Saturday, March 29, 2014

Challenge Complete: Book Monopoly

Thanks to the challenge temptress, Joanne at Littlequeen Rules, I signed up for one of what seems like thousands of challenges hosted at Goodreads at goodreads @ CrazyChallengeConnection.   Since the Monopoly Challenge is an on-going challenge, my yearly commitment was to read at least 10 books each year that fulfill a move in the game.  I have now completed my 10 moves for 2014 and declare my commitment complete. Here is the lists of moves:

GO - Everyone starts here....Let the game begin!

1st Move: Rolled a 3 and moved to Baltic Avenue. [Book set in/near water]: Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)

2nd Move: Rolled a 1 and moved to Income Tax [Go to GoodReads TBR list and read one of first 10 books listed]: Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)

3rd Move: Rolled a 3 and moved to Chance [Read a book recommended by Friend/Family/Co-worker]: Gambit by Rex Stout [rec by Les @ Classic Mysteries] (2/8/14)

4th Move: Rolled a 6 and moved to States Avenue [Mostly Black Cover]: Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)

5th Move: Rolled a 1 and moved to Virginia Avenue [starts with V ]: Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3/11/14)

6th Move: Rolled a 2 and moved to St. James Place [Starts with J]: John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14) 

7th Move: Rolled a 3 and moved to New York Avenue [large city]: India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (3/19/14) [London]

8th Move: Rolled a 1 and moved to Free Parking [any book]: A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14)

9th Move: Rolled a 5 and moved to B & O Railroad [set 50+ years ago/New York]: Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train (1923/New York City) [3/25/14)

10th Move: Rolled a 5 and moved to Go to Jail.  Rolled a 6 and moved backwards to Illinois Avenue [mostly red cover]: Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (3/28/14)

Challenge Commitment Complete! But I'm still reading!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Grimms' Fairy Tales: Review

This particular edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales was published in 1945 and was translated by E.V. Lucas, Lucy Crane, and Marian Edwardes.  It also contains fine illustrations (both color and line drawings) by Fritz Kredel. Between the covers are 55 of the 211 tales that the Brothers Grimm have been credited with. Although these tales were originally called Children's and Household Tales--these are not your sweet little, bedtime story fairy tales. The original tales contained subject matter (primarily sexual references) that were thought unsuitable for children and later editions (including this one) removed those references while increasing the violence done to the wicked in the stories. 

This volume includes such recognizable favorites as "Sleeping Beauty," "Snow White," "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Elves and the Shoemaker," and "Cinderella." But there are far more new and unfamiliar tales. Most of the stories that were unfamiliar to me ran along similar themes--young men or young women who had to fulfill certain tasks before gaining a "prize" (whether that be gold and riches or a beautiful/handsome spouse). One story in particular caught my attention, however. That was called "Karl Katz" and would seem to be a precursor to Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle." I was very interested to find that there was an earlier version than Irving's tale of the man who fell asleep and woke up hundreds of years later.

I had read several of these stories when I was young, but it was very nice to revisit them and to read all of the new (to me) tales as well. Three stars for a good solid read.

Mount TBR Checkpoint: My Progress

Following the orders of our charming challenge hostess (oh, wait, that's me :-) ), I'm checking in with my first quarter's reading for the Mount TBR Challenge.

As things stand, I have read 30 books towards my goal of 100 that will take me to the peak of Mount Everest.  I've seen the top of Pike's Peak and Mount Blanc and getting close to the top of Mt. Vancouver. Since Goodreads tells me I'm five books ahead on my overall reading goal for 2014, I'm hoping that means I might even make it to Mars this year.

And...the other questions? I'll answer a couple from #2.  Here's my favorite cover:

I love those pocket-size, pulp-era covers.

The book that has been on my TBR pile the longest is India's Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope [on TBR since 6/12/89].  I bought that book of poetry thinking it would be the best thing ever and I just had to read it....and then ignored it for thirty years.  As you'll see from my review, I could have left it alone for another thirty--or just tossed it off the mountain without cracking it open.  Ah, well, at least I've moved it off the stack.

So, how about you? What kind of progress have you made on that mountain of yours?

