Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Prince Lost to Time: Review

In this second mystery in the series featuring the immortal investigator Nicholas Segalla, the sleuth is searching for the truth of the mysterious fate of the lost Dauphin, Louis Charles. Queen Marie Antoinette was forced to leave her son behind when Revolutionaries forced her to mount the scaffold in 1793. The time just before her death and imprisonment was a whirlwind of revolutionary activity. The Royal Family's life quickly changed from an idyllic existence in their beautiful palace to the squalor of prison. And then death at the hands of the revolutionary executioners.The first to die was King Louis XVI, followed nine months later by his lovely queen. Months before her date with the guillotine, her beloved son and daughter were removed from her side, and the Dauphin disappeared into the annals of history.It is now 1815. Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo has opened the door for the restoration of France's Bourbon monarchy, but now it must be determined who is the rightful heir to the throne? The Dauphin Louis Charles, son Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, would be the obvious choice, but the official account says that he died in 1795 and his uncle has claimed the throne as Louis XVIII. Segalla, has been sent France as "special emissary of the English prime minister" to investigate--because there are also mounting rumors that the Dauphin did not die after all; that he was spirited away and survived the massacre. While there he allies himself with government archivist Raoul Tallien, to examine the available documents and try to unravel the plots and subplots of former Revolutionaries, Royalists and a nervous Louis XVIII, who stands to lose the throne should his nephew turn up alive.To keep his promise to the doomed queen, Segalla must brave treachery, murderous attacks, and subterfuge to find the answer.

This was a decent read. The historical details are good and given the facts that Dukthas uses in the narrative the solution makes a great deal of sense. Of course, I know very little about the mystery surrounding the disappearance/death of the Dauphin beyond the brief mentions made in various history classes. But it seems to me that she has done her research well. If I were to rate this on the historical story alone, I would give it a four rather than the three-star rating I'm going to settle on. For whatever reason, I didn't take to Nicholas Segalla for most of the book. I finely warmed up to him in the final chapters--primarily because of his relationship to Tallien in that section. I would like to read the next book in the series to see if that relationship is more fully developed. [Finished 11/29/11--but blogger would not cooperate last night for posting...]

Monday, November 28, 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 (click on titles for review):
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
The Pianist in the Dark by Michéle Halberstadt
Dragons of Light by Orson Scott Card (ed)
Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers
Striding Folly plus two other Wimsey short stories by Dorothy L Sayers

Currently Reading:
The Prince Lost to Time by Ann Dukthas:
In this second mystery in the series featuring the time-traveling scholar Nicholas Segalla, the sleuth uncovers the mysterious fate of the lost dauphin, Louis Charles, the young son Queen Marie Antoinette left behind when she was forced to mount the scaffold in 1793. As the flames of revolution spread through France, they quickly engulfed the Royal Family, whose fairy-tale life in the magnificent palace of Versailles was shattered during the violent and bloody Reign of Terror. First to face the executioner was King Louis XVI, followed nine months later by his beautiful queen, the passionate Marie Antoinette. Several months before her death, her young son and heir to the throne was torn from her arms, disappearing into the annals of history. Although many presumed him dead, legends sprang up about the boy who would be king - did he die? If not, what happened to him? To keep his promise to the doomed queen, Segalla braves treachery to find the answer.

Books that spark my interest:
Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
English Music by Peter Ackroyd
An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
(all for challenges)

Thankfully Reading Wrap U

I think I told you that was participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend. No Black Friday shopping madness for me. Uh-uh. I grabbed some books and read as much as I could. Of course these things called weekend chores kept getting in the way, so I didn't do quite as well as I wanted. But I did have a good time and knocked out another reading challenge while I was at it. Thanks to Jenn for hosting!. Here's how I did:

1. Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron (done at 2:50 pm 11/25/11)
2. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (done at 8:15 pm 11/25/11)
3. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers (done at 1:50 pm 11/27/11)
4. Striding Folly plus two other Wimsey short stories by Dorothy L Sayers (done at 9:30 pm 11/27/11)
5. The Prince Lost to Time by Ann Dukthas (100 pages complete by 11:30 pm on 11/27/11--that's when I decided to call it a night)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Challenge Complete: As My Whimsy Takes Me

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

And tonight I finished up the remainder of the Lord Peter stories--using the complete Wimsey short stories collected in Lord Peter. Once the book comes in from the library, I'll finish the entire book In the Teeth of Evidence (just so I can finish all the Sayers fiction). Otherwise, I have fulfilled the intention of the As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge--which challenged us to read all of the Wimsey stories.

