Thursday, February 28, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Current Events

This week, BTT asks: What are you reading right now? (And, is it good? Would you recommend it? How did you choose it?)

I'm reading The Other Side of Tomorrow, a collection of science fiction short stories put together in 1973 and edited by Roger Elwood.  The stories speculate on that far and distant time...the 21st Century! So far, the jury's still out on how good it is...I've only read one of the short stories so far and it was pretty okay. Not a blockbuster, but okay.  I decided to read it because it's been sitting on my TBR pile for eons (I added it to the stack back in 1993) and I was trying to get it read for the Science Fiction Experience blogger event and my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.  Unless I get off the computer right now and read straight through till midnight, I'm probably not going to sneak this one in for the SF Experience (ends today). Ah well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three English Comedies: Review

Three English Comedies, edited by A. B. (Agnes) De Mille, is an illustrated copy containing three 18th Century plays: She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith and The Rivals and The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.  The book is apparently a textbook of sorts from 1924 and along with the plays it contains notes on lives of Goldsmith and Sheridan, a discussion of London life and dramatic literature, and aids to the study and acting of the comedies.  There are even discussion and test questions meant to help students meet the requirements of the College Entrance Board exams of the time.  I must confess to skipping most of that.  This past Saturday (February 23) I attended a production of The School for Scandal and it prompted me to dig out this book and read the play for myself (and reread She Stoops to Conquer and go ahead and read The Rivals).  A nice set of witty, satirical plays. Lots of fun and an interesting look at the 18th Century. Three and a half stars for all. Having completed all of the plays, I declare this book conquered for the purposes of various challenges.

And, now, on with the show(s)....

I first read She Stoops to Conquer when I was in college.  We read it (and excerpts from various other 18th C plays) during the course of the 300-level major section covering the time period. I loved both it and The Beggar's Opera by Gay. The comedic wit and satirical comedy of the 18th C is not to be matched (as far as I'm concerned) until Oscar Wilde bursts upon the scene in the Victorian era.  A couple of years ago, I saw a production of She Stoops to Conquer that prompted me to read it again.  And, of course, now I have been enticed back to the 18th C after my latest dramatic excursion. 

Goldsmith's play is a light-hearted romantic comedy which takes place in an English country house. We have Tony Lumpkin who is trying to keep out of an arranged marriage with his cousin, Miss Neville.  His mother is highly in favor, but neither he nor the lady in question are at all enthusiastic. In fact, Miss Neville has quite another man in mind. Then there's his step-sister, Miss Hardcastle, who is being told to marry a man picked out by her father.  She's not excited about that match. Young Marlowe (Miss Hardcastle's intended), is quite the bashful fellow--and that won't do at all. Both of the suitors are on their way to the Harcastle's home and Tony comes up with a plan to set matters straight.  He tells the gentleman that they have arrived at an inn.  And it seems that Marlowe is a totally different man when he comes amongst the lower classes--ordering his host about, treating the daughter of the house like a barmaid.  Will Mr. Hardcastle run the men out of his house before true love's course can run straight?

The Rivals by Sheridan is new to me. But the situations of double-identity and mistaken notions are not.  We have the young lovers, Lydia and Jack, who must make their way through both before they can have their happy ending.  Jack has a father, Sir Anthony Absolute, who is determined that his son will marry the girl of his (that is Sir Anthony's) choice. Lydia has an aunt who also insists that Lydia marry the person she chooses. And both Sir Anthony and Mrs. Malaprop hold the purse strings of their charges.  To add to the mix, Lydia is an insatiable reader of romances and vows to marry for romantic reasons and will go into poverty to do so.  She refuses to consider Jack as a suitor when offered to her as the soon-to-be-wealthy Captain Absolute--but is more than happy to align herself with him when he presents himself as the poor Ensign Beverley. Two others also vie for her hand, Captain Absolute's friend, Acres, and Sir Lucius O'Trigger--though Sir Lucius has been paying his addresses to the aunt by misdirection.  In the end, it will take a pair of duels to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion. As a bonus, we have Mrs. Malaprop, mother to the linguistic mistake, who produces such lovely lines as "She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile!" and "He is the very pineapple of politeness!"

