Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...



Attention All Challengers! I have returned from the Wild West and have posted review sites where needed. I am working on the Check-in Posts for the Just the Facts & Mount TBR challenges. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Books from A to Z

I cannot resist Book Surveys any more than I can resist a challenge. So...when my latest notification from Adam over at Roof Beam Reader revealed that he had completed a bookish A to Z Survey that he found at Jamie's The Perpetual Page Turner blog...well, I just had to do it too.



AtoZsurvey

 

 Author you’ve read the most books from:

Agatha Christie. Followed closely by Frances & Richard Lockridge 
(Want an easy way to figure this out if you have Goodreads and keep good track of your stuff? Go to your account, hit “my books”and on the left hand side under your shelves you will see “most read authors”)

Best Sequel Ever:

India Black & the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K. Carr

Currently Reading:

Invisible Green by John Sladek: The Seven Unravellers, a long-disbanded club of mystery fans and amateur detectives, is about to meet for its twenty-year reunion when one of the members is found dead in his seedy London flat. Was it murder, or just the unhappy death of a senile old man?

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Diet 7-Up, Water, or--when it's chilly--hot chocolate

E-reader or Physical Book?

Physical Book. Always.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

Lord Peter Wimsey: I'm a sucker for brainy, witty, sensitive types. Of course...since Lord Peter is so very upper-crust, I'm sure I wouldn't have met him in high school (or British equivalent)...but one can dream....

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

  The Deathday Letter by Shaun Hutchinson: It's the chance to watch a 15-year old "jerk" realize what's important in life--and death. The chance to learn lessons that some of us never learn in a life-time, let alone a single day. Ollie and his friends will make you laugh and cry...and wonder just what you would do if you were certain that you only had twenty-four hours left. {As I mention below, I'm not usually into YA, but I'm glad I gave this one a read. Totally worth it!}

Hidden Gem Book:

See above.

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

Discovering the book blogging world. It's brought me so many online friends and introduced me to all kinds of books that I would never have tried. And--got me into challenges. Can't forget the challenges! Plus--my blog gives me a place to keep track of reviews. 

Just Finished:

Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe with fantastic illustrations by Zdenko Basic & Manuel Sumberac

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I won't say I never read these--but I certainly prefer not to and need compelling reasons to do so: horror/thrillers--especially those involving children at risk. I am also not interested in real life trauma/drama stories (there's enough drama in the real world, I don't want it in my pleasure reading), recent psychological thrillers,  paranormal romance, & I am not terribly inclined towards YA. 

Longest Book You’ve Read:

The Norton Anthology of British Literature Vol. 1 (2,616 pages) for college
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1463) longest fiction for pleasure
** easy way to find this out. Go to your Goodreads “read” list, don’t scroll down but where you are on the screen there will be this little tab on the bottom that lets you choose how you want to scroll or how many books you want display. There is also a sort option with a drop down and you can sort by page.

Major book hangover because of:

The Private History of Awe  by Scott Russell Sanders

Number of Bookcases You Own:

4. Two are tall and then the other two are smaller (used as night stands). There are piles stacked precariously in the back room and all down the hallway. And there still isn't enough room--there are about six tubs of books in storage.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers —  I love Sayers. It doesn't matter that I already know the solution to the mystery. Every time I read it, I discover something new--because she is just that good.

Preferred Place To Read:

On our sectional couch. In a chaise lounge under our maple tree. Also, in bed!

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:


“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either. Just refuse to bear them.” from Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

Reading Regret:

That I didn't read some of the Children's Classics when I was younger.  I read Anne of Green Gables not too long ago--and while I enjoyed it I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it when I was young.

Series You Started And Need To Finish(all books are out in series):

Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.  The new one is out and I haven't read it yet....

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers (mentioned above); Persuasion by Jane Austen; A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Harlan Ellison, Dorothy L Sayers, Roger Zelazny, Jane Austen

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

The next India Black book by Carol C. Carr.

Worst Bookish Habit:

Checking books out of the library because they sound SOOOO good and then not touching them before they have to go back.  Also, I join all those challenges (mentioned above) and plot out what I'm going to read for them and then change my mind.  I should save the time making the lists and just read!

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

The Widows of Broome by Arthur W. Upfield: Broome is a little sun-drenched town on the barren northwest coast of Australia--the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else's business. How then did someone murder Broome's two most attractive widows and get away without leaving a clue?

