Saturday, September 29, 2018

Challenge Complete: Book Challenge by Erin 9.0

Erin runs these Book Challenges seasonally and I, not having enough challenges to keep myself busy [cough, cough], signed up for this latest round. I just finished up my Great American Read book and have completed the challenge. 

Book Challenge by Erin 9.0 - Categories
• 5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages:
Babes in the Woods by Ruth Rendell (336 pages) [7/22/18]
• 10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “N”
Nothing Venture by Patricia Wentworth (256 pages) [7/19/18]
• 10 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover
Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry (337 pages) [8/28/18]
• 15 points: Read a book with an unlikeable character
The Trouble in Hunter Ward by Josephine Bell (201 pages) [7/18/18]
 • 20 points: Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” (although, they aren’t all by American authors); helpful link:
 Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (this is my reread choice) [9/18/18]
• 20 points: Read a book with something related to water in the title; i.e. ocean, sea, lake, river, waves, etc.
The Boy in the Pool by Camilla R. Bittle (218 pages) [9/16/18]
• 25 points: Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read yet (or that has been on your goodreads “to read” list the longest, or has been sitting in your kindle the longest)...basically, read a book you’ve been meaning to read the longest but haven’t got to it yet.
The Grub & Stakers Pinch a Poke by Alisa Craig (208 pages)--has been on my TBR stack since at least the late 80s/early 90s [didn't log the purchase date on that one] (9/10/18)
• 30 points: Read a book with an emotion word in the title; i.e. joy, sadness, grief, love, anger, etc. (submitted by Megan)
Time of Terror by Hugh Pentecost (218 pages) [7/20/18]
• 30 points: Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter (submitted by Vinay); examples: Magpie Murders, Gone Girl, Peter Pan, Love’s Labor Lost:
The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö (324 pages) [8/30/18]
• 35 points: Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or similar one [I'm going for someone who works in an English Department--because MA/PhD Administrative Assistants aren't exactly thick on the ground....]:
The Charles Dickens Murders by Edith Skom (295 pages) [9/15/18]

Challenge Complete: Back to the Classics

I came back to the Back to the Classics Challenge after taking a few years off.  I initially thought that I would only do the most basic level (six categories), but I wound up going all in and have completed my last of the twelve categories.

Here are the categories for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge and my final list: 

1.  A 19th century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne [1889]  (4/3/18)

2.  A 20th century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1968. 
Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.
Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner [1942] (3/30/18)

3.  A classic by a woman author.

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh [Golden Age Mystery; 1935] (2/7/18)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). Modern translations are acceptable as long as the original work fits the guidelines for publications as explained in the challenge rules.
The Love Songs of Sappho by Sappho; Trans by Paul Roche [circa 7th century BCE] (5/23/18) 

5. A children's classic. Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago. Short stories are fine, but it must be a complete volume. Picture books don't count!

The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver by Thornton W. Burgess [1917] (2/8/18) 

6.  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. This can be a true crime story, mystery, detective novel, spy novel, etc., as long as a crime is an integral part of the story and it was published at least 50 years ago. Examples include The 39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, In Cold Blood, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, etc.  The Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones list is an excellent source for suggestions. 

Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh (1936)
7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. A journey should be a major plot point, i.e., The Hobbit, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, Kon-Tiki, Travels with Charley, etc.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883) [3/10/18] 

8. A classic with a single-word title. No articles please! Proper names are fine -- Emma, Germinal, Middlemarch, Kidnapped, etc.).

She by H. Rider Haggard (1886) [7/17/18] 

9. A classic with a color in the title. The Woman in White; Anne of Green Gables; The Red and the Black, and so on.

The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (1894) [7/25/18]

10. A classic by an author that's new to you. Choose an author you've never read before.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948) [8/5/18] 

11. A classic that scares you. Is there a classic you've been putting off forever? A really long book which intimidates you because of its sheer length? Now's the time to read it, and hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised! 

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (1820) [7/22/18]

12. Re-read a favorite classic. Like me, you probably have a lot of favorites -- choose one and read it again, then tell us why you love it so much. 