MM: There's a little intricate hussy for you!
SA: It is not to be wondered at, ma'am,---all this is the natural consequence of teaching girls to read. Had I thousands daughters, by Heaven! I'd as soon have them taught the black art as their alphabet. ~Mrs. Malaprop; Sir Anthony Absolute

SA: In my way hither, Mrs. Malaprop, I observed your niece's maid coming forth from a circulating library!--She had a book in each hand--They were half-bound volumes, with marble covers!  ~Sir Anthony [Oh No! Anything but marble covers!]

MM (in a letter): Female punctuation forbids me to say more.... ~Mrs. Malaprop

And, of course, the start of this little dramatic interlude...The School for Scandal. After the delightful production put on by the IU Department of Theatre & Drama, I immediately came home to look for my copy of the play. As with so many things, the modern age may think it has invented gossip and scandal, but as Sheridan's play proves--it's a sport that has been in fashion for over 250 years, and more. There's a lot going on here.  Sir Oliver Surface has left his friend Sir Peter Teazle to watch over his nephews while Sir Oliver is off in the East Indies. Sir Peter is also the guardian of Maria and hopes that there will be a marriage between Maria and his favorite of the two nephews, Joseph.  But Maria is in love with Charles.  Charles is represented as an extravagant spender and heavy partier for the age.  Joseph presents himself as virtuous, moral, and sentimental--everything Sir Peter expects a man to be. Then there is Lady Sneerwell who wants Charles for herself and employs her servant Snake in the task to spread rumor and scandal to discredit Charles with Maria. Lady Sneerwell also has quite a following in her "school" of scandal--gossip-mongers all. 

Lady Teazle is a new pupil in the school. She was a simple country girl who married Sir Peter and has found herself enamored with the fashion of town. Lady Teazle must have all that is fashionable and quarrels regularly with her husband about her spending habits. Joseph, as part of his scheme to get in good with Maria, has played up to Lady Teazle--in hopes that the lady will speak well of him to Maria, but finds himself regarded as the lady's lover instead. It all comes to a fine end when Sir Oliver returns and wants to see for himself how his nephews are conducting themselves.  He sets up a couple of tests to find the truth of their nature and to see who shall become his heir. There is much hiding behind screens and in boxes and in closets; there are overheard conversations and sudden unveilings before the matter is settled.

Monday, February 25, 2013

BINGO!! with Square #11

With Square #11 in the Book Blogger's Bingo game, I have scored my first Bingo!  Here's my latest conquest:

Reread 1 Book
1. Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (2/25/13)

I had a feeling that one of my Bingos would run across the top (read one in each category).  I predict that my next Bingo will run down the left-hand column.

You can see all the books I've read for the Book Bingo Challenge by clicking on the Challenge link.


His Last Bow: Review

His Last Bow (originally, Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes) is a collection of 7-8 Holmes tales, including the title story.  "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" appears in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in British editions, but is added to the American edition of His Last Bow.  A story that deals with adultery, it was thought when Memoirs was published to be too risqué for the American public at the time. So, the story was held back and added later to His Last Bow. These are all quite good.  I thoroughly enjoyed the stories back in junior high school when I first read them and I enjoyed them just as much in this re-read.  Four stars--both then and now.

"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge": Mr. Scott Eccles is invited to spend the night at the home of a Spanish gentleman he has just met.  During the night, the man and his servants disappear, leaving Eccles alone and baffled.  Eccles consults Holmes--only to find out that Garcia, the Spaniard, has been murdered. What was the purpose behind the invitation...and why was Garcia killed?

"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box": Miss Cushing, a maiden lady of fifty, is the recipient of a rather nasty little package...a cardboard box with a pair of human ears laid down in salt. Is it just a joke--in very poor taste--by her former boarders who were medical students? Or is there something more sinister afoot?

What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever. ~Holmes

"The Adventure of the Red Circle": Mrs. Warren has an odd lodger.  For five pounds a week (way more than the going price), he asks to taker her rooms--the money is hers if she will leave him completely alone.  Neither she nor her husband have set eyes on him for ten days and it has made her afraid.  And so she comes to Holmes with her story.  Her husband is abducted and Holmes helps track down a notorious member of the Italian underworld.

Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last. ~Holmes

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans": Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, makes an appearance in this story of murder and the lost plans to a secret submarine. Holmes must prove the guilt or innocence of a certain government clerk.

But that Mycroft should break out in this erratic fashion! A planet might as well leave its orbit. ~Holmes

We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. ~Holmes

"The Adventure of the Dying Detective": Holmes must go to death's door (his own) to bring a cold blooded killer to justice. It begins to look like even his friend Doctor Watson will be unable to save him from the mysterious illness that has overtaken him.

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax": As the title indicates, Lady Frances is missing.  Holmes sends Watson to Lausanne to investigate.  Watson is led to Germany where Lady Frances apparently met a couple by the name of Schlessinger as well as a large bearded man.  When Watson contacts Holmes to report, all Holmes wants to know is the shape of Schlessinger's left ear.

"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot": Or, as Holmes refers to it, "The Cornish Horror"--the strangest case he ever handled. Holmes is told by a Harley Street specialist that he must take a complete rest if he is to avoid a breakdown. He & Watson head to the Cornish coast where Holmes winds up investigating the murder of the sister of a man named Tresginnis and the madness of his brothers.

To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces. ~Holmes

"I followed you."(Holmes)
"I saw no one."(Dr. Sterndale)
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you." (Holmes)

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.
Still running at least three books behind.  Can't seem to catch up this year....

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan
Aaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The World's 100 Best Short Stories, Vol. III: Mystery by Grant Overton, ed
Currently Reading: 
The Other Side of Tomorrow by Roger Elwood, ed: In 1973, Elwood asked the question: What will life be like for the young people of the future? What will they inherit from today, and what strange new situations will they face?

Nine popular science fiction writers confront these questions in lively stories created especially for this collection. Their answers are intriguing and remarkably varied. Each author presents a possible world of the future. And each examines the lives of young people who are balancing their own dreams against the peculiar demands of their world

Books that spark my interest:
 Holiday Homicide by Rufus King
The Green Plaid Pants by Margaret Scherf
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich 
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Blogger Bingo: Square #10

Read 1 Everybody But Me
1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2/24/13)

You can see all the books I've read for the Book Bingo Challenge by clicking on the Challenge link.   

World's 100 Best Short Stories--Mystery: Review

The World's 100 Best Short Stories Vol. III: Mystery by Grant Overton, ed. was published in 1927 and contains stories written from the 1840s to the 1920s.  The selections fall under a rather broad interpretation of "mystery," but the stories are all very entertaining.  The book features work by well-known authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, and Katherine Mansfield as well as those primarily known by mystery fans--Melville Davisson Post  and E. Phillips Oppenheim.  And then there are a few whose names may only be known by those completely immersed in detective fiction lore (and more well-versed than I was before plunging into this little red volume). An entertaining little collection: Three Stars.

"The Doomdorf Mystery" by Melville Davisson Post: Perhaps Post's most well-known story featuring Uncle Abner.  An early and classic locked room murder in which a man is shot while resting in his room--door securely bolted on the inside and windows coated with dust and obviously undisturbed (not to mention the sheer drop below the windows that make it impossible for the killer to have entered). There is always a moral to the Uncle Abner stories and in this one Abner finds the clues to the mystery in quotations from a Protestant preacher.

"The Three Strangers" by Thomas Hardy: A local shepherd near Casterbridge throws a party to celebrate the christening of the latest addition to his family.  In the midst of the dancing and the toasting, a stranger comes in seeking shelter from the storm raging outside. The first man has barely settled with a mug beside the fire when a second stranger arrives seeking shelter on his way to the town. The company has reached a moment in the party where they are calling upon one another to sing a song and the second man obliges with verses that indicates that he is a hangman--on his way to dispatch a sheep thief in the morning. Before he can finish his song, a third stranger comes to the door, steps across the threshold, and quickly turns and flees.  It's obvious that something has scared him. A gunshot follows--indicating that a prisoner has escaped.  The hangman calls on the shepherd's guests to help chase the fleeing man.  But who really was the prisoner? Are they chasing the right man?

