Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Wrapup & Pick of the Month

I am continuing my monthly statistic-gathering and combining that wrap-up post with Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month over at Mysteries in Paradise.

My May totals are down yet again, but still looking good. And Goodreads says I'm actually" two books ahead."  I'm not going to argue with Goodreads.  Here we go...

Total Books Read: 18
Total Pages:  4,353
Percentage by Female Authors:  56%

Percentage by US Authors:  56%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  6%
Percentage Mystery: 78%
Percentage Fiction: 100%
Percentage written 2000+: 6%
Percentage of Rereads: 0%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}  

Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 7 (22%)

AND, as mentioned above, Kerrie is sponsoring a meme for those of us who track our reading. What she's looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month.  This month I read 14 books that count as mysteries and, of those, I handed out three four-star ratings (no five stars this time 'round) to The Morning After Death by Nicholas Blake, Such Friends Are Dangerous by Walter Tyrer, and So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christie.  If I can only pick one to highlight, then I'd like to draw your attention to the Tyrer book. It's nice character study for the small village murder.  It came highly recommended by
John over at Pretty Sinister Books, and he was right on the money.  Click on the title for my full review.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter B

I have signed up for a second year of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, a community meme sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. Each week she'll be expecting participants to produce a post featuring a mystery/crime novel or novelist related to that week's letter. And it's time for our second entry.
B is for The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart.  Rinehart is well-known as one of the pioneers of the "Had I But Known" (HIBK) school of mystery stories.  Generally focusing on innocent, defenseless young women who get themselves into situations--quite often by becoming companions, nurses, governesses, secretaries, etc.--in a remote house where they become entangled in all sorts of mysterious goings on.

The Bat is a bit of a twist on that scenario.  We have Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure.  She takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her niece Dale off to the country to escape the city's summer heat. She rents a country home that has recently become available when Courtleigh Fleming, a local bank manager, died. She's bemoaning her quiet, unadventurous existence when suddenly the countryside becomes the center for some very mysterious activity.  In this story, it's a case of had Miss Van Gorder known what was in store for her, she probably would have been rubbing her hands together in eager anticipation--because she's going to have all the excitement an adventure-starved spinster could ask for.

B is also for the Bat who is the villainous main character of the story.  A quote from the book gives us this description of the Bat:

The Bat - they Called him the Bat. Like a bat he chose the night hours for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly, noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day. He'd never been in stir, the bulls had never mugged him, he didn't run with a mob, he played a lone hand, and fenced his stuff so that even the Fence couldn't swear he knew his face. Most lone wolves had a moll at any rate - women were their ruin - but if the Bat had a moll, not even the grapevine telegraph could locate her. 

The Bat is a notorious criminal mastermind who has eluded the police and even his fellow-criminals.  He's responsible for multiple burglaries, a string of murders, and he's headed for the house where Miss Van Gorder has landed for the summer.  It all makes for a very good read indeed.  Feel free to click the title above for my full review.

New Graves at Great Norne: Review

"Nothing ever happens at Great Norne." Or so says one of the characters in Henry Wade's 1947 mystery set in a small East Anglian village where life has been fairly untouched by the progress of time between the World Wars.  But New Graves at Great Norne will prove him wrong in a very deadly way.  It all begins with the vicar....his death is put down as an accident.  From all appearances, he missed his footing in a heavy fog and died from the blunt force of hitting his head on the quay-side stairs.  His death is followed by what looks like a suicide and then house fire which claims another life.  But a sharp-eyed junior officer--the first detective for Great Norne finds several indications that the suicide and the accidental death in the house fire may not be what they seem.  The Chief Constable decides to bring Scotland Yard in right away--before the trail gets cold. And Inspector Myrtle is detailed to help the local policemen get to the bottom of these deaths.  Before it's over they will discover that the vicar's death was really the beginning and there will be two more deaths and another attempt before Myrtle uncovers the connection between all the victims.

This is a very nicely done vintage mystery.  Inspector Myrtle is by no means the "wonder boy from the Yard" and makes some mistakes on his way to the solution.  There are red herrings that catch his eye and several village inhabitants that just won't tell all they know to the police--whether it's the local constable or the man from London--and that inhibits his progress. Wade is very strong on characterization and a sense of place. The village comes alive and the reader gets a very good feel for what it's like in a small village when they begin to suspect that a killer is in their midst.  I have to admit to spotting the culprit, but I certainly didn't figure out the reason.  That was a bit of a surprise.  Three and 3/4 stars...almost a four.