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) [9/18/18]

Pride & Prejudice: Review

Pride & Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen is probably Austen's most well-known book. People who don't read (or read much) are familiar with it through the various films and television versions. I'm not going to give an in depth run-down of the plot. In a nutshell, Mr. & Mrs. Bennett have five marriageable daughters that they hope to see well-situated as soon as possible. Miss Elizabeth Bennett meets the eligible, but seemingly haughty Mr. Darcy and things get off to a rocky start. After various misunderstandings and various opportunities for Miss Bennett to learn Darcy's true nature, love (as it tends to) finds a way.

P & P is not my all-time favorite Austen book (that honor belongs to Persuasion) but it is in my top three. I thoroughly enjoy a good British comedy of manners and Austen is the master of the genre--weaving romance and witty conversation into delightful plots of misunderstanding. I really do feel like giving Lizzie Bennett a good shake, though, when she decides to listen whole-heartedly to Wickham's wicked assertions--just because he is so charming and easy to be in company with. 

But after all, that is one of Austen's themes in this story. Miss Bennett learns that first impressions aren't always best and sometimes appearances can be deceiving. It would serve a lady well to look beyond the superficial and dig deeper to find the true worth of her companions. But she isn't the only one to learn a few essential truths--both she and Mr. Darcy also learn to recognize their own faults and work to correct them. Of course, all of this is working itself out through a good old-fashioned love story where Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy must overcome obstacles (mostly of their own making) to reach their happily-ever-after ending. 

I read this quite some time ago when a friend was astonished that I had not yet done so (Persuasion--read in college--was my only foray into Austen's work at the time). I was delighted with Austen's light touch and witty Regency dialogue then and enjoyed it just as much this time around. ★★★★

[Finished 9/18/18]

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Boy in the Pool: Review

So....when I picked up The Boy in the Pool (1962) by Camilla R. Bittle, I totally thought I was getting a mystery (and an academic mystery at that). It was shelved in the mystery section of one of my favorite used bookstores and the dust jacket blurb made it sound like a mystery, albeit a more psychological study than a real whodunnit despite the looming question "Who was really responsible for his death?' printed right there on the jacket. This means that I am absolutely counting it for the silver card in the Just the Facts mystery challenge (death by drowning)--since I picked it out for this year's reading precisely because I thought it was a mystery and that was how it got shelved by a bookseller.

The setting is the Harrison School for Boys, a New England preparatory school with spartan, sterling traditions and attended primarily by the sons of the wealthy and the famous. The boy in question is Roger Carmichael, son of the actress Eva Carmichael, and a troublemaker from a broken home. Roger had been acting out in the previous year--mostly through petty thefts--and he was kept in the first-years' dorm where the housemaster could (theoretically) keep a closer eye on him. He winds up rooming with an introverted new boy with a hovering mother and a reserved father. Just two weeks into the new term, on the eve of the Founder's Day weekend, Roger's body is found in the pool of  the Harrison School. Though much is made of who might be responsible in the dust jacket blurb, the biggest questions seem to be "How did he get the key?" and "How can we keep this from ruining the Founder's Day activities?"

This tragedy is explicated through some of its subsequent consequences for those involved: his mother, who is not only feels guilty for having been an absent mother (sending the boy off to school) but now faces the fact that the boy will no longer serve as a connection with her divorced husband; the housemaster who is sure that Carmichael had stolen and copied his key to the gym, and Carmichael's roommate who shares that knowledge; the headmaster, an insensitive but capable administrator, who shirks moral and personal involvement and in so doing is alienating his wife;and David Ellison, the school chaplain who shows a real and needed gift for direction and guidance. 

Even though this is not the strict mystery that I expected, the novel is a very good character study. Bittle deftly takes the reader through the viewpoints of all those who feel responsible for the boy's death. She shows us their reactions, exposes their guilt and other emotional turmoil, and brings most of the conflicts to a plausible resolution--mostly happy endings that are not sewn up too tightly. I was particularly satisfied with growth of Robinson Perry, Carmichael's roommate. Rob experiences his coming of age moment and comes through like a trouper. I also believe that there really is a bit of a mystery hanging over the story--Carmichael has a wound on his head and it's never investigated properly. Did the boy slip, knock himself out, and drown? Did he dive in the shallow end? Or...did someone knock him out or push him? After all, the gym got locked up tight behind him somehow. I think perhaps Bittle left a few mysterious ends untied. 

