Thursday, January 30, 2014

Darkness at Pemberley: Review

Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my old age.  Or I'm just feeling more critical here in January.  So far, I'm handing out an average of 2.7 stars to books read in 2014.  And I feel kind of bad about this one because two of my favorite bloggers, Yvette (in so many words) and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora), both thought pretty highly of Darkness at Pemberley by T. H. White (1932)--and I'm all, Yeah, it was okay.  Decent little read.

My primary difficulty with the book is that we have two very different things going on even though it's all one story.  In the first section, we have a classic locked room, academic mystery.  Mr. Beedon, a don of St. Barnabas, has been found shot to death in his locked room.  To all appearances, he has committed suicide--but complications arise when a student (who is not one of Beedon's students and apparently unknown to him) is also found dead from a gun shot. And he has been shot by the same gun.  The famous police surgeon from Scotland Yard says that Beedon has obviously shot the student and then shot himself--in remorse or some such thing.  Enter Inspector Buller who is convinced that it is a case of murder all round.  And...barely half-way through the book, we find out he's right and who the murderer is.  But there's no evidence to prove it.  The murderer is so full of how brilliant and uncatchable he is that he knocks off another victim (who might have been able to provide a bit of proof) right under Buller's nose. Buller is so disgusted with himself and his inability to prevent the last murder as well as his inability to bring the crime home to the culprit that he resigns from the force.  Thus endeth the first lesson.

At this point the story goes through a transformation.  Gone is the cozy, locked room, college atmosphere.  Presto-chango, we're off on a "catch-me-if-you can" game of hide and seek in a rambling country mansion (which, by the way is Pemberley and is in the hands of Elizabeth & Fitzwilliam's descendents) and a high-speed car chase just to make things interesting.  There will be an ingenious new gas to try and rid the house of lurking murderers, crawling about the roof with ropes, and escapades in the chimneys.  Buller will be in danger of being roasted alive before the murderer finally gets his due.  Plenty of adventure and excitement--and, of course, a rather sweet little romance between Buller and the female Darcy heir.

The locked room murder is a decent little mystery with a rather clever method of misdirection.  The characters are interesting and engaging.  And I enjoyed White's prose.  I just wish the book hadn't had a split-personality going on--it was like reading two books in one.  Three stars for a good vintage read.

Oh...and thanks to Sergio for sending me a copy back in 2012.  I intended to read it as an extra entry for last year's Vintage Mystery Challenge, but didn't quite fit it in.  So...I'll apply it for this year's "Professional Detective" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.  And that gets me half-way to a diagonal Bingo!



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Review

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--well-known classic science fiction novel.  Made into the cult-classic film Blade Runner.  It's been on my science fiction radar for years and I finally decided that this was the year to read Philip K. Dick's post-apocalyptic story of too-realistic androids run amok and bounty hunter who is hot on their trail.  I've had a fuzzy idea of the plot line and was expecting a knock-out classic SF story.  

What I got was some pretty decent ideas, a fair plot, and some general all-over the place storytelling.  Human-like robots (too human-like)--yep, we got them.  We also have an electric sheep and other electric animals.  And Rick Deckard's obsessive need to own a real animal--either a sheep like he had or a horse or an owl or a goat.  He's not picky.  We also have his depressed wife.  And the so-called sub-human "chickenhead" J. R. Isidore and his need for friends--even if those friends are androids.  Sometimes following multiple storylines works really well for me.  This time it felt messy.

I absolutely understand what Dick was trying to do.  By having pseudo-humans and pseudo-animals, he wants us to think about what makes us human; what gives us life and makes us "real."  There is irony in the "mood organs" which make the "real" people feel the way they are supposed to feel in any given situation. Because, you know, the ultimate test of whether you're dealing with a real person or an "andy" is emotional...persons in question are given an empathy test to determine whether they are reacting emotionally as a human should.  But how valid is that if the "real" people are fed their emotions on a daily basis?   

One really extraordinary thing that this book did for me was to lead to a really interesting conversation with my son last night in the car.  He watched Blade Runner when he was in high school and when I told him I was reading the book that the film was based on we were off and running discussing differences and themes....and, man, do I wish I'd had a recording device on me.  The discussion was awesome--you're going to have to trust me on that.

Three stars for a solid science fiction read.  I was hoping to be handing out more.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Bingo: Squares 9 & 10


Knocked out two more squares....still no Bingo.  But getting close on the TBR Pile column.