Booking Through Thursday: What Would You Write?

btt button Booking Through Thursday says:
A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.
If you could write a book, what would it be about, and why? (Though, of course, some of you already HAVE.)
Well, as a matter of fact, I have.  Not published.  Not quite ready to try to publish.  But working towards it.'s an academic mystery.  Set on a Midwestern university campus...with murder and mayhem in the halls of academe.  Why?  For one thing, I love mysteries.  If I have to pick a favorite genre, then that's it.  And they say write what you know and I work at a university--so I'm well-acquainted with the ins and outs of an academic department that might--with an imaginative push--result in murder.  I've still got a lot of polishing to do, but maybe one day you'll see Academic Poison (working title) sitting on a bookshelf (or out there on Amazon) and be tempted to pick it up.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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 New Graves at Great Norne by Henry Wade (p. 220):

He found the room larger than he expected, but from the look of the furniture he guessed it was the only one in the house.  There was a bed, a deal table, a mangle, a dresser, a sink, and a small range with an open fire.

Deal table:  made of pine or fir wood/planks  (Etymology: Middle English dele, from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German, plank; akin to Old High German dili plank -- more at THILL)
1 a British : a board of fir or pine b : sawed yellow-pine lumber nine inches (22.5 centimeters) or wider and three, four, or five inches (7.6 to 12.4 centimeters) thick
2 : pine or fir wood (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Mangle: A mangle (as it is called in the United Kingdom) or wringer (as it is called in the United States) is a mechanical laundry aid consisting of two rollers in a sturdy frame, connected by cogs and, in its home version, powered by a hand crank or electrically. While the appliance was originally used to wring water from wet laundry, today mangles are used to press or flatten sheets, tablecloths, kitchen towels, or clothing and other laundry. [from Wikipedia]

A Norahammars Bruk model 3005-2 mangle from 1934

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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 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 New Graves at Great Norne by Henry Wade (p. 81):

Extraordinary how these stern religious men can kid themselves. They're quite capable of having a red-hot affair with a woman and pretending it's something good and noble, no relation to the seventh commandment.

King Solomon's Mines: Review

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard is another read initially selected for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge sponsored by Man of La Book.  This time I'm taking a peek at the origins for the character of Allan Quartermain.  This book is Haggard's answer to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and was originally written as a result of a five-shilling wager between Haggard and his brother.  Haggard had commented that he could write an adventure story that was at least half as good as Stevenson's Treasure Island.  Apparently the reading public of the time thought so because when it was published in 1885 to advertisements proclaiming it "The Most Amazing Book Ever Written" they gobbled it up, making it difficult for  the publishers to print enough copies to keep up with demand.  According to the book's introduction, it sold 31,000 copies in the first year--an incredible amount for that time.

The story is a pretty straightforward treasure hunt story.  Allan Quartermain is a well-known elephant hunter--a man who has made his living at a dangerous job for well over the general life-span for such hunters.  Quartermaine is approached by Sir Henry Curtis and his good friend, former naval officer Captain Good, who had contacted the white hunter previously about Curtis's brother.  The brothers had quarreled and George (the brother) had set off for Africa in search of treasure.  He had heard the legend of King Solomon's mines--supposedly the source of great wealth, primarily in diamonds.  Quartermain is acquainted with the legend and even has a rough map that is said to show the location.  

Sir Henry asks if Quartermain will accompany them on a search for for the missing man...and incidentally for the diamonds.  After reaching an agreement that gives Quartermain a share of any treasure found and that will provide for Quartermain's son in the event his death, the hunter agrees--figuring that he hasn't much time left as an elephant hunter anyway.  The men set out with three African men on the treacherous journey that finds them crossing a deadly desert, scaling a near-impossible mountain slope, and encountering a warrior tribe to rival the Zulu nation.  The adventurers will have to use all their ingenuity and fighting skills to survive their journey.

