Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Wrinkle in Time: Review

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is such well-known book that I'm going to just give a brief synopsis (courtesy of Wikipedia). It is a science fantasy novel written by Madeleine L'Engle. It won the Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and was the runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Throughout the novel, the young characters Meg Murry, Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O'Keefe embark on a journey through space and time--across the universe--as they endeavor to save Mr. Murry, the world, and possibly the universe itself.

A Wrinkle in Time was quite probably the first science fiction/fantasy novel I ever read. I picked up the already well-worn (and most likely well-loved) Scholastic edition (pictured) from our used bookstore when I was in elementary school. I took it home and immediately fell in love with Murry family and Calvin. I loved the adventure. I loved that kids were the heroes--and especially that Meg was the one who really saved her father and Charles Wallace. I loved that Meg was a far from perfect girl--a girl who still needed to learn that what she might see as her greatest faults and weaknesses were the things that made her unique and could be used as strengths in times of trouble. I loved that her parents tried very hard to foster and encourage the unique talents of each of their children. And I loved that the themes of good versus evil played out in a fantastical scientific drama.

Reading this as an adult, I found that I still love all of these things about the book. I also love the way L'Engle meshes the spiritual with the scientific--showing that the two need not be mutually exclusive. I still find myself identifying with Meg--the girl who doesn't quite fit in at school and who will never be part of the "in" crowd. But Meg has qualities that make her unique and uniquely heroic--she has a deep attachment to her family and a determination to help her father and her younger brother. Yes, she becomes afraid in the process, but she faces her fear and finds the strengths that allow her to successfully battle IT and bring her father home. I also love the way L'Engle brings in complex scientific ideas and makes them accessible to all readers without "dumbing them down." Encouraging young readers to explore complex ideas is a definite plus. 

A thoroughly enjoyable story no matter what age you read it. ★★★★


Monday, February 18, 2019

Where the Snow Was Red: Review

Where the Snow Was Red (1949) by Hugh Pentecost

Dr. John Smith, the leading criminal psychologist of the day, is spending what he hopes to be a quiet holiday at the home of Emily and Dan Sutter. Dan is a loud-mouthed drunk who doesn't know the meaning of work, so Emily has been forced to take in paying guests to make ends meet. They have a sixteen year old son, Bim, who does odd jobs for the town selectman, Rufe. He thinks the world of Rufe and wishes his father would just disappear.

Things are quiet until word comes that Terence Vail is returning home. Vail is a recent member of the community--but is a town favorite because of his generosity. Many worthy causes have had their needs met by a quickly written Vail check. And, of course, the village gossips love him and his wife. Susan Vail is a beauty and has nearly all the men in town at her beck and call. Roger Lindsey has been especially attentive while Terence has been away--initially because Terence had asked him to keep an eye on Susan, but later for more personal reasons. The tongues have been wagging--speculating on how far the romance has gone, wondering how Terence will react when he arrives, and resounding with resentment over the fact that Roger left Liz Holbrook cold when he took up with Susan. Susan's father, known for his temper, is none too pleased with Roger himself. 

All this is simmering under the surface when Terence arrives and a party is thrown in his honor. But you would think the party had been given for Susan. She winds up the center of attention--dancing and flirting with every man and making an even greater target for the gossip mongers. One wouldn't be surprised if she were to play the part of chief victim in our little drama. But...when a body is discovered, it isn't Susan but Terence who lies out in the gathering snow with red surrounding his bludgeoned head. Two more deaths will follow before the culprit is identified.

None of the local men are equipped for a homicide investigation, so when they discover that the unobtrusive Dr. Smith is a prominent criminal psychologist they enlist his help in unraveling the mystery. Since there really isn't a lot of physical evidence to be had, his insights into human nature become invaluable to the investigation--though he does overthink one bit of evidence that was actually quite obvious (to me, anyway). If the reader picks up on the meaning of that one key bit, then she will know right away who the killer is. But--trust me--that doesn't ruin the story. Pentecost writes very interesting and believable characters and he has turned out a first-class study of the characters of the small town. If he manages to slide that key bit of evidence by you, then there are motives and red herrings galore to keep the armchair detective busy. A quite enjoyable post-war detective story with an engaging cast--I particularly liked Dr. Smith and Rufe with Liz and her father coming in a close second. ★★★★



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All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Monthly Key Word, Color Coded Challenge, PopSugar Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Blood of the North: Spoilerifc Review

Fair warning: This review contains several spoilers. Since the novel is not really a mystery in the truest sense (we know who the bad guys are and we know what they have done; I guess that means I get to count it as an inverted mystery), I've decided to give a more explicit run-down of the plot for my own records. There are few points that those interested in reading the novel might not want to know ahead of time...

