Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Challenge by Erin 10.0

And....It's finally open. The Winter Edition of Erin's book challenge. This year's challenge will celebrate and commemorate ten rounds of exciting reading with Erin's challenge and will use categories previously used in one of those rounds.

A Few General Rules
~First and foremost, have fun. Don't stress. No one is being judged, graded, or penalized. Even if you finish only one book the entire challenge, if you enjoy it and it's an accomplishment for you, then that's awesome.
~The challenge runs from JANUARY 1, 2019 to APRIL 30, 2019. No books started before 12 a.m. on Jan. 1 or finished after 11:59 pm on April 30 will count. (We live in different time zones--follow according to your own time zone.)
~Each book (except where noted) must be 200 pages long. Audio books are fine too.

For the complete rules please check out the Book Challenge by Erin 10.0 Facebook page.

~5 points Freebie: Read a book that is at least 200 pages
The Winter Women Murders by David A Kaufelt [214 pages] (1/5/19)
~10 points (from BCBE 1.0; selected by Megan Kloustin): Read a book that was made into a movie
 The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice (1949 movie) [252 pages] (3/1/19)
~10 points (from BCBE 2.0; selected by Vinay R): Read a book that is set in Europe
Blind Corner by Dornford Yates [225 pages] (2/3/19)
~15 points (from BCBE 3.0; selected by Jamie Gione) Read a book that was a Newberry Award winner (medal winner or honor book);  ***for this category only, since many children's literature books may be shorter, the page number requirement is only 100 pages.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (1963 Medal Winner) [2/17/19]
~20 points (from BCBE 4.0; selected by Deborah Dainton): Read a book that is a friend or family member's favorite...or the favorite book by another participant in this challenge.
Mossflower by Brian Jacques [373 pages; my son's favorites] (4/8/19)
~20 points (from BCBE 5.0; selected by Donna Nevins): Read a book originally published over 100 years ago.
An African Millionaire by Grant Allen (1897) [336 pages] (1/10/19)
~25 points (from BCBE 6.0; selected by Beverly-Ann Basque): Read a book with six words (and only six words) in the title.
The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by June Tomson [224 pages] (1/25/19)
~30 points (from BCBE 7.0; selected by Vanessa Loke): Read a book with a compass or cardinal direction in the title.
Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx [278 pages] (2/15/19)
~30 points (from BCBE 8.0; selected by Keli Hearron): Read a book that was originally published in a different language from your own.
No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (Japanese) [284 pages] (2/21/19)
~35 points (from BCBE 9.0; selected by Amanda Forsyth): Read a book that begins with the letter "N."
Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins [352 pages] (2/19/19)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Monthly Motif 2019

2019 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge

Click on the link for full details. For this challenge, each month is assigned a motif or theme. Your task is to read one book per month that fits in with the assigned motifs…I've listed my tentative choices below.

JANUARY – New to You Author
Read a book by an author whose writing you’ve never read before.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman (1/3/19)

FEBRUARY – Cover Love
Yes. We’re giving you permission to judge a book by its cover and read a book with a cover that really caught your eye.
A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary & Vincent Price (2/13/19) [Any book with Vincent Price on the cover is going to catch my eye...]

MARCH – Royalty, Kingdoms, Empires, Governments
Read a book in which the character is involved in a ruling or governing body in some way.
Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (3/23/19)

APRIL – Crack the Case
Read a mystery, detective story, true crime, cozy mystery, or book involving a puzzle to solve.
A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)

MAY – One Sitting Reads
Read something that is short enough you could get through it in one sitting- try a graphic novel, comic book, short story, essay, or short collection of poetry.
Scooby Doo Vol 1. #30: Spring-Heeled Jack written by Terrance Griep (5/19/19)

JUNE – Diversify Your Reading
Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own or read about a culture you want to learn more about.
Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna [culture of Thailand/Buddhism] (6/29/19)

JULY – Through The Years
Read a book involving time travel, a book with a ‘time’ setting such as The Great Gatsby (20s), read a historical fiction/nonfiction, or choose a book published in your birth year.
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (set during British Imperial rule) [7/21/19]

AUGUST – Mode of Transportation
Read a book where the mode of transportation plays a role in the story
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (8/2/19) [lack of transportation off the island is the real problem....]

