. For it's a denial of life to decline the richness of experience just because in the end there may be a bill to pay."

"People can do insane things, when in the net of love, passion, even affection. I know."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clouds of Witness

I SO needed this book. I've read every Lord Peter Wimsey book and story written by Dorothy L Sayers, so this was a reread for me. But after spending eight grueling days on Tristram Shandy, I really needed a comfort read. I can always count on a Sayers mystery for that. Clouds of Witness is her second novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. And this time, it's not just a matter of him indulging his detective hobby--the family honor and his brother's life is at stake.

Lord Peter's brother--Gerald, Duke of Denver--has gathered a small hunting party at Riddlesdale Lodge. All went well--there was plenty of game and decent company--until one of the guests turned up dead at the most unsuitable hour of three o'clock in the morning. And not just any guest--but the brother-in-law-to-be of Peter and Gerald, Denis Cathcart. The Duke is found crouching over the body. Lady Mary, sister to the Duke and Lord Peter, has secrets of her own and in covering those up manages to throw the light of suspicion ever brighter on her brother. There are all sorts of clues...mysterious footprints in the garden that belong to no one known, a disappearing letter full of comments about the dead man, a suitcase that travels from conservatory to hall oak chest to who-knows-where, a bejewelled cat charm, and tracks made by a motorcycle with sidecar. It will take all of Wimsey's wits, Bunter's way with the maids and barmaids, and Inspector Parker's ruthless routine to get to the bottom of the mystery. It all wraps up with the pomp and circumstance of the trial of a British peer in the House of Lords and an exciting last-minute burst of evidence on the part of Lord Peter to save his brother from the gallows.

I love the Lord Peter stories and I love Dorothy L Sayers. I can't say it any better than that. And after the struggle I went through with the last book I just don't know that I can do much of an in-depth review on this one. It is interesting how Sayers changed her mystery style inClouds from that of Whose Body? This story has more action....Lord Peter traipses across the countryside, gets chased by angry dogs, finds himself mired in the bog ("Peter's Pot"), shot at by a Socialist, and making an emergency plane trip through stormy weather in his quest to clear his brother. There is still a great deal of delightful dialogue....again featuring the wonderful Dowager Duchess of Denver. I also enjoy this one a lot because we get introduced to Sir Impy Biggs and Mr. Murbles, who manage the case for the defense. Biggs is rather theatrical and a bit ruthless in his quest to defend the Duke. He tells Peter: "I don't care twopence for the truth. I want a case. It doesn't matter to me who killed Cathcart, provided I can prove it wasn't Denver." Reminds me of Arthur Crook in The Innocent Bottle--another lawyer who says he doesn't care who he sets up for the murder, provided he can get his client off.

As I said at the beginning, this was just what I needed to get the taste of
Tristram Shandy out of my head. Sayers comes through with a tidy mystery, a comfortable cozy, brilliant British setting, just enough of Lord Peter's piffle and his mother's circuitous dialogue to make me happy. Four stars.

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 Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers:

the act of performing more than is required by duty, obligation, or need (p, 193)

Context: After a brief statement that he intended, not merely to prove his noble client's innocence but (as a work of supererogat
ion) to make clear every detail of the tragedy, Sir Impey Biggs proceeded without further delay to call his witnesses.

is a piece of stone jutting out of a wall to carry a weight (definition & image from Wikipedia); sometimes with the images of angels or gargoyles or the like.

Context: [Mr. Murbles] leaned back in his seat smirking like a very neat little grotesque from a Gothic corbel. (p. 195)

If You're Having Commenting Issues on Blogger

Thanks to Yvette and her techno-brilliant daughter, here's how to fix at least one of the Google Blogger failures some of us have been faced with for the past couple of days. Use this link to go to Skye's blog - the easy to follow instructions are right there. Instructions for Fixing Comment Snafu. Wouldn't it be nice if Google told us this? Instead of just posting messages that say "We're aware of the problem and researching it."