Mount TBR: March Checkpoint

Wow!  Three months into the year already. Well, you know what that means...Your mountaineering guide is calling for the first quarterly check-in post. Let's see how our challengers are doing. Made it a couple of miles? Camping out in a cave 1/3 of the way up the mountain face? Taking refuge in a mountain hut along the way? Let us know how you're doing. For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
 D. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, April 5.  On Sunday, April 6,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

Even if you're not in the mood for a prize or if you've only got one leg of the journey under your belt, I'd love to have you check in and tell us how your climb is going!

***Please note--the linky is for Checkpoint posts only.  The link must be to a specific Checkpoint post (not your blog's home page in general). Links that are not Checkpoint-specific will be removed--to make it easier for me to track a winner.

Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt: Review

Mr. Ephraim Tutt is a kindly old lawyer who uses his position to do good. He has a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for taking on the underdog as his clients. He wears a stovepipe hat and an old frock coat, but Arthur Train would have the reader believe it to be a suit of armor in disguise. This is a highly romanticized, early 20th Century collection, that is none-the-less quite entertaining. The book contains eight stories about Mr. Tutt that originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. The stories were so popular that Ephraim Tutt became known as the "best known lawyer in America." In this volume Mr. Tutt is up to his ancient neck in all sorts of devious legal battles in an effort to bring justice to the innocent and deserving. But we know that with Tutt on the trail, crime and skullduggery simply have no chance at all. Three and a half stars.

The stories included here are:

"The Bloodhound": In which Mr. Tutt lays a trap for his rival, the dishonest prosecutor "Bloodhound" O'Brien who thinks he has successfully framed an innocent man.

"Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt": In which Mr. Tutt gets the better of a "new money" society matron who thinks she can railroad anyone she sees as her inferior.

"The Liberty of the Jail": In which Mr. Tutt uses his knowledge of human nature to earn his client a rightful settlement

"Hocus-Pocus": A little slight of hand allows Mr. Tutt to help a deserving young woman get her inheritance.

"Saving His Face": Mr. Tutt teaches a self-important man a little humility with the help of a determined notary and a little-known bit of law.

"In Witness Whereof": It pays to be sure who a lawyer's client really is....and you better be sure that you are Mr. Tutt's client if that wily lawyer is involved in your case.

"The Twelve Little Husbands": Despite what looks like an open & shut case against his client, Mr. Tutt proves that sometimes a poisoner isn't a poisoner.

"The Cloak of St. Martin": Will Mr. Tutt's "cloak" keep his clerk out of trouble?

This fulfills the book with a Lawyer, Courtroom, etc. Golden Vintage Bingo Square.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The League of Frightened Men: Review

The League of Frightened Gentlemen (1935) is the second of Rex Stout's books featuring the detective duo of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Stout's team--made up of the gargantuan genius Wolfe and his street smart legman Goodwin--always provide good entertainment even early in the series.

Here we have a group of frightened men who are certain that their college friend, Paul Chapin, is set on a path of revenge for a crippling injury he suffered at their hands during a hazing incident. Two of their number have already died and each of them received a poetic message following the deaths. Messages in which Chapin seems to be claiming responsibility for the deaths and which tell the group that they should have killed him when they had the chance. A third member of the group, Andrew Hibbard, approaches Nero Wolfe and asks him to keep Chapin from murdering him--but he doesn't want the man turned over to the police. Wolfe tells him that he can't help him under those conditions.

Not too long after, Hibbard disappears and another note is delivered saying that Chapin has killed him as well. Hibbard's niece comes to Wolfe with more information about the league of men, but he also tells her that he can be of no help--abstracting a list of the men involved from her materials before she leaves. His plan is to approach the group and promise to remove any threat from Paul Chapin, discover who (if anybody) really killed the first two men, and prove what happened to Hibbard. Anyone who knows Wolfe knows that he'll fulfill his promise (and collect his huge fee in the bargain).

This is going to be a short review--I listened to this one on my way back home for a family get-together. While I enjoy listening to books on tape occasionally (especially on long drives), I find it more difficult to review them. I just sit back and enjoy the show, so to speak, and don't really concentrate on the details. Let me start by saying that Saul Rubinek, who is the reader for this particular version, does an excellent job. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him and he was excellent in the male parts. Fortunately, there weren't many female speakers--because he had one voice for all of them. 