TBR Pile
Four Books
1. Death on the Aisle by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/24/14)
2. The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1/26/14)
3. Other Times, Other Worlds by John D. MacDonald (1/26/14)
4. Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1/27/14)

AND

Series:
One Book: The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine [#12 of Philo Vance series] (1/23/14)


 

Too Much of Water: Review

Too Much of Water by Bruce Hamilton (1958) takes place aboard a small cabin ship--with single class accommodations for no more than twenty-five passengers--bound from Liverpool on a journey to the West Indies. On the journey a number of rather fatal "accidents" occur.  The list of accidents include a tumble overboard, the drowning of young boy, and a death in the bath of a YMCA secretary.  It's obvious that someone is steadily reducing the passenger list, but is s/he a madman or is there a method in the madness?  The only thing all the victims seem to have in common is an irritation factor--they were all pests of one sort or another.  The amateur detective of the piece is Edgar Cantrell, a middle-aged conductor who is on his way to Barbados for a rest cure.  When one last victim is found before the ship reaches Barbados, Cantrell must work fast to find the real culprit before the ship's officers turn his friend, a talented countertenor, over to the police.  The circumstantial evidence is strong against Maurice Marcus, but Cantrell knows he must be innocent. But who among the remaining passengers could it be?  The alcoholic major? The planter from Barbados? Marcus's rival in love? One of the strong and athletic cricket players? Or perhaps one of the intellectual young men bound for teaching posts?  The ladies would seem to be out of it--but who know what strength might come if a scorned woman's fury backs it....

Hamilton gives us a near-four-star story.  The characters are interesting and somewhat comic at times.  Cantrell makes for a nice, male version of the middle-aged busybody getting himself drawn into a bit of amateur detective work.  There are plenty of red herrings and a twist or two--and I could fully believe in the identity of the murderer when revealed.  The only quibble I have is in the wrap-up.  Cantrell confronts the murderer much earlier than expected and so I was all ready for a final twist that would reveal a different culprit entirely--especially when it is shown that there is no real evidence to give to the authorities.  The final surprise is a bit contrived--we don't get a signed confession--but the denouement puts quite a strain on the reader's suspension of disbelief.  Some real clues and real detective work that would truly convict would be more satisfying than what we're given.  Sorry to be so vague--but I don't want to give anything away.

Don't get me wrong--this is a very entertaining mystery by an author I had never heard of and definitely worth a look if you can find a copy.  Three and 3/4 stars.

This fulfills the "Involves Water" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.




Fulfills Requirements for Challenges: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, Men in Uniform, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Book Bingo, Monopoly

Scrabble, Anyone?

So....I decided I was so very close I might as well make my challenge count a nice, even 40.  (Yes, I know I have a problem.  That's why I'm a charter member of the the Reading Challenge Addicts Challenge ...er...support group.)  Found this one on the Crazy Challenge Connection (where the Book Monopoly Challenge originated).




When you sign up for the Scrabble, Anyone? Challenge at GoodReads (click link), Barb (our gracious hostess) will assign you one set of randomly generated letters. Your challenge is to read one book for each of those letters. You may use the first letter of the first word of the book's title (do NOT count A, An or The), or the first or last initial of the author to complete each letter.
NOTE: Everyone's letter sets will be different, and assignments will be based on the order in which you sign up. The first person to sign up will get set #1, the second person will get set #2, and so on. Therefore, it will be up to you to keep track of the letters that have been assigned to you :)

For those who want more of a challenge, in addition to reading a book for each letter, make a word out of the letters you've been given, then read a book with that word in its title (or the author's name). It must be a single word, not a compound word. (Example: If you make the word KING, the word you must match is KING, not KINGLY or KINGDOM) This won't be possible with all letter sets, which is why it's a bonus and not part of the challenge itself :)

When you've completed your first set of letters, post a new message with the letters you were given and the books you read. If you'd like to continue the game, I'll give you another set of 7 letters and you can start all over again!

So ... who wants to play? 

***********************
Okay, just got my letters for Scrabble, Anyone?
Duration: 2/1/14-No official deadline, but my personal goal is two sets of letters per year each year I play.

Letter Set #1: E, E, E, A, N, S, H

E: Exit Actors, Dying by Margot Arnold (2/4/14)
E: Endless Night by Agatha Christie (3/13/14)
E: Ellery Queen's 20th Anniversary Annual by Ellery Queen, ed (2/22/14)
A: After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman (4/6/14)
N: Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg (4/8/14)
S: Shelf Life by Douglas Clark (2/5/14)
H: A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed (4/7/14) 


First set complete! Just waiting for my new letters....

Letter Set #2: I, I, N, R, T, L, Z

I: Invisible Green by John Sladek (6/2/14)
I: Introducing C. B. Greenfield by Lucille Kallen (8/6/14)
N: No. 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine (6/21/14)
R: Red Herring by Edward Acheson (5/25/14)
T: Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (6/5/14)
L: The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi (4/26/14)
Z: Zingers, Quips, & One-Liners by Geoff Tibballs (8/25/14)

Second set complete!

Letter Set #3: A, A, O, R, D, F, V

A: The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (8/29/14)
A: Appleby's Answer by Michael Innes (10/17/14)
O: Only a Matter of Time by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley (10/13/14)
R: Red Cent by Robert Campbell (9/10/14)
D: Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh (9/6/14)
F: The Footprints on the Ceiling by Clayton Rawson (9/25/14)
V:  Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (9/5/14)


Third set complete!

