Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mount TBR Check Point #1



Wow!  Three months into the year already. Well, you know what that means...Your mountaineering guide is calling for the first quarterly check-in post. Let's see how our challengers are doing. Made it a couple of miles? Camping out in a cave 1/3 of the way up the mountain face? Taking refuge in a mountain hut along the way? Let us know how you're doing. For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
 

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.
 
I have read 39 of my pledged 100 books for Mt. Everest. I am (according to Goodreads) on track to hit 150 by the end of the year, which would enable me to finally (after three years trying) plant my flag on the top of Olympus as a bonus.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.  Here's mine (one of my vintage mysteries)


 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 
Mine: Dr. William Blow, Professor Gideon Manciple, and Simonetta Blunt in Dead Against My Principles. This trio of elderly sleuths are a real treat--wacky and bumbling, but they do help the police get their man.
 
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
 
 D. Title Scrabble: See if you can spell a word using the first letter of the first word in the titles of some/all of the books you have read so far. Feel free to consider "A," "An," or "The" as the first word or not as it helps you with your word hunt.
 
My word: Prowl
 
(The) Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel
Red for Murder by Harold Kemp 
Oh Myyy! by George Takei
Who's Calling by Helen McCloy
(A) Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, April 9.  On Sunday, April 10,  I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

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

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


Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.
 




Vintage Scavenger Hunt Check-in Post (aka Prize Opportunity!)


Calling all scavenger hunters! March is almost over, we've almost completed three months in our vintage mystery cover scavenger hunt. Back in November 2015 when I launched this year's version of the reading challenge, I randomly picked categories for various check point along the way. Here are the categories for this round:

Ghostly Figure; Jewelry of Any Sort; Any Other Animal; Red Object; Dead Body; Policman

You may enter once for every object already found and claimed prior to this post going live. Objects count from both Gold and Silver cards. Links may point to relevant reviews OR you may create Check-in Specific posts. Please use the following for the link title for the Check-in:

Name (Object) Card   [example: Bev (Jewelry) Silver]

If you do not blog (or have a way to link up through Goodreads, etc), please enter in the comments and point me to the cover of the edition you read.

The linky will be available until Saturday, April 9th. On Sunday, I will use the magic random number generator to draw a winner who may choose a prize from my prize vault.






Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dead Against My Principles: Review

In my experience, a body you can't identify didn't ought to be there.

Dead Against My Principles (1960) by Kenneth Hopkins is a lovely little post-World War II era jaunt (to put it in the terminology of two of our protagonists. Eighty-one-year-old Dr. William Blow and seventy-nine-year-old Professor Gideon Manciple, two donnish fellows who have been spending their time annotating great tomes of poetry and writing treatises on ancient coinage (respectively) find themselves on a terrifically adventurous jaunt when Dr. Blow is called upon by Inspector Harte of Scotland Yard to identify the body of one of his Oxford classmates. There is no question of foul play--the equally elderly Simon Blunt apparently died peacefully in his bed at home, but there had been no doctor in recent attendance and there are no near relations readily available to identify the ex-financier.

Murdered sir? I didn't suggest that. Nor do I think it likely. An old gentleman of eighty-odd might easily be found dead in his bed.

But then Inspector Harte's troubles begin. While there may be no hint of foul play, Dr. Blow insists that the body in the morgue is not Simon Blunt. There's the tiny issue of the missing appendix. Or rather the absence of the scar which was produced when Blunt's appendix was removed.

"Appendix, you know. Leaves a scar. None of the Roman emperors had it, not the well-known ones, anyhow. Neither has this poor fellow, Inspector, you will notice. So he can't be Simon Blunt." [Dr. William Blow]
"Oh, can't he," said Inspector Harte. "Well, he was wearing Simon Blunt's pyjamas."
"I still think you ought to have looked for his name in the back of his watch," said Dr. Blow.