There is plenty of action in this one--particularly in the last half of the book.  Quartermain makes a point of saying that he's just giving the story to us straight, without "the grand literary flights and flourishes" of the day.  And for the most part, this is so.  Haggard's style is certainly a lot less wordy than, say, George Eliot (whom I love, by the way, but who has to describe absolutely everything from every which way)--but he does have his moments.  Quartermain does a bit of philosophizing now again, but not too much.  Taken on the surface, it's just a fun book with some humor and some really good characters.  Sure, there are those who are going to be all politically correct and get offended over some of the representations of the "natives."  But, look, folks--this was written in the late 1800s and we're in the middle of British Imperialism here.  Of course, there's bound to be an air of "what these people need is some good old British, white man influence."  And, yes, there is.  But if you look at it realistically--Haggard's pretty forward-thinking for a man of his time.  His representation of the African people is fairly positive in most sections--particularly Umbopa/Ignosi.  And he even allows a romance between Captain Good and one of the Kukuana women--a most unusual move for the times. Three and a half stars.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit and am glad that the challenge gave me incentive to read it.  And...In reference to the portrayal of Quartermain in League (the graphic novel)--I find that Alan Moore has more closely followed Haggard's characterization of the hunter than he did with Stoker's Mina (Harker) Murray.  He has struck just the right note between the great white hunter/adventurer and the coward that Quartermain claims to be. 

It is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross; save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or to lose it as Providence may order. [Sir Henry Curtis] (p. 82)

Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his monument, remains. His name is lost, indeed, but the breath he breathed still stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he knew are our familiar friends--the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!
Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever. (p. 165)

As I grow older, I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking seems to be getting a hold of me. (p. 166)

When one can only do one thing well, one likes to keep up one's reputation in that thing. (p. 169)

Monday, May 28, 2012

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.
A better reading week than I thought...It seems like I've been reading King Solomon's Mines forever.

Books Read (click on titles for review):
The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun
The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough 
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman 
So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christie 
The Strange World of Mr. Mum by Irving W. Phillips


Currently Reading:
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard: When first published (1885), it was an enormous popular success. The narrative follows the explorations of Allan Quartermain, an elephant hunter turned fortune hunter who travels to Africa in search of an ancient treasure and a lost explorer.

Books that spark my interest:
Pearls Before Swine by Margery Allingham
A Slip of the Tong by Charles Goodrum 
New Graves at Great Norne by Henry Wade

Saturday, May 26, 2012

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!

Saturday Snapshot: May 26 (Birds!)

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).

A tree full of birds....found on a walk with my parents in November 2010.  Nearly every branch had an occupant.

Friday, May 25, 2012

So Many Steps to Death: Review

So Many Steps to Death (originally published in 1954 as Destination Unknown and first published in the US under this title in 1955) is one of Agatha Christie's non-series books.  As seems to be usual for her stand-alone books, this is a foray into spy/thriller territory.  This time we have scientists and chemists and medical researchers disappearing at an alarming rate.  In the Cold-War-Era climate, this is particularly disturbing and England's secret service becomes especially interested when a young scientist by the name of Thomas Betterton vanishes. They suspect that his wife knows where to find him and when she suddenly decides to leave England for her health on "doctor's orders" they decide to keep close tabs on her.  Then her plane crashes and she isn't expected to live.

Enter Hilary Craven.  Hilary's husband has deserted her for another woman and her daughter has just died from a long illness.  She thinks that taking a trip will somehow change her life.  But when she arrives in Morocco she finds that what she has been trying to run away from is herself...and you can't do that.  Thinking that she has nothing left to live for, she goes from pharmacy to pharmacy gathering enough sleeping pills to end her life.  But Hilary has caught the eye of one of the secret service men...or rather her red hair has.  And he offers her a bargain...take an assignment that means almost certain death (and which might just get her interested in living again) rather than taking pills which may not be as pleasant a way out as she anticipates.

What is wanted is for Hilary to take the place of Mrs. Thomas Betterton and her particular shade of red hair makes her the perfect candidate.  The scientist's wife is definitely not going to survive her injuries and Hilary is to take on her persona.  If anyone contacts her about joining her husband, she is to follow along and lead the agents to where the scientists have been taken.  It will be dangerous and she's going to have to be letter-perfect in her role.  Will she do it?  Hilary decides she will.  Off into the unknown, taking what seems to be So Many Steps to Death.

