Thursday, April 28, 2016

Happy Belated Me!

I somehow manage to miss this every year. I think about the fact that my blogiversary is coming up at the beginning of April, but when April 24th rolls around it zips right by me. Yep, I've been doing this book blogging gig now for six years. Where, oh where has the time gone? It hardly seems possible that I've been plugging away at reviews and challenges and memes (albeit a bit more hit and miss on those these days) for that amount of time. Thanks to all my faithful followers who have hung in there with me even as I seem to have less and less time to stop and chat at your place. Thanks as well to all my fellow challengers who join me for Vintage Mystery, Mount TBR, Color Coded, and Read It Again, Sam--I love having you all with me in the reading challenges. And a HUGE thank you to the friends I've made through my love of vintage mysteries. Noah, John, Sergio, Rich, Curtis, Les, Petra, Lisa, Kate, TomCat, Brad, JJ, Yvette, Peggy Ann, Moira, and everyone I'm forgetting to mention--thank you for teaching me so much about the genre I love and for dangling so many titles, authors and editions in front of me that my To Be Found list is an ever-growing, impossible to achieve dream. But what a wonderful dream. It's been so much fun! Let's keep going, shall we?

Line Up for Murder: Review

Bonnard's Department Store is celebrating is 100th anniversary over the New Year's holiday and, just as every year at this time, they have advertised some spectacular bargains--everything from an entire living room suite to a floor-length mink to a top-of-the-line refrigerator to a state-of-the-art camera/film-maker's dream in addition to bargain prices throughout the store. Every year patrons line up days in advance to have the first shot at their most desired items, bringing sleeping bags and carryalls full of supplies for the wait. Dorrie Witson loves waiting in the queues. She's a good-natured, inoffensive busybody who loves to people-watch and make friends with anyone and everyone around her. This time she isn't waiting in line for herself, but as a favor for friends who have their eye on the fridge and can't afford to miss work to wait in line. Also in the queue is Lucy Bone (alias Lucinda Bonnard, daughter of the Bonnard empire) who has had a falling out with her widowed father over his intended remarriage to a younger woman. She's brought along an undesirable, intense, and possessive boyfriend and the tension caused by these two, a self-centered gentleman ahead of Dorrie who doesn't seem to mind who he insults, a couple who would like nothing better than to ditch the self-centered gent and play board games with Dorrie, and a rather nice young man with an interest in the camera well as in Lucy makes this one of Dorrie's least favorite line-ups.

But is there more to the tension than just abrasive personalities grating upon one another? Lucy is obviously planning some sort of mischief to either embarrass her father or otherwise cause a scene. And someone in that line has murder on their mind. One has a gun and another arranges for an odd concoction to be brought to their place in line...poison, perhaps? Dorrie manages to inadvertently foil several plots and save the day on many fronts....and still grabs the refrigerator for her dear friends.

Line Up for Murder (aka 1980 Queue Here for Murder) by Marion Babson is gentle mystery. Full of charm--it was a delight to read. There is very little action in the generally accepted mystery sense of the word, but Babson draws such vivid characters and sets the scene so expertly that one doesn't really notice. The big mystery is finding out exactly what the plot is, who's behind it, and who is the intended target. ★★★★

This counts for "Building" (other than house) for the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, 100 Plus Challenge, Outdo Yourself, My Kind of Mystery, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Mystery Reporter, Women Challenge, Lady Detective, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Mad Reviewer, 

Chili Con Corpses: Review

Chili Con Corpses is the third installment in J. B. Stanley's cozy mystery series which features the "Flab Five"--a group of friends who create a supper club and support group, particularly when most of the members decide they need to find a way to balance their interest in food with a need to eat wisely and get fit. Her characters include James , a librarian knows as "The Professor;" the now newly svelte deputy-in-training Lucy; Bennett, a trivia buff who hopes some day to appear on Jeopardy!; Gillian, a herbalist with a New Age aura; and local high school teacher Lindy. 