 And that, of course, is the problem facing the good inspector. If this body isn't Simon Blunt, then where is he? And why is there a dead man wearing his pyjamas and getting himself found in Simon Blunt's bed? And why did Blunt move himself back and forth from the family castle to his small cottage and back again? When did the massive (and almost empty) refrigerator get installed in the castle...and why? Was (Is?) Simon Blunt a smuggler? And why won't the nephews who have been living off the million pounds dear old uncle bequeathed them ahead of death duties come home for the funeral? And, of course, most importantly, was anybody murdered at all?

When Blunt's sister Simonetta shows up to help identify the body, she and her donnish friends decide to help the police get to the bottom of things. They will unearth a tatooist that can put in scars and take them out again, discover the clue of the corpse who missed his own funeral, get themselves locked in the castle with Inspector Harte and Sergeant Cotton, and do a little burgling job at the local undertaker's before it's all over. 

This book is an enormous amount of fun. Dr. Blow is the epitome of the absent-minded professor who will manage to bring his favorite academic hobby-horse to bear on any conversation. He is also an incurable romantic who is quite sure there is some complicated plot full of dark deeds and evil-doers at the heart of the Simon Blunt affair. The three amateur detectives are really quite incorrigible in their bumbling efforts to assist the police--but they do manage in the most round-about way to unearth all the proper clues without unraveling the plot in the least. That honor is left the good inspector and his sergeant. Not quite fair play, but old hands at the mystery game will see the basic plot well in advance. Perhaps a bit of a disappointment for those who like a more challenging puzzle--but well worth reading for the humor, wit, and antics of the protagonists--both the elderly trio and Scotland Yard men. ★★★★

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This counts for the "Clock/Timepiece" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card.

Quotes:
The first essential quality in a policeman is patience. (p. 14)

"I'll ask the questions," the inspector said a little testily [to his sergeant]. "You just be ready from time to time with the answers!" (p. 26)

Sergeant Cotton wondered if they'd be stopping halfway for a cup of tea, and, if not, if it would be safe to say he needed petrol.
"Let's have a cup of tea," said the inspector. He owed his rapid promotion in the force in part to a remarkable intuition. He seemed sometimes to read people's thoughts. Besides this he was thirsty. (p. 27)

Dr. Blow sat in his study awaiting his visitors. Professor Manciple sat opposite, called in as always to act as a witness, with a watching brief on Blow's behalf to preserve him from being framed. Dr. Blow had a terror of being framed which was perhaps in inverse relation to his chances of ever suffering that embarrassment. (p. 27)
                                                                                                                     
Evidence turns up suggesting mysterious jiggery-pokery with a tatooist taking out scars and putting them in again. When I appear, to ask questions, tatooist bolts, taking the evidence with him. (Insp. Harte, p. 36)



IH: Makes you think a bit.
AC: Well you go off and think, Inspector, and get Cotton to help you, if you find thinking is in his line. (Inspector Harte, Assistant Commissioner; p. 37)

Dr. Blow was just the man to feel at home in Lord Orford's [Hotel]. He liked being served with a pot of tea by a waitress almost as old as himelf and as he looked around the drawing room the years fell away and he began to feel almost skittish. (p. 38)

Don't dither. That's what kept you a bachelor. (Simonetta Blunt to Dr. Blow; p. 39)

...no investigation can be conducted at all if people shy away from the unpleasant possibilities and hide their heads from what's under their noses. (Professor Manciple, p. 40)

My immediate orders are to deal with the body I have, rather than to go seeking another. (Inspector Harte, p. 41)

"My Paper for the Sorbonne, you know. And yet--" [Manciple]
"Read them one on Charles the First and change the names," Dr. Blow suggested. In literary matters he had a lively conscience, but in numistmatics, he had none. (p. 43)

Oddly enough, Professor Manciple was feeling pretty spry, despite the rain. There was no doubt about it, one was apt to get into a rut, and an occasional jaunt did one no harm; no harm at all. (p. 47)

