Monday, April 21, 2014

Death by the Book: Review

Death by the Book is the second in Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering series of cozy mysteries set in the 1930s. It is just a few months after the events in Rules of Murder--when Drew helps Chief Inspector Birdsong get to the bottom of a series of murders committed at his country house--and Drew wants nothing more than to spend his time convincing his lady love to accept his proposal of marriage. But his plans are interrupted by the arrival of Madeleine's disapproving aunt and another series of murders that once again strike too close to home for comfort.

First, Drew's solicitor is found murdered in a hotel room--bashed over the head with a bust of Shakepeare and with a cryptic message "Advice to Jack" affixed to his chest with an antique hatpin. Suspicion surrounds the man's family when it is discovered that the supposedly upright member of community was having an affair with a shop girl. But then a local doctor is found dead on the golf course of Drew's club and again there is a strange message pinned to him with a hatpin. Two more deaths follow, and the murder of a young woman makes the police settle on one of Drew's acquaintances as the culprit. But Drew's interpretation of the hatpin clues makes him certain that Inspector Birdsong has arrested the wrong man. But will Drew be able to find the real villain before someone even closer to him is killed?

This series is fun and breezy with definite homage being paid to Christie and Sayers as well as other literary lights. The characters are well-drawn and interesting and I thoroughly enjoy the conversations and interactions among them. The addition of Aunt Ruth is a masterstroke that kept me laughing every time she appeared. She is just sure that Drew is out to ruin Madeleine's virtue and she'll do whatever she can to put a spoke in that romantic wheel. The weakest part of the story is the mystery plot--I spotted the perpetrator quite early for reasons I can't mention without spoiling it and I'm not completely sold on the motive. But following Drew and company as they make their way through the clues and watching he and Madeleine sort out their relationship more than made up for it. 
★★★ 1/2 (rounded to 4 on Goodreads)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  Here we go....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
Gale Warning by Hammond Innes  Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn 
My Antonia by Willa Cather

Currently Reading: 
Death by the Book by Julianna Deering: Drew Farthering wanted nothing more than to end the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement. Instead, he finds himself caught up in another mysterious case when the family solicitor is found murdered, an antique hatpin with a cryptic message, Advice to Jack, piercing his chest. Evidence of secret meetings and a young girl's tearful confession point to the victim's double life, but what does the solicitor's murder have to do with the murder of a physician on the local golf course? Nothing, it would seem--except for another puzzling note, affixed with a similar-looking bloodied hatpin. Soon the police make an arrest in connection with the murders, but Drew isn't at all certain they have the right suspect in custody. And why does his investigation seem to be drawing him closer and closer to home?
Books that spark my interest:
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews 
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin 
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Ántonia: Review

My Ántonia by Willa Cather is the final book of her "pioneer trilogy" of novels...and I must confess that I haven't read the other two. The novel consists, primarily, of Jim Burden's memories of life on the Nebraska prairie and his interactions with Ántonia and her Bohemian family. Jim's parents have died and he travels by train to Nebraska where he will live with his grandparents. On the same train are the Shimerdas--the Bohemian family who have come over from the old country to take possession of land which they have bought sight unseen. Jim and Ántonia form a strong bond somewhere between friendship and siblings and first love--later in the book Jim will admit that he loves Ántonia, but she will not accept his declaration. The novel is divided into five books that roughly follow the stages of Ántonia and Jim's lives and ends with Jim's return to Nebraska to visit Ántonia one more time.

The introductory notes to my edition make a fairly big deal of the possessive "my" in the title. "Is the emphasis in the novel's title on the pronoun or the noun, or, to put it differently, is this Ántonia's story or Jim's?" Quite honestly, I don't think that's the point at all. I would say that the title, as a whole, comes from Ántonia's father's plea to Jim's grandmother: "Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my Ántonia!" Ántonia will become the Bohemian family's ambassador to their English speaking neighbors and the family's interpreter. Without Ántonia, they would have to depend on their rather unreliable (if not down-right dishonest) distant relative--the one who "helped" them pay too much for land and a house. So--maybe in that sense--it is Ántonia's story and not Jim's. And certainly Ántonia never truly belongs to Jim, except perhaps in friendship, so the possessive should not be emphasized by him.