Your latest book purchase:

The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka: an award-winning collection of poetry based on the life of prize fighter, Jack Johnson. Adrian Matejka is a professor in the English Department where I work. He is an incredibly nice man and I can't wait to read his book and find out what all the awards are about....

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison (I just kept wanting to look at one more picture and read just one more story about it....)

Steampunk Poe: Mini-Review

Steampunk Poe is a sumptuous collection of stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe effectively illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Numberac with images influenced by steampunk. This edition showcases a variety of Poe stories--from the well-known "Murders in the Rue Morgue" to the more rarely anthologized "The Spectacles" and "The Balloon Hoax" and ornaments each one with steampunk-inspired artwork featuring elaborate clockwork aviation, cyborg-like evil eyes (a la "The Tell-Tale Heart"), truly phantasmagorical spectres of the Red Death and Roderick Usher's sister, and so much more.

Poe may have written long before steampunk became a major force in fiction, but never has a classic author's work been so perfectly fitted for a steampunk makeover. The illustrations provide a haunting new twist to the grandmaster of mystery and the bizarre. My favorites include the illustrations for "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher." It was also refreshing to read new-to-me stories: "The Spectacles" and "The Balloon Hoax." My only complaint--and the reason for four stars and not five--is that there are too few illustrations. Having gone to the trouble to provide us with an entirely new slant on Poe's work, I would have hoped for more examples of that view.  ★★★

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beyond Uhura: Review

In Beyond Uhura, Nichelle Nichols tells her story from the beginnings growing up in a socially progressive family through her teen years as a young singer/dancer who had already been praised by Josephine Baker and worked with Duke Ellington. She got her first job at the age of fourteen working in a cast at the Sherman House Hotel which portrayed many of the tremendous acts which had been staged at the Sherman House's College Inn supper club in the twenties: Fred and Adele Astaire, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Irving Berlin and others. Ms. Nichols helped re-create the appearance of Katherine Dunham and her troupe. From those early years, she went on to travel solo as a singer/dancer and finally worked her way to her first television screen appearance in a new show by a new producer--The Lieutenant by Gene Roddenberry.

Little did she know what working with Roddenberry on that first series would lead to. Nichelle is, as far as I'm concerned, the first lady of Star Trek. (Yes, I know that title is most often given to Majel Barrett as Gene's wife.) She is beautiful, a great actress, and an even better singer. She had a tremendous effect on the entry of women and minorities into the space program. Yes, her autobiography is just a little self-indulgent--but she's earned it. (Show me someone in the entertainment world who isn't. Most are even more so.) And..she manages through each of the negative incidents in her life--from being not only a woman in Hollywood, but a black woman in Hollywood--to remain very positive throughout. 

A fascinating (to quote Mr. Spock) read.  I have always enjoyed her as Uhura. I enjoyed this book and its look at her life before and outside of Star Trek.  ★★★

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Red Herring: Review

Red Herring by Edward Acheson is an inverted mystery. After a rather robust lead-in, Acheson gives us our perpetrator and we follow him as he plans, commits, and then watches another man put on trial for his crime. We begin with our"hero"--Daniel F. Farnham, 30-a something journalist who is despairing of ever making his way in the newspaper world. He has become a crime reporter and good friends with Sergeant Ryan. Ryan encourages him to use his familiarity with crime (and a brilliant idea that Ryan just happens to have) to write a "hum-dinger" of a crime novel--and inadvertently sets Farnham on his life of crime.

It all begins with Farnham trying out methods in real life--just to see if his fictional criminal would be able to get away with all he's plotted. He devises a plan to rob a bank and methodically goes about making a duplicate key to the bank door, managing to hang about and obtain the combination to the safe. Farnham sends off his first novel (not the "hum-dinger" just yet) in hopes of an initial sale--but when his story is rejected, it suddenly occurs to him that he just might be able to rob the bank for real and then he'd have plenty of money to go off for some peace and quiet and some real writing time (instead of trying to write and work at the paper). He finds that unlike his story, he can't plan for every little possibility and his plan goes horribly wrong when the night watchman shows up (off-schedule!). He only intends to knock the fellow out, but at the end of the evening Farnham is more than a bank robber...he's also a murderer.

He manages to avoid suspicion and fix up a fall guy (according to his fictional plan)...but will he really be able to escape justice? That's the only mystery at all to Acheson's tale. And I won't tell...you'll just have to read it for yourself.