"The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe: I've read this story about about William Legrand and his treasure-hunt for Captain Kidd's treasure more times than I can count.  It was a favorite of English teachers at various stages of elementary through high school.  Not strictly a detective story, but there is the mystery of how Legrand figured everything out to be revealed.

"The Guilty Secret" by Paul de Kock:  Nathalie De Hauteville is a young, pretty widow who invites her uncle to come live with her and be her guardian until she can find another suitable husband.  Uncle knows a good thing when he finds it--a pretty niece who houses him and bows to his every wish.  If only the darn girl could play backgammon.  But then Nathalie meets Captain Armand d'Apremont, a handsome and rich young man who seems to be the husband of her dreams....and her uncle's, for the captain plays a mean game of backgammon.  But once the honeymoon is over, the captain's doting mood changes to dark brooding and restlessness.  What guilty secret lurks behinds this change in her husband?

"Out of Exile" by Wilbur Daniel Steele: Mary Matheson, a young beauty, has all the young men falling at her feet.  Chief among her admirers are Andrew and Joshua, two brothers whom she has kept dangling without making a clear choice between them.  Finally, at a party given on a night when there is a storm brewing out at sea, she tells them that she will marry the first one to come to her with a wedding ring.  Andrew takes exception to Mary's making a game of their love and goes out into the night saying he's sailing for unknown parts.  Joshua is sent out after him--but returns without his brother and with a ring for Mary.  She refuses to marry him until his brother returns and can stand up with them at the wedding.  But...when the exile does return, will they be married after all?

 "The Knightsbridge Mystery" by Charles Reade: There is much mystery surrounded Captain Cowen.  He keeps himself to himself at the inn where he is staying and there is much speculation by the regulars, the innkeeper and the stable hands.  Is he really a captain?  Was he perhaps a member of the footpads who have been robbing the defenseless travelers?  But when the Captain comes into money and becomes more social and then saves an older couple from footpads, public sentiment turns in his favor.  Then there is murder and theft in the inn. The Captain is gone and blame is placed on a drunken master of horses.  But a member of the Bow Street Runners is none too sure.

"Silence" by Leonid Andreiev: A stern minister's daughter commits suicide, but no one knows why. 

"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield: The least mystery-like of the bunch.  Three girls living with their aunt are given a doll house.  They're allowed to share their new treasure with everyone at school--everyone except the daughters of the local washerwoman.  There's intense speculation about the washerwoman's husband.  Is he a convict?  Where is he?  But there's also a bit of a mystery involving the girls' aunt.....

"The Strange Bed" by Wilkie Collins: Another of the famous stories--included in many anthologies. A gambler has a night of huge winnings and much celebration.  So much celebration that he's convinced to spend the night in the gaming house rather than take his winnings out into the street in his inebriated.  But the gaming house master doesn't intend that the gambler will leave the house at all.

"The Bamboozling of Mr. Gascoigne" by E. Phillips Oppenheim: An American in Monte Carlo hooks up with an impoverished Marquis and his niece. Their goal? To swindle an American millionaire out his interest in a few oil wells.  

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Adam's TBR Challenge, Book Bingo, Criminal Plots, Embarrassment of Riches, Mount TBR Challenge, Mystery and Crime Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge

Ready Player One: Review

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the ultimate 70s/80s pop culture, video-game-loving, geek overload of a book.  There are references to everything from Pac Man to Max Headroom, from Star Trek to Star Wars, from War Games to School House Rock. If it doesn't make your nerdy self explode in a Dungeon & Dragons frenzy, then I don't know what will. Oh....and it works for those of us who aren't quite so into video games and pop culture too.

The story takes place in a rather bleak future. Fossil fuels have finally run out and the entire world is in a pretty depressed state economically speaking. There are few jobs and little hope and most people spend as much of their time as possible in the virtual world...a place called OASIS.  The OASIS was developed by super-geek James Halliday and his partner Ogden Morrow.  This virtual world/gaming paradise places all sorts of worlds at the player's fingertips.  Via one's avatar, Vulcan and Endor and probably even Arrakis of Dune are all possible destinations.  And every game a gamer can imagine is ready for playing. And access to the OASIS world is free--well, virtually.  A one-time fee of twenty-five cents gets you in.