The group is getting pretty tired of low-carb fare and sign up for a Mexican-themed Fix 'n' Freeze cooking class taught by the charismatic Milla. Murphy Alistair, editor/reporter for the Shenandoah Star-Ledger, also joins along with two of her college friends Parker and Kinsley willis--a pair of twins who look like supermodels. Lindy is sure that Kinsley is out to snag the man she's had her eye on for some time and threatens mayhem if she does. When Parker (who everyone has mistaken for her twin) is found murdered while helping to chaperone a school field trip for Lindy's students to Luray Caverns, the police are naturally interested in the rivalry between Lindy and Kinsley. But then they realize that one of the other chaperones wasn't who he was thought to be either and more motives start popping up. James and the Flab Five decide to take matters into their own hands and flush out the killer, but will they do so without losing one of their own?

This is a fun, light-hearted cozy mystery. The plot is solid and the characters are interesting and very real. I especially like the side-story with James's father, a widower, who has lost interest in most everything until he meets Milla. It was very nice to see how he blossomed as he got to know her. And the side-stories do not detract or distract from the main mystery plot as can sometimes happen. Stanley weaves them in nicely. If you have a taste for cozy mysteries...particularly those which involve food...then this is a solid entree for your mystery menu. ★★

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Challenge Complete: Lady Detectives

Lady Detectives 2016 Reading Challenge
Click HERE to Enter
Enter This runs from January 1st, 2016 to December 31st, 2016.
You can enter anytime between now & September 1st, 2016.
Trixie: 1-3 books (You’re a bit new to this, but you’ve got killer hunches.)
Jane: 4-6 books (You’re quite the clever old bird, but the local constabulary really wish you’d keep out of it.)
Jessica: 7+ books (You find mystery wherever you go. If you’re not a mystery writer yet, you really should be.)

I knew that I was absolutely a Jessica so I signed up for seven-plus books. I'm sure I'll read more mysteries with women sleuths, but I have met my challenge goal.

1. Hunt with the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart (1/3/16)
2. The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth (1/9/16)
3. The Silver Anniversary Murder by Lee Harris (2/17/16)
4. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (3/13/16)
5. Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear (3/15/16)
6. Leaving Everthing Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (3/24/16)
7. The Indigo Necklace Murders by Frances Crane (4/12/16)
8. Death by Hoax by Lionel Black (4/25/16)

Challenge Commitment Complete: Vintage Scavenger Hunt

The Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge is the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart. It's the first reading challenge I sponsored and if I had to choose only one genre to read for the rest of my life, it would definitely be mysteries. This year I've changed things up once again and have launched the Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt. Challengers have been busy scouring their shelves for cover items to fulfill categories. There's still time to join us!

My Committment: At least 12 books in each era. And I have now completed that. Since I've also been participating in Rich's Crimes of the Century (with a number of pre-1960 years) and the Tuesday Night Bloggers (featuring Golden Age crime), I really racked up the Golden-Era covers. I had to make an effort to squeeze in my Silver hunt. As you all know, I'm a glutton when it comes to these things, so while my commitment is complete, I will be aiming to find as many items as possible before the end of the year.....

Golden Era (Pre-1960)