Books (in order of publication):

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

If I have time, I may also complete the bonus...reading the Wimsey stories completed and wholly written by Jill Paton Walsh. We'll see--but my commitment has been met.

The Final Lord Peter Stories

I finished up the remainder of the Lord Peter stories--using the complete Wimsey short stories collected in Lord Peter. Once the book comes in from the library, I'll finish the entire book In the Teeth of Evidence (just so I can finish all the Sayers fiction). Otherwise, I have fulfilled the intention of the As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge--which challenged us to read all of the Wimsey stories. Here's a run-down of the remaining short stories.

"In the Teeth of Evidence": Lord Peter goes to his dentist for a filling and finds himself involved in a mystery he can really sink his teeth into. His dentist is called in to identify a man who has died in a blazing fire...only his dental records can prove his identity. And it's up to Lord Peter to help prove if it was death by accident or suicide....or even murder.

"Absolutely Elsewhere": In which Lord Peter proves that a murderer just might be able to travel at the speed of light.

"Striding Folly": This one has a bit of the mystic about it. A man has a dream which appears to be strangely prophetic about the murder of his neighbor. Except it didn't predict that he would be accused! Lord Peter comes to the rescue, of course!

"The Haunted Policeman": The story of the poor policeman who saw a house numbered thirteen where no thirteen ought to be and a murdered man where no one has been murdered. Lord Peter helps him prove that he wasn't drunk nor delusional.

"Talboys": In which, Bredon, Lord Peter's eldest, steals peaches, is punished and wrongly accused of stealing peaches a second time. While Lord Peter helps track down the rightful culprits, Miss Quirk, guest of the Wimseys and an errant amateur psychologist, finds that practicing psychology on a family of Wimsey boys may not be the best of ideas.

A delightful collection of short stories to round out the Wimsey canon. Not much mystery, but lots of great characters and insight into life in the Wimsey household after Busman's Honeymoon. Four stars.

Busman's Honeymoon: Review

Just a warning....possible spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the Sayers books that precede this one.

So...Lord Peter finally gets the girl. Well, we knew that at the end of Gaudy Night...what with them kissing madly in the middle of Oxford and all. But this one seals the deal. The book begins with the details of the months leading up to the wedding, the wedding itself, and on to the honeymoon. Not that Sayers is so gauche as to reveal ALL about the wedding night, but it's abundantly obvious that our favorite lord and his new lady have quite a nice time of it.

The mystery fun begins the next day when the body of their neglectful host is found in the basement. It soon becomes clear that the reason the honeymoon house was not prepared was because Mr. Noakes has been dead for almost a week. Harriet rather wishes that Peter need not be bothered with all this murder business while on his honeymoon--if only because it will bring the mobs of reporters descending upon them--but soon realizes that his "job" is something they will need to come to terms with if theirs is to be happy marriage.

What follows is, as Sayers notes in the subtitle, A Love Story with Detective Interruptions. We follow Peter and Harriet as they sort out how their love story will begin and in the intervals they pick up clue after clue that will ultimately lead to the discovery of the culprit. However, the point of the story is not the murder. The point is love and marriage and what Sayers thought was the ideal way for two adults to sort things out.

The mystery isn't a very deep one and it shouldn't be hard for anyone to spot the criminal. But the detective story is not the reason I can read this novel (or any of Sayers' mysteries, for that matter) over and over again. I read them for the language and the characters and their interactions. Rereading Busman's Honeymoon, I was struck once more about how delightful the opening chapter is. It is told entirely in letters and excerpts from the Dowager Duchess's diary and I chuckle over it every single time. The voices of the various characters--from Peter's insufferable sister-in-law to the irrepressible Countess of Severn and Thames--are so distinct and vibrant. And the images they convey are such a hoot--can anyone who has read the stories not snort over the picture of the "hell-hound" reporters trying bribe Bunter? Or Peter and Harriet composing rude rhymes in order to get rid of Helen (the insufferable sister-in-law)?

I love this book. And can only regret that it is the last full-length novel written entirely by Dorothy L Sayers. The books penned by Jill Paton Walsh just aren't the same. Five stars.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

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'm running a bit late this week, but I'd love for you to visit...and be sure and visit Freda's Voice too!

Saturday Snapshot: November 26

Saturday Snapshot is a meme hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books. All you have to do is "post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken and then 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. (Click picture for close-up).

I've missed a couple of Saturdays...first because of a quick trip home two Saturdays ago when my grandpa was put in the hospital and then last Saturday because I was preparing to go home for his funeral. This is just a simple post in memory of my grandpa, Donald Ingols (April 28, 1916 - November 18, 2011).