In some ways Cather writes beautifully. The descriptions of the Nebraska prairie are lovely and her characterization of  Ántonia and her family are compelling. Jim, on the other hand, is rather lackluster. His narrative is pretty lifeless and I found myself wishing that Ántonia had told her own story. Given her rendition of the flight from the wolves and the hobo who threw himself in the threshing machine, she is a lively storyteller and would, I think, make a better narrator.

I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally sleep. (p. 17)

Gaston Cleric introduced me to the world of ideas; when one first enters that world everything else fades for a time, and all that went before is as if it had not been. (p. 139)

If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry.

I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered –about her teeth for instance. I know so many women who have kept all the things she had lost, *but whose inner glow has faded*. Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life. 

I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister--anything a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Snapshot

West Metro Mommy Reads

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I have been away from this meme for far too long. Long enough that I just discovered that Melinda had taken it on after Alyce. Hi, Melinda! It's nice to meet you!

I just recently started scanning in a lot of vintage pictures for our family heritage Facebook page. It seemed to me a good time to get back on the Saturday Snapshot bandwagon.

 So, for my first entry of 2014, I'd like to share this picture of my Grandpa Ingols. April is his birth month and it seems appropriate to have him be the subject of the first photo shared. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 95. His birthday was April 28th and he's about 4 in this picture.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Challenge Complete: What's in a Name

Back in December, I signed up for the annual What’s In A Name Challenge, originally started by Annie, handed to Beth Fish Reads, and now continued by Charlie at The Worm Hole.

The basics

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories (examples of books you could choose are in brackets):

  • A reference to time (Eleven Minutes, Before Ever After)
  • A position of royalty (The People’s Queen, The Last Empress, The Curse Of The Pharaoh)
  • A number written in letters (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, A Tale Of Two Cities)
  • A forename or names (Rebecca, Eleanor & Park, The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D.)
  • A type or element of weather (Gone With The Wind, Red Earth Pouring Rain)

 In February, Charlie added a sixth category (which we all knew I'd do as well...):
  • A book with a school subject in the title.
I have now completed all six categories. Thanks, Charlie, for another great year of What's in a Name?!

My books.
1. Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell (Time) [1/13/14]
2. The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane (Royalty) [4/5/14]
3. Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt (number written in letters) [1/22/14]
4. John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars by Roland Hughes (forename or names) [3/16/14]
5. Gale Warning by Hammond Innes (weather) [4/15/14]
6. Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michale Jahn  (Bonus category: school subject) [4/18/14]

Murder at the Museum of Natural History: Review

I started the Bill Donovan series by Michael Jahn in mid-stream, as it were, with Murder on Theatre Row (#4) back in 2011.  I've since been grabbing up the books as I find them at book sales and what-not and when Charlie updated her What's in a Name? Challenge to include a "read a book with 
a school subject in the title" category I decided to step backwards in the series to read Murder at the Museum of Natural History (#3)

By the time Donovan is investigating the murder in Theatre Row, he has established himself as an expert on crimes with unusual weapons. In Museum, we see part of the reason for his reputation. It's Donovan's birthday and he's getting some major presents. His friends and colleagues manage to surprise him with a new set of home exercise equipment (to replace the rusty weight bench he's had since forever). The Commissioner stops by his birthday celebration to not only surprise him with the news that he's been recommended for a captaincy but also that the Commissioner is unable to attend the gala opening of the new Silk Road exhibit at the Museum of Natural History--an event that Donovan, a widely-read man with varying interests (including history), would give his eye teeth to attend. 

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a priceless one-thousand-year-old dagger which Marco Polo carried along the Silk Road as a gift from the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII to Kublai Khan. During the media circus surrounding the opening, someone steals the dagger and plants it in the chest of Paolo Lucca--the man who has made the exhibit possible. Not only does Donovan have to figure out how the killer got their hands on the ancient dagger, but he also has to make his way through the minefield of famous people and touchy diplomats. The suspects are all high-powered individuals--from Lucca's beautiful model wife to the provincial terrorists--er--diplomats to the Russian mafiosi--and if Donovan wants to make captain he'll have to be careful whose toes he steps on.