Angus Murchie, son of a Scotch fur trader and an Indian woman, finds himself seeking justice in a white man's world. His father is killed by a rival trader and whiskey runner, Jacques LaRue. But the jury of white men choose to believe LaRue's protests of innocence and fabricated alibi over the truth spoken by Angus. Angus had promised his father (who suspected LaRue would try to murder him) that he would not kill LaRue himself--that he would let the law take care of him. When justice lets him down, Angus follows LaRue until he has a notebook full of white men and the solid evidences that see the trade convicted on the charge of murder--this time of the two Indians who supported the fabricated alibi. These Indians not only lied for him, but they were also responsible for the death of Miqua, an Indian who prevented their tribe from trading for liquer. We suspect (though we are not explicitly told) that Angus may have dispatched the two Indians himself (having not promised his father anything about any henchmen that LaRue may have hired) and allowed circumstantial evidence to convict LaRue. To his way of thinking, justice has been served--the men responsible for his father's murder have paid for their crimes as the law should have required in the first trial.

Once the trial is over, Angus sets about putting his father's affairs in order. He finds that Colin Murchie was a shrewd businessman and that he has left his son more wealth than anticipated. He has also left a parcel of land that becomes the target for an unscrupulous land dealer. Bradford Townsend has been sent to buy up land along the rive for a company looking to build a dam and create a power supply for the North--and he doesn't mind how much he underpays. He sees in Angus (a man who admits he knows little about business) and Jean McPherson (daughter of Colin Murchie's long-time friend and playmate to Angus in their young years) two easy marks for low-ball offers. Angus may not know much about business--but he knows enough to use Townsend's low opinion of him to advantage--selling at the low-end price, but keeping an "ace in the hole" with which to hold the man accountable later

This was a bit disappointing. I got it in the mystery section--but it is more adventure with a bit of revenge and romance thrown in for spice. Not a bad book. Just not what I was expecting. I do like Angus's sense of honor and how he repays the bad guys. His justice may be a little rough in the instance of his father's murder, but one does understand his point of view. I especially like how he uses Townsend's poor opinion of him to his advantage and forces the land dealer to give him what is due--and nothing more. He also makes sure they do right by Jean McPherson--even though he believes she still thinks of him as a "worthless half-breed." Of course, the two do work out their differences for a true "happily-ever-after" ending. ★★

It is worth noting that, despite appearances on the cover, our hero is NOT the Canadian Mountie. In fact, the Mountie doesn't figure much other than to help arrest LaRue when he needs arresting and to stand by as one of the few minions of the law who will take the word of a man with a native heritage as worth as much (or more) than that of a white man.

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All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, PopSugar Challenge, Book Challenge, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner

Final Curtain: Review

Final Curtain (1947) by Ngaio Marsh finds Agatha Troy waiting for her husband's return from several years of war work in New Zealand and Australia. Inspector Alleyn is due back any time and Troy worries that the long separation may have spoiled their young relationship. When a request (a near-royal summons) comes from the celebrated actor Sir Henry Ancred for her to paint his portrait--in full actor's regalia as Macbeth--she is, at first, annoyed at the distraction. But when Sir Henry's son Thomas comes in person to plead the case, she is intrigued by his description of the family and decides that the distraction may be just what she needs. After all, Sir Henry's head fairly begs to be painted.

The family lives up to both Thomas's description and the run-down she received from Nigel Bathgate as she was leaving on the train for Ancreton Manor. She witnesses the bitter family dynamics and the jockeying for position as Sir Henry is fairly fickle in his favorites. The current front-runners are Patrica "Panty," his granddaughter, and Cedric, his grandson. But a spanner has been thrown into the works. The old gentleman has taken up with a young chorus girl and it looks like he may be out to prove that the "old man still has some life left in him." The family's fears are realized when Sir Henry announces that he plans to marry Sonia Orrincourt. 