A very interesting look at the relationships in a small, exclusive community with a hint of mystery for spice. ★★★★ 

[Finished 9/16/18]

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Charles Dickens Murders: Mini-Review

The Charles Dickens Murders opens with the murder of a woman in her hospital bed in New York City. We later learn that Dewey, the murdered woman, is one of the "Fourth Floor Gang" of girls who attended the University of Chicago at the same time as our heroine's (English professor and amateur sleuth, Beth Austin) mother Laurie. During her years at college, there was another violent death--never solved, as well as thefts, lies, secrets, and love triangles. When Beth talks her mother into spilling what she remembers about that previous death, she finds that she'd rather concentrate on that mysterious death than The Mystery of Edwin Drood which is the focus of her current class lectures. Her investigations culminate in a classic gathering of the suspects where she unravels the past to show the gang who was responsible for both the death 40 years ago and Dewey's more recent death.

When I picked it up at at Half Price Books,  I was sure the The Charles Dickens Murders (1998) by Edith Skom would be a winner. After all, it's an academic mystery and I love those. Usually. This one--not so much. There isn't a likable character among the Fourth Floor Gang...including Beth's mother who shows a remarkable lack of interest in the death of one her supposed closest friends from college. The mystery plot itself is fairly well done (which gives us the source of all the star-power in my ★★  rating) but the motive is rather lacking. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters, the motive may have seemed more compelling. Overall, one of the more lack-luster academic mysteries I have read (including The George Eliot Murders by the same author). I was also unimpressed by the supposed connection between the Dickens novels Beth is reading for her class (she moves on to Bleak House mid-way through the book). 

She decided to emulate Anthony Trollope, who, having just completed a novel, but not his daily word quota, went on to begin writing his next novel. She reached for Bleak House.

She tries to cast the various people from her mother's college days as Dickens characters, but the conceit really doesn't work well--and there is no other reason to title the book as it is. 

[Finished 9/15/18]

Monday, September 17, 2018

Murder at the Manor: Review

It's not a bit like those delightful detective stories. In a detective story all the people in the house are gaping imbeciles, who can't understand anything, and in the midst stands the brilliant sleuth who understands everything. Here am I standing in the midst, a brilliant sleuth, and I believe, on my soul, I'm the only person in the house who doesn't know all about the crime.
~"The White Pillars Murder"

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (2016) edited by Martin Edwards is another fine addition to the British Library Crime Classics series which brings back into print short stories and novels from the classic age of detective fiction. Stories which have in most cases been out of print for far too long. Most of them come from the Golden Age--the period between the world wars--with a few from earlier and later. All them are worthy examples of that grand tradition of bringing together groups of people for a weekend or so at large home in the British countryside to dress for dinner, have a party, and...most likely...witness or commit murder.

We start with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and end with Michael Gilbert and in between we find well-known authors such as G. K. Chesterton and Nicholas Blake as well as names that most readers will find unfamiliar--Dick Donovan, J. J. Bell, and possibly J. S. Fletcher. As with all collections, the quality varies, but Edwards is quite good at selecting stories in a more narrow range of excellence. Overall, an entertaining look at a delightful sub-genre of crime fiction. My favorites include "The Murder at the Towers" by E.V. Knox; "The Perfect Plan" by James Hilton; "The Mystery of Horne's Corpse" by Anthony Berkeley; and "The Message on the Sun-Dial" by J. J. Bell (roughly in that order). ★★★★

A synopsis of the stories:

"The Copper Beaches" by Doyle: The Holmes classic which emphasizes the Great Detective's commentary on evil in the countryside--"But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folks who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

"The Problem of Dead Wood Hall" by Dick Donovan: Two men who had paid court to the same woman die in mysterious circumstances. No evidence is found to prove accident, natural causes, or murder, but our narrator has a go at find the answer. He's sure that two murders have gone unavenged--but will he be able to find the evidence to bring the villain to justice?

"Gentlemen & Players" by E. W. Hornung: Raffles, the Gentleman Thief, plots to steal a coveted necklace from under the nose of a Scotland Yard man delegated to defend the jewels from another well-known thief. Bunny thinks his friend should concentrate on cricket while the Yard is on the hunt, but those sparkling diamonds and sapphires are difficult to resist....