SEPTEMBER – Animal, Number, Color, Name
One of those things needs to be in the title of the book you choose 
Black Aura by John Sladek (9/9/19)
The Case of the Ill-Gotten Goat by Claudia Bishop (9/14/19)
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (9/16/19)

OCTOBER – Tricks and Trades
Read a book set in a theater, an amusement park, a circus, or a book involving magic, illusions, or characters with special powers.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (10/15/19)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (10/16/19)

NOVEMBER – Seasons, Elements, and Weather
Embrace a winter wonderland setting, pick a beach read, or read about a natural disaster. As long as a season, element, or the weather plays a key role in the story or is part of the title, it counts. (ex. Little Fires Everywhere, The Snow Child, On The Island)
Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh (11/9/19)

DECEMBER – Last Chance
Finally read that one book that you’ve been meaning to get to all year long.
The Bells of Old Bailey by Dorothy Bowers (12/22/19) [I actually meant to read this last year as part of my Birth Year Challenge--using my mom's birth year--and didn't get to it. So I added it to the challenge again this year...and finally go to it!]

World at War Reading Challenge

World At War Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Sign up here
Duration: January - December 2019
Goal: Get at least one bingo! (more are welcome, of course!)

Go to Becky's post for links to book suggestions.

I am committing to just one bingo to claim the challenge as complete. Any others will be bonus!

The categories:

_ Any book published 1914-1918
_ Any book published 1918-1924: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) [1/18/19]
_ Any book published 1925-1930: Blind Corner by Dornford Yate (1927) [1/27/19]
_ Any book published 1931-1938: Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx (1938) [2/15/19]
_ Any book published 1939-1945: The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (1943) [1/14/19]
_ A nonfiction book about World War I
_ A nonfiction book about 1910s and 20s
_ A nonfiction book about 1920s and 30s
_ A nonfiction book about 1930s: Hitler's First Victims by Timothy W. Ryback (1/24/19)
_ A nonfiction book about World War II: Code Talker by Chester Nez w/Judith Schiess Avila (3/8/19)
_ A fiction book set during World War I:
_ A fiction book set 1918-1924: Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (3/9/19)
_ A fiction book set in the 1920s: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)
_ A fiction book set in the 1930s
_ A fiction book set during World War II: The Dead Shall Be Raised by George Bellairs (1/13/19)
_ A book set in the United States or Canada: The Lucky Stiff (1945) by Craig Rice [US] (3/1/19)
_ A book set in England, Ireland, or Scotland: Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (2/19/19)
_ A book set in Europe
_ A book set in Asia or Middle East
_ A book set elsewhere: Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh [New Zealand] (1/10/19)
_ A book focused on "the war"
_ A book focused on "the homefront": The Two-Pound Tram by William Newton (9/24/19)
_ Watch any movie released in 1940s
_ Watch any movie released in the 1930s
_ Watch any movie about either war: The African Queen (WWI) --I just rewatched this, but have not written anything new.  I've attached my previous review of book & film. (1/21/19)

Some of the possibilities from my shelves and virtual TBR lists:
The War Comes home: Disabled Veterans in Britain & Germany 1914-1939 by Deborah Cohen
Here Is Your War by Ernie Pyle (pub 1943)
See Here, Private Hargrove by Marion Hargrove (pub 1942)
Green Hazard by Manning Coles (fiction, WWII)
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson (Fiction, 1920s)
Kings, Queens, & Pawns: An American Woman at the Front by Mary Roberts Rinehart (WWI Nonfiction)
A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd (WWI fiction)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Table D'Hote: Spoilery Review

I am rapidly coming to the end of the Masters & Green mystery series by Douglas Clark. I have just two more left to read on my TBR shelves and seven more titles to hunt for when I'm out and about in the used book shops. I will be sad when I've found and finished the last one. Clark's novels are an interesting take on the police procedural--featuring Superintendent George Masters, Inspector Bill Green, and their specialized team of detectives. Their group gets all the odd, highly technical, and highly sensitive cases. And with Clark's background in the pharmaceutical realm the methods of murder usually focus on obscure medical points or medical conditions that one wouldn't expect to be used to polish off one's enemies.