1. Hunt with the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart (1950) [Damsel in Distress] (1/3/16)
2. Murder at Arroways by Helen Reilly (1950) [Map/Chart] (1/7/16)
3. Red for Murder by Harold Kemp (1957) [Jewelry] (1/13/16)
4. Hardly a Man Is Now Alive by Herbert Brean (1950) [Bottle of Poison] (1/16/16)
5. Puzzle in Petticoats by Samuel M. Kootz (1944) [Shadowy Figure] (1/20/16)
6. Which Doctor by Edward Candy (1954) [Nurse] (1/28/16)
7. The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont by Robert Barr (1906) [Town Scene] (1/30/16)
8. Who's Calling by Helen McCloy (1942) [Telephone] (1/31/16)
9. The Clock Ticks On by Valentine Williams (1933) [Clock] (2/3/16)
10. The Clue of the Judas Tree by Leslie Ford (1933) [Bloodstain] (2/6/16)
11. The Bridal Bed Murders by A. E. Martin (1954) [Just One Person] (2/13/16)
12. The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice & Ed McBain (1958) [Red-Head] (2/17/16)
13. The Spiral Staircase by Ethel Lina White (1933) [Staircase] (2/20/16)
14. The Black Rustle by Constance & Gwenyth Little (1942) [Statue] (2/22/16)
15. The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield (1950) [Dead Body] (2/24/16)
16. The Day He Died by Lewis Padgett (1947) [Two People] (3/3/16)
17. House of Darkness by Allan MacKinnon (1947) [Castle/Ruins] (3/7/16)
18. The Old Battle Axe/The Obstinate Murderer (1943/1938) [Brunette] (3/17/16)
19. The Jade Venus by George Harmon Coxe (1945) [Boat] (4/7/16)
20. The Indigo Necklace Murders by Frances Crane (1945) [More Than Two People] (4/12/16)
21. The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde by Erle Stanley Gardner (1944) [Blonde] (4/12/16) 
22. Death in Cyprus by M. M. Kaye (1956) [Moon] (4/22/16)

Silver Era (1960-1989, inclusive)
1. The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth (1961) [Jewelry] (1/9/16)
2. The Doberman Wore Black by Barbara Moore (1983) [Dog] (2/9/16)
3. The Fifth Passenger by Edward Young (1963) [Boat] (2/10/16)
4. Poacher's Bag by Douglas Clark (1980) [Green Object] (2/19/16)
5. Gently with the Painters by Alan Hunter (1960) [Artist/Art Equipment] (2/27/16)
6. The Calcutta Affair by George S. Elrick (1967) [Two People] (2/28/16)
7. Make Death Love Me by Ruth Rendell (1979) [Skull] (3/1/16)
8. The Philomel Foundation by James Gollin (1980) [Musical Instrument] (3/11/16)
9. Dead Against My Principles by Kenneth Hopkins (1960) [Watch] (3/29/16)
10. The Third Encounter by Sara Woods (1963) [Doctor] (4/1/16)
11. One Foot in the Grave by Peter Dickinson (1979) [Bloodstains] (4/18/16)
12. Death by Hoax by Lionel Black (1974) [Telephone] (4/25/16)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Death Lights a Candle

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have been meeting now for several months with a group of us who are interested in golden age detective writers. We started with Agatha Christie back in late September and October and have now found ourselves looking forward to April and Phoebe Atwood Taylor--or Alice Tilton, as she sometimes liked to call herself. Curtis over at The Passing Tramp has been collecting our efforts month. I mistakenly thought that I would have way more time in April to do indepth reviews (Silly, Graduate Administrative Assistant! It's graduate admissions time.) But--I wanted to join in one more time, so I offer up my review of Death Lights a Candle which I read back in 2006:

cover courtesy of Book Scans
I had the great pleasure of borrowing the Pocket Book edition of Asey Mayo's second mystery outing from my good friend Richard. I was sorely tempted to run off with it....regular readers of my blog will remember how much I love those pocket-sized editions of classic mysteries. I was good and resisted temptation. But the story would have been enjoyable no matter what form the book came in. I have fondness for the "Codfish Sherlock," as Asey has sometimes been called. His down-to-earth detective work generally satisfies. And I remember it doing so in this case.