The story itself was a good one--entertaining, finely drawn characters, a nice twist ending, and worth the price of admission just to listen to (or read) the scene where Archie is drugged and then tries to fight his way out of the stupor. Four stars

This fulfills the Detective "Team" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Bingo: Square 19 and Bingo #5

In order to keep track of everything, they came up with a fancy, schmancy scoreboard:

Here are my latest conquests for the Book Bingo Challenge... Only six more squares to go for a full card!

Bingo # 5 Books Read:

TBR Pile
Three Books
1. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
2. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14)
3. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (1/22/14)

Mix It Up
Reread: Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)

Three Books
1. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie [Kincaid & James #15] (2/25/14)
2. The Purple Parrot by Clyde B. Clason [Theocritus Lucius Westoborough #4] (2/25/14)
3. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas [Barker & Llewellyn #2] (2/26/14)

Historical Fiction: Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson [set in the 1920s] (2/12/14)

New Releases:
Three Books
1. A Girl Walks into a Bar by Helena S. Paige [pub 2014--first hard copy] (3/12/14)
2. India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K Carr [pub Feb 2014] (3/19/14)
3. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan [pub Feb 2014] (3/21/14)

Challenge Complete: Cruisin' Thru the Cozies

Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews is hosting the fourth annual Cruisin' thru the Cozies Reading Challenge! I signed right up.  For a full run-down of the rules, hop on the link above.

Here's what I chose as my level:
Level 2 - Investigator - Read 7-12 books
I actually finished my twelfth book on March 3 and forgot to post for completion.  So, here I am with baker's dozen instead of a round 12.  I'm sure I'll keep adding cozies through the year--but my official commitment is now met.  

1. The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy (1/15/14)
2. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)
3. The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1/23/14)
4. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
5. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)
6. Death by Chick Lit by Lyn Harris (2/1/14)
7. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
8. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14)
9. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14)
10. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
11. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (2/25/14)
12. The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (3/3/14 )

Challenge Complete!

13. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14)

A Tale of Two Biddies: Review

A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan is the second in the League of Literary Ladies series set on South Bass Island (one of Ohio's islands in Lake Erie). The group was originated when a judge required them to form a book club and work out their differences after they had appeared before him once too often. They had just settled themselves down in that task in the first book, when the owner of a local restaurant (The Orient Express) was murdered--and naturally they had to help solve that crime.

This time out, a rather unlikeable young man named Richie is murdered during the inaugural Bastille Day--a local festival celebrating the Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities. He had already complained to Hank, the local police officer, that someone had tried to kill him by shoving him into the lake earlier that week. But given his tendency to complain and dramatize, his story was discounted. When he winds up full of poison in the corner of the bar, it looks like the dunking in the lake was more than an accident. There are a lot of motives floating around--from the man who lost everything because of Richie's "little mistake" to the owner of a million-dollar home that was blown sky-high because Richie forgot to turn off the gas to the lead singer of Guillotine (a rock band playing at the festival) who had a heated discussion with Richie despite claiming that he never met the man before in his life. While Hank follows the official routes, Bea Cartwright and her literary ladies follow up with casual questioning.

This was a fun, quick read. Definitely a cozy mystery--small town, quirky characters, no blood & gore, very little official police work, and an amateur sleuth who doesn't take herself too seriously. The references to Dickens' work throughout the book fit very nicely and add to the fun. The only drawback? The culprit was as plain as plain could be--if you pick up on the right references and notice the spoiler on the cover of the book. Fortunately, getting to know the characters and enjoying their interactions made for so much fun that having a puzzle to solve wasn't as necessary as usual in the mysteries I read.  Three stars for good, solid fun.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

India Black & the Gentleman Thief: Review

If one must chase villains, one should do so in style. (p. 247)

India Black is at it again in India Black & the Gentleman Thief...rounding up the bad guys with style and flair. She and French have barely recovered from their latest adventure--saving London from bomb-happy anarchists--when danger comes knocking. Literally. Just as India is trying to worm information out of French about her ancestry, a messenger arrives at the door with an envelope from one of her customers. Colonel Francis Mayhew wants her to hold the missive until he comes to collect it. Opening other people's mail is by no means taboo when one hasn't volunteered for the job of postmistress and India promptly slits the envelope open--only to find an ordinary shipping bill. As she and French ponder the meaning behind it, another knock brings a different sort of messenger--in the guise of three burly thugs who beat up our intrepid heroes and make off with the bill of lading.