Table D'Hote (1977) is no different. Wanda Mace has been having an affair with her best friend's husband, Dr. David Bymeres. The two justify their attraction by the fact that they did not start anything until after Daphne had sunk so low in depression that she had lost all interest in physical side of her marriage. As Wanda tells Masters later:

Oh, I know it sounds ludicrous to remind you of it, but Daphne was my friend and the only reason why David came to me was because the woman he had loved dearly could no longer be a wife to him. What I'm trying to say is that I didn't replace Daphne in his affections, only--if Mr. Green will forgive the thought--in his bed, just as he fulfilled a need of mine.

She has reason to defend their actions. Daphne Bymeres winds up dead in Wanda's cottage.

Wanda had invited the Bymeres down for a weekend holiday with dinner party guests on the Friday night. She had arranged with David that he would get an "emergency call" that would take him back to town, leaving Daphne with her. The plan was to create a situation where both Daphne and David would get a much needed rest. Daphne's condition had gotten to such a state that she no longer wanted to go out and about and be social and she needed more care and attention at home. Wanda thought the change to country life would do Daphne good and she definitely thought David deserved a break.

All goes as planned until David receives an authentic emergency call and has to leave the cottage earlier than anticipated. Wanda goes ahead with the dinner party and, as expected, Daphne pleads a headache towards the end of the meal and takes herself off to bed. When Wanda checks in on her the next morning, Daphne is dead--having been very sick beforehand. She calls David to let him know and ask him to come back to the cottage and David calls in his wife's own physician. Although his examination can find nothing to indicate anything but natural causes--the symptoms are most suggestive of some sort of heart trouble, he refuses to give a death certificate. And when the local police surgeon arrives he refuses to give one as well. 

There's nothing for it but to call in the Yard and, since it involves two doctors who won't give a certificate and the wife of a third doctor, it's decided that Masters and company will investigate. The basic question they must answer is: when are natural causes not natural at all? Masters's job isn't made any easier by the fact that he finds himself attracted to the prime suspect--after all, if something unwholesome was given to Daphne, it's most likely that it would have been served up in the meal provided by Wanda. Of course, Masters believes Mrs. Mace to be smarter than that. But is she smart enough to play that as a double bluff? If Daphne was killed and Wanda didn't do it, then it's obvious that David must have arranged it--I mean, suspects aren't exactly thick on the ground. But how could he when he didn't prepare the meal and he wound up absent for the entire dinner party?

********My Take: Major Spoilers Ahead. Read at your own risk!**********

This is another solid entry in the Masters & Green series. The Superintendent and Inspector are still working their way towards the comfortable working relationship found in later installments and it's quite interesting to watch their prickly interactions. It was also interesting to find out how Masters first met his wife, Wanda (so, yeah--she didn't do it). I really enjoy the interesting methods of murder which Clark provides for his villains. That's one of the major selling points for this series--finding out which unconventional murder method will be featured this time.

Which means that quite often the focus is much more on the "how" rather than the "who" or the "why." This is particularly true in this instance. I would be greatly surprised if anyone reading this has any doubts about who the guilty party is from quite early in the book. The how is really the star of the show. But, interesting as that method is, that isn't the spoiler. The most surprising part of this mystery is in the reason (i.e. the woman) why he did it. I quite smugly thought I had spotted the other other woman in the case. It was obvious that David Bymeres was no longer as enthralled with Wanda as he once was. But I really thought that Miss Hector's disapproval of Dr. Bymeres was all for show and that they really had a major thing going on....I was a bit disappointed by Clark's pulling a completely different woman out of thin air. Not a mention of her before. It would have been nice to have at least had a chance to pick the right one.

This was also one of the most cold-blooded murders that Clark has devised. It's really quite horrific that David would plan such a nasty death for his wife and have no qualms at all about the fact that Wanda might be suspected of and (if the police weren't so very good at their job) possibly convicted of the murder. But the murder method and the twists on relationships are a large part of what makes this mystery so enjoyable. ★★★★

[Finished 11/14/18]

Devious Murder: Review

Devious Murder (1973) by George Bellairs is the 53rd novel in the Chief Inspector Littlejohn series and the first one I've ever found in my various bookshop and book sale scavenger hunts. This story features the investigation into the murder of Charles Blunt, a discreet and highly successful cat burglar who had eluded the grasp of the police for years though he had been the chief suspect in many in a robbery. Blunt always planned his robberies meticulously, never resorted to violence, and worked alone--all factors which led to his success.