We aren't looking for a lost will, but my brother. The library is the last place I'd look. Simon was never much of a reader. (Simonetta Blunt, p. 55)

Inspector Harte laughed bitterly. "Fat lot of use us searching the castle now," he said. "They'll have gone, never fear. Laughing their heads off, like as not. Making a fool of  me!"
"They won't know it was you sir," Cotton said. "It might be Inspector Neale, or Lumsden, or anybody." (p.70)

...after all he's over eighty, you know. High time he was dead. (Simonetta Blunt, p. 74)

No, no, no, Gideon; mark me, Simon was a smuggler, probably the head of a great international organisation with branches everywhere. These heads of finance never retire, you know, any more than we do, my dear fellow. I could never give up annotating English poets, and you could never give up rambling on about your old coinage, could you, now? It's in the blood, Manciple: in the blood! (Dr. Blow, p.95)

People engaged in criminal activities don't discuss their  affairs with casual strangers. (Manciple, p. 105)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

TLC Book Tours: The Month of Maisie

In preparation for the March 29th release of  Journey to Munich, the 12th volume in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, the ladies at TLC Book Tours have designated March as The Month of Maisie Readalong. Those of us on the tour have volunteered to read one (or more) of the books in the series to help build excitement for Maisie's latest adventure. I started reading this series back in my pre-blogging days, but had gotten distracted by other books. When the offer came to read Leaving Everything Most Loved as part of the tour, I quickly agreed and read A Lesson in Secrets (#8) and Elegy for Eddie (#9) as well so I would be caught up.

About Leaving Everything Most Loved

Leaving Everything Most LovedIn Leaving Everything Most Loved by New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs investigates the murder of Indian immigrants in London.

The year is 1933. Maisie Dobbs is contacted by an Indian gentleman who has come to England in the hopes of finding out who killed his sister two months ago. Scotland Yard failed to make any arrest in the case, and there is reason to believe they failed to conduct a thorough investigation. The case becomes even more challenging when another Indian woman is murdered just hours before a scheduled interview. Meanwhile, unfinished business from a previous case becomes a distraction, as does a new development in Maisie’s personal life.
Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this outstanding mystery series.

*********
My Take:  I have very mixed feelings about this book and where this journey has taken Maisie. I thoroughly enjoy Jacqueline Winspear's writing and her ability to tell a story. These stories move quickly and they are easily read in a couple of sittings. The historical detail is excellent and I always feel like I have been swept back in time to one of the eras that I am most interested in. The mysteries that Maisie unravels are compelling and usually offer plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Maisie has always been a very strong character--fiercely independent, intelligent and intuitive, caring and discerning. BUT she has also been annoying the heck out of me over the last several books. James Compton is the most long-suffering man I've met in detective fiction. I thought Lord Peter Wimsey went to great lengths to wait for Harriet Vane to come around....but he's got nothing on James. And, I fear, that Wimsey's wait will wind up having been far more satisfying both for him and for readers than Compton's will be. I have, unfortunately, run into a few spoilers about what lies ahead for James and Maisie--and I can't say that I care for what I've found. 

Putting those spoiler rumors aside for a moment, I just honestly have difficulty with the amount of upheaval that goes on in Maisie's life--constantly. It's as if we cannot possibly allow her to be happy for more than five minutes. She lost her first love due to the war and its after-effects. She has since lost her mentor. There have been various difficulties for Billy, her right-hand-man, and he's going to be leaving the agency for another job. At the end of the book, James is off to Canada and Maisie will be closing the agency and heading to India on a trip to find herself and, as the book's title says, leave behind everything she loves. Maisie is a complex character. It would be nice to see her work through some of those complications and still manage to have some stability. Finding a way to have a satisfying committed relationship with James AND manage to keep her independence and complex character as well maintain her professional practice would offer plenty of backstory tension and drama without taking everything away from Maisie.