Generally speaking, I haven't been as big a fan of Christie's stand-alone novels as I am of Poirot and Miss Marple and Tommy & Tuppence.  The one big exception is And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians, etc), which I think is absolutely awesome.  But this one is pretty darn good. Christie loves to take the standard of various plots in the mystery/detective world and give them her own little twist.  Here she does it with the "scientists defecting to the other side" motif.  Only....are they?  Or, rather, are they going where they think they are and for the purpose that they believe in?  That's the real question.

Hilary Craven is a very intelligent and likeable character.  It is easy to see why she might have been full of despair, but being the type of woman she is, it's also easy to see why she would take up the challenge offered her by Jessop.  It's not that she despises life in general--she just wants a reason for living.  And he provides that for her.  The plot--her taking on another woman's persona--may be a bit shaky, but it's got enough grounding to make the reader willing to believe it.  A fun and quick read.  Four stars.

W: Nobody's so gullible as scientists. All the phony mediums say so.  Can't quite see why.
J: Oh, yes, it would be so. They think they know, you see. That's always dangerous.
~Wharton; Jessop (p. 3)

As for Nigel, she had no wish to burden him with useless remorse even if a note from her would have achieved that object...."Poor old Hilary," he would say, "bad luck"--and it might be that, secretly, he would be rather relieved. Because she guessed that she was, slightly, on Nigel's conscience, and he was a man who wished to feel comfortable with himself. (p. 23)

HC: You think I shall differently tomorrow? [about suicide]
J: People do.
HC: Yes, perhaps. If you're doing things in a mood of hot despair. But when it's cold despair, it's different. I've nothing to live for, you see.
~Hilary Craven; Jessop (p. 26)

I don't go in for being sorry for people. For one thing it's insulting. One is only sorry for people if they are sorry for themselves. Self-pity is the biggest stumbling block in our world today.
~Jessop (p. 36)

E: When one has at last reached freedom, can one even contemplate going back?
HC: But if it is not possible to go back, or to choose to go back, then it is not freedom!
~Ericsson; Hilary Craven (p. 83)

One must have common sense, nothing is permanent, nothing endures. I have come to the conclusion that this place is run by a madman. A madman, let me tell you, can be very logical. If you are rich and logical and also mad, you can succeed for a very long time in living out your illusion. But in the the end this will break up. Because, you see, it is not reasonable what happens here! That which is not reasonable must always pay the reckoning in the end.
~Dr. Barron (p. 118)

There speaks the passion and the rebellion that go with red hair. My second wife had red hair. She was a beautiful woman, and she loved me. Strange, is it not? I have always admired red-haired women. Your hair is very beautiful. There are other things I like about you. Your spirit, your courage; the fact that you have a mind of your own.
~Mr. Aristides (p. 144)

Friday Memes

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme now sponsored by Rose City Reader (who originally inspired the meme). 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 Gilion's place.

Here's mine from So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christie:

The man behind the desk moved a heavy glass paper weight four inches to the right. His face was not so much thoughtful or abstracted as expressionless.

{Sounds like a very precise fellow.  If I didn't know that this isn't a Hercule Poirot book, I would suspect that the man behind the desk was Poirot.}

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 So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christie:
What was the idea of shutting her in there? Then she noticed that there was another door in a corner of the room.

Bloggers Recommend: Non-US & Non UK Books

Bloggers Recommend Unforgettable Memoirs

1 Question - 5 Answers - from 5 (sometimes more) Bloggers

Tanya over at Girlxoxo sponsors Bloggers Recommend--a nifty little series where she asks five (or more) of her fellow book bloggers to recommend one (or sometimes two) favorite books for a given topic.  The most recent installment is Favorite Book(s) Set in Countries Other Than the US & UK and I am one of the lucky bloggers who has been asked to offer up some recommendations.  Please hop on over and see what my fellow bloggers & I have chosen. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Inn at Lake Devine: Review

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman is narrated by Natalie Marx.  Natalie's family is Jewish.  And in the "enlightened" times of the 1960s, racial barriers are falling.  Supposedly.  But when Natalie's parents are looking for a place to spend their vacation in the summer of 1962, they receive an answer from Vermont that sounds very much like a challenge to Natalie.  The guests of the Inn at Lake Devine are all Gentiles--they're the ones who "feel most comfortable here and return year after year."  After her mother shows her the letter, Natalie becomes almost obsessed with the Inn.  She is determined to cross the threshold as guest. 