I have to admit up front that I'm not a huge fan of the inverted mystery. I like to pit my wits against the detective and see if I can pick up all the clues before the crime is solved and the culprit nabbed. Knowing whodunnit up front kind of takes the oomph out of the story for me. But Acheson does a competent job with his task and it really is a surprise to see how it all ends for Farnham--I changed my mind several times when trying to decide if he'd finally be found out or not. A decent story...and those who enjoy this type of mystery will probably rate it higher. ★★★

This fulfills the "Animal in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card and also gives me my second Bingo.  Just need two on the Silver card to fulfill my commitment.



Friday, May 23, 2014

By the Watchman's Clock: Review

By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (Zenith Brown) is one of her stand-alone novels. Written in 1932, it is one of her earliest stories and it predates her delightful Colonel Primrose and Grace Latham series. One of the highlights (for me) is its academic ties. It is set Landover, Maryland, home of Landover College, and several of the main characters have connection to the campus. Martha Niles, our narrator, is married to one of the instructors and both she and her husband become prime suspects in the murder of Daniel Sutton--local millionaire who has held the fate of the college and the town in his rather tight-fisted grasp.

Dan Sutton loved to exert his power over people--over his relations, over the townspeople, and over the local college. The only person who had successfully put a spoke in his wheels was "Aunt Charlotte"--a former servant who had been deeded her house and land for her lifetime (and to her descendents thereafter). When Sutton bought the land surrounding her home, he was determined to own that last bit.  But she would not sell. No matter what he offered. He sets plans in motion that look to gain him his desired ends. Meanwhile, his niece has decided to defy him and marry the man of her choice--even with threats of disinheritance hanging over her. And, last of all, a Mexican has shown up who wants to get back land that Sutton owns but really belonged to his (the Mexican's family). And that doesn't even begin to represent the number of people who have a problem with Dan Sutton. 

So, nobody is terribly surprised when Sutton is discovered in his library dead from a gunshot wound. What is surprising is that Tim Healy, Sutton's gatekeeper and nightwatchman, is also dead outside the library window--apparently frightened to death. When it's discovered that Martha was roaming about the place at the vital times and that there is a whopping big motive for her and/or her husband to have disposed of Sutton, she gets to work looking for alternate solutions.

I debated on my rating for this one. I set it at three stars on Goodreads and then knocked it down to two. Then I decided on a 2.5 and rounded it back up to three. As you might guess, this is a slightly unsatisfactory book. There's a hefty dose of Had-I-But-Known (in the worse possible way), a whole lot of not telling what we do know because we're just sure it will make the nasty ol' District Attorney suspect the wrong person, no real follow-up of obvious clues and yet no real trail of clues to lead to the culprit, and, worse of all, no satisfactory bit of justice at the end. I like my mysteries to end with the culprit trotted off to jail...

So what, you may ask, did I like about the mystery to give it even a 2.5 rating? Well, there's the academic slant (you know I'm a sucker for those...). And there's the characterization--particularly of Martha, our narrator. She has a very strong and likeable voice. It was an easy, breezy read (something I was ready for) and it came packaged as one of my beloved pocket-size books. A decent read--not one I'll recommend with high praise and raptures, but certainly worth a try if you happen to find it.  ★★ and 1/2


This fulfills the "Academic Mystery" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.



Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Monthly Motif, Adam's TBR Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Women Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Crusin' Thru the Cozies

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mind Fields: Review

Any project that involves Harlan Ellison really is a mine field...of explosive ideas, earth-shaking revelations, and mental confrontations that are not for the faint of heart. Link him up with the provocative artwork of Jacek Yerka and you wind up with something very special indeed. Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka/The Fiction of Harlan Ellison does just that. An extraordinary
collection of 30 images by Yerka with short pieces by Ellison which tell his story about Yerka's artwork. As Ellison says, "...after you've read my interpretation, you can come back to Mr. Yerka's art time after time and invent a new story each visit."

As one might expect from Ellison, his interpretations are generally rather dark and nightmarish--but beautifully written and exquisitely detailed nightmares direct from the author's fertile imagination. Ellison may have an extraordinarily different point of view--but one thing is certain. The man can write. My favorites in this collection were among the shortest pieces ("The Silence," "Darkness Falls on the River," and "Paradise") with "Between Heaven and Hell" and "To Each His Own" closely following. ★★★

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Challenge Complete: My Kind of Mystery



My Kind Of Mystery 2014
Catch your breath:  we launch February 1st, 2014 – February 28th, 2015!

Carolyn over at Riedel Fascination took a drink of the challenge-sponsor Kool-Aid and launched not one, but three new challenges for those of us who love to challenge ourselves when reading.  I've opted to jump in for her My Kind of Mystery Challenge.  To sign up--click on the link.