Fourth Set: A, O, T, T, T, S, W

A: American Eve by Paula Uruburu (11/11/14)
O: Oxford Knot by Veronica Stallwood (11/20/14)
T: Too Many Doctors by Holly Roth (10/22/14)
T: Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier (11/12/14)
T: Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home by James Tiptree, Jr. (1/2/15)
S: Sick to Death by Douglas Clark (12/17/14)
W: Words for Murder Perhaps by Edward Candy (12/16/14)


Bonus Word: Two Men in Twenty by Maurice Procter (11/14/14)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Other Times, Other Worlds: Review

Other Times, Other Worlds is a science fiction short story collection by the very prolific John D. MacDonald.  Best known for his crime and suspense novels--particularly the Travis McGee series and The Executioners (adapted into the film Cape Fear)--MacDonald began his writing career in the pulps, selling widely across the genres: adventure stories, mysteries, westerns, sports stories....and science fiction.  In fact, selling so widely that he had to use multiple pseudonyms and sometimes had an entire magazine to himself under various names.  All of the stories in the collection first appeared in science fiction pulp magazines between 1948 and 1968 (inclusive).

These stories are sharp portrayals of the human condition. They highlight various social and psychological types and show men and women in all their strength and weakness.  And they range over near-future and far-future stories of life on Earth as well as investigating what life on other planets may be like.  Yet even when he discusses aliens, he is really turning the microscope on homo sapiens.  A few of the stories are dated--only by the lack of scientific knowledge to be had at the time they were written.  Transplant the characters to any suitable place and time and the commentary on who we are as a species is still as valid today as in the 1940s or the 1950s or the 1960s.

These are all engaging stories, but among my favorites:

"Dance of a New World"--in which Shane Brent is on a mission to convince a retired rocket pilot to sign up for a dangerous long-term journey only to discover that he might like a little danger himself.

"Ring Around the Redhead"--in which a man's innocence or guilt in a murder case hinges on the testimony of a stranger from another dimension.

"A Child Is Crying"--about a seven-year-old boy whose intelligence surpasses experts in all fields and who has the ability to predict the future.  But is that a good thing?

"Susceptibility"--Sean Malloy is sent to a colony on one of mankind's far-flung outposts to discover why the colonists aren't using all the high-tech gizmos provided for them.  The answer surprises him.

"Game for Blondes"--a lovely psychological twist on the good old scavenger hunt.

Four stars for an excellent collection.




The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons: Review

The Adventure of the Eleven Cuff-Buttons by James Francis Thierry (1918) is thought to be the first novel-length Sherlock Holmes parody with "Holmes" as the central character.  "Doc" Watson recounts Hemlock Holmes's first British adventure after they return from a three-year stay in New York City--this explains why he and Holmes sound like caricature-versions of Americans abroad.  It doesn't explain why every other character--including the Earl of Puddingham and all the inhabitants of the manor also sound like they've been studying American slang.

Holmes is called to Nomanstow Towers to track down eleven of an even dozen diamond cuff-buttons which have been stolen from the Earl.  The famous detective is determined to find the missing buttons...not out of any interest in justice, but in the interest of adding the enormous fee to his bank account. Holmes examines shoes and questions all the staff and family from the Earl's wife to his younger brother to his wife's elderly Uncle Tooter and from the Earl's private secretary to his temperamental French chef to his German gardener.  Everyone has a theory about who might be thief--basically anybody but their honest selves.

This parody actually ventures beyond spoof to outright exaggeration--Holmes is over-the-top dismissive and not just abrupt, but down-right rude to everyone.  His contempt for the Yard, as represented by Inspector Barnabas Letstrayed, is at its highest level ever.  There is some humor to be found in this--but not as much as anticipated.  In my opinion, the funniest bits are in Watson's asides to himself and comments to Holmes when they are alone--for while, he is outwardly a fawning, loyal side-kick, he is inwardly wondering why "it was that I still continued to swallow such talk as that, when I knew it was my duty to rise up and paste him one in the eye for his sarcasms." The book is also made--if in any sense it is--by the illustrations by Rob Pudnim.  Two stars--for limited humor, Holmesian historic value, and the illustrations.  What keeps it from three stars?  The Americanisms--I got really tired of "hearing" Holmes say "gol-darned" and "chump" and worrying about his fee in American dollars.  Three years in the States doesn't change a British subject permanently. And the mystery just wasn't that engaging--as parody or as legitimate puzzle.




This fulfills the "Number" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Monopoly: My Sign-up and Tracking Post




Thanks to the challenge temptress, Joanne at Littlequeen Rules, I am signing up for another challenge...

The Book Monopoly Challenge may be found at goodreads @ Crazy ChallengeConnection.  And the full rules may also be found at the Book Monopoly tab up above.  Since this is an on-going challenge, my yearly commitment will be to read at least 10 books each year that fulfill a move in the game.  

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!