What follows is a wonderful novel coming of age novel.  It is all about growing up with racial and religious differences.  It's an insightful commentary on the prejudices and bigotry that kept Jewish people and others out of certain establishments and forced them to create their own places.  It shows how one girl's determination can bring understanding to at least a few people.  And it does it without being heavy-handed, without hitting the reader over the head with platitudes.  It even manages to produce a lovely romantic story along the way.

I picked this one up for the Getting Lost in a Comfortable Book Challenge.  Not my normal reading fare, but a wonderful story and a very quick read.  Natalie is a marvelous central character--someone that I wish I knew in real life.  And the supporting characters are just as finely drawn....there are no cardboard cutouts here.  Real people facing real problems....and dealing with events in a very realistic way.  Highly recommended. Four stars.

That's how it was on Irving Circle and how I was raised: You made the best out of what was within reach, which meant friendships engineered by parents and by the happenstance of housing. I stayed with it because we both had queenly older sisters who rarely condescended to play with us, because Shelley was adopted and I was not, because Shelley had Clue and Life, and I did not. (p. 11)

Theme Thursday: Friend

Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
*Link back to Reading Between the Pages

And this week's theme is Friend (buddy, confidant, comrade, etc.).

Here is my selection from The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman (p. 11):

That's how it was on Irving Circle and how I was raised: You made the best out of what was within reach, which meant friendships engineered by parents and by the happenstance of housing. I stayed with it because we both had queenly older sisters who rarely condescended to play with us, because Shelley was adopted and I was not, because Shelley had Clue and Life, and I did not.

AND (p. 56):

The night his letter arrived, my parents asked at dinner--a dinner at which I had picked the canned gray button mushrooms out of my mother's pot roast--what it was that was making me and Mr. Berry such fast friends.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Lady in the Loch: Review

Soooo, once upon a time I put The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough on my long TBR list.  I'm thinking I probably did that because it was billed as a historical/literary mystery. 'Cause, you know it's set in the late 18th century and stars Walter Scott before he became a "Sir" and before he had written/published most of his best known work.  And I do love me a good historical mystery.  I'm sure the basic synopsis grabbed my attention too.

Because Walter Scott has just recently been appointed as a sheriff of Edinburgh.  He expects the job to be a pretty simple one--giving him a nice steady income and time to work on his writing.  But shortly after taking office he is called to the banks of the half-frozen loch where workers who have been draining off the water have found the bones of some poor soul who was disposed there.   Before he has time to really investigate this find, a young gypsy woman named Midge Margaret comes to him with a story of missing women from the gypsy camp.  One young girl disappeared while gathering wood for the fire and another was snatched from her very bed during the night. 

Midge Margaret gets more attention from Scott than most townsfolk are willing to give the "tinklers" as the gypsies are called--in part because their paths had crossed years earlier in one of Scott's first encounters with sheriff duties (more as a bystander than a law-enforcer).  At first it is thought that body snatchers or "nobbins" as the gypsies call them are responsible for the disappearances.  Because after all, nobody will miss a few gypsies here and there and the university can always use extra bodies to learn medicine and anatomy from.  Scott promises to look into the matter, but before he can make many inquiries Midge Margaret and her brother are attacked in town and her pregnant sister-in-law is taken as well.  Now the race is on...for the attacker is working to a schedule and for a design of his own and Scott and Midge Margaret will have to be quick if they are going to prevent Jeannie (the sister-in-law) from becoming another body in the loch.

All that sounds like the basis for a pretty good mystery story, don't you think?  But nobody told me in the various synopses that I read that we'd be dealing with ghosts and dead people sitting up and talking.  Nobody told me that a sheriff would have the mystical power to call upon a murdered girl and ask her who her murderer is--and that she'd answer.  Nobody told me that we had the belief (and reality) that if murdered people are touched by their attacker then their wounds will bleed afresh and proclaim the guilt of the killer.  Nobody told me that we'd be dealing with spirit possession of living people.  And nobody, after getting me to suspend my disbelief long enough to swallow a historical mystery that contains such things, can tell me why a murdered man later in the book doesn't jump up and proclaim the murderer when he's examined by him/her.  Oh....but that would end the book about two chapters too soon and we can't have that, so that whole murdered people can identify their murderers thing only works when it's convenient for the plot. 