Troy finishes the portrait just in time for a grand unveiling on Sir Henry's birthday. But things go awry when the picture is found to have been vandalized--with a flying green cow dropping bombs on Sir Henry's head. There have been several "practical jokes" in the days leading up to the birthday and nearly everyone (including Sir Henry) assumes that Panty is the culprit. After all, she does have a history of such things. But both her mother and Troy believe that she's telling the truth when she says she hasn't done any of the tricks played on her grandfather. Someone is up to mischief...but who wants the blame to fall on Panty?

Then Sir Henry dies--apparently from natural causes following his most ill-advised over-indulgence during the birthday meal. He's safely buried and the family is weathering the shock of discovering that he had changed his will one final time--leaving Cedric Ancreton Manor, but nearly all his money to Sonia. That's when things get interesting. 

Alleyn finally arrives back home and during their reunion, Troy tells him about her odd experiences at Ancreton Manor. Then anonymous notes start arriving that imply that Sir Henry's death wasn't natural after all. So Alleyn, Fox, and company start investigating. 

Like Colour Scheme and a few of the other novels, this is one where Alleyn shows up rather late in the proceedings. However, unlike Colour Scheme, I don't actually mind it so much this time because get to spend quite a lot of time with Troy and we learn a great deal about her in the process. In some ways she acts as Alleyn's stand-in...observing the family's behavior and being able to give him a trusted, first-hand account of the goings on leading up to the murder. She brings an artist's eye for detail and gives Alleyn (and us) valuable insights on the characters and incidents. It provides a very unique build-up to the investigation.

I think in some ways Marsh has tried to give us another eccentric family like the Lampreys. But here the dark undertones overshadow the pleasant oddities. There is really something a bit distasteful about most of the Ancreds. One thing that struck me about the story was the emphasis on how all the Ancreds were the same--overly-theatrical; they all made that "tuh" noise; etc--all, that is except Thomas. Having made such a point of how Thomas was an exception to the Ancred rule, I almost expected there to be a revelation that Thomas wasn't really an Ancred after all...and that maybe that would figure into the motives somehow. Ah, well--I guess it was a case of the author protesting too much. 

This was another enjoyable entry in the Alleyn chronicles--particularly since we see so much of Troy. Marsh did fool me on the killer...I had latched onto someone else and couldn't quite shake my belief in their guilt. ★★★★ 

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All Challenges Fulfilled: Calendar of Crime, Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Alphabet Soup, Family Tree Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Birth Year Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner
Calendar of Crime: November--primary action

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Treasury of Great Recipes: Review

A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965) by Mary and Vincent Price is a treasure itself on so many levels. First, of all, I love Vincent Price and reading through this glorious recipe book was lovely experience. Mary was responsible for the look of the cookbook--the cover, the photos, the arrangements of the food in the photos and Vincent wrote the introductory pieces for each section and the reminiscences which precede each recipe. I could absolutely hear his voice reading those introductions to me. Vincent Price so very obviously enjoyed life and food and travel were two of his favorite parts of life. His joy in traveling the world--sampling the local food, discovering new restaurants, wheedling treasured recipes out of the chefs--that joy spills over into all the memories and tidbits that he shared with us in this cookbook.

It is also a delight to look at all the menus from a by-gone era when fresh lobster could be had fro $4.50 and desserts would run less than a dollar. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants featured in the book are gone. Some having disappeared only within the last 10-15 years or so. But it is still fun to look at the pictures from some of the best eateries of the 1960s and to know that Vincent and Mary have preserved a number of the best recipes for us.

One thing that I found amusing was the fact that Wolfgang Puck (who writes an introduction for this--the 50th anniversary edition) made a great deal of the fact that Vincent Price--movie star that he was--was just a Midwestern boy at heart. Having grown up in St. Louis, he was a down-to-earth kind of guy and ALL (emphasis mine) of these recipes were intended as helps for the average housewife. Well--either I'm not an average housewife or "average" means something quite different to Wolfgang than it does to me--because I have never served baby octopus at my house and, quite frankly, can't ever imagine myself doing so. There are several recipes that call for ingredients that this average housewife does not keep stocked in her pantry....

But. That doesn't mean that I might not get adventurous and try some of the more out-of-the-way selections (NOT baby octopus, though). In fact, I'm quite determined that a copy of this book needs to find its way into my house on a permanent basis (this one was from the library). The desserts especially look fantastic and there are several chicken recipes that I'm anxious to try. This is definitely a book for those who love cooking and who enjoy peeking into the kitchens of a different time and place....oh, and it's a definite must-read for those who love Vincent Price. ★★★★ 


Zion's Fiction: Review

Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature (2018) edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem is the first book of its kind to be published in English. As noted, it is a collection of Israeli science fiction. It also gives a brief history of the genre among Israelis--it was not generally accepted for quite a long time after it became popular in American and elsewhere. And, in fact, it was viewed with great disdain until the late 1970s. But, as is the case with most non-mainstream ideas, it had its followers and practitioners and we finally have a collection of works.