But Halliday's passion was the 80s (and 70s)--he was obsessed with the decade and when he died he left behind a will that said that whoever could find the easter egg hidden in the OASIS would be his heir--an heir to all of the OASIS stock and billions of dollars. The easter egg could only be found by playing "Halliday's Game"--the ultimate treasure hunt with an initial clue given in the will. Every gamer out there has been working for years to try and figure out what that original clue meant--there are Halliday scholars and books and online resources detailing every moment of Halliday's life.  Notebooks and journals that tell about all of his obsessions--from early video games to his favorite 80s movies and TV shows to the science fiction novels he loved. No self-respecting gamer (or "gunter" as they're known in the book) would dare enter the game without being able to recite whole movies from Halliday's list of must-see films.

Our hero is Wade Watts--a teenager who is on the low-end of the social strata.  He has spent his life in the "stacks"--trailer parks where (since real estate is such a premium) the trailers are stacked on top of one another like apartment complexes.  He is the first to break the code in the first clue and soon he and the High Five (four other individuals) are off and running on the treasure hunt of their lives.  And it just might cost them their lives--because individual gamers aren't the only ones with their eye on the prize.  Also in the mix is the Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a mega-corporation that intends to win the game, take over OASIS, and start charging regular fees and cluttering up the virtual world with advertising. To this end, IOI has hired gunters to work for them--regular paychecks, benefits, gaming supplies all provided and all you have to do is sign away your right to the prize. Wade and the rest of High Five become the target of the Sixers (those in IOI's employ) and it becomes a race to claim the final prize before the Sixers can eliminate the competition--permanently.

This was a very fun book. I'm grateful to all the fellow bloggers who have read this over the last two years and put it on my radar.  With so many folks mentioning it, I figured the book would qualify for the "Everybody But Me" category in Book Blogger Bingo.  Lots of action and great ride all along the way.  I am deducting one star, however, for the rather tedious game explanations (info dumps) that occur periodically along the way.  I finally started skimming and can't see that my lack of knowledge about how some of the old video games worked really hurt my understanding of the novel.  I also really enjoyed the characters and the way the High Five group interacted.  There was just the right mix of friendship and friendly competition.  Four stars for a really good read.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Bingo: Square #9

Read 3 Books From Your TBR Pile
1. Veiled Murder by Alice Campbell (1/28/13)
2. Corpses at Indian Stones by Philip Wylie (2/7/13)
3. Aaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn (2/22/13)

You can see all the books I've read for the Book Bingo Challenge by clicking on the Challenge link.  


Aaron's Serpent: Review

Aaron's Serpent by Emily Thorn (1962) just barely misses my arbitrary cut-off for vintage mysteries. Labeled as an "Avalon Romance-Mystery," it's an interesting little book. I originally grabbed it up because I noticed that it had an academic setting, but I didn't focus on the actual name of the institution in question--Camelot College--until I finally reached it in my TBR stacks.  Yes, Ms. Thorn has managed to put together a mystery with all the trappings of Arthurian legend.  Presiding at Camelot College, we have President Arthur Pendragon and his lovely wife, Gwen.  President Pendragon has a half-sister Fay Morgan and a young protégé named Lance Lake (who also happens to be in love with the president's wife).  We mustn't forget Elaine (Andrews) who is in love with Lance and John Mordred, the much disliked Camelot professor, who conveniently dies at Kin---er, President Pendragon's Fellowship House round table dinner.  Conveniently, that is for Gwen and Lance two of Mordred's objects of blackmail. Other Arthurian characters roam in and out of the story....but when I got about half way through I suddenly wondered: But where is Merlin?  Never fear, Merlin appears as a famous lawyer turned criminal investigator who helps Lieutenant Garth of the police get to the bottom of the mystery.  My only explanation for the title (which strikes me as most definitely not Arthurian) is that someone at Avalon books thought Murder at the Round Table might be just a little over-the-top.