Thank you to everyone for your good wishes and condolences.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Challenge Complete: 2011 TBR Challenge

I have just completed The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge sponsored by Adam from Roof Beam Reader. Here's the main point: having joined the challenge, I signed up to read 12 books (one for each month) from my TBR list. Each of these books must have been on my TBR list for AT LEAST one year. None of the books can have a publication date of 1/1/10 or later. I restricted myself even further and only used books that I have actually had on my physical TBR shelf for at least a year. Anything which I bought in 2010 was not allowed. It was beginning to look like I wasn't going to manage those twelve books after all--too many other challenges getting in the way. But I am pleased to announce success!

Here's my list of books completed:

1. The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley (1928) [finished 2/19/11]
2. The Best of Mystery by Alfred Hitchcock (1986) [finished 7/9/11]
3. Time to be in Earnest by P. D. James [autobiography] (1999) [finished 1/18/11]
4. Therapy by David Lodge (1995) [finished 7/3/11]
5. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (1960) [finished 11/25/11]
6. Middlemarch by George Eliot (first serialized 1871) [finished 9/27/11]
7. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford (2001) [finished 11/19/11]
8. Emma by Jane Austen (1815) [finished 1/9/11]
9. The Last Defender of Camelot by Roger Zelazny (1980) [finished 3/19/11]
10. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759-61, published in four volumes) [5/24/11]
11. Leave It to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse (1923) [finished 3/2/11]
12. The Detections of Dr. Sam Johnson by Lillian de la Torre (1984) [6/19/11]

Alternates (in case I just can't finish a couple)
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1860) [finished 8/24/11)
The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (1878) [finished 2/8/11]

The High Crusade: Review

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson is an interesting historical novel meets science fiction mash-up. Medieval knights are preparing to go to war against France when a strange metallic "sailing" ship descends on them from the sky. Little blue men from another world come boldly down the exit ramp with their awesome ray guns...fully prepared to easily subdue the "barbarians" of this backward planet. But the little blue men have not reckoned with the bravery and hand-to-hand combat prowess of the men of England. And soon Sir Roger, Baron of Torneville has led his men to victory over the demons from the air. He takes one of the aliens captive and forces him to help his men learn to fly the strange ship so he can end the war with France more quickly. The alien double-crosses him and sets the ship on auto-pilot for his race's nearest planetary outpost--thinking that on their home ground his people will certainly carry the day. But, again, he has misjudged the tenacity of the English and soon Sir Roger and his men are on a High Crusade among the stars.

Almost sounds like the plot of a 1950s B movie doesn't it? It's a quite remarkable use of an outrageous premise--that men clad in chain-mail and armed only with swords and lances and maces and shields could overpower beings with laser pistols and nuclear-type armory. But Anderson makes it work. There are great space-age long bow battles, nuclear warheads tossed by catapults, parlay and treachery, and all in the name of the King and Country and the Church. It's a fast-paced, quick read that is more about the adventure than the characters. Fun and light--three stars.

This one has been sitting on my TBR shelf since (can it be true?) August 1996. Gathered up back in my hard-core science fiction days, but never read. I put it on the list for Adam's 2012 TBR Challenge (over at Roof Beam Reader) because of that very fact. Thought it about time I got down to business and cleared it off the shelf. Now that I have, I can say that I've officially finished the Challenge. Go me!

Corpus Christmas: Review

In Corpus Christmas, Margaret Maron gives us a little murder for the holiday season. Dr. Roger Shambley, the most recent addition to the board of directors for the Erich Bruel house is found dead the morning after a Christmas-themed party at the small art museum. At first glance, it looks like the snoopy, insinuating scholar had a bit too much egg nog and missed his step on the steep stairs leading to his office in the attic. But the scene has not quite been perfectly set and it it becomes apparent to Lieutenant Sigrid Harald of the NYPD that a bit of musical murder scenes has been played out.

The list of suspects grows as Lt. Harald discovers that Shambley managed to insult and infuriating nearly everyone he come across...from implications that the director is incompetent to murmurings of forgery, he had cast a knowing glance at all and sundry. Some of his insinuations prove to be mere gossip, but did something hit home? Is that why someone hit the scholar upside his rather fragile skull. It's up to Lt. Harald and company to find out.

This is a nice cozy little mystery, set in a grand old relic of a house which has been turned into a shrine to the artistic taste (both good and bad) or Erich Bruel. There are plenty of red herrings and more suspects than you can shake a stick at. The characters are delightful--realistic and humorous and sympathetic in turns. I don't believe I've ever read a story by Maron before, but I can assure you, this won't be my last. Three stars for a nice solid mystery.