Levels

Mystery Levels 2014



I joined up for the top level "Lost Artifacts" (of course) and have now completed 40 books. Here's the list:
1. Death by Chick Lit by Lynn Harris (2/1/14)
2. Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
3. Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocamp (2/5/14)
4. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (2/6/14)
5. Gambit by Rex Stout (2/8/14)
6. You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts (2/9/14)
7. Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson (2/12/14)
8. Death Walks on Cat Feet by D. B. Olsen (2/13/14)
9. Cursed in the Act by Raymond Buckland (2/16/14)
10. Made Up to Kill by Kelley Roos (2/18/14)
11. Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)
12. The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie (2/25/14)
13. The Purple Parrot by Clyde Clason (2/25/14)
14. To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas (2/26/14)
15. The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (3/3/14)
16. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis (3/5/14)
17. The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (3/8/14)
18. Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (3/11/14)
19. Endless Night by Agatha Christie (3/13/14)
20. India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (3/19/14)
21. A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3/21/14)
22. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (3/23/14)
23. Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train (3/25/14)
24. The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart (3/31/14)
25. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane (4/5/14)
26. Decoded by Mai Jia (4/5/14)
27. After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (4/6/14)
28. A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed (4/7/14)
29. Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14)
31. Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (4/15/14)
32. Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn (4/18/14)
33. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (4/21/14)
34. The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
35. Dorothy Dixon & the Double Cousin by Dorothy Wayne (4/26/14)
36. For Old Crime's Sake by Delano Ames (4/29/14)
37. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (4/29/14)
38. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)
39. Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell (5/16/14)
40. Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers (5/21/14)
 

Whispers of Vivaldi: Review

Whispers of Vivaldi is the latest mystery in a series by Beverle Graves Myers. Her Tito Amato books are set in 18th century Venice with a hero who has been a singing sensation in the operatic world. Unfortunately, an accident has ruined his beautiful singing voice but his retirement from center stage affords him the opportunity to play a role behind the scenes.  His friend Maestro Torani asks Tito to help him find a way to renew the flagging interest in the San Marco opera house's musical offerings. Tito is hard-pressed to find something to bring back the patrons who have abandoned them for a rival opera house.

A chance meeting brings a new, untried opera to Tito's attention and he must convince not only Maestro Torani, but also their wealthy patron that a story about a Duke who exchanges places with a huntsman and gives up his comforts to seek solace in the life of a country man has story and music enough to enchant the masses. The score is beautiful and the story has twists and surprises--and most mysterious of all, it is rumored to be the work of Vivaldi himself. 

Tito manages to convince those necessary and when he also manages to bring in Angeletto, the current male soprano singing star, to sing the lead it seems that all is falling in place. But mysteries continue to surround the production and the plot takes a dangerous turn when Maestro Torani becomes the target of various accidents and finally...murder. More murders follow and Tito must rely on his old friend Messer Andre Grande (the chief constable) as well as his own talents as a detective to unravel the plot behind the deaths before he becomes a final victim..

This is a decent mystery.  Great historical setting and interesting characters. Ideal for historical mystery fans. An entertaining read for the bulk of the story, although I must admit that I found my attention wandering now and then (I'm not as into opera as I thought I might be). And my Golden Age preferences make me want a fairly-clued mystery. There is, as others have noted, a twist ending...but I just didn't feel like it was adequately clued for the reader to have detected the culprit based on evidence given throughout. There is one big clue that might lead you there...but I didn't pick up on any real evidence for motive or other supporting clues. ★★★


Sinners & the Sea: Virtual Tour & Review



Synopsis:

The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.
But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.

******************************************
My Take:  Sinners and the Sea is a compelling story about many things--many more things than just a retelling of Noah and the Ark.  Because, honestly, this isn't  simply the Biblical story that you might have grown up with...and it doesn't matter that it's not. At its heart, Sinners and the Sea is about identity-- what it is about us that makes us who we are and carries us where we need to go. Noah's wife, who remains unnamed until the final page of the novel, struggles with the fact that she has no name of her own save those that tie her to others (daughter, Noah's wife, mother, grandmother) and wonders "If Noah and my sons die...who will I be?" Her story, her journey, is all about discovering who she really is regardless of what others call her. Her story shows us that while we may see imperfections, disabilities, or disfigurements as obstacles, perhaps it is those very things that allows us to be who we ought to be, to go where we ought to go, and take others with us.