As with Theatre Row, I really enjoy the character of Bill Donovan. He's just the right mix of tough-guy cop and intelligent, widely read man--he makes it easy to believe that he just might know something about everything or if he doesn't that he'll soon be reading up on it and have a mastery of the subject. The supporting character are also good and Bill has excellent interactions with them all. Jahn also tells an interesting, fast-paced story that is fun to read. The main problem--and for some it might be too big--is that a major key to the mystery is blatantly telegraphed and there really isn't much of a mystery to solve. Fortunately, the characters and the pacing make up for that and it is still an enjoyable read. 


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gale Warning: Review

Gale Warning, originally published as Maddon's Rock in Britain, by Hammond Innes is a little outside my usual mystery fare. Primarily a high action thriller set on the high seas, this book--like much of Innes's work--would normally appeal to those who like their books full of adventure and masculine adventures. The story is told by Corporal Jim Vardy. Vardy and his mates, Gunner Bert Cook and Private Sills, are waiting repatriation to England at the end of World War II. Orders come for them to join Warrant Officer Rankin (as commanding officer) on special detail aboard the S. S. Trikkala, a freighter that will take them and a load of mysterious cargo back to England in a convoy of other boats.

The men are ordered to guard cases marked "Hurricane Engines for Replacement" round-the-clock during the journey. Also aboard the vessel is Captain Halsey, a Shakespeare-spouting captain rumored to be mixed up in piracy, several of his loyal crew (having followed him from a previous ship), and a young woman released from a prison camp, Jennifer Sorrell. Vardy, an army man who would have been better suited to the navy, overhears several conversations and observes some odd behavior that make him suspicious of Halsey and Rankin's true purpose.

When the Trikkala encounters a severe ocean storm (thus the title Gale Warning), Vardy and his mates are ordered into their designated life-boat. A boat that they had previously discovered to not be sea-worthy. Vardy refuses to board the boat--requesting to take one of the "less dependable" rafts instead. Halsey and Rankin deny his request and he defies orders, taking Bert Cook and Jenniferr Sorrell with him. They believe that the Trikkala has gone down and when they are picked up by one of the other ships, it seems that they are the only survivors from the doomed ship. But nearly a month later, Halsey, Rankin, the three crewmen loyal to Halsey are also found floating in the arctic waters.

Charges of mutiny are brought against Vary and Cook and despite their story of the unsafe boat, they are found guilty and sent to Dartmoor for three years. Word reaches them that the five other survivors are planning a trip to salvage the cargo of the Trikkala--which has been revealed to be a fortune in silver bouillon. Our heroes decide to escape from prison and try to beat Halsey and company to the ship with hopes of bringing back proof of their innocence. The real mystery of Gale Warning is whether Vardy will be successful and the revelation of the real story behind the sinking of the freighter.

There are no spoilers in my synopsis. My copy of the book has a brief blurb that pretty much covers everything I've told you--and the few bits I've been able to find on the interwebs tell just about as much. The kernel of mystery, as noted, surrounds Vardy's trip back to the Norwegian sea to find the silver. Bert Cook joins him--as does Jenny. Jenny is a sailor as well and it is her boat that is used to make the journey. The adventure and suspense of the final chapters more than make up for the lack of mystery through the first half of the book. These stories may have been primarily attractive to men during the war years and those immediately following, but I find Innes's prose compelling and interesting.  He's a good story-teller in an action-packed genre. Three and 1/2 stars.