Prudence Whitsby and Asey Mayo team up once again to get to the bottom of a murder on Cape Cod. And there is no shortage of trouble around that March. Prudence accepts an invitation from Rowena Kible to the Cape in order to give her a break from Boston. They are then summoned to join a house-warming party across the street--a new mansion owned by Adelbert Stires. The party no more than gets started when some serious snow begins to fall. And where is their host? The small group of guests, their servants, and local handyman, Asey Mayo, are all trapped by the snowstorm--cut off from the world outside. But then Bert Stires manages to show up on foot. He is wet and cold and more than 24 hours overdue from when he left Boston, but no one thinks to ask where he's been or what happened to him. They will have missed their chance, because the next morning he is discovered in his locked bedroom, dead. The doctor proclaims death by poisoning, probably arsenic. But almost everyone is found to have arsenic among his or her possessions. And there are just about as many people with reasons to want Stires dead.

It's then that Asey takes charge of the investigation. Since his first outing in The Cape Cod Mystery, Asey has been elected as sheriff and he now has a badge to give him more authority in his labors. The snow piles up deeper and deeper and so do the questions. How was the arsenic administered? And by whose hand? As the book's title would suggest, there is a candle involved and Asey must decide how that light figures into the mystery before he can bring the crime home to culprit. ★★★★

I am happy to say that since borrowing Richard's copy, I have managed to find my very own copy of the Pocket Book edition. I'm no longer tempted to wander down to his office in the English Department and commit a bit of petty thievery....

Monday, April 25, 2016

Death by Hoax: Review

Death by Hoax (1974) by Lionel Black is the third out of six books in the series featuring Kate Theobald and her husband Henry. Kate is the Post's star reporter. She has a knack for finding herself in the middle of high crimes and murderous plots when sent on the most innocuous assignments. This time, Butch, her boss, sends her, in the middle of what he calls "the silly season," to Loxham Bay to try and squeeze a story out of a string of hoaxes that have occurred. Their man on the spot, a stringer by the name of Geoff Hayward, isn't such a dab hand at turning out an exciting story and Butch knows that Kate will be able to make something out of the practical jokes that have included fire false alarms, bogus bomb threats, mysterious men on train lines, and an accident that never happened. 

True to form, the first thing that happens as soon as Kate shows up in town is that a new bomb scare proves to be deadly serious and Carl Grossman, the owner of a local electronics factory, winds up dead from a bomb hidden in his desk and set to explode when unlocked and opened. Henry comes flying to play side-kick to his inquisitive wife and before they know it they have uncovered everything from affairs on the side to blackmail, bigamy to missing wills, and possible fraud to hidden secrets from Grossman's past. Lots of people would seem to have a reason to want Grossman dead whether because of business or to get their hands on his money or because of personal relationships.

Also true to form, Kate finds herself in danger at the end and heroics on the part of Hayward and her husband manage to save the day....and save Kate to write the eye-popping, headline-making story that will scoop her fellow reporters once again.

This particular installment of the Theobald mysteries is a bit more gruesome than those I've previously read. It includes death by explosion, death by a good bashing on the head with a spanner (or tire iron, we're not quite sure which), and ends on a somewhat brutal note as well. The mystery itself is a good one and Black gives the plot several twists to make things interesting. Kate and Henry are as delightful as ever and I still like that Kate's job gives her good reason to get mixed up in these sort of things. I did deduct a bit for the slightly more brutal nature of this cozy mystery, making it a flat  ★★instead of the usual three and a half to four stars for the others in the series.

This counts for the "Telephone" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Spring into Horror Read-a-Thon Wrap-up

Spring into Horror


April  18 - 24

I beat down my horror of horror and joined up for Michelle's read-a-thon over at Season's of Reading. Fortunately, for those who are weenies when it comes to horror (like me!), that included a thriller, mystery, Gothic novel, or something similar. In addition to the required one book in the theme, I managed three more--and two of them were fairly spine-tingling. The Chalk Circle Man featured a serial killer of sorts and I wrapped it all up with a collection of 13 ghost stories. Thanks for hosting, Michelle!