I have also discovered that if I log in to my blog through Mozilla, everything is fine. But Explorer will not let me log in properly. I have to enter my blog through the back door (Dashboard) to make new posts or edit.

WWW: Wednesdays

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

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

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

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers: Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt -- until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be -- a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt...a grieving fiancee with suitcase in hand...and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey. {I really needed this comfort read after enduring an entire eight days of Tristram Shandy!}

Read Since the Last WWW: Wednesday (click titles for reviews):
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Up Next:
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
The Religious Body by Catherine Aird
The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Teaser Tuesdays (on Wednesday)

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 participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Here's mine from Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers:

Poor old Gerald arrested for murder. Uncommonly worryin' for him, poor chap. Always hated my bein' mixed up with police-courts, Now he's there himself. Lord Peter Wimsey in the witness box--very distressin' to the feelin's of a brother. Duke of Denver in the dock--worse still.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tristram Shandy: Review

Pardon me a moment while I do a little victory dance...I'm done with Tristram Shandy!!!!!!!

OMG. Was there ever such a book? I am pleased as all get out that I can say that I'm done with the thing. It's behind me and I'll never be tempted to pick it up again.

What is Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne about you might ask--and well you might and maybe if you ever read it you might figure it out better than I; because I, well, I got all distracted by the INCREDIBLY long sentences and odd punctuation--when there was any to be had; and the major digressions. Do you see what I mean? But, anyway, as far as I can tell, dear Reader, this long-winded novel--if you want to call it that--is supposed to be about Shandy's life and opinions, yet a great deal of it would seem to be about Shandy's birth; but, wait, I can't tell you about that just now--that would be putting the cart before the horse. There's also a story about the midwife to tell and you won't believe what that's about--but wait, I forgot, I need to tell you about the parson and his horse. And Shandy's father's hobby-horse, as well as Uncle Toby's. And speaking of Uncle Toby we also have his little affair of the heart with the Widow Wadman--but I can't go into that now because I have to tell you about Aunt Dinah. And Noses (which are really noses, no matter what anyone says). And the importance of Names. And the doctor's thumb. And the Inquisition ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition." And I can assure you, I certainly didn't.) And we have to go up and down stairs several times talking all the way before we get back to Shandy. And, oh look, he's born now. But the parson has christened him with the wrong name. Oh no! What shall be done? Well, we'll apply to the church fathers--but while that's going on we'll have a little incident with a hot chestnut. And--hold everything!--I forgot to tell you--oh dear Reader, how could I forget such a marvelous story which was told right in the middle of everything about Diego and his marvelous Nose? It was such a wonderful Nose that it set a whole town on its ear. And I'm not even half done telling you about the book yet.

And now that we've gone on to the second half of this extraordinarily long and disjointed reading experience, I need to tell you that there is also a great deal about the Shandy family luck--or, rather, I should say, their lack of it. Nothing seems to go right for them. From naming poor Tristram to the loss of the firstborn to Tristram's loss of his...... (oops, Sterne doesn't actually write it "out loud" shall we say, so I better not). Oh, and there's a great deal to be said about sieges and battlements. And buttonholes and chambermaids. And did I mention hobby horses? I think I did, but we'll throw them in again just to make sure. And, of course, there is that ultimate question: Is a white bear better than a black one?
Now really, if I had kept that up for over 450 PAGES, wouldn't you be ready to throw my review out the window (or at least hit "delete")? And that was the main temptation that I had to fight the whole time. The back of my edition says that

The purpose of Tristram Shandy, beyond entertainment, seems to be to open the reader's heart and feelings....[as the text says] 'When the heart flies out before the understanding, it saves the judgment a world of pains.' This is the lessen of Tristram Shandy, if lessen there be. There is innate goodness in man, and if he follows his heart, that goodness will become operative in the world. Sterne wants us to use our hearts.