There has long been rumors that there was a love affair between Lance and Gwen back when he attended Camelot College.  But Gwen married the young president, Arthur Pendragon, and Lance left town to seek his fortune and leaving his own worshipper behind in Elaine Andrews.  Several years later, Lance is a lawyer and he returns to Camelot. His friend Arthur welcomes him back with open arms and intends for Lance to join the faculty of the college.  A dinner is arranged to announce the plan...but before Arthur can even begin his welcome speech, John Mordred, head of the chemical engineering department, has died from the taste a of poison apple. Mordred has few friends around the table and the police later find that he had a little black book of possible blackmail victims.  Did one of them do him in?  Was Gwen foolish enough to kill him at her own dinner table?  Many of the townspeople--including the prosecuting attorney think so.  But there's that annoying little thing called proof. Lt. Garth doesn't believe that Arthur's beautiful wife has stooped to murder--but it will take all of his attention (a bit hard when one is distracted by the lovely Elaine) and some help from the famous Merlin before he can prove whether he's right.

I can't say that this was an incredibly intricate mystery.  And I'm not sure that it falls into the vintage fair play mode.  But it's a lot of fun trying to match up all the players to characters from the Arthurian legend. One keeps wondering, will Thorne use (insert Arthurian character)...."Of course, she does."  It's a nice read--more for the references than anything.  But a pleasant diversion from the "have-to" books I've been reading for a few of my challenges. Three stars for a light, fun read.

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Off the Shelf, Mount TBR Challenge, What An Animal, Book Bingo, Monthly Key Word, Adam's TBR Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, Mystery and Crime Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, A-Z Mystery Authors, Monthly Mix-Up Mania

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Desert Moon Mystery

Once again I find myself in debt to John over at Pretty Sinister Books.  This time it's not just for bringing my latest vintage mystery read, The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan, to my attention via his fabulous blog (check it out if you haven't already!), but also for the very generous loan of his copy.  I have met some really fine folks out here in the blogging world...and John is one of the finest.  I have long wanted to read a book by Strahan (a couple of her titles have been on the TBF/O--To Be Found/Owned--list for eons) and I had not yet managed to track down one of her novels for my very own--borrowing  from a good friend is the next best thing.

The scene of the crime in Strahan's novel is the Desert Moon Ranch--home to the wealthy Sam Stanley, his housekeeper Mary Magin, his adopted son and daughter, John and Martha, Martha's care-giver Mrs. Ricker, and hangers-on Chadwick Caufield and Hubert Hand.  Sam just seems to collect folks for his ranch like some people take in stray cats.  The story is told by Mary Magin and the action begins when the twin daughters of Sam's ex-wife show up looking for a place of "rest and relaxation."  

Except they're not really getting any of that....Mrs. Magin notices that the girls, Danielle and Gabrielle, are constantly busy searching everything from the attic to the outlying buildings.  They're certainly up to something, but what?  Before Mrs. Magin can discover what the object of this scavenger hunt is, Gabrielle is found strangled on the attic steps and this first shocking death is followed by the suicide of Chad Caufield.  Caufield believed himself in love with Gabrielle--a vain, mean-spirited girl who wouldn't even give him the time of day.  Has he killed himself out of desperation because the girl he loves is dead...or out of remorse because he killed her after being rejected one too many times?

Sam Stanley firmly believes Caulfield to be innocent and is determined to get to the bottom of things. Mrs. Magin is also taking notes and keeping an eye on everyone.  It doesn't help that the girls' father, a ne'er do well who has just been released from prison shows up.  Stanley gathers everyone together for a session of coerced confessions, but before that little task can be completed Martha is dead.  Grief-stricken and out of options, he decides to hire Lynn MacDonald, a private detective of great repute, who also happens to be a woman.  There will be one more death and a great many clues to be gathered before Miss MacDonald--with the help of Mrs. Magin--can track down the culprit.

As John mentions in his review, this mystery uses one of moth-eaten tricks of detective fiction, but the story is so well-told and has enough interesting features that the modern reader really doesn't mind.  It's actually kind of nice to read one of the early instances of the trick.  Lynn MacDonald is a nice take on the female Holmes, keeping facts and observations to herself until Mary can prove to her that she has quite the keen eye for observation herself.  The two make a very good team at the end.