Of course, our Madam of Espionage isn't about to take that lying down...well at least not once she's recovered from the trouncing...and she and French head out to track down Mayhew and find out why he deposited such a dangerous document at Lotus House. Unfortunately, the Colonel is in no condition to explain anything. Someone has reached him first and sent him out of this world in the most horrible way possible. India and French will follow a trail that leads from the dockyards of London to the War Office and armaments supply to a lonely farmhouse in the countryside where an arms trafficker lurks. Along the way, India discovers that she has an acquaintance with one of the chief acquaintanceship she'd rather not confess to French.

As if India's life is not complicated enough, the Dowager Marchioness of Tullibardine shows up with enough boxes and trunks to stay for months and creates general havoc in Lotus House--from running off anti-Scottish customers to allowing her dogs the run of the house (and have puppies while they're at it). The only redeeming factor is that the Marchioness is finally willing to tell India what she knows about her background. But what is India to do with the information? If she can just find time between hunting down blood-thirsty killers, escaping a nasty death at the bottom of the ocean, and tracking down arms dealers, then she might give it some thought.

This is a whirlwind of a book. The story moves at full throttle and keeps the reader on the edge of her seat waiting to see what will happen next--whether it's the next step in the mystery plot or where the relationship between India and French is headed or what India plans to do about the hereditary information she gets from the Marchioness. There is a lot going on and Carol K. Carr handles it all superbly. The India Black series is wonderful and just keeps getting better. If you love a good adventure mystery set in Victorian times with a bit of romance for flavor and haven't started reading these yet, then what's keeping you? Five stars!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Challenge Complete: Out of This World

Image free from

Out of This World Challenge

Bla bla bla books is sponsoring the Out of This World Challenge in 2014 with a few simple rules:
  • the goal is to visit via books as many places out of this world as possible! Out of this world can include other planets and stars (including the Moon!), completely different worlds (like Middle Earth), paralel worlds, dream worlds, distant future and distant past (I am talking dinos here. Not the 80's), heaven and hell... and so on.
  • It can be just a visit to this place. It counts even if only part of the book is set there. 
Being a Star Trek fan, I just had to go for the "Where no [wo]man has been before" level of 15 books. If you want to join (and you still can), hop on the link above. 

I've completed my journey to "Where no [wo]man has been before." Here are the books read:

1. The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/2/14) 
2. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D Simak (1/6/14)
3. Dangerous Visions #3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14) 
4. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
5. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14) [snippets involving the Mayan underworld]
6. Triumph by Philip Wylie (1/18/14) [post-apocalyptic Earth]
7. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14) [future Earth & other worlds]
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick (1/29/14) [post-apocalyptic Earth]
9. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14) [Victorian England]
10. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas (2/26/14) [Victorian England]
11. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (2/27/14) [alternate history]
12. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis (3/5/14) [Victorian England]
13. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (3/8/14) [Regency England/Tahiti]
14. John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (3/17/14) [Dystopian future Earth]
15. Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison (3/17/14) [Dystopian/Chaotic future Earth]

Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos: Mini-Review

Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos is a rare thing for me...a graphic novel. But, being the Ellison fan-girl that I am and having read the synopsis of the book sometime last year, I promptly put it on my Christmas wishlist, my own personal Santa came through, and I found it under the Christmas tree last December 25th. I was very excited that two of my category challenges called for a graphic novel, because I knew I had the very thing just waiting on the TBR pile.

Sometime in Earth's distant future, the planet is in danger--not just physical danger, but the very fabric of reality is being ripped apart. The elite call on once-decorated, but then disgraced General Roark to gather six others with special abilities to save them. With elaborate promises of rewards to come, Urr, the renegade robot; Mourna, the Amazon-like woman with steel claws for hands; Tantalus, the incredibly swift insect-man; Ayleen, a Venusian woman with quite literal fire-power; Hoorn, the stealthy and adept cat burglar; and Kenrus the brilliant, outcast technologist all agree to join Roark on a deadly journey to Earth's past on a mission to save its future.