When I was in college (many moons ago), I read a collection of Jewish science fiction called Wandering Stars that provided stories by Jewish authors--primarily American--some with more obvious Jewish themes and enjoyed the stories written from a different perspective. So, when I saw this collection at the library I thought it would be interesting to read Jewish stories from a view different from American Jewish authors. I wasn't disappointed. These stories--more than any science fiction collection I can remember--provide (for this Gentile) a profound sense of other. The very first story, "The Smell of Orange Groves," drove this point home immediately. In fact, the experience was so different for me, that I must confess that I did not fully appreciate all of the nuances surrounding the ideas of memory and family connection that must relate to central Israeli ways of life that I do not understand properly.

The collection is, despite being so very other-worldly for me, a very powerful set of stories. I was particularly moved by "The Slows" (which has the shadow of the Holocaust hovering over it) and "A Good Place for the Night" which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where only a few have escaped the unnamed plague/weapon/what-have-you that has wiped out most of humanity. These stories speak to the strength of the human spirit and what qualities make us truly human. Other favorites are "Burn Alexandria" in which the non-human makes the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity and humanity's knowledge (echoes of the library at Alexandria also appeal to this book-lover) and "Possibilities" which talks about the power of story-making and makes connections to a well-known Ray Bradbury story. You can't go wrong with Bradbury. Overall, an excellent and intriguing collection that should appeal to all science fiction readers. ★★★★ 

[Finished on 2/6/19]

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Death in the Night: Review

Sadly, were Jeeves to find himself in the streets of Mayfair today he would undoubtedly look around himself with dismay, as if forced to acknowledge an old friend who, since one's last encounter, has made a distinctly unsuitable marriage. ~A Death in the Night (p. 11)

A Death in the Night (Nov 2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the fourth novel in his Hampstead Murders series. This time our murder takes place in an exclusive women's club in Mayfair. The book opens with one of the members walking into the club, stepping up to the desk, and asking for her key. You'd think this a fairly innocent request--but the receptionist looks at her as if she'd suddenly grown two heads. All is explained (sortof) when the club manager, Rowena Bradley, tells Professor Elizabeth Fuller that she's supposed to be dead. It seems that a woman was found dead in Fuller's room and no one who really knew the professor actually looked at the body. A fellow club member who is a doctor was called in to verify death (from what seemed to be natural causes) and the body was whisked away to the mortuary. The doctor had never met Professor Fuller, but didn't question the identity when told that she was needed in Professor Fuller's room. 

So....things get really interesting when Fuller shows up. Her husband has already been told she's dead. The people who have the body thinks it's her. When Rowena calls the mortuary to straighten things out, they decide that a postmortem is needed because of the weirdness. And...it's discovered that Angela Bowen (the women who wound up through a key mix-up in Fuller's room) has been suffocated. That means it's time to call in the police.

Coincidentally, Detectives Bob Metcalfe and Karen Willis were at the club on the fatal night. They and their partners attended a vintage dinner dance and met most of the prime suspects at the gala. When it becomes apparent that this will be a high-profile case (Fuller's husband Andrew is a prominent attorney) with tenuous connections to Hampstead, Superintendent Collison and his team are given the case. Their first task is to figure out whether Bowen was the intended victim or if someone thought they were killing Fuller. What makes the case really tricky is that both women have ties to Andrew--as his wife and his mistress. Andrew has a roving eye and often plays away from home--supposedly with his wife's blessing. In fact, there were more women at the club that night who have had flings with the attorney than might seem plausible. Did one of them kill thinking they'd get the wife out of the way and clear the field for them? Or was the fact that the mistress was pregnant significant? Did one of the Fullers get her out of the way before she could make life difficult for them? There are so many choices for prime suspect and it all depends on whether the right victim is lying in the morgue... 