Um. Okay. If you say so. As far as I can see, what Sterne wants is to say whatever the heck comes into his head at any given moment and then to either bore us to tears with it or just kind of mention it, but then think of something else and promise to get back to the first thing later--after coming up with about 14 other things to talk about too. Laurence Sterne would seem to be the great-grand-daddy of the stream of consciousness writers. And I think we've discussed before my feelings about that (see my Intruder in the Dust review). Sure I can see that this was a really influential book--where would Faulkner be without stream of consciousness? And there are even some humorous parts in there but 400 pages of long drawn-out digressions? It just made me want to scream. I don't even know that I can rate this book. So I don't think I'll try.

I suppose I ought to mention that there were two parts that I really liked:

1. Toby's apologetical oration (justification of his own principles and conduct in wishing to continue the war).
2. Tristram's definition of love (when telling us about Uncle Toby and the widow):

Love is certainly, alphabetically speaking, one of the most

A gitating
B ewitching
C onfounded
D evilish affairs of life--the most
E xtravagant
F utilitous
G alligaskinish
H andy-dandyish
I racundulous (there is no K to it [nor J, apparently]) and
L yrical of all human passions: at the same time, the most
M isgiving
N innyhammering
O bstipating
P ragmatical
S tridulous
R idiculous--though by the bye the R should have gone first

And, of course, true to Shandean form--he doesn't complete the alphabet. But I still like it--even though some of it doesn't make sense. Just like love. In fact, as I think over my reading of this book, I find that the best parts are all Uncle Toby. It is just about worth 400 pages to finally get to the amorous campaign upon which the widow embarks and how Toby responds in kind.

24-Hour Electronic Withdrawal

We were hit with a major storm last night. Nothing compared to what the poor folks in Joplin are facing (all my prayers for folks in that area!). But we were out of electricity for about 24 hours and phone for part of that and it made me realize how dependent we are--or at least I am--on electronics these days. No phone, no internet, no air conditioning...not a single luxury. When the power went out yesterday afternoon, you should have heard the cry of anguish from my son's room:

It seemed awful that I couldn't get on and blog. Updates for Tuesday memes will come as soon as possible. But the worst part was that it was so darn dark outside that it was impossible to even read. I didn't want to use up all our battery power by running flashlights and our portable lantern constantly, so I didn't get much non-electric stuff done either. On the plus side, my son sat down and talked to me for the longest straight period of time since I don't know when. Power outages aren't all bad.....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter S

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

This week we are featuring the Letter S. There is no way on earth that I can possibly let S go by and not use it for Sayers. Dorothy L. Sayers.

If Agatha Christie was my gateway to Vintage/Golden Age mysteries, then Dorothy L. Sayers was the reason I stayed with them. Not only was she a reknowned mystery writer, but she was a poet, playwright, essayist, translator, and a great writer of Christian apologetics.
Sayers is my absolute favorite of the queens of the Golden Age mysteries. Her books are so literate and full of interesting information and quotes. It may seem like she's throwing around all kinds of obscure bits and pieces, but readers should remember that during her time a liberal arts degree acquainted one with all the classics as well as languages (particularly Latin and French) in a way that college graduates rarely seem to accomplish these days. Her use of quotations could keep you busy for years trying to place the texts quoted (or you can cheat and use the wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey Companion by Stephen Clarke).

Of course, I
don't just love the erudite writing. I love her characters. From her detective Lord Peter Wimsey to Harriet Vane to Inspector Parker to the Dowager Duchess of Denver to Mr. Thipps' mother in Whose Body?--her books are sprinkled with incredible and at times incredibly funny characters. I particularly like the way she develops Wimsey's character--especially over the course of the Harriet books. I have read all the books in the Wimsey series, but her books are such that I could reread them over and over again (and have and do). I reach for Sayers when I need a pick-me-up, a soothing comfort read, good writing, great quotes, a good dose of Golden Age mystery--any or all of the above.

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):
Not one single thing. Can that really be true???? 'Fraid so. I have been struggling mightily with Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne all week. If I hadn't put this one down for so many challenges and determined that I would finally finish the darn thing (this is my third attempt), it would have gone out the window long ago.