So, that's my major quibble with this book.  After getting me to travel back in time and making me believe in the Walter Scott (and the gypsies and the other characters...) of the time period and making me believe that all this mystical stuff is true, Scarborough does not use the paranormal trappings consistently.   Or at least doesn't give a very good reason why it only works part of the time.  If it works, then it works. Period.  Not just when the author needs it to.

The characters are great. I don't know Sir Walter Scott's work and I don't know much about him, so I can't say whether Scarborough's Scott is true to life.  But I like her portrayal of him.  And I like Midge Margaret a lot.  She's a very intelligent and brave young woman--and the reader is rooting for her and her companions.  The plot itself is an interesting one.  All pluses.  I'm not sure if Scarborough meant the identity of the killer to be a big secret and the reveal to be a surprise--but it wasn't.  It didn't take me long to figure out who was behind the disappearances and deaths.  Overall, a fairly decent story--not quite what I expected and not as consistent within its own world as I would like.  Two and a half stars--mostly for character development.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

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 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 Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (p. 153):

"Thon lassie is no common fortune-teller, Deacon," Hogg said to Primrose. "She's a verra fine singer, and a seventh dochter of a seventh deochter, as was her mither before her."
"Is she noo?" Mac Rae asked. "I'd like a word with her.  Could be she could use the Sight tae gie me a clue as tae the identity o' yer lady in yon loch."
(a bit heavy-going through that Scottish accent at times....)

The Cat Who Saw Red: Review

The Cat Who Saw Red is the fourth book in Lilian Jackson Braun's popular "Cat Who..." series.  Once upon a time I read one of these books (The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, the second book)--I got it through the Mystery Guild book club--and thought it a decent read.  But I never really bothered to go on with the series.  It's an interesting concept.  You have Jim Qwilleran, a news reporter for the The Daily Fluxion, and his two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum.  Qwilleran used to be a crime reporter--quite a good one--until a rough divorce resulting in depression and a problem with alcohol caused him to lose his job.  When the series begins, he has taken a job with The Daily Fluxion and is working his way back to respectability.

This book finds Qwill (as he's known to his friends) assigned to cover the restaurant beat.  And for his first story, he decides to interview Robert Maus, a lawyer known for his culinary skills and also the owner of Maus Haus--a boarding house for artistic and culinary types.  As a result of his initial contact with Maus and, coincidentally finding that an old flame is a boarder in the house, Qwill takes up residence in the coincidentally vacant apartment #6.  He's hoping to see more of Joy Graham (never mind that she's now married), but soon he's interested in more than just stirring up the embers of old love.  He learns of an unsolved "suicide" from years ago and then odd things begin to happen--Joy's cat disappears and then Joy herself.  The young houseboy, William, becomes a source of gossip and information until he too disappears.  There's also the mystery of who is sabotaging the reputation of Max Sorrel's restaurant, The Golden Lamb Chop.  Sorrel is another inmate of Maus Haus--and someone has been spreading rumors that his meals are made with less-than-savory ingredients.  Are all of these incidents connected....or are the disappearances unrelated?  Qwill and his detective-minded cats will soon find out.

As you might have guessed from the sprinkling of the word, there are a fair number of "coincidences" in this one.  You also have to suspend your disbelief regarding cats and how much they really might know about human nature.  But once you get past that, this is a pleasant little cozy mystery.  Fairly well-clued and a bit of suspense thrown in (albeit in a nice, soft-touch sort of way).  Qwill is a fairly likeable guy and I do like his interactions with the cats.  I picked this one up primarily for the Getting Lost in a Comfortable Book reading challenge and I can certainly see why this would be considered comfort reading.  Nothing too challenging here.  Just a nice little murder with cats as the window dressing. Three stars.

Favorite Quote:
..if you've never been cussed out by a Siamese, you don't know what profanity is all about! [Jim Qwilleran] (p. 4)

Top Ten Tuesday: Non-Bookish Blogs

Top Ten Tuesday is an original bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new top ten topic is posted for followers to write about. This week we are asked to list our Top Ten Non-Bookish Blogs/Sites.   I'm not sure I can come up with Ten...but here goes:

1. Retronaut: Which has all sorts of cool pictures from days gone by. 

2. Awkward Family Photos: Because they're just so funny....

3. The Day After Yesterday: blog by Anne Dickens of the UK--a lovely, outspoken, funny Brit

4. Sleep Talkin' Man: mild-mannered English husband by day, hysterically funny sleep-talker by night.  His wife captures it all for our enjoyment.....