Thankfully Reading Weekend Kickoff

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm joining in on the Thankfully Reading Weekend. No Black Friday shopping madness for me. Uh-uh. Hand me my book and I'm gonna snuggle down for a long reading weekend. To start things off, I'm reading Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron...gotta get ready for the next holiday, you know. For the rest of the weekend, I'll be working my way through as many books from my 2011 Reading Challenges TBR stack as possible. I'll keep adding the books read in a list below.

1. Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron (done at 2:50 pm 11/25/11)
2. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (done at 8:15 pm 11/25/11)
3. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers (done at 1:50 pm 11/27/11)
4. Striding Folly plus two other Wimsey short stories by Dorothy L Sayers (done at 9:30 pm 11/27/11)
5. The Prince Lost to Time by Ann Dukthas

Friday Memes

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

Here's mine
from Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron:

Snow was predicted by Sunday and a chill morning rain had drenched the city streets but it had stopped by ten a.m. when Rick Evans arrived at Sussex Square, that little gem of urban felicity down in the East Twenties. He paused a moment, propped his tripod on the wrought-iron fence which enclosed the tiny park, uncapped the lens of the camera slung around his neck, and slowly panned the area

The Friday 56 is a bookish meme sponsored by Freda's Voice. It is really easy to participate. Just grab a book, any book, and turn to page 56. Find a sentence that grabs you and post it.

Here's mine from Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron:

"Take your nasty hands off him!" Rick Evans snarled, stepping towards him.

"Or you'll what?" asked Shambley. "Give me
a proper thrashing?"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dragons of Light: Review

Dragons of Light by Orson Scott Card (ed) is a collection of short stories with (surprise) a theme running to dragons. Thirteen authors bring us stories, legends, folk tales and rumors of dragons and their doings from Ireland to a Native American settlement; from somewhere very like ancient Asia to the deep South. Thirteen illustrators are also on hand to give the authors' visions visual life.

"The Ice Dragon" by George R. R. Martin is a story about a young girl who was born during one of the coldest winters in her land. The bitter weather was said to have killed her mother and to have made her a winter child. The cold did not affect her and it even seemed that coldness had become her nature. Because of her unusual gifts, she is able to make friends with a rare ice dragon. Her family is unaware of her friend and, when their king's enemies come to pillage their land--using traditional fire-breathing dragons--it is Adara and her ice dragon who save her family...at a great loss. A lovely story about friendship and sacrifice.

"The George Business" by Roger Zelazny: Just in the last year I have started reading Zelazny again. I'm wondering why I ever quit. He writes so well and with great humor. This little gem tells the story of how a knight named George and a dragon strike a little business deal....The first two attempts don't quite work out as planned. And then they have an idea that should make both of them happy.

"One Winter in Eden" by Michael Bishop. This one doesn't do a darn thing for me. Basic story line: there's this teacher in the deep south who has a dragon hidden inside him. Well, okay. Isn't that nifty? Do we know why? Nope. Does it matter one iota for the story, really? Not that I can see. The teacher has recently arrived at the school. He's taken the place of one of the few black teachers who have worked there. He's an outsider. There's another black teacher who is now considered an outsider too. Did the hidden dragon have anything to do with any of this? Can't say that it did. When the dragon popped out at the end (sorry if that spoils it for you), did that seem to be important? No, not so much. I mean the dragon could have burned the evil school board members to a crisp or eaten them up or something....but nope. Nothing. Nada. The end.

"A Drama of Dragons" by Craig Shaw Gardner. This is another humorous story. It's about a wizard who can't really practice his magic anymore because he's under a curse that causes him to sneeze uncontrollably every time something magical is in the area. Dragons are magical. A dragon shows up and threatens a local duke and the wizard needs to ward off the dragon. In a nifty twist, the dragon helps the wizard....or does he? Nicely done.

"Silken Dragon" by Steven Edward McDonald. A well-told tale that has the feel of a folk tale or fable. There is skulduggery afoot as a thief plans to steal the kingdom's treasure. He doesn't much believe in the rumors that the treasures are guarded by the curse of the silken dragon. Nor in the ability of a woman warrior to help stop him. By the end of the story both the dragon and the warrior show him that a little faith in what he didn't understand just might have been a good thing....

"Eagle-Worm" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. A Native American tale in which the eagle-worm (dragon, thunderbird, lizard of fire) serves as a totem animal for a young Native American woman. She is sent on a quest to confront the dragon and to test and see if she is worthy to be the next Tribal Mother. The dragon has more to reveal than she knows. Well-told.