As a graphic novel, the book is pleasing. It has an old-fashioned feel and reminds me of the comic books I used to buy when I was a preteen. I have a certain nostalgia for those stories--I would read everything from those with a science fiction feel to the mysterious and creepy (think Tales from the Crypt). I enjoyed those far more than most of the graphic novels I have tried in recent years. Paul Chadwick's artwork is fabulous.

The story, however, is a bit clunky. There are instances of Ellison's brilliance, but, as other reviewers on Goodreads have noted, there is a certain lack of continuity as if panels or even pages are missing. I'm not sure if that's a result of Ellison writing in short bursts for each panel or what. One can see the bones of a good story, but it is never completely covered with flesh and made whole. It begins with a bang--and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of how Roark gathered his colleagues for the journey. The trip through the black hole is well done and enjoyable as well and there are moments when the Seven face the villain of the piece that are quite good.  Over all, a three star outing for an interesting story and great artwork. A more cohesive storyline would have brought up to four.

Virtual Tour: John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars

Publisher: Logikal Solutions, May 30, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1-939732-00-2
Category: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Tour Dates: March, 2014
Available in: Print, ebook & Audio, 272 pages

Synopsis: What if the Mayans got the start of the end correct because they had survived it once before? What if our written history was just as accurate as the old tale about three blind men describing an elephant? What if classic science fiction writing and television shows each got a piece of it correct, would you know which ones? If your eyes can only see a tiny portion of a collage do you know it is a collage?

"John Smith" ties together Atlantis, cell phones, the Mayans, God, the Egyptians, and the outcome of the terrorist attack yet to come all in the form of an interview between the last known survivor of the war and a reporter for the largest newspaper of its day, serving 5000 people twice monthly. There are both blatant and subtle nods are made to such works as "1984", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "Peter Pan", "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one), "Star Trek TNG", and "Babylon 5." 

My take: This is a difficult review for me. I almost always can give high marks to the review request books and virtual tour books that I read because I carefully screen the books I agree to review. The synopsis really grabbed me. Roland Hughes has developed a fantastic premise. I liked the idea of tying in all kinds of SF writing and television shows into a fantastic piece of fiction. I had great expectations....

But, I have to be honest (and I only do honest reviews), this book was not, ultimately, for me. The interview format really got on my nerves. The entire book is all tell and no show. No action--none.  Even when John Smith is describing what happened it has little effect because it's all dialogue and he sounds like he's giving one long lecture about absolutely everything from what a computer is to why the Hebrews had dietary laws to where the Atlantians went to how the Druids and Mayans figure in to finally answering the question his interviewer came to ask in the first place--what happened in the Microsoft Wars. And he does it all in such a condescending manner.

I also did not care for the antagonistic tone against the sexes. The reporter obviously doesn't care for men although her comments are few and far between and John Smith repeatedly makes incredibly misogynistic remarks about women throughout the book. My "favorites":

The longest lifespan known, or at least told to me, was roughly 250 clock years for a man and 325 clock years for a woman. The stress of living with a woman really does kill a man. That much has remained universal throughout all cycles. (p.133)

Women can't resist making things up for no reason at all and being mad about them for years but that isn't the story we are telling here. (p. 150) [So, your point in saying this is?]

The tone is bad enough...but it might be useful and understandable if Hughes explained why these people are like this.  What motivates them?  But he doesn't--we're supposed to accept this, apparently, just because that's the way it is.

There are also great inconsistencies...for instance, the reporter supposedly lives in a society that has developed after the Microsoft Wars. Everything has been destroyed.  Pretty much all knowledge of what came before is gone--Smith has to explain what computers, dvds, satellites, submarines, etc. and ad nauseum are--even hard copy encyclopedias and maps--and yet the woman knows what socialism is? Seriously? Her people have retained no memory whatsoever of tangible physical objects and yet she understands an obsolete abstract concept. 