Littlejohn takes his dog out for the last walk of the day and discovers Blunt's body at the gates of an abandoned house. The Chief Inspector decides to take a hand in the case (though it's technically not on his patch) and there are many questions that immediately arise. What was Blunt doing in that area? Why was his body left at the gates? Why, after years of working alone, are there clues pointing to confederates? And is this a case of thieves falling out? 

Littlejohn and Scotland Yard follow the clues back to a luxury flat that seems to be out of Blunt's price range. But when he discovers that the flat just happens to overlook the estate of an American multi-millionaire who has lavished his younger, spendthrift wife with jewels of every sort things become clear. Blunt obviously had taken the apartment to prepare for his next jewelry heist. From his luxurious perch he could see exactly where the jewels were kept and he could scope out the security measures. But who killed him and left him in Littlejohn's neighborhood?

Despite the fact that I'm entering Littlejohn's career fairly late in the game, this was a fine introduction to the Chief Inspector and his detecting world. The characters are strong and well-defined and Littlejohn is solid investigator with a nicely developed sense of humor. This is a police procedural in construction, so Bellairs is not so much concerned with dropping clues here and there for the reader to spot and try to outwit the detective. There's not much chance to get to the solution before Littlejohn, but the investigation and the Chief Inspector's manner of conducting it are interesting enough to keep the reader's attention.  ★★

[Finished 11/13/18]

Monday, November 19, 2018

Red Harvest: Review

"Plans are all right sometimes," I said. "And sometimes just stirring things up is all right--if you're tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you'll see what you want when it comes to the top." ~The Continental Op in
Red Harvest (1929) by Dashiell Hammett

Newspaper publisher, Donald Willsson calls on the Continental Detective Agency to send an operative to his town of Personville (known colloquially as "Poisonville"). Our unnamed narrator, known forevermore as The Continental Op, arrives in town without any briefing on what Willsson wants. He's told that he'll find out once he meets Willsson at his home. But Willsson isn't at the house and his wife doesn't know where he is. She gets a phone call, runs off without a word, comes back some time later with what looks like bloodstains on her shoes, and announces that Donald won't be coming home that night. The Op isn't too shocked to find out that Willsson is dead.

Willsson's father Elihu has, until recently, owned the town. But when a strike threatened his businesses, Elihu brought in professional strong men to break the strike and those men decided they like the looks of Personville and hung around. Elihu is still the nominal big man, but he has to kowtow to the gangs when they say so. Donald was trying to stir up support to clean up the town through his paper and when The Op visits the elder Willsson a deal is struck (with a signed contract and all) that the Continental Detective Agency will clean up the town.

After a lot of people (and I do mean a LOT) are killed (and Elihu tries to cancel the deal), the town is cleaned up and Elihu is back in control. But Elihu Willsson may not like the state of his town once The Op is finished with it.

So....this is SO not my thing. Hard-boiled, noir is in general not my thing. But I loved The Maltese Falcon. And I enjoy small doses of Brett Halliday's Michael Shayne. But Red Harvest is really not my thing--this is noir at its blackest and grittiest. This is hard-boiled so hard it's turned to stone. There are bodies everywhere. There are double- and triple- and quadruple-crosses. There are huge shoot-outs between the gangs and the police (who have gang ties of their own). 

The saving grace? Hammett knows how to write. Even though I'm not happy with what I'm reading, he makes it go down nice (though I'm not sure "nice" is exactly the right word here...). The Op may take extreme measures to get the job done. He may not operate within a particularly palatable set of rules--but reading about his exploits and his interactions with various characters is entertaining. The plot line is a bit convoluted (what with all the double- and triple- and so-on-crossing and all)--otherwise I would have have rated this classic in the hard-boiled realm higher. ★★ If you like noir and hard-boiled detectives, then this is definitely your thing.