Beautifully written. Kanner evokes Biblical times with realistic touches and is utterly convincing in recounting the horror with which our unnamed heroine watches humanity pulled down by the mighty waters. Her characters are well-drawn and completely believable...although not always likeable. But, then, not all people are likeable. She effectively represents the good and the bad in all humanity--even the righteous who are spared the flood.  ★★★and 1/2 stars.

[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]

******************************************

Watch the Book Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GvxcTs_xG-8

Buy the Book

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Audible.com
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Books-a-Million
iTunes

About the Author

Sinners and the Sea is Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel. Rebecca is a Twin Cities native and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her personal essay, “Safety,” is listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The
Cincinnati Review.

You can learn more about Rebecca, and find links to selected stories and essays, at www.rebeccakanner.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Remaining Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Friday, May 23
Review at Seaside Book Corner
Tuesday, May 27
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, May 29
Review at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Disney Movie Review

Having just read the stories by Mary Norton that were the basis for Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, I decided I just had to sit down and watch the film again. I hadn't watched it since my son was small (many moons ago). I mentioned in my review of the book how much I enjoyed the way the movie brings the World War II themes to the forefront. In fact, they become central to the plot.

Carrie, Charlie, and Paul have been evacuate (along with dozens of other children) because of the blitz in London. All of the other children have been sent home with village families, but the Rawlings have been billeted with Miss Eglantine Price, a reclusive single woman with some rather odd habits and even odder ideas of what makes up a good meal. 

Miss Price is not entirely pleased to be saddled with a trio of children. As she points out to the woman who has assigned homes to the children, "Children and I don't get on." Which seems entirely true--she doesn't know what to do with them and they are not keen on her supper which consists primarily of herbs, plants, and vegetables. Where are the bangers and mash? How about toad in the hole? Bubble and squeak? 

She finally gets them tucked up safely in bed and rushes out to her workroom to open her latest package from the Correspondence College of Witchcraft. It contains her very first broom and she can't wait to try it out. Unfortunately, Miss Price is not too steady as a pilot and the children witness her crash landing. Charlie, street-wise urchin that he is, decides to make the most of the situation. Vowing to keep quiet about her witchcraft if Miss Price promises to make some changes (primarily to the menu!). After a brief stint as a rabbit ("I never could manage toads"), Charlie and Miss Price strike an uneasy bargain with the children promising silence in exchange for a magic item. Result--the magic bed-knob and the traveling bed.

Miss Price finally confides in the children the real reason that she has been studying witchcraft--she is waiting for the final lesson which will contain a spell which she hopes will help her with the war effort. When she receives a disappointing letter from Professor Emelius Brown saying that the College will be closed before the last lesson can be sent, she and the children use the bed to go in search of the Professor. Their travels will take them from the countryside to London and down under the sea and up to the mythical island of Naboombu--all in pursuit of the spell that may save England from invaders.

This is a fun movie--like Disney's Mary Poppins, it is a mixture of live action and animation and provides lots of entertainment. My favorite part is the final moments when Miss Price uses her new spell to send the Nazis running from England's shore. A nice trip back down memory lane...to when I watch Disney movies with my son.

...Speaking of my son--he just wandered through and noticed the VHS case (yes--it's been 'round the house that long) and commented, "Someone's been watching Bedknobs & Broomsticks." I told him that I'd read the book and just had to watch the movie again and he asked if the book was as good.  I knew immediately what he wanted to know (it's his favorite part too) and explained that the war effort was not as prominent in the book.  "You mean she doesn't cast spells on ancient armor?" No. No, she doesn't. He has no interest in the book now.  I told him that the book was good. Just different. But I have to admit...I miss the animated armor in the book myself.

 

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

 
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  Here we go....

...apparently I missed posting before I went on vacation as well as during my vacation last week. I'll be listing my reads since my last post....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
Death by the Book by Julianna Deering 
The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi
Dorothy Dixon & the Double Cousin by Dorothy Wayne
For Old Crime's Sake (aka Lucky Jane) by Delano Ames
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer 
Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler & Margaret Clark (eds)
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell 
Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

 
Currently Reading: 
Sinners & the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife by Rebecca Kanner: The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.
But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.
 