If you like unusual story-telling formats, then this book is for you. If you like incredible amounts of dialogue, then this book is for you. If you are interested in conspiracy theories and an explanation of what happened to Atlantis and the "truth" behind every UFO siting ever....then this book is for you. 

I really am sorry that I cannot give this book a stellar review. But it just did not live up to my expectations and, overall, I just didn't become engaged with the characters. I'm giving it two stars--all for fantastic concept.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March Read It Again, Sam Reviews

Just realized I forgot to add a linkup for this challenge for March....Here it is!

Endless Night: Review

Two years ago (just about a week shy of exactly to the day) Steve (aka The Puzzle Doctor) reviewed Agatha Christie's Endless Night and got me interested in reading the book again--just to see if my less-than-stellar two-star rating from twenty-some years ago would still hold true (and fall pretty much in line with his reading of the book) or if I might like it better now. My paperback copy is buried somewhere in storage, so when I came across a nice 1967 British Book Club hardcover I snatched it up and put it on the TBR pile for this year.

And, Steve, I'm with you and Patrick and am sticking with my two-star rating.  This book is just not my idea of the best of Agatha Christie. I'm pretty picky about the suspense novels I read.  There are definitely authors in that genre that appeal to me. Christie writing suspense isn't one of them. Give me her good old fashioned Golden Age style books any day. Like Steve, I also do not care for the way she recycled a certain plot device. I thought it clever the first time I encountered it, but even though I had forgotten that it was employed here it didn't make me like it any better this time around. It's difficult to discuss this one in any great detail without addressing the plot point in question--and I hate to spoil the book for anyone who might like to read it. But, please, don't let my lack of enthusiasm dissuade you from picking it up--there are plenty of people who consider this one of Christie's best novels from her later years. You might like it as well--especially if suspense is your favorite genre.

Let me just give you a synopsis of the plot: Michael Rogers is our narrator. He is a working class man with a strong streak of wanderlust. He rarely stays with a job long and feels like he is in search of something...or someone. He meets Fenella "Ellie" Guteman, the rich daughter of an incredibly wealthy American. Ellie has been protected and sheltered all of her life by relatives and trustees and she longs to break away and just be able to do what she wants to do. Ellie and Michael fall in love and get married as soon as Ellie is of age. They met on the grounds of house called Gipsy Acres--a house associated with a curse. But they love the location and decide to flout local legend and pull down the dilapidated old house and build a dream home of their own. Unfortunately, ignoring the stories of the curse and living out their dreams prove more costly than they can possibly anticipate.

This counts for the "Read an Author You've Read Before" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Girl Walks Into a Bar: Mini-Review

Choose Your Own Adventure for Grown-Ups. 

So...needing books published in 2014 as well as a book that would fall under erotica for some challenges, A Girl Walks Into a Bar: Your Fantasy, Your Rules by Helena S. Paige caught my eye as I was scanning the new books at the library. On the face of it, she's developed a really good idea--take the Choose Your Own Adventure story premise from children's books and make the adventures sexy and spicy for the adult ladies in the reading world. Want a wild night with a rock star?  You can have it. More interested in the strong bodyguard or an older, businessman type? You can have that too. A sexy man with a sexy and games in the shower...a pick up at an art gallery?  It's up to you and the choices you make.

It seemed like a fun way to meet that erotica category. And to a certain extent it was. But, honestly, the adventures I remember in the Choose Your Own Adventures ('cause I totally read those when I was growing up) were much more fun and absorbing than the available choices here. Pretty standard fantasies with very few trimmings and not much excitement. It definitely didn't make me feel like I was stepping into alien territory and enjoying it--even when I deliberately made choices that I wouldn't in real life (actually that would be most of them). There was no sensuality--and I think that's what makes erotica sexy for me (and possibly most women). The choices were pretty much--snag this guy (or girl as the case may be), get it on, decide if you're done for the evening and then go for another round or head home for jammies and a dvd. 