★★★ 1/2

This fulfills the "More Than One Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Around the World, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, What's in a Name, European Reading Challenge, Book Monopoly

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  Here we go....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed  (Robert Arthur
Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg
The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith

Currently Reading: 
Gale Warning by Hammond Innes: The 5,000-ton freighter, Trikkala, outward bound in convoy from Murmansk, struck a mine in the early hours of March 5th, 1945, 300 miles from the nearest land. There were only eight survivors and she was listed as sunk. Yet over a year later the Trikkala radioed an S.O.S. as she was battering her way towards the Hebrides through the gale-swept waters of the Arctic Ocean. Why was this ghost ship still afloat? What had happened during the missing months? What is the sinister significance of only eight survivors from a ship that never sank?
Books that spark my interest:
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews 
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel w/Bret Witter
Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

The Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes

The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (2014) is an outstanding collection of non-canonical stories featuring the great detective. Smith manages to duplicate Watson's narrative voice with great skill--slipping only occasionally. The stories are very reminiscent of the original short stories without appearing to be mere copies of Doyle's work. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and finding myself once again on the fog-shrouded streets of Holmes's London. I have two minor quibbles. First, there are two longer stories--almost novella-length--included (making this a mammoth-sized book, indeed!) and Smith seems to lose his narrative voice most in these. He maintains Doyle's style much better in the shorter works. Second, I'm not certain what dictated the order of the stories--whether they were published as short stories elsewhere first and then gathered in publication/writing order or if some other criteria was used--but I would have enjoyed them a bit more if the stories had appeared chronologically per the Holmes/Watson relationship. We skip from them have roomed together for some time to Watson being married and longer sharing rooms to a story from the earliest days of their shared rooms and then back forth between the first two options mentioned. Again, minor quibble that didn't prevent me from enjoying myself, it just caused a bit of a disruption in the flow of the work as a whole. Four and 1/4 stars. [finished late last night: 4/13/14]

 Here is a run-down of the stories included:
 "The Adventure of the Crimson Arrow": A man is killed with a certain archer's arrow. Holmes shows how it is possible that the archer in question is innocent.

"The Adventure of Kendal Terrace": Mr. Claydon comes home unexpectedly to find his entire household (wife & servants) missing and strangers in possession of the house as if they had always lived there. Holmes gets to the bottom of it all.

"A Hair's Breadth": Holmes uses a single hair to find the killer of a harmless old lady.

"The Adventure of the Smiling Face": A professor of Classical Archaeology is plagued with ominous notes and a tile with the face of a smiling woman. When the professor is found dead with only one set of footprints leading to the spot where he was found, the authorities are quick to call it accident. But Holmes knows better.

"The Adventure of the Fourth Glove": The Latchmere diamond has been stolen and Holmes must find the culprit. The clue is the fourth glove. (That's no spoiler...and I challenge you to figure out what the glove means.)

"The Adventure of the Richmond Recluse": Mr. David Boldero's brother has gone missing--apparently at the hands of their uncle who scooped the family fortune when their grandfather died. But there is no proof.  Holmes discovers what happened to the brother...and who really should have inherited.......

"The Adventure of the English Scholar": Mr. Rhodes Harte meets a learned English Scholar on the train.  When Dr. Kennett alights from the train, he leaves his satchel behind. Harte, a kindly good citizen, attempts to return the property...only to find himself in the middle of an international intrigue. He, of course, consults with Holmes who soon finds the truth of the matter.

"The Adventure of the Amethyst Ring": Holmes investigates the disappearance of Jack Prentice, a former dealer of stolen goods who has since gone straight.

The Adventure of the Willow Pool": Captain returns from India to find that his father and all of the townspeople have inexplicably taken against him. No one will tell him why (they all assume he knows what despicable thing he has done). Holmes finds the answer....and a murderer.

"The Adventure of Queen Hippolyta": Mr. Godfrey Townsend is abducted one morning on his way to the dentist and taken to a deserted house. His abductors leave for a short time (locking him in a room)...and fearing that he might be robbed of his expensive cigar case, he hides it under a floor board. The men return with a woman who is furious when she sees Townsend--they have grabbed the wrong man! He is knocked out and awakens in Hyde Park with no clue where the abandoned house might be. He comes to Holmes hoping he can help him find his case. Holmes does--and moreover discovers the secret behind the abduction.

"The Adventure of Dedstone Mill": Holmes takes on one of his youngest clients when Miss Harriet Borrow, age 14, engages him to help discover several things: who is trying to kill her younger brother, where their lovely aunt may be, and what happened to their friend, the tutor. It is a diabolical plot indeed.

"An Incident in Society": The military's secret codes have been copied and it's up to Holmes to stop the information from being passed to an infamous international spy.