11th Move: Rolled a 4 and moved to Water Works [on or near water]: Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (4/15/14)

12th Move: Rolled a 4 and moved to North Carolina Avenue [a book by an author whose first and last initials can be found in “NORTH CAROLINA”]The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin (5/6/14)

13th Move: Rolled a 3 and moved to the Short Line RR [shortest book on your TBR list]: Mind Fields: The Art of Jack Yerka/The Fiction of  Harlan Ellison by Yerka & Ellison [71 pages]

14th Move: Rolled a 6 and moved to Mediterranean Avenue [mostly purple cover]: By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford (5/23/14)



15th Move: Rolled a 1 and moved to Community Chest [Favorite Author]: The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (6/23/14)

16th Move: Rolled a 2 and moved to Income Tax [Go to GoodReads TBR list and read one of first 10 books listed]: My Late Wives by Carter Dickson

Friday, January 24, 2014

Death on the Aisle: Review

Death on the Aisle by Frances and Richard Lockridge takes Pam and Jerry North, along with Lieutenant Bill Weigand, Sergeant Mullins, Weigand's soon-to-be wife, Dorian into the world of play production.  One of Jerry's authors (at North Books) has authored a play and he and Pam stop in at the West 45th Street Theatre to see what a rehearsal is like.  While there, theatre angel and physician to various actors, Dr. Carney Bolton, is found dead in his seat.  He, too, had dropped in to see how his latest play was going....but someone made sure he would never see opening night.

A simple little ice pick to the neck was all it took--and suddenly there is more drama off-stage than on.  There are plenty of suspects--from the playwright who didn't like Bolton's interference with his work to the director who didn't like Bolton's interference with his favorite actress; from the producer who feared Bolton was preparing to withdraw his financial support to the young actress who may have been more personally involved with the dead man than she cares to admit.  Weigand has his hands full of suspects and as usual Pam North manages to point the way to the culprit without quite realizing what she's doing.  But it will take another death and two more attempted murders before the crime can be brought home to the appropriate suspect.

First off, let me just say that this was a fun little volume to read.  One of two Armed Forces Edition books that I own (the other is a Dorothy L. Sayers novel)--it is just a cute little thing.  It was in such delicate condition that I had to keep it in a plastic baggie when carrying it around with me and I had to be extraordinarily careful in turning the pages, but it was a delight (as a book-lover) to hold and read a book that may well have given enjoyment to our men overseas during World War II.

Second, Pam North is in rare form in this one and wanders around backstage muttering to herself about the murders.  This gets her in trouble, of course, but it is fun to watch her and listen to her.  Because, after all, "It's all right  to talk to yourself if what you say is interesting....And often, although probably I shouldn't think it, I'd rather talk to myself than other people." [Pam, p 212]  I did think it a bit odd that she didn't see as clearly as I did who the culprit must be, but that's okay--Bill knows and is ready to jump in and save Pam from the trap she manages to fall into.

There are plenty of clues and the alert reader should pick them up.  The fun is in the characters and watching the play between the Norths and their friends and between the theater folk as well.  A very delightful entry into the North series of books.  Four stars.



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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Winter Murder Case: Review

Carrington Rexton is a bit nervous.  His son Richard has just returned from medical studies in Europe and there's a house party going on to hail the conquering hero...so to speak.  So, what's making Papa Rexton nervous?  Well...he doesn't quite get these young folks and there's a fellow that Richard has brought back with him who seems a bit suspicious.  And...oh yeah...Rexton has a bunch of sparkly emeralds and a rare necklace that aren't exactly as secure as they ought to be.  

Rexton arranges (through District Attorney Markham) to have his old friend Philo Vance on the premises to look everything (and everybody) over and see if his fears are groundless.  Vance meets the guests and inhabitants of the Rexton manor--from son of the house and the invalid daughter Joan to Ella Gunther, companion to Joan and a secret ice skating star; from Carlotta Naesmith, society girl and Richard's intended--at least intended by Papa Rexton--to Stanley Sydes, man about town and avid treasure-hunter.  Also in the wings are the family doctor, a famous singer, a race car driver, a gentleman jockey, a famous aviatrix, and a host of others.

Vance barely has time to discover who's who and take a peek around the premises before Lief Wallen, a guard stationed to guard the Gem Room, is found at the base of a cliff dead from a blow to the head.  Accident?  Or was he hit and tossed over the edge.  The emeralds disappear and then there is another death--this time it is Jacques Bassett, the suspicious friend of Richard's.  The local lieutenant is sure that Ella and her father--particularly her father--are the ones to watch, but while Vance admits that things look rather black for the father and daughter, he asks the lieutenant to wait for one more ice skating exhibition.  Vance has a few tricky moves of his own to put on display.


The Winter Murder Case (1939) is the final book in S. S. Van Dine's (Willard Huntington Wright) Philo Vance series.  It actually represents the second stage of his writing process--a process that included first, a 10,000 word outline; second a draft that filled out the dialogue; and a final draft to complete the details and descriptions.  Van Dine died before he could complete the final draft of his twelfth book.  There are many critics, with Julian Symons in Bloody Murder chief among them, who say that Van Dine's work was in steady decline throughout his last six novels.  Symons writes: "The decline in the last six Vance books is so steep that the critic who called the ninth of them one more stitch in his literary shroud was not overstating the case." 