A really good idea for something different on the adult level that didn't fulfill expectations. Enough fun and adventure for two and a half-ish stars.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vicious Circle: Review

Vicious Circle is the 18th book in Douglas Clark's Masters & Green mystery series. But the book (and series) is about more than just Chief Superintendent Masters and Chief Inspector Green--Masters of the Yard is called in along with his special team of investigators whenever there is an odd or delicate case to be detected. This outing proves to be very delicate indeed--because nearly everyone who might be officially involved in the investigation locally (from the Chief Superintendent to the doctor to the coroner) is either directly related to the victim or related to anyone who might come under suspicion should the case prove to be murder. And it very well might...

Mrs. Carlow is an irritable, manipulative old woman who makes life difficult and uncomfortable all of her family. When she doesn't get her way or feels slighted or just because she wants to show who's in charge, she takes an extra dose or two of her heart medicine...or stops taking it altogether. When her granddaughter invites her and her avowed enemy Joseph Kisiel to the family Christmas dinner, Mrs. Carlow downs enough digitalis to make herself thoroughly sick, thus making her doctor (and her granddaughter's father-in-law) late for the meal. To prevent such a thing from happening again, Dr. Whincap arranges for her medicine to be kept from her and only administered in the prescribed daily dose by her daughter, granddaughter, or a nurse. 

Thwarted in that bid for attention, she next takes it into her head that her granddaughter and her husband must allow her to move into their home. When told they can't possibly take her in because the remodeling they've been doing hasn't extended beyond one finished bedroom, she hires a carpenter to show up to finish the rest of the house. He's promptly sent away and before Mrs. Carlow can make another move in her little chess game of irritation she becomes violently ill and dies, apparently from an overdose of digitalis. Enter Masters, Green, and team. Their job is to discover whether the elderly lady managed to squirrel away enough digitalis to have killed herself (whether accidentally or not) or if someone else decided to remove the irritating old woman. It is a difficult job made even more difficult by the fact that several of their local official contacts are also possible suspects.

Clark has given us another satisfying police procedural. It is fairly clued--enough so that I got to the solution well before Masters this time, mainly because I had some prior knowledge (I can't tell you what kind...that would spoil things.). These novels sometimes hang on some fairly technical knowledge of poisons or whatnot and I am proud of myself that I knew the little secret to this one. Not that the technical knowledge is absolutely necessary to get to the solution--you may not know precisely how the deed was accomplished, but there are plenty of clues to point the way to whodunnit. I thoroughly enjoy the relationships among Masters and Green and their supporting team members. There's a lot of give and take and good-humored leg-pulling to go along with the investigation to make for an enjoyable read all round.  3.75 stars.

This fulfills the "Detective Team" square on the Vintage Silver Bingo Card

Challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Outdo Yourself, Men in Uniform, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, A-Z Reading Challenge, Book Monopoly, Book Bingo

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Not all Flowers & Sausages: Mini-Review

It's Not All Flowers & Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade by Jennifer Scoggin--aka Mrs. Mimi--caught my eye on my last visit to the library. I opened it up and found an amusing tidbit and thought it would be a perfect short read for some of my reading challenges. It is intended to be a humorous look at Mrs. Mimi's life and times as a second grade teacher--with her takes on everything from administration to "teaching to the test" to parents and her "little friends" (as she calls her students).  It is a book that grew out her blog (It's Not All Flowers & Sausages) and covers everything from pee jokes to her cutesy nicknames for coworkers (The Fanny Pack) and students (Goggles, Braids, etc) alike.

I'm not quite sure what happened between reading that snippet at the library and bringing the book home, but somewhere in between most of the humor leaked out of the book. Not that there aren't any funny parts...but they were few and far between and I didn't enjoy the book nearly as much as anticipated. I also have two quibbles with Mrs. Mimi, who apparently counts herself among the "Super Teachers" group at her school. First...honey, if you're going to rag on your fellow teachers for their grammar, spelling and whatnot in various handouts and presentations mentioned throughout the book, then you ought to be a little bit closer to word perfect yourself. Several places could use a better editorial eye than they received.  Second, and maybe it's just me and the fact that I don't use swear words myself....but if you're a second grade teacher presenting a book about teaching second graders, then I don't expect to see swearing on every other (if not every) page of your precious tome. Surely to goodness you don't talk this way in front your little friends. But maybe that's supposed to be part of the humor.....Nah.