Currently Reading:
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: is narrated by the title character in a series of digressions and interruptions that purportedly show the "life and opinions" — part of the novel's full title — of Tristram. Composed of nine "Books" originally published between 1759-1767, the novel has more to do with Shandy family members and their foibles and history than it seemingly does with Tristram himself. However, it is through Tristram's relating the actions, beliefs, and opinions of his family members — primarily his father, Walter Shandy, and his paternal Uncle Toby — that the reader gets a clearer picture of Tristram's character.

Books that spark my interest:
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
The Bloody Wood by Michael Innes
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
The Religious Body by Catherine Aird
The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Suicide Excepted

It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week I'm bringing out Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare.

Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark who was an Engligh judge and crime writer. He chose his pen name as a mixture of Hare Court, where he worked in Roland Oliver's chambers, and Cyril Mansions, Battersea, where he made his home after marriage. His novels featured two main investigators, Francis Pettigrew--who was a barrister--and Inspector Mallett--a large police office with a huge appetite. He wrote nine detective novels which were published from 1937 to 1958. Suicide Excepted was his third book.

Suicide Excepted is a lovely mystery novel that would likely appeal to both mystery fans and general readers who are fond of British work. The novel is a combination of intricate puzzle, a bit of a thriller, and a slice of British life. It starts out with the death of an odd elderly man who has kept a scrapbook of rather morbid quotations. He has been staying at an obscure country hotel and it would be convenient if the overdose of sleeping medication were just an accident or even suicide. But is it that simple? Is there a cold-blooded murderer at work? For you see, his family stands to lose a tidy sum in insurance money if the verdict is suicide--and the family can definitely use the money. Contrary to most mysteries where no one wants a murder to have happened, the heirs begin drumming up evidence to try and influence a verdit of foul play. The amateur "sleuths" do find some interesting clues, but while they're beavering away, Inspector Mallett of Scotland Yard is following his own line.

Suicide Excepted works well as a traditional whodunit--there is a floor-plan, a houseful of suspects, and all kinds of suspicious activities going on behind the scenes. It also gives a humorous look at family life in 1930s Britain--with all the infighting between siblings and cousins. We are also given a good look at various levels of society. We are taken from the country hotel to a Lincolnshire country estate, from the shore of Brighton to the "sticky heat of London." The book has delightful dialogue filled with Hare's playful wit and the plot is informed by his profound knowledge of British law.

Top Five Sundays: Book Quotes

Every week Larissa's Bookish Life hosts the Top 5 Sundays meme. Here's what you need to do:

1 - Write a post listing your TOP 5 choices within the theme she chose (or was chosen on a poll) for the week.
2 - Mention Larissa's blog on the post and link back to it.
3 - Feel free to use the Feature's image
4 - After you've finished your post, add you link (of the post, not your blog's main page) to the Mr.Linky at the end of that week's post.
5 – If you don’t have a blog to post, just leave your list in the comments =)

This week’s t
heme is Favorite Book Quotes:

Now I collect quotes all the time. All sorts. About love and friendship and anything at all that strikes my fancy. I even collect book quotes about books. For me to pick my top five would be impossible. So, what I'll do is just pick out five from my current notebook of quotes.

1. ...love cannot be hidden: like any fire, it is revealed by smoke.
The Island of the Day Before (381)
~Umberto Eco

2. For better or worse, somebody has noticed you. And there's no way now to get yourself unnoticed.
Detective Samuel Pith
The Manual of Detection (6)
~Jedediah Berry

3. I have enough problems all on my own. No need to go out of my way looking for people who are only going to confuse me even more.
I Been There Before (33)
~David Carkeet

4. Everything was easier to cope with if you imagined it set afire and adrift at sea.
The War Against Miss Winter (9)
~Kathryn Miller Hays

5. He charmed me in the way that all true charmers do: he made me feel I was the only person who mattered to him.
Oscar Wilde & the Dead Man's Smile (68)
~Gyles Brandeth