"The Dragon of Dunloon" by Arthur Dembling. A young man comes to Dunloon to record local music and gets more than he bargained for. The citizens begin telling him tales of dragons and soon a sea dragon is spotted off the coast. But when the young man looks, all he sees is a boat. The citizens seem very sincere...are they all crazy? Are they all plotting an enormous leg pull? Or can they really see something he can't?

"If I Die Before I Wake" by Greg Bear. About a dragon that seems to represent growing up. I think. Or maybe not growing up. Not sure. This one didn't do much for me either.

"As Above, So Below" by John M. Ford. "Here there be dragons." Or least there were. A very short story about the day the dragons disappeared.

"Cockfight" by Jane Yolen. A young bondsman steals a dragon and trains it for the cockfights....in an effort to gain his freedom. Another good shorter short story.

"From Bach to Broccoli" by Richard Kearns. A cautionary tale about building and expansion taking over all the places where dragons may roam.

"Dragon Touched" by Dave Smeds. A great magician sets off on a journey to kill two powerful dragons. But what will happen if one of the dragons joins minds with him?

This is a fairly good collection of stories most are good (save for those I have indicated) and some are terrific. My favorites: "The Ice Dragon," "The George Business," "A Drama of Dragons," and "Cockfight." This is another plant for the Victory Garden and my November entry for the Read Your Own Library Challenge. As I mentioned last month, this one has been hanging out on the TBR shelves since July 1999. My best friend gave it to me for my birthday. I tried to read it then, but I just wasn't as into science fiction as I once was. It's nice to finally sit down and read these stories that she loved so much. Having sat on my shelf so long, it also qualifies for the Off the Shelf Challenge. Three and a half stars for the entire collection.

Next up for December's edition of the Read Your Own Library Challenge will be That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. This is the final book in his space trilogy series and has been hanging out on the TBR pile for more years than I can count. It also will help towards several of the 2011 Challenges that I still have pending, so it's all good!

Booking Through Thursday: Thankful

Today's question:
What book or author are you most thankful to have discovered?
Have you read everything they’ve written? Reread them?
Why do you appreciate them so much?

Hmm. How much time to you have? It might be simpler if I named the books/authors I wish I'd never picked up or been forced to read. :-) But that attitude wouldn't fit well with a day of thanksgiving. So, here are few highlights on the "thanks for writing stuff, guys" list:

1. Carolyn Keene (and the writing machine that was "her"). I've read all of the original Nancy Drews, but can't say I've read everything with Keene's name attached. And, yes, I've reread those original stories many, many time. Why do I appreciate them? Because if it weren't for Nancy, I don't think I'd be the reader I am now. I fell in love with reading with those books. And fell in love with books and bookstores. Nancy introduced me to the wonder that was Mason's Rare & Used Bookstore in Wabash, IN (sadly, no longer there--or anywhere). Through that introduction, I learned to love the "thrill of the hunt"--looking for and finding book treasures among the shelves.

2. Dorothy L Sayers. I've read every single one of her mysteries. I intend to read all of her religious apologetics. I love Lord Peter Wimsey. I love the way she writes. I love the witty, literate prose. I love the mysteries and the quotations and the bits of knowledge and lore that she sneaks in there.

3. Jane Austen. Still working my way through all of her works. But I appreciate the way she wrote about the manners of her time. I love the characters and how very real they seem.

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What mystery fan could not appreciate the creator of Sherlock Holmes? I love Holmes and Watson and the Victorian era.

5. David Lodge. I've read most his fiction. I appreciate his British wit and his take on academic life. Working in academia myself, I absolutely appreciate the college types that he puts on display...in all their flawed glory.

6. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickinson who taught me to love poetry.

And Kerry Greenwood, Katherine Anne Porter, Christina Rossetti, Agatha Christie, Edmund Crispin, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, C. S. Lewis, Rainer Marie Rilke, Poe, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Douglas Adams....I could go on and on and on.

Theme Thursday: Place

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 the Pages

This week's theme is Place Description

Here's mine from: "Silken Dragon" short story by Steven Edward McDonald in Dragons of Light by Orson Scott Card (ed) (p. 129):

So she sat, waiting for the night to end, watching the shivering stars, waiting for the sight of something elemental. Her room looked down on an open palace court, and out over beautifully-tended lawns and flower gardens, something she had never seen in Shalin.

Get Read-y for 2012 Challenge

In December, this challenge, hosted by Loving Books, will focus on reducing the to-read books that you might have lying around, waiting for you to read them. The goal is to start 2012 with a small, manageable pile of books that will also allow you to be able to pick up new titles.

(Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!! Small! Manageable! Ha Ha Ha!!! Did you hear that maniacal laughter? That was me. Looking at my TBR stacks. Actually, just looking at my 2011 challenge books TBR stack. I'm *cough* *cough* supposed to read about *cough* 20 *cough* more books in ONE month if I'm going to meet the Outdo Yourself Challenge. Um, yeah. That's gonna happen.)

To make a long story short: We're getting read-y for the new year.

There will be weekly check-ins, and yes, there will be a giveaway even though that is completely counterproductive. The only thing she asks is that if you want to join, is that you fill in the Mr Linky that she will post on December 1st along with the introduction post.

Well...I figure it can't hurt to sign up for this...even if I have already bitten off more than I can chew in the 2011 Challenge department. And maybe it will empower and encourage me to actually plow through those twenty books. Here's hoping that come December 31 I will be able to announce that I've conquered the 2011 TBR beast. Stay tuned. Oh, and if you happen to be as far behind as I am--then hop on over and sign up when she gets the linky up!

December Reads from the TBR pile:
1. In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L Sayers (12/4/11)
2. The Habit of Widowhood by Robert Barnard (12/4/11)
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (12/5/11)
4. Electric City by K. K. Beck (12/6/11)
5. More Holmes for the Holidays by Greenberg, Lellenberg, & Waugh, eds (12/7/11)
6. The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum (12/10/11)
7. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear (12/12/11)
8. A Christmas Guest by Anny Perry (12/13/11)
9. That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis (12/17/11)
10. The Praise Singer by Mary Renault (12/20/11)
11. Murder on Theatre Row by Michael Jahn (12/24/11)
12. C. B. Greenfield: A Little Madness by Lucille Kallen (12/26/11)
13. The Chinese Bell Murders by Robert Van Gulik (12/30/11)
14. Beware of Trains by Edmund Crispin (12/30/11)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WWW: Wednesdays

WWW: Wednesdays is hosted by MizB over 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?

Dragon's of Light
by Orson Scott Card (ed): A dragon's dozen of stories. Thirteen authors and thirteen illustrators join to bring readers dragons in all their bright and terrible variety. Among the stories: "The Ice Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (illustrated by Alicia Austin) in which a child whose body is never warm finds an ally in a dragon made of ice; "One Winter in Eden" by Michael Bishop (illustrated by Val & John Lakey) in which a dragon lies coiled inside a teacher's heart; "Cockfight" by Jane Yolen (illustrated by Terri Windling) in which a boy steals a dragon and trains it for the cockfights; and "The George Business" by Roger Zelazny (illustrated by Geofry Darrow) in which a knight goes into business with an enterprising dragon.

Read Since the Last WWW: Wednesday (click on titles for review):
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
The Word for Everything by Roger Mitchell
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers
The Pianist in the Dark by Michéle Halberstadt

Up Next:
Corpus Christmas by Margaret Maron
More Holmes for the Holidays by various (Greenburg, Lellenberg & Waugh, eds)
Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
English Music by Peter Ackroyd
An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
(all for challenges)

The Pianist in the Dark: Review

Based on the true story of Maria-Theresa von Paradis, the only daughter of the secretary of the empress of Austria, and her interactions with Franz Anton Mesmer, a doctor and the source of the term mesmerism, The Pianist in the Dark by Michéle Halberstadt is ultimately about the price of sight. Maria-Theresa was musical prodigy. Blind from unknown causes since she was about three, she played beautifully and with great passion before the court in Austria. She was filled with a talent that eclipsed her disability and the ability to hold her audience spellbound. She seemed to have the world at her feet. Her father, however, could never resign himself to accept her condition and subjected her to the ministrations of doctor after doctor. None of whom could identify the source of the problem or offer any solution. After giving his word to his daughter that he would stop trying to cure her, he meets Franz Anton Mesmer and manipulates events so Mesmer makes the offer to treat her himself. She is suspicious at first--she has submitted to too many "treatments" at the hands of "experts" who were only out to forward their own careers. After all, should they have succeeded, they would have won the gratitude of the Empress herself. But Maria-Theresa becomes convinced of Mesmer's sincerity and agrees to allow him to perform his "magnetic" treatments. And they work. Soon the girl who didn't, as the introduction says, "know the color of the sky or the shape of the clouds, [didn't] know the meaning of blue or red,or dark or pale" begins to see shapes and colors.