★★ for a solid entry into this series. A good story overall with a compelling mystery which revolves around events from the past which bring about the tragic deaths of the two Indian women. The star deduction comes entirely from my dissatisfaction with Maisie's overarching story line as the series continues. I will most likely read the next book--but I hope the spoiler rumors are untrue....
 
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Thanks again to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me in the Month of Maisie Readalong and providing a copy of this book for my honest review. I have received no compensation whatsoever for my participation in this blog tour.

For the full list of the books being reviewed, including a month of reviews for the new book, Journey To Munich, check out the full tour schedule.

Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Leaving Everything Most Loved, Elegy for Eddie, A Lesson in Secrets, The Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, and An Incomplete Revenge, as well as four other national bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels. Her standalone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, was also a New York Times bestseller. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and was a New York Times Notable Book. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now lives in California.

You can find out more about Jacqueline at her website, www.jacquelinewinspear.com, and also find her on Facebook



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Challenge Complete: Title Fight



Title Fight Button 2016



Bruce at The Bookshelf Gargoyle has challenged us all to put on our gloves and shiny shorts to step into the ring for a title fight in the book world. He gave us seven categories  to fulfill in order to become a heavyweight reading champion. I've completed all the categories and added a little fancy footwork with a bonus book.

The Categories
 
1. A book with something related to fighting in the title:
The Old Battle Axe by Elizabeth Holding Sanxay (3/17/16)
2. A book with someone’s title in the title:
Which Doctor by Edward Candy (1/28/16)
3. A book with onomatopoeia in the title:
The Black Rustle by Constance & Gwenyth Little(2/22/16)
4. A book with an object you might find in a boxing gym in the title:
Poacher's Bag by Douglas Clark (2/19/16)
5. A book with an injury (or a word related to or implying an injury) in the title:
The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield (2/24/16)
6. A book with an emotion in the title:
 Make Death Love Me by Ruth Rendell (3/1/16)
7. A book with a word or phrase implying victory in the title:
 The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont by Robert Barr (1/30/16)

Bonus: The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka [a book of poems about the life of Jack Johnson, the first African American heavy weight world champion]

 

The Big Smoke: Mini-Review

Synopsis (from the back of the book:

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878–1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxers—and white America—to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka’s third work of poetry, follows the fighter’s journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved. Matejka’s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnson’s complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth

Like another boxing champion once said about his own boxing technique, Adrian Matejka's poetry "floats likes a butterfly and stings like a bee." The poems are smooth as silk, but pack a punch that knocks the reader out while they're busy watching the fancy verbal footwork. Using the art of monologue and dialogue Matejka shows us the many sides of the complex man who was the first African American heavyweight world champion. This is a knock-out book that proves why it was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry. ★★★★

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Old Battle Axe/The Obstinate Murderer

I chose Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Old Battle Axe (1943) to help me fulfill my final category for the Title Fight Challenge and decided to read both it and the companion novel, The Obstinate Murderer in this Ace Giant edition. I first sampled Holding's work in 2014, using The Unfinished Crime as an entry for my Vintage Bingo Challenge. I mentioned at the time that while I appreciate Holding's skill in her particular method of mystery/suspense story-telling, I didn't think her style was my cup of tea any more. I enjoyed the more psychological, suspense-driven story much more in my twenties than I do now. 