I, on the other hand, didn't think the book was so very awful.  It is true that it is very bare bones.  Vance speaks in very short, clipped sentences...and there seems to be a lot left unspoken that should be explained, particularly when you realize that Vance is not working with his usual brothers-in-arms, Markham and Sergeant Heath.  But the story is well-plotted and even in the bare bones stage there are enough clues that the reader has a fair chance to discover the culprit.  I must confess--I did spot the culprit, but I couldn't have pointed to any particular clue that led me to my choice.  At least, I couldn't until after I had completed my read-through and went back to find them.  Two and a half stars for a pleasant read.



This counts for the "Date, Time, Etc" Square on the Golden Vintage Mystery Bingo card.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Bingo: Squares 7 & 8



Knocked out a couple more squares!

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
Non-Fiction: The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux (1/20/14)

Seven Footprints to Satan: Review

Abraham Grace Merritt wrote under the name of A. Merritt.  He was extraordinarily popular during the 20s and the 30s--especially for fantasy and horror.  His novel Seven Footprints to Satan was first published as a five-installment serial in the 1927 Argosy-All-Story Weekly and then published in book form in 1928.  It has been billed as mystery, horror and thriller--and I'd say it's quite a mix of all three, leaning more towards the thriller with a bit of mystery and horror thrown in for flavor.  The super-villain reminds me of Fu Manchu mixed with Moriarty.  For the period, the racial stereotypes are not nearly as prominent as the Fu Manchu books, although they are still there.

But down to cases...James Kirkham, world traveler and adventurer who seems to be a precursor to Indiana Jones, has returned to New York City after his latest exploit.  One in which he relieved a rather nasty fellow of some priceless jade tablets.  During his short time back in the City, he has felt as though he has been under constant surveillance. All of his adventurer's senses are on the alert, but he can never see anyone suspicious about.  When he begins to feel the unseen eyes upon him in even the secluded confines of his club, he decides to draw his pursuers into the open by deliberately walking through the most deserted parts of the city.

Just when he thinks his plan has failed, he finds himself neatly abducted--without violence and right under the nose of a friendly (but totally unhelpful) policeman as well as a member of the marines.  He finds himself conducted by subway and then by car (with curtained windows so he can't see where he's taken) to the sprawling estate and fortress-like home of a man who goes by the name of Satan.  Satan claims to be the most powerful man in the world--with hundreds of willing servants at his beck and call, ready to kill when asked and to steal the treasures of the world at a moment's notice.

Kirkham has drawn Satan's attention with his daring exploits around the world and the evil mastermind is determined to make Kirkham one of his minions.  But he claims to be a fair evil genius--he will gamble with Kirkham for his life, his freedom, or eternal servitude. In his throne room there are two thrones--one in which Satan sits and one which holds a jeweled crown and scepter.  On the steps leading to the crown are seven footprints.  Four are "good" prints and three are "evil"--the positions of good and evil are not static.  There is a mechanical device that is spun and randomly assigns the footsteps their good or evil status.  Anyone gambling with Satan must trod on four of the prints.  If he steps on one "evil" print, then he must perform one service of Satan's choosing.  If he steps on two "evil" prints, then he will owe Satan a year of service.  If he steps on all three "evil" prints, then he is Satan's to do with as he pleases--lifelong service, to kill in what ever horrible way he chooses, anything.  On the other hand, if he manages to step only on the "good" prints, then Satan and all his minions and all his wealth (and he's got a TON of that) is the victor's to command.

Kirkham is always ready for a gamble--but his task is made more difficult by the presence of the lovely Eve, a woman for whom he will do anything to save her from Satan's clutches, and Harry, a cockney mechanic whose life Kirkham once saved and who is looking to return the favor.  The story revolves around Kirkham's gamble and seeing how our hero will manage to escape from Satan and all his devoted servants.

This was a fast-paced thriller that was easily read in single evening.  I was surprised at how much fun and how engaging this little trip into a fantastic pseudo-cult could be.  Satan really is quite nasty and the delight he takes in destroying those who fail him is really diabolical--and all with without the blood and gore that is prevalent in more recent thrillers.  There are also interesting questions to consider--is Satan as supernatural as he claims or is he just an incredibly intelligent and persuasive human master criminal.  Merritt doesn't necessarily answer that question--and if Satan is really "the devil" as Harry puts it, then the story itself makes you willing to believe it.  Three and a half star for a very entertaining read.


This book fulfills the "Spooky Title" square for the Golden Vintage Mystery Bingo card.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Kingdom by the Sea: Review

Random thoughts on The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux which was chosen primarily to fulfill "Non-Fiction &/or Travel" requirements for a few challenges--and because I'd heard about Theroux and his books before and thought it might be interesting:

Just starting out...I'm wondering why Theroux bothered to do a walking (well, mostly walking, but sometimes taking a train) tour of Britain and then write about it.  He doesn't really seem enamored with England.  He doesn't really seem to be enjoying his trip 'round the coastline of Britain.  He seems depressed and disgruntled.  And he seems like such a snob towards most of the British public.