5. Content in a Cottage: lovely, homey pictures--taken by the blog owner or sometimes just discovered by her on the interwebs.

6. dailypaxil: owned by my good friend, Richard. The one who got me started on this whole blogging journey.  He doesn't post nearly as often as he planned (or should)--but when he does, the posts are delightful, animal-centric posts and musings.
That's it...the best I can do.  Most of my blog-hopping has to do with books..... 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Garden of Malice: Review

In Garden of Malice by Susan Kenney, Rosamund "Roz" Howard is an associate professor at Vassar who is looking for an extraordinary bit of research that she can publish and help her case for tenure.  She's ecstatic when she is offered the plum job of editing the diaries and letters of Lady Viola Montford-Snow.  Lady Viola was a well-known English novelist as well as the creator of gorgeous gardens at her home at Montford Abbey.  Wondering why she was chosen out of all the qualified candidates, but not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Roz travels to England only to find that it is not exactly the ideal scholarly situation she had anticipated.

For example, her employer and Viola's son, Giles Montford-Snow is holding the letters tight to his chest--only allowing Roz to view copies, and only in his presence and in the order he deems proper.  Giles is intent on maintaining his mother's memory exactly as is, just as he has made every effort to keep Montford Abbey and the surrounding gardens exactly as they were when Viola was alive.  And he's not about to let anything interfere with that.  He is, however, counting on secrets to be revealed in his mother's papers--secrets that will help sell books and, ultimately, help fund the continued existence of Viola's precious gardens.  Roz chafes under his absolute control of the materials.

Added to the situation, someone fears the secrets contained in Viola's letters and will do anything to prevent those secrets from coming out.  A campaign of intimidation is begun--first by destroying several of the gardens and then things begin to get more serious.  Giles is found unconscious after a run-in with a deadly weed-killer and Florence, one of the many relatives and off-shoots of the Montford-Snow clan, falls prey to poisoned tea.  Roz receives a message telling her that she is next...but she is determined to stick it out and find out who is responsible and what secrets Viola's papers hold.  But will she live to tell the tale?

This is an obvious debut novel.  Rather heavy-handed in its attempts to create atmosphere, it never quite comes off.  One should be just as interested as Roz in finding out what the "big secret" is, but one isn't.  And when the secret is revealed...well, it's rather a let-down.  It just doesn't seem to be as big a deal as we're led to believe.   And rather a lot is made of Roz being able to trust a certain character....but there really isn't any reason why he should be more trustworthy than anyone else.  Later, he has an alibi of sorts for some of the mischief--but early on, he could be just as guilty as any of the others.  But, of course, Roz just knows that he's okay.

On the one hand, Roz seems to be a good scholar, asking a lot of the right questions about the materials.  But then, she misses all the questions she ought to be asking about the situation she finds herself in.  She really ought to be questioning what people are telling her and what she overhears a heck of a lot more.  Where's that inquisitive brain when it comes to the strange circumstances she finds herself in the midst of?

I expected to like this one more than I did.  I had previously read Graves in Academe by Kenney and thought that Roz Howard showed real promise as a character.  I didn't realize till I began reading this one that Garden was the debut.  I've since seen ratings of the third novel One Fell Sloop and it seems that there is little improvement.  Two and a half stars....and I don't believe I'll be looking for that third book.

Perhaps the habit of intrigue is catching--in the air or the walls.  Like secret passages, only in the mind. [Alan Stewart] (p. 85)

Did you know a good belly laugh can bring a person's blood pressure down thirty points in a matter of seconds? I've often wondered if that were the basis of comic relief in tragedy, or the reason why people invariably giggle at horror shows. It's a much nicer way of letting go than screeching hysterics, but then I suspect you're about as hysterical as Whistler's mother.  I'm quite sure you never screech. [Alan Stewart] (p. 142)

Sometimes I think I'm suffering from a permanent case of jet lag. Most of the time I feel as though I'm hearing only half the conversation, and the rest is going on by mental telepathy or osmosis or something, and I'm the only one who's missing the right equipment. The auditory equivalent of trying to read between the lines. [Roz Howard] (p. 147)

Ah, fair Rosamund. Books. I doubt whether anything most of us write should be taken precisely as read. [Stewart] (p. 150)