[possible small spoilers ahead--read at your own risk]


Like Kate at Cross Examining Crime, I found the opening description of London as made up of small villages very affecting. It is one of the ways that Fraser-Sampson touches base with the Golden Age era of crime. So many of those novels took place in the small village where everybody knew everyone else (and exactly what they were up to). And that Jeeves quote above stood out to me too. One way that this book plays differently on the village theme is that the fact that perhaps some of the members of this small village (the club) don't know each other as well as they might. Even though our setting is a women's club--one that boasted Dorothy L. Sayers as a member back in the day, these women don't know one another as the women in Sayers's day would have. They use the club more like a hotel--stopping over on their way to the airport or for a single night on the town in London--rather than as the home-away-from-home that made clubs attractive in the early 20th Century. They're all just ships passing in the night, so to speak. So, it's not such a stretch to think that some of the members wouldn't recognize the victim (or wouldn't NOT recognize her as the case may be...). 

Overall, this is a terrific modern series for those of us that like our Golden Age mysteries. I’m still hoping for a five-star book, though. Each one in the series has had a small piece or two that has kept it from the full rating. This time round the one of the bits that niggled at me was the rather elaborate potential solution the team discussed that involved getting hold of the room key in advance and having a duplicate made. This didn’t make any sense–It appears that the club is run on a hotel basis and room assignment each time is random based on what’s available (unlike other clubs in other books I’ve read where the members have a room that is theirs). Otherwise, why wouldn’t Elizabeth Fuller immediately realize she’d got hold of the wrong key? And if random room assignment is the case–then the killer certainly couldn’t have made a duplicate key for Room 16 knowing that either Fuller or the victim would wind up there. It just seemed unlikely that Collison and his detective sergeants wouldn't have realized this and dropped the discussion. Instead, they spend a great deal of time hashing it out and then just go off and do other things (like the discussion never happened...).

I do have to say that I latched on to the murderer fairly early because reasons [which I would tell you, but it would definitely spoil the plot for you]. But this didn't affect my enjoyment at all. I always enjoy following the team as they work their way through the investigation so I treated this one as more of a Golden Age style police procedural than a puzzle plot that was meant to baffle me. Great fun and one of my favorite current mystery series. ★★★★  and a half.


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Finished on 1/30/19




February 2019 Monthly Key Word Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, Feb 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Calendar of Crime Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Mount TBR Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February 2019 Virtual TBR Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. This one should go live on Monday, February 4. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

February Just the Facts Reviews



So...my linky provider (in the name of "improvements") has limited the number of "parties" I can have open at one time. This means that I'll have to close each month's link-up earlier than anticipated. I'll try to keep up with getting the new links prepared--but please be patient. Each month will go live as soon as possible. I may have to rethink my link-ups for next year...

Inlinkz Link Party

Blind Corner: Review

Blind Corner (1927) by Dornford Yates (Cecil William Mercer) is more adventure/thriller than classic golden age mystery. Richard Chandos is on holiday in France when he manages to witness a murder. Does he report it to the authorities? Of course not. Instead he runs up to the dying man, breathing the fire of the righteous, to tell the man that he will hunt the blighter down and get him. But the man tells him not to bother--he just wants Richard to take care of his dog. And--since Richard admits that he overheard talk of a treasure--he tells him that if he looks in the dog's collar, he'll find that "she can pay for her keep." Then he dies.

Richard heads back to England where he hooks up with Jonathan Mansell and George Hanby. They discover a paper hidden in the dog's collar that gives instructions on how to find a great treasure. A treasure hidden on the grounds of an Austrian castle. Mansell is a great one for planning and soon the young men are kitted out with supplies and trusty servants and they take off for the continent. But they aren't the only ones in the hunt. The murderer in France has joined up with the villain  "Rose" Noble and his gang--and they are determined to have the treasure even if they have to kill six men to get it.

Yates plays fast and loose with the "Boys Own Adventure" rules--Mansell and company have no problem with killing in a good cause and certainly don't mind running off with a treasure that doesn't really belong to them. They resort to dirty tricks (draining the other side's auto's oil pan, for one) in order to outwit their opponents and their cars have secret compartments for getting the loot past the customs officials. But it's all in the name of adventure--and, of course, having the good guys win out over the baddies. So, settle back, buckle up, and get ready for an adventurous ride. Not much mystery going on here and crime detection is out the window, but if you're in the mood for adventure, treasure-hunting, and a simple world where the good guys always win (regardless of method). Then this great fun. ★★

[Finished on 1/27/19]


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All Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Book Challenge, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, European Reading Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Charity Challenge, Mystery Reporter

Calendar of Crime = May (events take place)