 
Books that spark my interest:
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  
Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka; The Fiction of Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison
Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bed-Knob & Broomstick: Review

My edition of Bed-Knob and Broomstick is the 1957 version which combines both of Mary Norton's works (The Magic Bed-Knob or How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons AND Broomsticks and Bonfires) in a single volume. The first section of the book (equivalent to The Magic Bed-Knob) reveals how Carey, Charles and  Paul Wilson came to know Miss Eglantine Price and the adventures they had as a result. The children are sent to the country to stay with their Aunt in Bedfordshire.  One morning when they go out early in the morning to hunt mushrooms they find Miss Price in crumpled and torn clothes and with an injured ankle. She is pretty evasive when they try to find out what happened to her, but Paul (the youngest) calmly supposes that she must have fallen from her broomstick.

So, Miss Price confides to the children (I'm guessing she's been longing to share her secret with someone) that she's been studying to be a witch, but she's not so very good at it yet. It takes an enormous amount of concentration and uninterrupted time--especially if one wants to be a proper wicked witch. She no sooner reveals her secret when she immediately regrets her indiscretion and (in good wicked witch form) starts thinking of some way of shutting the children up. Carey suggests an alternative--what if Miss Price gives them something magical and puts a spell on it so if the children reveal her secret then the magic will no longer work?

The bargain is made and Miss Price enchants a bed-knob that Paul has unscrewed from his bed. If he screws it on half-way and makes a wish, the bed will take them anywhere they'd like to go--past or present. The children take it on a test run back to London--because Paul is missing his mother and get into all kinds of trouble with the police in the war-time black-out. They decide that their next adventure may need a little more (magical) insurance and invite Miss Price to join them on a visit to a South Seas Island. Their goal is to investigate the coral, but they wind up back in trouble...this time with cannibals. By the time Miss Price can get them out of harm's way and safely back to Paul's bedroom, they have no time left to clean up the sand and salty water before their aunt discovers the mess.  She naturally doesn't believe their explanation of how it happened and packs them up and ships them back to their mother. End of part one.

The second section (equivalent to Broomsticks and Bonfires) takes place two years later. Carey and Charles have systematically worked to convince Paul (and themselves) that their adventures with Miss Price were just dreams--all in an effort to prevent Paul from blurting out something strange at an inconvenient moment. Just when they've almost done the job, an advertisement from Miss Price appears in the newspaper saying that she would gladly take in children for the summer for a small fee. The children manage to persuade their mother that a summer in the country with their friend Miss Price is just what they need and off they go--ready for more adventures. (They are well-prepared because Paul left his aunt's house with the magic bed-knob in his pocket.) 

But when they arrive at Miss Price's they find that she has given up her studies. No more magic. Ever. She has bought the bed from the children's aunt--but they won't be allowed to travel on it. In fact, she unpacks their things for them and the bed-knob disappears. But then one morning, the bed, Miss Price, and Paul are gone and Carey and Charles are put out that Miss Price and their brother went traveling without them. After they reappear, Carey convinces Miss Price that it isn't fair that she and Charles didn't get one more chance and if Miss Price will let them travel into the past "just once" (because, after all, they didn't get to try that part out yet), then they could all be done with magic forever. So, the children travel back to the 1600s, meet a "real" necromancer, bring him back to the 20th Century, and that's when a new set of problems arise....

Previous to finding this book in a stack of books to be thrown out in the hallway at work (don't even get me started on that particular horrifying moment), my only exposure to the story of Miss Price, the apprentice witch, and the Wilson children (renamed Rawlings by Disney & co.), Carey, Charles, and Paul, was the Disney film starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson. I thoroughly enjoyed Disney's animated/live-action treat but it was very interesting to read the original stories and see how much had been changed--as Disney always did. One thing I do like about the Disney film is that it brings the themes of World War II very much to the center of the story. 

The book(s) by Norton touches upon the war--with references to the black-out and the children wondering if it would be fair to use magic in war-time. What if all the soldiers were turned into white mice? But, unlike the movie, Miss Price is not studying magic to aid the war effort--she simply wants to become a witch. And apparently a wicked one at that--though her actions belie any real wickedness in her nature. I enjoyed this venture into the book behind the Disney film more than Mary Poppins (for my take on that please see my review)--there wasn't quite the difference between the book and the movie in the character of Miss Price as there was with Mary. 

This was a fun read. One that I know I would have enjoyed even more had I read it when I was a child. ★★★

Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Monthly Key Word, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Back to the Classics, Women Challenge, Literary Exploration, A-Z Reading Challenge, Semi-Charmed

Death at the Medical Board: Review

It is wartime in Britain and Ursula Finton is eager to join a branch of the women's services to do her part for her country. Her family most definitely disapproves--ever since Ursula had a bout of scarlet fever she has been prone to attacks of heart trouble when excited or stressed. Her devoted family fear that she will bring on a fatal attack if she gets herself involved in the war effort.