Overall, a fairly disappointing read that is shelved as non-fiction even though she goes out of her way to tell us that she's making things up--not real stories and not about real people (little or big).  So that would be fiction, yes? Oh, well, my library calls it non-fiction and so will I...for the challenges.  Two stars.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Challenge Complete: Men in Uniform

2014 Men in Uniform Reading Challenge
January 1, 2014 – December 31, 2014

I just earned my Sergeant's stripes and completed my challenge commitment for the 
2014 Men in Uniform Challenge. It looks like I have a real thing for policemen and those sailing fellas....  I may well get a promotion or two before the year's over--but my official commitment has been fulfilled.

My reading list:
1. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell [policemen] (1/5/14)
2. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell [policemen] (1/13/14)
3. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton [ship's officers & crew] (1/27/14)
4. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark [policemen] (2/6/14)
5. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd [navy] (3/8/14)

Fourth Bingo!

I told you that I would probably cover the card.  Just finished a new release to give me the top right space. Below are the books read for this see a list of all books read for the challenge, please check out my Sign-Up Post.

Fourth Bingo (from bottom left to top right)

Five TBR Books
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1/29/14)
2. Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1/30/14)
3. Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
4. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14)
5. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)

Mix It Up
Free Square: The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)

Three Series Books
1. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie [Kincaid & James #15] (2/25/14)
2. The Purple Parrot by Clyde B. Clason [Theocritus Lucius Westoborough #4] (2/25/14)
3. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas [Barker & Llewellyn #2] (2/26/14)

Free Square (Science Fiction): Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (1/6/14)

One New Release
The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd [1st US Release: Jan 2014] (3/8/14)

The Poisoned Island: Review

Set in Regency England, The Poisoned Island weaves stories from two voyages to Tahiti (Otaheite to the British at this time) with a tale of what happens when the H.M.S. Solander returned from that second trip. The first voyage in 1769 brings British sailors to the beautiful island paradise--with gorgeous plant life and lovely women. It is a place where magic and myth still have great influence. When the sailors head back to England, they leave behind disease and a war amongst the Tahitians. Over 40 years later, the Solander makes the journey to the island at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist in charge of the King's Gardens at Kew.  The Solander carries a crew of botanists as well as the usual sailors--a crew charged with bringing back hundreds of exotic plants from Tahiti to enhance the royal gardens. Exotic plants aren't the only things that the Solander brings back to England.  There is also a terrible secret...a secret that someone is willing kill to possess.

The Solander returns to England with her hold full of botanical treasures and in less than a week six members of her crew are dead--some have been strangled and some have had their throats cut, but they all died with the most unsettling, beatific smile on their faces. Thames River Police Constable Charles Horton is called upon by the Thames River Magistrate to investigate the murders. He will have to unravel a botanical mystery involving a pungent, rapidly-growing tree from Tahiti before all the pieces fall into place.

Lloyd Shepherd has done an excellent job of historical world-building--weaving authentic historical figures and events into a fictional tale of incredible believability. No--Sir Joseph Banks did not order such a botanical journey, but if he had....  And the underlying reason for the voyage and the secret that made it necessary makes for a very nice twist to the mystery. Charles Horton is an excellent investigator in a world before a truly organized police force.  He is feeling his way through detective work--possibly forging ground in evidence gathering and witness questioning beforehand historically, but that's okay.  I've already suspended my belief to accept Tahitian magic. Lloyd has also given Horton the perfect spouse to support him in his investigations.  She is stronger than he suspects and, in this particular novel, has an interest in botany herself that can be of great help to him.

It is a mark of how good Shepherd's novel is that the present tense telling of most of the story didn't keep me from enjoying it. I've noted in other reviews how present tense really doesn't work for me.  Generally speaking, it annoys me enough that I'm too busy thinking about how annoyed I am to ever settle down into the world the author has created. Shepherd's story is gripping and his narrative so compelling that while I was aware of the present tense (I think I always will be), it didn't overwhelm my sense of enjoyment.  Four stars.

(Although The Poisoned Island was originally released in Great Britan, it is a new [January 2014] US release and, as such, I'm counting it as a new release for Book Bingo.)