"The Well" by W. W. Jacobs: A man murders a blackmailing hanger-on who might spoil his chances at matrimonial bliss. But he learns (the hard way) that you really shouldn't hide the body on your own property. And especially not somewhere that your lady-love might lose a precious bracelet.

"The White Pillars Murder" by G. K. Chesterton (not a Father Brown story): Dr. Adrian Hyde, an unorthodox detective, has taken on two assistants/apprentices and sends them to White Pillars to discover who has killed Melchior Morse. In the course of their investigations, they decide that maybe detecting is not the life for them after all.

"The Secret of Dunstan's Tower" by Ernest Bramah: Bramah's blind sleuth, Max Carrados, is called upon by his friend Dr. Tulloch to get to the bottom of a "ghostly" haunting that is causing his patient to slowly slide towards death. Carrados is certain there is a villainous human hand at work.

"The Manor House Mystery" by J. S. Fletcher: featuring the mystery of Septimus Walshawe who has died of poisoning. It is inconceivable that the man has committed suicide, but no one is able to discover the method--until our detective Marshford arrives on the scene. But was it murder after all?

"The Message on the Sun-Dial" by J. J. Bell: A dying man leaves an illegible scrawl on the nearby sundial as a pointer to his murderer. Will anyone be able to decipher it?

"The Horror at Stavely Grange" by Sapper: Ronald Standish is called upon to discover how two men in the Mansford family have met their deaths...before another Stavely Grange heir falls victim.

"The Mystery of Horne's Corpse" by Anthony Berkeley: A man keeps finding the corpse of his cousin (and the man who would be his heir). But when he brings the authorities to examine the body, it disappears. Is he going crazy? Or is someone trying to drive him there?

"The Perfect Plan" by James Hilton: As the title suggests, a man devises the perfect plan to murder his hated employer. He follows through on it and, to all appearances, gets clean away with it. But his own conscience puts a spoke in his wheels. 

"The Same to Us" by Margery Allignham: Mrs. Molesworth scores a social coup when she convinces the Chinese scientist, Dr. Koo Fin, to attend one of her week-end parties. It's just her luck that burglars strike on that very weekend.

"The Murder at the Towers" by E.V. Knox: A marvelous send-up of the country house plot. Great fun from the first line: "Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins was a man so rich, so ugly, so cross, and so old, that even the stupidest reader could not expect him to survive any longer than Chapter I."

"An Unlocked Window" by Ethel Lina White: Domestic suspense in the form of two nurses alone with a patient in an isolated house. There is a serial killer on the loose with a preference for those nightingales in white....

"The Long Shot" by Nicholas Blake: The lord of the manor is killed--poisoned by ginger-beer that it seems nobody could have poisoned. Nigel Strangeways uses a handkerchief to get the culprit to give her/himself away.

"Weekend at Wapentake" by Michael Gilbert: A couple of servants do murder for the sake of an inheritance...that they wouldn't have gotten anyway.

[Finished 9/14/18]

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke: Review

The Grub-&-Stakers Pinch a Poke (1988) by Charlotte MacLeod writing as Alisa Craig is the third in this series. In this outing the Grub & Stakers are vying for the Jenson Thorbisher-Freep collection of theatrical memorabilia--because supposedly ownership of said collection will somehow help Desdemona Portley and the Traveling Thespians rustle up donations to restore an opera house. Besides, winning the competition will give the Grub & Stakers bragging rights in the thespian field for, oh, at least a year. 

Dittany Monk (our heroine/narrator) volunteers her husband for the job of coming up with a play based on earlier times in Canadian history. He decides to work one up using the story line in the famous poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Everything is going great until the night of the play and the hero gets shot with a real bullet instead of a blank. Fortunately, he survives, but other attempts follow and the Grub & Stakers--with Dittany in the lead--must discover who the current day villain is before s/he succeeds.