It was also quite interesting to read a vintage mystery with a very country house set-up that takes place in a very western atmosphere.  There's a down-home feel to the story that runs under the build-up of suspense and confusion--made the most real to us through Mary's difficulties in arranging what she knows and what she's heard from various characters.  Overall a very comfortable and entertaining book--three and a half stars.

Monday, February 18, 2013

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.
Yikes!  Now I'm four books behind according to GoodReads!

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (2/15/13) [306 pages]
Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio
Currently Reading: 
The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan: Three murders and a suicide–one of them a lovely girl with a secret. No clues, yet clues everywhere. Days and nights of suspense, danger, suspicion. The Desert Moon Mystery offers the most sophisticated detective story fan, and unusual thrill.

Books that spark my interest:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [Finally in from the library--be starting soon!]

Parlor Games: Review

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio is a sweeping piece of historical fiction based on real-life adventuress, May Dugas aka the Baroness May de Vries (and various aliases). The story opens with May settling in for a trial accusing her of extortion--bilking her friend Miss Frank Gray Shaver out of her inheritance. Sandwiched in between scenes from the courtroom drama, May tells us the story of her life--all the adventures that led up to her appearance in court in January 1917.

May's father dies fairly early in her life and she decides to set out for Chicago in the hopes of earning enough money to support her family. But Chicago in the late 1800s is not welcoming to a young woman with no skills and she soon finds herself a courtesan in the city's most infamous bordello. Taking what she learns there, she uses her great beauty and feminine charms to encourage her gentlemen to bestow gifts upon her.  It looks like her dreams are coming true when she makes friends with two young women from Chicago's high society and is introduced to a financially secure young man. She can already hear the wedding bells ringing when Reed Dougherty, a Pinkerton detective, spoils her nuptial plans. It won't be the last time that Dougherty pops up at the most inopportune moment.

From Chicago May works her way around the world to Portland and San Francisco to Shanghai and Holland to London and Hong Kong. She goes from the top of the world and the riches of her dreams while married to the Baron to moments of despair when Dougherty foils her plans. She goes through money like water and winds up mixed up in politics, insurance fraud, scandalous affairs, wartime speculations, and various legal proceedings.  The Pinkerton Agency eventually dubs her the "most dangerous woman in the world"--accusing her of being a blackmailer and a heartless seducer of the wealthiest of men.  

This is May's story--told in the first person as she goes on trial for extortion--and she asks the reader to be her judge. She asks us to believe that she is completely honest in her narration and for us to deliver judgment on what we read. Is she the cold hearted swindler who breaks hearts even as she empties bank accounts or have her actions been justified?

On the one hand, this is a fascinating look at the late 19th/early 20th centuries in America.  Showing the reader what life was like for young women without money and without decent job prospects--not that I believe for a moment that May would have wanted to stick to a regular job if it had been available to her.  I just can't see her working at the same job for years on end.  That girl was born wanting money--and lots of it.  Biaggo's writing style is spot on--May's voice is distinctive and draws the reader right in.  I easily finished the book in two days (less when you consider that there was sleeping and chores and work that had to be attended to).  But....I can't say that liked May.  If the goal was to convince me that May's actions were justified over the course of her tale, then I'm afraid the mission failed. May strikes me as unscrupulous and out for herself with the final chapter forcefully driving that home.  The only point where I really felt for her was when she lost her Johnny, but I'm still not convinced that her heart was nearly as broken as she would have us believe.  Three stars for a solid tale, interesting historical detail, and terrific narration.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Paper or E-Book?

As if I didn't know this about myself already....I saw this little quiz over at Socrates' Book Review and just had to take it.  If you'd like to take the test too, then go here: Are You a Print Book or an Ebook?

You Are a Paper Book

When it comes to reading, you really value quality over quantity. You are a devoted reader.
You don't like to rush through anything you are reading. You like to get up close and personal with your books.

Paper books suit you best, even if they are pricier and more difficult to obtain. Like a good story, they are worth it for you.
Besides, there is nothing you like more than having a beautiful bookshelf full of books you love. No eBook can do that for you.