She also, through Mesmer, begins to know the meaning of love and passion. But it is a short-lived victory. The other doctors, jealous of Mesmer's apparent success, begin to ridicule his methods and to spread rumors that his relationship with is patient is unorthodox. If he did not have power over her as a lover, that she would not "see" as well as she does--that it is only his "amorous suggestion" that influences her. What began as an incredible journey towards sight and love, becomes a horrible nightmare. She learns that everything in life seems to be motivated by power and greed. Even Mesmer is ready to give her up when his reputation is at stake. As she says to him late in the book:

Cursed! I am cursed! My blindness made them suffer and my recovery has made them mad. Even you prefer me ill to cured. Life is so cruel! It allows me to discover passion and harmony, then steals it away as if it were a mirage! What good is seeing if all it does is open your eyes to the truth of human nature? Have I been through all this just to come eye to eye with cowardice, lies, and trickery?

In the end the price of seeing is too high for Maria-Theresa. She chooses to return to darkness and devotes herself once again to her music. Disappointed by her parents who could not accept her for who and what she was and disappointed by her lover who could not accept what he had helped her become, she decides for herself what her life will be.

In this short novel, Halberstadt has given us a story of awakenings and choices. The writing (or perhaps the translation) is spare and direct. There is nothing superfluous in the descriptions. And the story flows almost perfectly. My only minor quibble comes with the romantic scenes between Maria-Theresa and Mesmer. They are a bit over the top--soap opera and bodice ripperish--but the chapters are short and fortunately this portion does not last long. Otherwise, a nicely done peek into history and an interesting look at one of music's female blind prodigies. Three and a half stars.

Teaser Tuesdays

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

*Grab your current read.Link*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.

*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from The Pianist in the Dark by
Michéle Halberstadt (p.1):

She doesn't know the color of the sky or the shape of the clouds, doesn't know the meaning of blue or red,or dark or pale. She lives in blackness. This is the word they have given to what she describes.

I decided to go with the first few lines...they are what drew me in when I spied this on the "New Arrivals" shelf at the library...

Gaudy Night: Review

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers is set almost entirely at Oxford. Alma mater of Lord Peter Wimsey, the fictional version of Oxford University also houses Shrewsbury College--the educational home of Harriet Vane. The all-female college is experiencing a bout of particularly poison pen letters and malicious practical jokes. The warden of the college does not wish to bring in the police and produce unwanted publicity for the school, so she calls upon Harriet Vane to use the knowledge gained as a mystery writer to bear upon the problem. Using the annual Gaudy (a reunion of "old girls" of the college) and later a research project as cover, Harriet begins her investigations. But the mystery proves to be a deep one and Harriet finds it necessary to call upon Lord Peter for help. While wrestling with the problems of the nasty "ghost" of the college, she must also wrestle with her feelings for Peter. Oxford provides the perfect backdrop for the final stages of the romance between these two intelligent characters.

Rereading Sayers is always wonderful. She is the author of my comfort reads. I go to her for superb character development, lucid prose, literary quotes and allusions, and underlying humor. This one is also marvelous for its academic setting. I feel as though I've had the grand tour of Oxford; granted, it's Oxford of another era--but that makes it even more appealing. Gaudy Night stands out for me because of the setting and because, as a quote collector, there are so many tidbits that I've snatched for my collection...and I just have to share them with you. Five stars, by the way.

Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it—still more, because of it—that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere, and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself.
~Miss de Vine (pp. 34-5)
…they [men] want a bit to get used to the change. Why, it takes a man months and months to reconcile himself to a new hat. And just when you’re preparing to send it to the jumble sale, he says, “That’s a rather nice hat you’ve got on, where did you get it?” And you say, “My dear Henry, it’s the one I had last year and you said made me look like an organ-grinder’s monkey.”
~the Dean (p. 50)
I have the most ill-regulated memory. It does those things which it ought not to have done, and leaves undone the thing it ought to have done. But it has not yet gone on strike altogether.
~Lord Peter Wimsey (p. 56)
My subconscious has a most treacherous imagination. It’s disquieting to reflect that one’s dreams never symbolize one’s real wishes, but always something Much Worse.
If I really wanted to be passionately embraced by Peter, I should dream of something like dentists or gardening. I wonder what are the unthinkable depths of awfulness that can only be expressed by the polite symbol of Peter’s embraces.
~Harriet Vane (p. 92)
HV: Then why do it?
RP: I don’t know. Why does one do idiotic things?
HV: Why?...I’ll tell you why, Mr. Pomfret. Because you haven’t the guts to say no when somebody asks you to be a sport. That tom-fool word has got more people in trouble than all the rest of the dictionary put together. If it’s sporting to encourage girls to break rules and drink more than they can carry and get themselves into a mess on your account, then I’d stop being a sport and try being a gentleman.
~Harriet Vane, Reggie Pomfret (p. 119)
HV: But suppose one doesn’t know [what] one wants to put first….
MdV: You usually can tell…by seeing what kind of mistakes you make. I’m quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest…the big proof is that the thing comes right without those fundamental errors. One always makes surface errors, of course. But a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring.
~Harriet Vane, Miss de Vine (pp. 149-50)