Very silly. Even sillier than her silliest Professor Shandy books. Way too many people people talking in\ the oddest dialects--from Canadian policeman Sergeant MacVicar (who is apparently here straight from Scotland if his speech is anything to go by) to the Regency romance author (and aunt-in-law to our heroine/narrator) who speaks like she just stepped off the pages of her own historical novel to the owner of the coveted collection of theatrical memorabilia who speaks like a Shakespearean actor who's permanently lost himself in his part. I suspect that the characters are meant to be charmingly eccentric, but they strike me as annoyingly weird. There is also the most inept would-be murderer ever. Tries to arrange for the hated person to be shot onstage--that goes awry. Arranges for the delivery of a venomous cobra disguised as a box of flowers--doesn't take into account that there's a dog on the premises who will sniff out the bad "bouquet." Mutters about plans where one could obviously be overheard and strews telltale bits evidence hither and yon with wild abandon--as soon as Dittany realizes who might be behind the attacks, clues are easily found.

I like Dittany and her husband very much, but a small dose of Aunt Arethusa (our Regency romance author) goes a VERY long way. On the plus side, this is more of a traditional mystery plot than some of the Craig/MacLeod books. There are definitely clues to follow and it is possible to solve the mystery before our heroine. But-for me--a very middle-of-the-road cozy mystery. ★★

[Finished 9/10/18]

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Invisible Thief: Review

The Invisible Thief (1978) is the first of Thomas Brace Haughey's Christian-themed pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes style. Geoffrey Weston is the grandson of Mycroft Holmes and, like his great-uncle Sherlock, has set himself up as a consulting detective in Baker Street (not at 221B, however). His side-kick John Taylor is more of a true partner in detecting than John Watson was. He may be admiring of Weston's abilities, but Taylor is just as capable--performing laboratory tests, developing photos, and helping Weston look for clues at the crime scenes. The Christian themes are very strong--Weston and Taylor pray before setting out on a case and Weston challenges several of suspect's philosophies and counters with lessons from the gospel.

Dr. Arthur Heath, the Director of Pinehurst Laboratory comes to Weston when vital documents disappear from his safe in a room with only one entrance, no windows, and no secret passages. The thief managed to get into the laboratory without being seen on any of the cameras which guard the top-secret establishment and was able to get into the safe without breaking in--even though no one else knows the combination. Weston believes the security guards when they swear that the camera feed was never left unmonitored all night. But after examining the hallway and finding curious scratches along the wall and an oddly-shaped glass bead as well as noticing a few interesting glimmers on the security tape, Weston begins to see how the deed was done. The question that remains is why? What exactly is in  the secret papers that no one wants to admit--even if it would help the detective find them? 

Then Dr. Heath is found dead from a gunshot wound. Despite the fact that everything points to suicide, Weston is convinced that there is an evil mind orchestrating events. And he's absolutely certain when he foils another attempt to drive another Pinehurst scientist to shoot himself. Weston uses logic and his faith to expose the guilty one.

I loved these novels when I read them from the youth library when I was young (and liked them so much, I bought them to add to my collection). I was still working my way from Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie to other mystery authors and was intrigued when I saw the connections to Holmes in the blurb. The mystery plot is quite nicely done in this series that was sold from the young adult section but carries some very heavy themes. It was definitely a new-to-me (at the time) solution to the "locked room" (or in this case "locked laboratory building") scenario. I've since read other stories with similar solutions, so it wasn't quite the surprise during my reread. I had a general memory of the basic idea, but couldn't remember the finer details. There is also a slightly mystic Christian portion that one will either accept or not--but it works with the way Haughey presents his characters. I gave it ★★★★ when I read it 30ish years ago and I won't argue with that now.

[Finished 9/5/18]

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Terrorists: Review

The Terrorists (1975) by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is the last book to feature Martin Beck who has been promoted to Chief of the National Murder Squad--much to his chagrin since the new post will entail a great deal of desk work and far less time in the field. But he gets at least one more chance for action when he (and his usual team) are detailed to provide protection for an unpopular American Senator in Sweden on a state visit. Terrorists plant a bomb along the route the Senator will be taking (bet you didn't see that coming, given the title of the book!), but fortunately the timing is off and Beck & company are able to avoid any casualities. With time in between for side-stories involving a woman accused of a bank robbery she wasn't trying to commit and the murder of a pornographic film producer, Beck, Ronn, and Larsson manage to quickly trace two of the terrorists. But split-second timing will be needed for them to take the last two alive without having an entire apartment building blown up--with them in it.