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 the first line from The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan: 
I knew that evening in April, when Sam got home from Rattail and came stamping snow into my kitchen, his good old red, white, and blue face stretched long instead of wide in its usual grin, that he had brought some bad news with him: a slump in the cattle market; moonshine liquor discovered again, down in the outfit's quarters; a delayed shipment of groceries from Salt Lake.

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 The Desert Moon Mystery by Kay Cleaver Strahan: 

Surrounded, in there by explosives, and out there by people who talked of murder as calmly and as comfortably as if they were discussing moss-roses, very quiet did not seem half quiet enough.

Book Bingo: Square #8

Read 2 Books Released in 2013
1. Whip Smart by Kit Brennan [February 2013 release] (2/9/13) 
2. Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell [February 2013 release] (2/15/13]

You can see all the books I've read for the Book Bingo Challenge by clicking on the Challenge link.  

Man in the Empty Suit: Review

Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit takes the idea of time travel and possible paradoxes to a whole new level. His Time Traveler has a major dilemma.  Every year he travels to an abandoned hotel in the New York City of 2071 to celebrate his birthday.  It's an exclusive party--just for him....and his past and future time-traveling selves.  Nothing really extraordinary ever happens until the year he turns 39.  He's on his way to the grand ballroom to get a celebratory drink when he encounters his 40-year-old-self--after an odd interlude and a brief detour to the upper levels (somewhere he'd never ventured before), the 40-year-old rushes into the elevator, leaving the Time Traveler to the stairs.  When he reaches the proper floor, he finds a bunch of the Elders gather round a dead body.  His 40-year-old self has been shot and no one knows who did it.  The Elders look to him to get to the bottom of the mystery.  After all, if he can't stop the death from happening, then all his future selves will disappear.  Things get steadily more crazy as the evening goes on--much younger selves (who have never attended the party before) start showing up and soon there seems to be threats from all sides.  Then there's the unknown factor--a woman named Lily who comes the party....the first person besides himself who ever has.  The Time Traveler finds himself working to save not only his own lives, but hers as well.  It would help if he knew exactly what he should or shouldn't do over the course of the next year.....

This is a very interesting take on time travel and the paradoxes that are often associated with it.  Ferrell doesn't just address the paradoxes--he gleefully produces them and inundates the story with them.  There have been all kinds of theories about time travel paradox....including those that say that you can't go back in time (or I suppose forward) and meet your self.  That you can't accidentally kill your grandfather or you'll blink out of existence.  Ferrell takes on both of those premises....the Time Traveler doesn't just meet himself.  He meets A LOT of himself.  It's not his grandfather who gets's one year's version of himself.  Ferrell uses the varying timelines created by these events to get the reader to think about our actions--how they affect us and how those actions affect others.  

It's always interesting to read alternate reality stories.  But those usually just show one version of what might have happened if certain events had taken place in an entirely different way (what if JFK or Lincoln hadn't been killed; what if Hitler had won the war; etc).  This novel doesn't show what happens in one alternate manages to show what happens in multiple alternate realities all at the same time.  This made the story just a little bit dense and hard to follow at times and even labeling different versions of the Traveler with identifying names ("Nose," "Suit," "Yellow," "Seventy," etc.) didn't always help.  It's an extraordinarily interesting and ambitious storyline that needs just a little more clarity for this reader.  Readers who like intricate puzzles will delight in trying to follow all the storylines and trying to determine which versions the Traveler should trust and which he shouldn't.  

My other small quibble relates to various blurbs which made such a point of the humor in this story.  I was hoping for a bit of the Douglas Adams touch to go along with the intricate time travel maze...and was disappointed.  I didn't find the story particularly funny at all.  It's intriguing and engaging.  It makes you think.  But I don't think it will make you laugh.  Three and 3/4 stars for a pretty darn good read--almost four.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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 Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (p. 30):

I needed to see them, and I needed to collect my thoughts, find a place to breathe and figure out my next step.  That meant the ballroom bar.
At the ballroom entrance, I found a wall of Youngsters fixated on the details of one's trip through Roman orgies--lies. I knew, not that knowing the truth made the telling of tales any less titillating.