[Finished 11/12/18]

2018 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge: My Sign-Up

Michelle at Seasons of Reading is once again sponsoring her Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge. In short, the challenge runs from November 19, 2018 through January 6, 2019. The books read must be Christmassy in nature--novels, short story collections, books of poems, etc.

There are various levels:
~Candy Cane: read 1 book
~Mistletoe: read 2-4 books
~Christmas Tree: read 5-6 books (this is the fanatic level...LOL!)

Additional levels all watching Christmas movies and reading children's books with your kids--but you must complete one of the main reading levels to fulfill the challenge.

For more details and to join up, follow the link above.

As usual, I am joining a the Mistletoe level:

1. A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum (12/24/18)
2. Murder for Christmas by Thomas Godrey, ed (12/31/18)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Death of My Aunt: Review

Death of My Aunt (1929) by C.H.B. Kitchin

At 25, Malcolm Warren is already a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, eccentric, old-fashioned stockbroker. The most excitement in his life has come with the ups and downs of the stock market. But he's always been the favorite of his very rich and extremely autocratic Aunt Catherine and he gets along with old girl. They've always understood each other, so when she summons him for a visit he goes. She wants advice on her investments and Malcolm is the only one she trusts to do the right thing. Little does he imagine the excitement in store for him.

During his stay with Aunt Catherine, he is tricked into handing her a fatal dose of poison. Malcolm must turn amateur detective to prevent himself from being hauled away as suspect number one. He also has a fondness for Aunt Catherine's young husband--a man none of the rest of the family likes and whom they would love to see put away as auntie's killer. So, Malcolm wants to save two people from the gallows and see the proper villain charged with the crime. But who is it? Our hero shares a list of those who might have an interest in Catherine's death--most of whom would benefit most if either Malcolm or Uncle Hannibal were charged with the crime. There are a whole slew of family members--from Malcolm's own mother and another sister and brother to various nieces and nephews to Aunt Catherine to a couple of solicitors with an interest in the doings. 

Malcolm, in the true spirit of a detail-minded businessman, also provides the reader with timelines for the substitution of the poison and in-depth cases against various suspects. He even makes a case against Uncle Hannibal and sets up a test to allow Hannibal to prove his innocence. Will he be sorry he let his uncle off the hook?

H.R.F. Keating thought this one was good enough to make his Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books list. Steve over on Mystery*File thought it dated, but still a lot of fun to read. Though he does say that he doubts that today's readers will find much of interest. He's right. While I did appreciate Malcolm's run-down of timelines and motives and whatnot and the plotting is fairly decent, there just isn't a lot to get hold of in these characters. Malcolm isn't world's most engaging protagonist and none of the other characters are at all interesting or sympathetic. Not even poor Uncle Hannibal. Part of the problem is that Kitchin doesn't spend a great deal of effort on characterization. A decent mystery--interesting enough for those of us who enjoy vintage mysteries and who want to check out the books on Keating's list. But not one that you need to go out of your way to track down. [Am I damning with faint praise? I suppose so...] ★★ and 3/4.

[Finished on 11/7/18]

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ngaio Marsh Challenge II: My Sign-Up

Ngaio Marsh Challenge:

Ngaio Marsh is one of the 'Big Four,' Golden Age authors, who include Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. In 2018 we read the first 12 of her mystery novels featuring her detective, Roderick Alleyn. And in 2019 we will read the next 12 of her mystery novels. The books, in order, will be:

Jan - Book 13. Died in the Wool (1945) [1/10/19]
Feb - Book 14. Final Curtain (1947) [2/14/19]
March - Book 15. A Wreath for Rivera (1949) [3/11/19]
aka Swing, Brother, Swing
April - Book 16. Night at the Vulcan (1951)
aka Opening Night [4/4/19]
May - Book 17. Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953) [5/6/19]
aka The Bride of Death
June - Book 18. Scales of Justice (1955) [6/16/19]
July - Book 19. Death of a Fool (1956) [7/7/19]
aka Off with His Head
August - Book 20. Singing in the Shrouds (1958) [8/17/19]
September - Book 21. False Scent (1959) [9/15/19]
October - Book 22. Hand in Glove (1962) [10/8/19]
November - Book 23. Dead Water (1963) [11/9/19]
December - Book 24. Killer Dolphin (1966) [12/18/19]
aka Death at the Dolphin