The strength of this final entry is in the characters and the way Sjöwall and Wahlöö portray their interactions and relationships to one another. Beck has had to resign himself to the fact that Kollberg, his friend and, in many ways, right-hand man through much of the series, has resigned from the force. He finally admits that he has grown to like working with Larsson. It was interesting to watch Beck learn to rely more heavily on other members of his team--recognizing the strengths that each has. Less appealing to me was the terrorism theme. As Sjöwall and Wahlöö were wont to do, they use the theme to highlight societal ills and governmental flaws but I found the plot very slow-going and heavy-handed this time around. This book more than any of the others was a slog for me and I was sorry to have the series end on a disappointing (to me) note. Others have found this to be a very strong your mileage may vary. ★★ and a very weak 1/2.

[finished 8/30/18]

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Angels in the Gloom: Notes & Review

Angels in the Gloom (2005) by Anne Perry is third novel in her WWI series which follows the Reavely family. On the day WWI began, Joseph, Matthew, and Hannah's parents were killed in an automobile accident. At least that's official version. Joseph and Matthew know that a man known only as the Peacemaker is really responsible and even as they go to work for their country--each in their own way, Joseph as an army chaplain and Matthew in intelligence, they vow to discover the Peacemaker's identity and bring him to justice.

This third book finds Joseph sent home from the front after suffering an injury while rescuing a soldier caught in the no-man's-land between trenches. Having helped the police on two other occasions when murders occurred, he is asked to help once again when a scientist working at a local top-secret establishment is found murdered. Are enemy agents at work in the small village of St. Giles or is the motive a more prosaic matter of jealousy or a woman scorned? Matthew is also hard at work on a mystery of his own--trying to track down the German spies who are leaking details of Britain's war strategies.

Observations While Reading:
Hannah--sister of Joseph--is incredibly annoying. Every time she's in a scene we get to witness her angst over whether or not she's doing/saying/feeling the right thing...whether it's reacting to people who are hurting (her brother, women in the community who have lost loved ones in the war, etc.) or whether she's being selfish wanting Joseph to stay at home after being wounded or if she's going all maudlin over the fact that life has changed (because war) and why (please insert as much whine as you can on that word) can't life just be like it used to be?

Too much introspection and self-doubt. I mean, yeah, I understand that watching the young men you grew up with die (Joseph on the front lines) OR reading the lists of the missing and killed (those back home) would make you question a lot things you took for granted...but this is supposed to be a historical mystery not high drama and conscience-searching.

It is taking For-Ev-ER to get to anything even slightly resembling "gumshoe work" or "mystery" (referred to in blurb on back of book). Constant references to the Peacemaker who killed Joseph Reavley's parents--but no actual trying to track down said Peacemaker. No actual detecting. There are rumors that a murder is gonna take place somewhere in this book....but not sure when. Made it to the 100 page mark (that first third of the book really drags--it felt much longer)...finally the mystery is going to start! Let's see if things pick up.

Actually, no. The "gumshoe work" really takes a back seat to everything else here. Don't get me wrong--I'm not opposed to dramatic historical fiction. BUT. Don't plaster your book with blurbs advertising what a suspenseful thriller this is with mystery and detection all over the place when that's really not the focus of the story at all. Solving the mystery of who killed the scientist is almost an afterthought. More attention is given to the difficulty Joseph faces when he realizes who the culprit is than is given to following the processes of detection that led him to that conclusion. the third book in the series you'd think that Matthew and Joseph would have made some sort of substantial progress on hunting down the Peacemaker.

On the plus side, Perry does know human relationships and has a way of writing about them that can be quite appealing. I just wish she didn't feel the need to go at the inner workings so hard and heavy OR if she does feel that need, then I'd like to see her do a straight fiction novel. I will say that I do like the representations of the Reavley brothers...and I might even like Hannah more if she could break out of her introspection. This is a complicated family with a lot going on which makes them very interesting. ★★ which would have been more if the mystery elements had been stronger.