I'll list my books below:
1. One Foot in the Grave by Peter Dickinson (4/18/16)
2 The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas (4/21/16
3. Death in Cyprus by M. M. Kaye (4/22/16)
4.The Pocket Book of Ghost Stories edited by Philip Van Doren Stern (4/24/16)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Pocket Book of Ghost Stories: Review

"...there's a ghost, but that nobody knows it's a ghost?"
"Well--not till afterward, at any rate."
("Afterward" by Edith Wharton) 

The Pocket Book of Ghost Stories by Philip Van Doren Stern (ed) is a collection of spine-tingling stories from the mid-1800s to the early 1940s. It brings together such famous stories as "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Poe as well as tales that I had never heard of before. An excellent group--that gave me something a little more spooky for the Spring Into Horror Read-a-Thon. Well work a look, if you can find yourself a copy. ★★and a half.

A run-down of the stories:

"The Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions (1911): A classic haunted house story where an unsuccessful writer moves into rooms in an otherwise empty house, in the hope that isolation will help his failing creativity.  Things get creative all right--but not in the way he anticipates.

"The Mezzotint" by Montague Rhode (M. R.) James (1904): Mr. Williams is sent, on approval an engraving (the titular mezzotint) of a view of a manor-house.  It comes highly recommended from trusted dealer.  But it seems a very amateurish thing.  Williams is of a mind to send it back.  Then he realizes that scene is not changes and a frightful story is acted out.

"Tarnhelm" by Hugh Walpole (1933): A young boy is sent to Cumberland to spend Christmas with his uncles. He is haunted by dreams and waking visions of a ghastly yellow dog. Or is it just a dream?

"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood (1907): Two friends are canoeing down the Danube.  They run into more than they bargained for on an island covered by "willows."

"August Heat" by W. F. Harvey (1910): Two men meet, as if by chance, on a hot August day but each has had a vision of sorts about the other's future.  And the "heat is stifling.  It is enough to send a man mad."

"The Mark of the Beast" by Rudyard Kipling (1890): Three Englishmen living in India make rather free with the drinks on New Year's Eve. One of their party desecrates an idol of Hanuman, the Monkey-god, is bitten by a strange leprous "Silver Man," and then told by one of the temple priests, "You may be done with Hanuman, but Hanuman is not done with you." How right the priest is.

"Couching at the Door" by D. K. Broster (1942): A poet is stalked by an odd, furry creature (somewhat resembling a woman's boa)--that apparently only he can see.He tries drowning it and burning it up in his bedroom fire...but it keeps coming back.

"The Familiar" by Sheridan Le Fanu (1872): The story relates events leading up to the death of Captain James Barton, who is haunted by a strange figure who may or may not be a ghost, but whose relentless appearance causes Barton to lose his senses and eventually his life.

"The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford (1894): Brisbane, a young man is crossing the Atlantic on his favorite ship, the Kamtschatka. He stays in Cabin 105 but all is not as it seems and soon Brisbane will have to fight for his life as the secret of the upper berth is revealed. [You can listen to a version of this below.]

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe (1843): The classic Poe story about a man whose conscience gets the better of him.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892): The story revolves around a young wife and her descent into madness. She's diagnosed with "hysteria" and must remain quiet in her room where she becomes obsessed by the pattern and color of the wallpaper. "It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper – the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell."

"Afterward" by Edith Wharton (1910): Mary and Ned Boyne leave behind their dreary life in Wisconsin for a home in rustic Dorsetshire. But you can only run so far, and some things – some secret things – may follow you. A creepy and tragic ghost story about how things from your own life may haunt more than any ghost could.