But Ursula doesn't believe she has heart trouble--the attacks only occur when she's at home--so she goes to a London specialist for a thorough examination. He provides her with a clean bill of health and a certificate for her to give the medical board stating that there was nothing wrong with her heart. The military doctors reach the same verdict when they examine her and are fully prepared to admit her to service. So why did she succumb to an apparent fatal heart attack in the dressing room as she prepared to leave?

Dr. Rachel Williams, a member of the medical board, can't believe that three eminent doctors (including herself) could have misjudged Ursula's health and calls on Dr. David Wintringham to investigate. Wintringham is currently involved in war work of his own and has pretty much given up his dabbling in crime, but when a certain clue comes to light which leads him to believe that Ursula's death may tie in with his current "hush-hush" assignment he willingly begins to dig further.  His investigations lead him to the Finton's country home where motives are thick on the ground. If her death is not related to the mysterious "PH" gang that Wintringham is trying to trace, then it may well be one of her "loving" relatives--eager to inherit the property she currently is heir to. Or perhaps dear old Nanny would prefer that her favorite--Ursula's cousin--were master of the house and land rather than beholden to Ursula for his livelihood.Wintringham and Inspector Staines follow up the clues...to a solution that is far more complicated than they imagined.

Josephine Bell's Death at the Medical Board is a typical Golden Age mystery with plenty of red herrings and mysterious-acting potential suspects. It does offer up an interesting method of murder--who would have thought of death by lipstick? [No spoilers here--you find that out quite early.] Her characters are interesting and realistic--the local inspector takes some time to warm up to the "interfering" outsider and the interactions between Staines and Wintringham reflect that. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this one until the end--it's a bit unbelievable and it takes one of Christie's famous twists and adds in the mysterious "hush-hush" gang for flavor and makes it more unbelievable still. Would that the ending were more satisfying...but all in all a fun read and well worth it.  ★★★ and 1/2 stars

This fulfills the "Features a Doctor or Nurse" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo car.



Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Monthly Key Word, Monthly Motif, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Women Challenge, Semi-Charmed, Book Bingo

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Greatest Generation: Review

In The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw brings to life the stories of a generation of people who taught America what courage really is--from the front-line heroes and heroines to the workers and loved ones at home. Each teaching us about sacrifice, honor, and bravery in their own way. Brokaw brings us profiles of the ordinary men and women who answered their nation's call and who returned home to continue their quiet lives with dignity and a sense of community spirit. He also highlights the lives of more prominent veterans whose service to their country didn't end when the war was over--men and women who served in high levels of government and the armed forces even after the peace treaties were signed.

The stories are poignant and touching--revealing the depths of sacrifice behind each profile. They are stories of loss and love, friendship and valor. They touch on the challenges that the women who served (or worked at home in place of the absent men) faced when the war was over. The difficulties in being forced to return to pre-war expectations. They also highlight the discrimination that all Americans of color faced even as they volunteered to put their lives on the line for their country. 

This is a very moving account that brought tears to my eyes at times and made me proud of the generation who came together for a common cause in the name freedom. How very different our world might be if the men and women of the 30s and 40s had been less dedicated, less resolute in their determination to serve their country (and the Allies) in a time of great need. My only quibble with the book is that it seems so very formulaic--introduce the hero/heroine, give a brief history pre-war, give another brief synopsis of their war-time assignment, and then tell what productive lives they had afterward. A bit more personal attention and a feeling of story-telling, rather than rote recital would bring this up to five stars....as it is: ★★★

Summer 2014 Book Challenge




Megan is once again hosting the Semi-Charmed Summer 2014 Book Challenge! So, of course, I'm signing up. Yes, I know I need help. She's interested to see what we plan on reading for this challenge, so I'm going to try to come up with a list of proposed reads. We're not bound by our lists (which is good, because my whims may change). Why don't you join me?


General rules:
  • The challenge will run from May 1, 2014, to August 31, 2014. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on May 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on August 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audiobooks are fine, as long as the print versions meet the page requirements. Large-print books are also acceptable, as long as the regular-print version exceeds 200 pages in length.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once. If you want to switch the category of a book during a later check-in, that's fine, just be sure to account for that in your point total.
  • Rereads can be used for a maximum of three books in the challenge. This rule is meant to encourage you to try new books while still allowing you to revisit books from your childhood or young adulthood that you might get more out of now. Please reread the entire book within the timeframe of the challenge in order to count it; no simply finishing old books or partial rereads (unless the category explicitly states otherwise, of course)!
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will win a featured/guest post on Semi-Charmed Kind of Life and be invited to contribute a category for the winter challenge. Good luck!