There are, however, some nice descriptive moments--here and there; briefly.  Such as those that take place in Folkestone.  Theroux meets a Mr. Walter Dudlow who had once been a gardener and who at 79 extremely proud of his dancing and his neat dancing feet.  We, just from Theroux's brief description, like Mr. Dudlow a lot--even though Theroux makes it clear that he doesn't.  He isn't even willing to humor the older gentlemen and congratulate him on his agility at such an advanced age.  He just comments on how Dudlow is fishing for the compliment.

And Theroux is like that about Britain in general.  Almost everywhere he goes is "dull" and "colorless" and even when he likes a place ("But I still liked Hastings...") he doesn't stay long and give us a good look 'round to see why he likes it.  He just ups and leaves and starts back on his depressing little journey.  It's a good thing I already know how much I want to go to Britain and that Mr. Theroux isn't influencing me much--'cause I can't say that his travel book is much of an advertisement for the place.  

I realize that he was there in 1982 and what with the war in the Falklands and all that it wasn't exactly a time to catch Britain at her best.  But, again, I ask--why did he write the book?  He doesn't really seem to want to go on the trip round the coast once he gets started on it; he doesn't seem to be enjoying it while he's going; and he doesn't seem to be satisfied once he's finished.  Why did he bother?  Which is kind of what I'm asking myself after putting the book down--why did I bother?  (Oh yeah...all those reading challenges.)  One star.

Vintage Scavenger Hunt: Winners!

Review Site

I had four participants go for the prizes in the Vintage Scattergories Scavenger Hunt.  Those lucky winners are Christina from You Book Me All Night Long; Neer from A Hot Cup of Pleasure; Angela from Tantos Livros Tao Pouco Tempo; and John at Pretty Sinister Books.  Thanks to all four of you for joining me for a little scavenger hunt fun.

Christina managed a perfect score before some of the review and wrap-up links went bad.  She identified every image with all components--including the bonus points for identifying the blog where the book was reviewed.  Neer and Angela got perfect scores on the remaining good links which gave them a score equivalent to John's.  So, you know what?  Just like on Oprah--Christina...You're a Winner!  And Neer...You're a Winner!  And Angela...You're a Winner! And John...You're a Winner!  Everybody's a Winner! 

I'll be contacting you all with a prize offer...but in the meantime, Congratulations! 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Bingo: Squares #5 & #6





Racking up those Bingo squares right and left.  But at the moment I'm all over the board.  Six down...19 more to go for a full card and making slow progress toward my declared goal of two Bingos.

Recent Squares Conquered:

Mix It Up
Reread: Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (1/13/14)
Free Square: The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton (1/18/14)


Currently working on a Non-Fiction entry
 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Xibalba Murders: Review

Initially I picked up The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton for two reasons: 1) It's got a lovely "X" right there at the beginning and that knocks off a rather difficult letter for the Alphabet Soup Challenge and 2) It's set in Mexico, so it works for the Around the World Challenge.  It also counts for a whole boatload of other challenges, so I thought it was all good.  But geez, Louise, it was difficult to finish this rather blah, rather predictable book.  First problem: It's written in the first person.  Man, I hate those.  It's rare that a first-person narrator works well for me.  This one doesn't.  Second problem: Too much introspection on the part of the narrator (bad divorce, no love-life, blah-blah-blah).  Third problem: this supposedly "smart enough to run her own business (pre-divorce) and smart enough to go back to school as a graduate student" woman immediately starts blabbing about why Dr. Hernan Castillo asked her to come to Mexico to the first impressive male stranger she comes across.  Bet that's going to work out well for her.  But remember--she's told us that she dresses in "student uniform" of denim, khakis, and black to keep the men away ('cause the bad divorce was a thing, you know).  Right.  She's not interested or impressed by men at all.  Uh-huh. 

But you want to know what this is about, right?  Whether the mystery is interesting.  Well, you'd think so from the blurb:

After receiving a cryptic phone call from Dr. Hernan Castillo, an expert in Mayan history, Lara McClintoch travel to Merida, Mexico, to help him with a mysterious project that he has undertaken. But on arriving in Merida, Lara sees no sign of the good doctor--until his lifeless body turns up in his office at the museum.  Retracing the doctor's recent footsteps, she is drawn into the jungles surrounding Merida.  For in this lush paradise are the temples of Mayan gods--and the camps of modern-day rebels fighting to save their Mayan heritage. As the body count escalates, Lara must uncover the secrets of the Mayan underworld known as Xibalba--and journey into the very heart of darkness....

I know I thought so.  But even though I know in these cozy mysteries we have to agree to believe the amateur detective is going to outsmart the police, I just couldn't do it this time.  Because quite honestly, I don't believe Lara is smart enough.  She does some really stupid things and trusts people that she has no reason to trust.  And Hamilton gives no explanation in the storyline to make me believe that she should have a reason.  One star. 

Challenges Met: A-Z Reading Challenge, Around the World, Library Books Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Out of This World, Women Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Book Bingo, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge,

Out of This World Challenge

Found another one!