"Full Fathom Five" by Alexander Woollcott (1929): Two sisters whose car had broken down on a lonely country road, spent the night in a deserted house. Late that night, they see the ghost of a sailor standing at the fire place. The next morning there was a pool of salty water there that had a piece of seaweed in it. A few years later, they had the piece of seaweed analysed. It was the kind that grows only on dead bodies.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Death in Cyprus: Review

In Death in Cyprus (1956) by M. M. Kaye, Amanda Deringting has been under the thumb of her rather Calvinistic and Victorian-minded uncle ever since her parents died when she was young. He believes in the pure life and that he (a bachelor) knew better how to raise a girl than her aunts. But when he takes Amanda on a trip so he can visit outlying posts of the Derington empire (branch offices in all sorts of outlandish places), she turns twenty-one and decides to kick over the traces and go her own way. Oswin Derington decides that a portion of the trip will be unsuitable for Amanda and orders her back to England. However, there are no suitable berths immediately available (and he is, for reasons known only to himself, opposed to young women flying) and he packs her off to the temporary care of one of his sisters in Fayid.

Amanda finds that she enjoys her aunt's company and the environs of Fayid and notifies her uncle that she will be staying for several months and then making a trip to Cyprus--a place she's always wanted to visit. He is, naturally, aghast at the idea of his niece wandering about unchaperoned and insists that she stay with the Bartons in Cyprus. Glennister (Glenn) Barton is the head of one of Deringtons' ventures, a wine business, on the island. This is to prove a rather fateful trip for Amanda. 

On the boat over to Cyprus, she becomes acquainted with various passengers who all plan on visiting Cyprus as well. There is Major and Mrs. Blaine (Alistair and Julia), he the long-suffering husband of a jealous woman who believes every female who even looks at the major will try to seduce him and who uses various made-up ailments to demand his attention. There is Persis Halliday, an American romance novelist looking for romantic views and plot ideas as well as not being adverse to a bit of flirting and possible romance herself. There is George and Claire Norman, relations of Alistair's with Claire being the femme fatale type who must be the center of all male attention. There is Captain Toby Gates, who thinks he's in love with Amanda--the latest in a line of fallings in love. There are two artists: Lumley Potter and Steve Howard. Potter of the obviously put-on bohemian clothes and long-hair, who simply must have a spiritual connection with what he paints. And Howard, with the more prosaic and more typical British, but far more talented of the two.

Julia Blaine starts the journey off with a bout of hysterics. She has been assigned to cabin 13 and she simply can't bear to cross over in a cabin with an unlucky number. Amanda generously offer to switch cabins, but it still winds up being unlucky for poor Julia. Someone, who apparently had not heard about the switch, leaves a lemon water drink (Julia's favorite weight-loss tonic) and through an odd bit of coincidence, the woman winds up hysterical, bursts into Amanda's cabin babbling about how she can't take her husband's philandering any more, and drinks it while downing some aspirin to calm her nerves. Howard, who seems to have more going on than the average painter, convinces Amanda not to tell all she knows and a verdict of suicide is brought in. Amanda thinks the worst is over.  Howard is sure it's only the beginning and that Amanda may be next on the killer's list. When Amanda winds up staying with Miss Moon instead of the Bartons and other deaths occur all around her, it begins to look like he is right.

Once again, Kaye has used her own experiences to inform her novel. In 1949, she and a friend spent a painting holiday in Cyprus, stayed in "an enchanting house in Kyrenia" which she uses in the story, and "the plot was practically handed to [her] on a plate by a series of curious incidents that occurred during [their] stay." The vivid portrayal of the places and experiences could only come from first-hand knowledge. Despite the suspenseful danger looming over our heroine, this is a very light mystery. We read about her brushes with death and her sense of forboding with a nod and wink, knowing that she's going to come through the danger even though all of her companions on the island may not be so lucky. And, knowing M. M. Kaye, we also know that any hints of romance will be completely fulfilled by the story's end. Kaye may employ a romantic suspense formula, but it's a comforting and satisfying formula when Kaye does it so well. And this time she managed to pull the wool over my eyes completely--or perhaps it's more accurate to say that she distracted me sufficiently to keep me from picking up a few vital clues. Highly enjoyable. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Moon" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.