And now for my list:
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 200 pages long.
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (412 pages) [5/9/14]

10 points: Read a book that was written before you were born.
Death at the Medical Board by Josephine Bell (1944; 218 pages) [5/16/14]

10 points: Finish reading a book you couldn't finish the first time around.
On The Beach by Nevil Shute (1957; 311 pages) [7/7/14]

10 points: Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore.
Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton (240 pages) [5/16/14] 

15 points: Read a book that is on The New York Times' Best Sellers List when you begin reading it.
 Me Without You by Jo Jo Moyes (#7 on Trade Paperback list on 7/20/14) [7/21/14]

15 points: Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe.
Sinners & the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife by Rebecca Kanner (Nile basin/Mesopotamia; 339 pages) [5/21/14]

15 points: Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein (read by Kalyn V @ Geez, Louise) [6/12/14]

20 points: Read a book with “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title.
The Chief Inspector's Daughter by Sheila Radley (211 pages) [7/5/14]

20 points: Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014.
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (movie due in July; 333 pages) [7/8/14]

25 points: Read a book written by a blogger.
Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (307 pages) [7/30/14]

25 points: Read a biography, autobiography or memoir.
—  Beyond Uhura: Star Trek & Other Memories by Nichelle Nichols (320 pages) [5/29/14]
 
30 points: Read a pair of books with antonyms in the titles.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (215 pages) [7/31/14] AND The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano (309 pages) [8/4/14]


Total points: 200



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse: Review

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse is an epic title. That would be why this book jumped off the shelf at the library, into my hand, and insisted that I needed to take it home with me. Which I did. Sadly, the book did not quite live up to its epic title. The book is good. The book is funny--as I expected it to be. But it's not that good. And it's not that funny. There are places in it where I am sure there are jokes and I'd get that feeling that I was supposed to laugh--like Robert Rankin had paused expectantly waiting for the audience to provide the laugh track. But then I'd be like Sherman in the Mr. Peabody & Sherman movie (which we just saw at the drive-in last Saturday) and I'd look up and think to myself I don't get it.

Rankin has created an interesting premise. A young man named Jack is on his way to the big city to seek his fortune--he's heard stories that that's where all the fortunes to be made are made. But when he gets there, all is not as glamorous as he's been given to believe. First off, the "big city" is really Toy City (aka Toy Town). Everybody is a toy except for the rich and famous nursery rhyme characters like Little Miss Muffet and Little Tommy Tucker and Ole King Cole, etc. And there is a serial killer loose who is knocking off the Mother Goose celebrities one by one in rather gruesome methods based on their rhymes. The Toy City police are stumped and Bill Winkie, a Private Eye who has starred in his own series of crime novels, has mysteriously vanished.

Jack runs into Winkie's sidekick, Eddie Bear, and Eddie convinces him to partner with him to solve the murders and collect a fabulous reward. Because you know, Eddie was the real sawdust--er, brains behind the P.I. business. Eddie leads Jack into underage drinking, high-speed car chases, in and out of jail, and into encounters with mysterious spider women. There will be quite a few more deaths and some high-tension drama before Eddie and Jack can find out who's really behind the nursery rhyme murders.

The book is a fantasy-style riff on the noir genre and private eyes in general. It is very self-aware and that is part of the fun. Jack and Eddie discuss how "if this were one of Bill Winkie's private eye books" then "we'd have met all the important characters by now" or "we'd have gotten hold of the MacGuffin by now." They also talk about whether or not the decisions they make along the way would be what a true detective in a crime novel would do. Lots of in jokes (and, as discussed, plenty that go right over my head) and plays off of the nursery rhymes. Excellent premise that manages to fall just short of being a fantastic story. Good solid entertainment, but not extraordinary. ★★★

Quotes:

It's a wise man who knows where he is. And if he knows where he is, he should stay there, don't you agree? (p. 22)

Things really could be worse. You'll be okay. I can direct you to the hospital if you think you need your head bandaged. Or I'll stagger with you, if you want. Or you can carry me upside down and I'll sing you drunken songs. I know some really rude ones. They're all about pigs and penguins. (~Eddie [Bill Winkie's bear], p. 27

It is a fact well known to those who know it well that we can only know what we personally experience. Above and beyond that, it's all just guesswork and conjecture. (p 72)