HV: I suppose one oughtn’t to marry anybody, unless one’s prepared to make him a full-time job.
MdV: I suppose not; though there are a few rare people, I believe, who don’t look on themselves as jobs but as fellow-creatures.
~Harriet Vane, Miss de Vine (p. 151)

MD: …I had particular orders to hunt out Saint-George’s Niersteiner ’23 [wine] and mention Uncle Peter in connection with it. Is that right? I don’t know whether Uncle Peter bought it or recommended it or merely enjoyed it, or what he had to do with it, but that’s what I was supposed to say.

HV: [laughing] If he did any of those things, it’ll be all right.
~Mr. Danvers, Harriet Vane (p. 153)
SG: Perhaps I’d better accustom myself to saying “Aunt Harriet”…what’s wrong with that? You simply can’t refuse to be an adopted aunt to me. My Aunt Mary has gone all domestic and hasn’t time for me and my mother’s sisters are the original gorgons. I’m dreadfully unappreciated and auntless for all practical purposes.
HV: You deserve neither aunts nor uncles, considering how you treat them.
~Saint-George, Harriet Vane (p. 172)
However loudly we may assert our own unworthiness, few of us are really offended by hearing the assertion contradicted by a disinterested party. (p. 209)
It was quite true that the spontaneous affections of Reggie Pomfret had, somehow, made it easier to believe that Peter’s own feelings might be something more than an artist’s tenderness for his own achievement. But it was indecent of Peter to reach that conclusion so rapidly. She resented the way in which he walked in and out of her mind as if it were his own flat. (p. 244)
She was taken aback, not by what he said, but by his saying it. She had never imagined that he regarded her work very seriously, and she had certainly not expected him to take this attitude about it. The protective male? He was about as protective as a can opener. (p. 256)
Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult it may be. (p. 257)
The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it.
~Lord Peter Wimsey (p. 276)
For some reason, this affair of a mop and a bucket seemed to have made Padgett Peter’s slave for life. Men were very odd. (p. 297)
If people will bring dynamite into a powder factory, they must expect explosions.
~Miss Edwards (p.313)
For about five minutes, Harriet was the prey of that kind of speechless rage which is beyond expression or control. If she had thought of it, she was at that moment in a mood to sympathize with the Poltergeist and all her works. If she could have beaten or strangled anybody, she would have done it and felt better for it. (p. 336)
You have had the luck to come up against a very unselfish and very honest man. He has done what you asked him without caring what it cost him and without shirking the issue.
~Miss de Vine (p. 376)
But when you have come to a conclusion about all this, will you remember that it was I who asked you to take a dispassionate view, and I who told you that of all the devils let loose in the world there was no devil like devoted love….I don’t mean passion. Passion is a good stupid brute that will pull the plough six days a week if you give him the run of his heels on Sundays. But love’s a nervous, over-mastering brute, if you can’t rein him, it’s best to have no truck with him.
~Lord Peter Wimsey to Harriet Vane (p. 332)
I had found you…beyond all hope or expectation at a time when I thought that no woman could ever mean more to me beyond a little easy sale and exchange of pleasure. And I was so terrified of losing you before I could grasp you that I babbled out all my greed and fear as though, God help me, you had nothing to think of but me and my windy self-importance. As though it mattered. As though the very word of love had not been the most crashing insolence a man could offer you.
~Lord Peter Wimsey (p. 379)
I do know that the worst sin—perhaps the only sin—passion can commit is to be joyless. It must lie down with laughter or make its bed in hell—there is no middle way. Don’t, for God’s sake, ever think you owe me anything. If I can’t have the real thing, I can make do with imitation. But I will not have surrenders or crucifixions….If you have come to feel any kindness for me at all, tell me you would never make me that offer again.
~Lord Peter Wimsey (pp. 379-80)
P: Harriet, you know that I love you: will you marry me?
H: Tell me one thing, Peter, will it make you desperately unhappy if I say no?
P: Desperately?…My dear, I will not insult either you or myself with a word like that. I can only tell you that if you will marry me it will give me very great happiness.
~Lord Peter, Harriet (p. 383)