[Finished 8/28/18]

Monday, September 3, 2018

Basil of Baker Street: A Three-Book Overview

When my son was small, I introduced him to one of my favorite Disney films The Great Mouse Detective and he loved it too. I realized that I had never read the book/s that the film was based on and we checked out Basil of Baker Street and Basil in the Wild West  by Eve Titus (the only two books the library had at the time) and enjoyed them together. Then in 2016 I chanced upon three of the Basil books at our annual community book sale and brought them home with me (along with a LOT of other books....). I've finally gotten around to reading them all and will give brief reviews here in one post.

Basil of Baker Street (1958): The first of Titus's books featuring the Sherlock Holmes of the mouse world. Here Dr. Dawson introduces us to Basil, tells how he & Holmes (and a village of mice) came to live in the basement of 221B Baker Street, and relates "The Mystery of the Missing Twins." Angela and Agatha have been kidnapped as a way to blackmail Basil into letting the "Terrible Three" take over the mouse village where he and Dawson live. (Though why these sinister criminals would want to live in the basement of the great Sherlock Holmes is beyond me.) But Basil is determined NOT to give in to blackmailers and he and Dawson disguise themselves as sailors in order to track down the crooks. Naturally, the great mouse detective saves the girls and turns the bad guys over to the mouse police.

Just as much fun to read as it was the first time with my son. Titus captures the spirit of the Holmes stories and makes a fun adventure for young readers. ★★★★

[Finished 8/24/18]

Next up was Basil & the Pygmy Cats (1971). This was was sortof Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones. Basil is not only the world's greatest mouse detective, he also has a hobby dabbling in archaeology (he discovered Rockhenge, you know). The story begins with Basil and Dawson planning a trip to Bengistan (near India) where Professor Ratigan (Basil's arch-enemy) has taken over the mousedom. As they are finalizing their plans, a scientist from the British Mousmopolitan Museum comes by with an ancient goblet with a design that seems to indicate that there is an island (very close to Bengistan--what a coincidence!) where pygmy cats are said to be ruled by mice. Would Basil like to join an expedition to find them? Well--of course! But first all the scientists must help him overthrow Ratigan. Which they do. Then they find the pygmy cats. And save them from a volcano--as well as many treasures from the fabled island. And all is well with the mouse world. 

Whimsical fun with far less mystery and much adventure. Still sure to appeal to young readers. ★★

[Finished 8/24/18]

And last on the Basil agenda: Basil in Mexico (1976). This one combines two mysteries. Before Basil and Dr. Dawson can set sail for Mexico (whence Basil has been summoned on a top secret mission), the great detective must solve "The Case of the Counterfeit Cheese." Professor Ratigan (who has obviously escaped justice once again) is up to his usual tricks--this time planting fake cheese made of concrete around the Mousmopolis. When the mice inevitably crunch down on the hard "cheese" and break their teeth, they are forced to go to their dentists. And Ratigan is running a protection scam to skim off the profits from the surge in mouse dental problems. Basil to the rescue! As soon as he hands the villains over to the police, he and the good doctor head to Mexico where they must get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing Mousa Lisa. Someone has painted an excellent forgery and left in the place of the famous artwork. Basil must track down the forger and find missing Mousa Lisa before word gets out that the Mexican museum has been burgled.

Another fun story. I liked that this one returned to the more mysterious plot rather than adventure.  ★★ and 1/2.

[Finished 8/25/18]

Challenge Complete: Color Coded

I keep thinking that I've used up all the shades of brown on my TBR piles (I insist on having the color in my titles) and I keep finding another. In fact, this year I went through my books on Goodreads and have set up a spreadsheet of color-related titles and it looks like I'm good for several years. So, I signed up for my Color Coded Reading Challenge again in 2018 and I just (at the end of August) completed my last book. I'll see you all for another round next year....

Here's my list:

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (5/28/18) 

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Red Warning by Virgil Markham (1/25/18) 
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.

The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang [ed by Brian Alderson] (7/25/18) 

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Green for a Grave by Manning Lee Stokes (3/13/18

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The Tale of Brownie Beaver by Arthur Scott Bailey (8/19/18)

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell [illustrated classic] (6/9/18) 

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover.
The White Cottage by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.).

The Pink Camellia by Temple Bailey (2/5/18)

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

The Blind Spot by John Creasey (8/23/18)