Image free from freevectors.com

Out of This World Challenge

Bla bla bla books says:

I love georgaphy-based challenges. You know, the ones that make you feel like you are visiting all those wonderful places. But I always see the restriction: only real countries/states/places count. That sounds so unfair! What for all the wonderful places that are out of this world and time!
 
Here are the 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. 
  • all books finished in 2014 count. It's okay if you started the book before January the 1st.
  • No need to review, just if you feel like it. In the end just a list of the books read and the places visited is all you need.
  • no need to have a blog. You can link to any public profile, or keep track in the comments
  • any lenght, any format, any genre
  • You can pick one of the levels (and you can move up or down) or you can set your own goal
Levels
  1.  Few steps away - 5 places to visit
  2. Over the rainbow - 10 places
  3. Where no man has been before - 15 places
  4. Above and beyond - 25 places
  5. Out of this world - 40 places
Being a Star Trek fan, I just have to go for the "Where no [wo]man has been before" level. If you want to join, hop on the link above. 

And--I've already got some qualifying books.  Yay!

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]

Challenge Complete!

16. India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (3/19/14) [Victorian England]
 

Triumph: Review

Triumph by Philip Wylie is a terrible book.  No--I don't mean the writing.  Or the way Wylie tells his story.  Or anything to do with Wylie's craft as an author.  That is all top-notch.  Five-star reading material.  What I mean is...this is the most horrific rendering of World War III, of nuclear holocaust, that I've read.  To think that any member of the human race could possibly commit themselves to the wholesale slaughter of the entire Northern Hemisphere just so they could say that they "won."  I can't imagine.  Or, rather--now, thanks to Philip Wylie, I can.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Triumph is about.  It is the 1960s and the height of the Cold War.  The Russians have long been plotting the ultimate assault that will lead to control of whatever remains of the earth.  Russia's Red army marches into Yugoslavia to "liberate" its people and an ultimatum is given to the President of United States and the leaders of England and France telling them they have two hours to confirm with Russia that they will not interfere.  The President barters for time to negotiate, but it really doesn't matter if he has two hours or six.  Because at the appointed time, Russia begins attacking the U.S. with everything they've got.  

No one ever believed that either of the superpowers would go all-out.  If nuclear war came, only certain strategic targets would be hit in order bring surrender.  Russia isn't interested in surrender--they want to remove any possibility of any Americans (or any countries in the Northern Hemisphere) interfering with a plan for world domination.  So, they play dirty.  Literally.  Using dirty bombs loaded to the gills with material that is hundreds of times more radioactive than necessary and then setting off special bombs that will send radioactive salt into the atmosphere to clean out anyone the missiles might have missed.  

Russia's plan also includes secret, hidden bomb shelters specially designed to preserve a few thousand of the elite, super-Russians (sound familiar? master race anyone?) who will come forth to take over the earth once all phases of the war plan have been carried out.  But Russia doesn't reckon on a few specialized submarines that the U.S. navy had managed to keep hidden up its sleeve...or bomb shelter fortress prepared by a Connecticut millionaire which saves the lives of fourteen Americans.

It's not just the idea that anyone could be so hell-bent on power that they would systematically eradicate everyone in the Northern Hemisphere (including, through what retaliation the US and its allies can muster, their own people).  And, of course, the U.S. is not portrayed as the white-hatted hero.  There is plenty about how our stock-piling of weapons and contributions to the Cold War made this event possible.  All adding to the horror of the nuclear onslaught.  What is also horrific about Wylie's story is the detailed descriptions of what happened on the surface of the northern part of the earth during the missile strikes and their aftermath.  Realistic and terrible.  And even knowing that we are no longer living in the Cold War Era doesn't prevent the shivers and the question...what if? What if another Hitler-like madman seizes power in a country with nuclear capability?  Would that person be willing to go all-out just for the chance to say, however briefly, "I'm the winner!  I rule the world!"  It's a very sobering thought.

It is also very interesting to read Wylie's 1960s take on race relations and gender.  Yes, it's dated. Yes, there are a few stereotypes that will bother modern sensibilities.  But it very much represents the time it was written while allowing Wylie to examine those stereotypes and give them a bit of shake. He allows his characters to learn and change and grow through this horrible experience. Is it realistic to expect that all fourteen of the survivors would miraculously break through whatever hangups they brought with them to the shelter?  Perhaps not.  But it does provide an excellent character study.  As mentioned--five stars for every thought-provoking moment and every horrific shudder at the thought of all-out nuclear war.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cloaked in Danger Launch Party

Like your historical romance with a little danger and suspense?  Then...


What: Jeannie Ruesch's Facebook Launch Party for Cloaked in Danger


When: 
Monday, January 273:00 - 7:00pm PST

About Cloaked in Danger

Publication Date: January 27, 2014
Carina Press
eBook
ASIN: B00F93X7ZI

Aria Whitney has little in common with the delicate ladies of London society. Her famous father made his fortune hunting archaeological treasures, and her rustic upbringing has left her ill prepared for a life of parties and frippery. But when Gideon Whitney goes missing in Egypt, Aria must embrace the unknown. Armed with only the short list of highborn men who’d backed her father’s venture, she poses as a woman looking for a husband. She doesn’t intend to find one.

Adam Willoughby, Earl of Merewood, finds London’s strangest new debutante fascinating, but when he catches her investigating his family’s secrets, he threatens to ruin her reputation. He doesn’t intend to enjoy it so much.

When their lustful indiscretion is discovered, Adam finds that he regrets nothing. But now, as Aria’s father’s enemy draws near, Adam must convince his betrothed that she can trust him with her own secrets…before it’s too late.

About Jeannie Ruesch
Jeannie Ruesch wrote her first story at the age of the six, prompting her to give up an illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and declare that writing was her destiny. That journey to destiny took a few detours along the way, including a career in marketing and design.  Her first novel, a fairy-tale like historical romance, was published in 2009, but the darker side of life had always captivated her. So after a dinner conversation with friends about the best way to hide a dead body, she knew she had to find a way to incorporate suspense into her writing. (The legal outlet for her fascination.) Today, she continues writing what she loves to read – stories of history, romance and suspense. She lives in Northern  California with her husband, their son and an 80 pound lapdog lab named Cooper.
She is also the creator of the WIP Notebook, a writer’s tool to help stay organized while you write, which you can find at her website. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Wonder Chamber: Review

Despite the fact that my library has The Wonder Chamber by Mary Malloy shelved on the mystery "New Arrivals" shelf....a real mystery it is not.  In fact, for a good long while (try 214 pages out of 265 total) there isn't a terribly good indication that there's going to be a mystery at all--beyond the mystery of a missing Michelangelo candlestick.  But certainly not the kind of mystery that crime fiction fans are used to.  And when the mystery shows up it doesn't take anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention much brainpower to figure out A. who the mummy really is; B. who killed the person who became the mummy; and C. who turned the victim into a mummy.  But...I get ahead of myself.

So...what we have here is Professor Lizzie Manning, professor of St. Patrick's College in Boston, who has just landed the assignment of a lifetime.  She will have full access to an art and cabinet of curiosities ("Wonder Chamber") belonging to family related to the college founder.  This is a collection dating back to the Renaissance which holds everything from natural treasures ("unicorn" horns and "dragons") to a beautifully preserved Egyptian sarcophagus.  Professor Manning has already written a book about the college founder and now the college president and the family want her to oversee the organization of a special display of the family treasures in time for the centennial celebration.

She goes to Italy to survey and catalogue the proposed exhibit pieces and becomes interested in the Gonzaga family's history--particularly in Maggie, wife of Lorenzo Gonzaga and daughter of the college founder.  Her interest takes her through the turbulent years of World War II and she becomes aware of events that will require a modern day explanation.  For when she examines the sarcophagus, instead of an empty coffin she finds a very real mummy.  But the mummy is not as old as its container.  Who is it? And how long has it been hidden in the sarcophagus?


As I mentioned above...as a mystery, this story falls short of a mystery lover's expectations.  It take forever to get to the real puzzle.  And when you get there, there isn't much of a puzzle.  There's no real build-up; there's no real conflict; and the denouement leaves a bit to be desired.  If this had been billed as a straight fiction story (with a bit of mystery flavor), then it would rate higher.  There is a lot of interesting historical information about Italy during the Second World War.  There are some fascinating passages about curiosity collections.  There are some fine character interactions between Lizzie Manning and the modern day members of the Gonzaga family.  For the most part I like Lizzie and the descriptions of her researches are well done.  I do find it difficult to believe that someone as smart as she is would not have seen the implications of the monologue (for lack of a better description without giving away what little mystery there is) which she recorded and the effect it might have on the person who translated it.  There's no way she could be that obtuse.  Given that I was expecting a mystery--and an academic mystery at that!--I'm afraid that The Wonder Chamber rates a less-than-wonderous two stars--an okay read that could have been much better.



Challenges Met:  100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, A-Z Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Eclectic Reader, How Many Books, Library Books Challenge, Million Pages, Outdo Yourself, Women Challenge, European Reading Challenge, 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bout of Books Wrap-Up

So....how did I do with the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon? Not too well with the daily participation--I took part in only two of the mini-challenges and didn't get a single update entered.  Boo!  I did (almost) manage to complete all five books as planned--if I hadn't had to go to sleep last night so I could go to work today then I would have finished the Rendell book.  So--Books Read? Participation D+  I'll have to work on that next time around.  But--I'm still glad to have joined in...it kept me motivated and on-track as I start out a new year of reading.

1. Shakespeare's Planet by Clifford D. Simak (done! Hope they're all that easy! 1/6/14)
2. The Skeleton in the Clock by Carter Dickson (1/8/14)
3. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (90% finished 1/12/14--completed today)
4. Angels & Spaceships by Fredric Brown (1/12/14)
5. Dangerous Visions 3 by Harlan Ellison, ed (1/11/14)