And this time, I found her style to be almost in the stream-of-consciousness vein. Conversations are a bit difficult to follow with various participants saying whatever pops into their heads--irrespective of how much off-target it may be. It was particularly apparent in The Obstinate Murderer. Not only were the characters having such conversations amongst themselves, but the reader is privy to the main character's (Van Cleef's) running inner commentary--which was very stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps my concentration wasn't what it needed to be, but it seemed to me that Holding was constantly presenting the reader with allusions and references hidden in half-remarks and unfinished thoughts that were never completed. I spent my time throughout each story feeling as though I had missed several pages somewhere. I absolutely get the appeal of her style for others, but she's just not for me. ★★

In The Old Battle Axe we are introduced to Madge de Belleforte who seemed to be a loose woman in life and in death. She arrives from Paris and shocks her sister Sharley Herriot with her appearance, a tendency to knock back double martinis, and an eye for anything in trousers. She hasn't even settled in at her sister's country house before she is found dead in the street--painted cheeks, dyed hair, and all. Sharley can't believe it and tries to convince herself that Madge isn't really dead. Questioned by the police, Sharley finds herself saying she had never seen the woman before. But why does Silas, her chauffeur and the man who brought the ladies home from the dock, back her up in it? And why does Cara, Sharley's niece, daringly and convincingly impersonate the dead woman? Only Ramon Honess, a young playboy who stands to inherit a fortune from Madge's will, sees through the deception. And his unexpected appearance threatens exposure of the deception and forces a cornered killer to strike again.






The Obstinate Murderer (1938): The rich playboy Van Cleef, our hero and reluctant amateur detective, is called upon by Emelia Swan to help her with a situation. She claims that someone is trying to backmail her. Along the way, he picks up Russell Blackmon, an abrasive young man of advance intellectual capacity whom he encountered when Russell was a child. But when they arrive at the country guesthouse they find themselves in the midst of a sinister web of fear and terror that seems to hold the occupants in its grasp. Van Cleef wavers between trying to make sense of the horrible chain of events and dabbling in a bit of romance with the young woman whom Emelia has accused of the blackmail. There are several attempted poisonings--harkening back to the suspicious death of Emelia's husband, Bill Swan, but things get desperate when the actual deaths occur.


For more positive reactions to Holding's work (particularly The Obstinate Murderer), please be sure to check out Curtis's post at The Passing Tramp and Sergio's post for Vintage Bingo last year at Tipping My Fedora.

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Each of these novels have a brunette on the cover and, so, this counts for the "Brunette" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Challenge Complete: A-Z Mystery Author








I'm always excited to get an email from Michelle saying that her A-Z Mystery Author challenge sign-up is ready to go.  I just got it tonight.  You all have to know that I love me some mysteries!  And I love trying to fill out the alphabet with mystery authors. 


Rules: A-Z represents the LAST name of the author in the mystery, thriller, suspense, cozy, noir, etc. genre. Read as many or as little as you want. Post your links at her site for your Challenge post and your reviews! (click link above to take you there).  Challenge Runs until December 31, 2016.

 
This year, I'm going to change it up a bit. I usually set my commitment as the letters A-M. This time, my goal is half the alphabet--any 13 letters. I'd love to do all of them, but X is such a difficult one (especially if I stick to my goal of reading only books on my own TBR stacks). I also had a bit of trouble with a few other letters in 2015, so we'll see what happens in the coming year.  

 
I'll fill in the books as they come. Commitment fulfilled 3/3/16. Still Reading!

A:
B: Hardly a Man Is Now Alive by Herbert Brean (1/16/16)
C: Which Doctor by Edward Candy (1/28/16)
D:
E: Hunt with the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart (1/3/16)
F: The Clue of the Judas Tree by Leslie Ford (1/6/16)
G:
H: The Silver Anniversary Murder by Lee Harris (2/17/16)
I:
J:
K: Red for Murder by Harold Kemp (1/13/16)
L: The Black Rustle by Constance & Gwenyth Little (2/22/16)
M: Who's Calling? by Helen McCloy (1/31/16)
N:
O:
P: The Day He Died by Lewis Padgett (3/3/16)
Q:
R: Murder at Arroways by Helen Reilly (1/7/16)
S:
T:
U: The Bachelors of Broken Hill by Arthur W. Upfield (2/24/16)
V:
W: The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth (1/9/16)
X:
Y: The Fifth Passenger by Edward Young (2/10/16)
Z: