Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Wrap-Up & POM Award

Once again I will be combining my monthly wrap-up post with Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month over at Mysteries in Paradise.




March totals are up a bit more for the year (slowly creeping into reading mode to knock out the necessary 181 books for challenges this year)..one more book than February.  But nowhere near last year's total for the month of 23! (how on earth did I manage that?)  AND GoodReads STILL says I'm running behind....so, if I want to Outdo myself (one of the many challenges I'm juggling), then I still need to get busy.

 Here we go with the stats...

Total Books Read: 15
Total Pages: 2917

Average Rating: 3.283 stars
Top Rating: 5 stars (one book)
Percentage by Female Authors: 60%

Percentage by US Authors: 86%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 20%
Percentage Mystery: 73%
Percentage Fiction: 93%
Percentage written 2000+: 27%
Percentage of Rereads: 7%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}  
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 3 (11%)




AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie has started us up for another year of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she's looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. In March, I read eleven books that may count as mysteries--with none grabbing the five stars (that went to 84, Charing Cross Road).


The Green Plaid Pants by Margaret Scherf (3.75 stars)
A Cold & Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry (4 stars)

The Lady in the Morgue by Jonathan Latimer (3 stars)
The Perfect Landscape by Ragna Sigurdardottir (2 stars)
The Diplomat & the Gold Piano by Margaret Scherf (2.75 stars)
The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White (2.5 stars)
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams (3 stars)
Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer (3 stars)
Sally's in the Alley by Norbert Davis (4 stars)
The Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon G. Eberhart (4.5 stars)
Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen [Gordon McAlpine] (4 stars)



As you can see above, I handed out one 4.5 rating to a re-read, The Mystery of Hunting's End and three 4 star ratings this month.  Much as I adore Hunting's End, I try to refrain from featuring re-reads. Sally's in the Alley is a very fun vintage mystery and both A Cold & Lonely Place and Hammett Unwritten are terrific 2013 releases.  But I can't choose them all and I've got to make a decision (but that doesn't mean you can't check out all of the reviews).  So, that means that March's P.O.M. Award goes to.......(drum roll, please)







.... A Cold & Lonely Place by Sarah J. Henry.  This a quiet and powerful book. More than a mystery, it's a story about secrets and how they affect people.  And it's a story about how we all affect each other.  It's a "what really happened" and "how did it happen" kind of book instead of a whodunnit.

April Mount TBR Reviews


Link up all reviews for April below.
 



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hammett Unwritten: Review

What if the Maltese Falcon were real?  What if Dashiell Hammett, who said that all of the characters
he wrote about were based on people he'd actually known or knew about and who was himself a Pinkerton operative before becoming an author, really had an adventure similar to the events he made so famous in The Maltese Falcon?

According to "Owen Fitzstephen" (Gordon McAlpine) in Hammett Unwritten, that's precisely what happened.  Following in the footsteps of many an author who has unearthed various Holmes stories in a "battered tin dispatch box," McAlpine found a type-written manuscript buried in the Lillian Hellman collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.  What he had found was a manuscript with the byline "Owen Fitzstephen."  The name sounded familiar and when he did a search, he discovered that Fitzstephen was the name of a mystery writer in Hammett's The Dain Curse.  The description of the writer in the story is very Hammett-like and it would seem that McAlpine had found a long-lost Hammett novel written under a pseudonym.

And in a nutshell, what the story tells us is that in Hammett's last case as a Pinkerton man he ran into a crowd of treasure-hunters that would eventually give him the idea for one of his most famous books.  Only the story wasn't over when Moira, the girl upon which Brigid O'Shaughessy was based, was taken away to jail.  Hammett winds up keeping the worthless "Black Falcon" as a reminder of the case and the bird sits on his desk as he starts turning out story after story. Years later, when Moira is released from her imprisonment at an insane asylum, she comes back into Hammett's life and asks him for the fake Falcon.  She spins a story so fantastic that his pride forces him to tell her to take it.  she claims that the bird holds mystical powers and the only reason he's been a successful writer is because it has been in his possession.  To prove her wrong, he hands it over.  That will be the last year he publishes a novel.  Throughout the rest of his life, various characters from his own real-life Falcon adventure keep popping up--and all seem intent on finding the "fake" Falcon.  And each has a slightly different tale of the origins of the bird.  But wherever it came from; whatever story is true--and they say one of them must be; they all reaffirm that the bird is powerful and carries good fortune to whomever possesses it. Was Hammett "a sap" (to quote from his famous novel) to have given it up?  The story follows Hammett from 1930s San Francisco to Hollywood and from New York to a federal penitentiary where he's imprisoned during the Red Scare.  It all leads to a fateful meeting on New Year's Eve where Hammett will find the bird once more and finally learn the truth.  Or will he?

This is a fun book.  Fun for those of us who love The Maltese Falcon, for Hammett fans and hard-boiled fans alike.  It is an incredibly good pastiche of Falcon and Fitzstephen/McAlpine manages to get the characters playing characters exactly right.  It is also the most elaborate explanation of writer's block I've ever heard and it explores the superstitious nature that many writers (and other) have (needing a certain routine, having to wear a certain sweater, etc) in order to be successful in their field.  Is the power in the object itself--or does it only become powerful if we believe in it.  Excellent take on a beloved story.  Four stars.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Mystery of Hunting's End

The Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon Eberhart is a reread for me.  I love this book.  I'm not sure how many times I've read it, but it doesn't matter and it doesn't matter that I already know the secret of the locked room.  If Nancy Drew was my gateway to mysteries, then Hunting's End was the book that made me fall in love with them.  There are several reasons why I have such a great fondness for this book.  One is that my grandma sent it to me when I was about 8 or 9.  It showed up one year in a boxful of books that Grandma had decided to send to her eager reader granddaughter. I'm not certain if the books were hers or if she had just found them at a garage sale and thought of me. Either way, I was already deep enough in my bibliomania that I wasn't going to look a gift book in the covers (or some odd mangling of a proverb). Among the other books were a couple of Man From U.N.C.L.E. adaptations, the book version of the Hayley Mills film The Parent Trap, and several others that I can't recall.

By far, the favorite was Eberhart's mystery. It was a Crime Club hardback with the man with the gun logo. I reread it I don't know how many times. And then, sometime between junior high and marriage, it disappeared. It's the only book I used to own that went astray and I have no idea what happened. A few have gone missing when borrowed....but Hunting's End? That one's a real mystery. It then became my mission in life to hunt up another copy. A few years ago I got my hands on a paperback copy, but I was still on the lookout for a replacement Crime Club edition.  Thanks to John from Pretty Sinister Books I was able to get my hands on a copy this past October and I promptly put it on the list to reread and fulfill various challenges that allow (or demand) rereads.

Another reason I like Hunting's End so much is that it was my first locked room mystery. I also enjoyed the atmosphere--one of Eberhart's strong suits. Set in the rolling and desolate landscape of the Sand Hills of Nebraska, where Mignon G. Eberhart lived as a newlywed, this 1930 mystery revolves around a weekend party at Hunting’s End, a lodge owned by the rich Kingery family. Matil Kingery has invited a strange collection of guests to join her on the outing—the same people who were at the lodge when her father died of “heart failure” exactly five years ago. She knows that her father was murdered and intends to find out which of the guests is the guilty party.  She has to find out....she's in love with one of the young men and wants his name cleared.


Added to the guest list is the dapper young detective Lance O’Leary who is posing as an acquaintance of Matil's. At his recommendation Matil has also engaged Nurse Sarah Keate to take care of Aunt Lucy while they're at the lodge—a fairly unpleasant assignment, as it turns out. Aunt Lucy is a crotchety old woman with a tongue as sharp as Nurse Keate's and who seems to know more than is good for her. In the course of the weekend, a November snowstorm hits the area and the group is stranded. The atmosphere is not made any cheerier by a jittery collie named Jericho and a stray cat who seems to able to herald new, clearly unnatural deaths. As the storm continues, nerves get frayed,the cook starts drinking heavily, secrets start leaking out, and the death toll continues to rise.
Nurse Keate is the same eagle-eyed, sharp-tongued, strong-stomached angel of mercy and sleuth who was introduced to mystery lovers in The Patient in Room 18. Her popularity
helped establish Mignon G. Eberhart as a mainstay of the golden age of detective fiction. The Mystery of Hunting's End, her third novel, received the $5000 Scotland Yard Prize in 1931 and by the end of the 1930s, Eberhart was one of the leading American detective novelists. 

This reread was like greeting an old friend.  I found myself nodding over familiar passages and anticipating others I remembered.  No matter how many other Eberhart books I've read since my first acquaintance with her, Hunting's End has remained my favorite.  The Patient in Room 18 is on deck for this year....it will be interesting to see how it measures up.  Four and a half stars.





Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Bingo: Square #15 (& Challenge Complete)


I just completed Square #15 for the Book Blogger Bingo....and with that I have scored TWO Bingos.  One down the left side and one diagonal--for a total of three Bingos so far.  That also completes my initial commitment to the Book Bingo Challenge.  I decided on sign-up that two Bingos would be my goal and here I am with three.  But don't think I'm done...Oh, no.  This challenge-a-holic is going to try and cover the card.  We'll see how that goes.  Reading those books that "everyone by me" has read is going to be the real challenge....But I do see a couple of Bingos on the horizon.  You can see a complete list of all 38 books that I have read for the challenge so far HERE.


Read 5 Books From Your TBR Pile
1. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (3/6/13)
2. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (3/11/13)
3. A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield (3/22/13)
4. The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White (3/17/13)
5. Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer (3/24/13)

Sally's in the Alley: Review

Sally's in the Alley is the second book by Norbert Davis starring the plump, wisecracking private eye, Doan, and his canine companion, Carstairs.  This comic take on pulp fiction's hard-boiled private dick brings Doan into contact with some mysterious G-men.  The Feds convince Doan to track down a man by the name of Dust-Mouth Haggerty who is supposed to know the location of a stake of unique ore--a commodity that the USA would like to get their hands on for the WWII war effort and one that operatives from the other side wouldn't mind grabbing for themselves.  Doan's hunt takes him to the bizarre little town of Heliotrope where the Sheriff charges rent for the inmates to inhabit his cells and the local doctor does duty as the coroner and the local undertaker.  You might say he has cornered the market on life and death.  If you want to stay healthy, you'll want to eat plenty of apples so you can keep this doctor away for good.

Working with Doan is his right-hand dog Carstairs, a Great Dane who is so big he just might need his own zip code.  Carstairs loathes alcohol and being shot at.  He doesn't care much for new faces, but will tolerate a pretty one if its owner treats him right. Oh...and he believes that he's brains of the operation and that Doan works for him. Doan and Carstairs have quite a few adventures and meet some interesting people--from a collection of corpses that would do the doct.....undertaker proud to the lovely film star Susan Sally to the zany and talkative Harriet Hathaway who is on a mission to join the WAACs.  Along the way Harriet picks up "Mr. Blue" a vague man who says he didn't even know a war was going on.  Add a treasure-hunt drive in a Cadillac in a desert rainstorm with a flash-flood for good measure and several folks who aren't quite what they seem; shake well, and pour out for madcap adventures and comic antics.

This book was just plain fun.  A screwball private eye tale with lots of action and plenty of fast-talking on the part of Doan.  Norbert Davis paired up his private eye with an animal long before it was cool and pulls it off without making Carstairs too cutesy (as if a Great Dane the size of a Shetland pony could be cutesy).  The interactions between the two are funny and realistic....I can just see Carstairs harrumphing over some of Doan's shenanigans.  And Davis takes you from one loony character to another and it all fits so nice and snugly in this lovely vintage mystery.  Four stars.

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Off the Shelf, Mount TBR Challenge, Embarrassment of Riches, Vintage Mystery Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Mystery and Crime Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Monthly Mix-up Mania, What an Animal

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
Only one book behind!  Now to catch up....

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff 
A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield 
Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer 


Currently Reading:
Sally's in the Alley by Norbert Davis: Doan, a California Private eye, and his dog, Carstairs, a Great Dane so huge he ought to be considered a new species, search for an ore deposit needed In the war effort in this reprint of a comic 1943 mystery.

   
Books that spark my interest:
The Hollow Chest by Alice Tilton
The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen
A Private History of Awe by Scott Sanders

Unhappy Hooligan: Review

YM: ...who is she to talk, a woman with a past like hers!
HR: So. Everybody has a past, especially any woman as attractive as Mavis. You yourself are probably working on a past.
~Yvonne McFarley; Howie Rook (p. 17)

Unhappy Hooligan is the first of two novels by Stuart Palmer to feature ex-newspaperman, Howie Rook.  Rook has always given the police a hard time over their investigative methods--claiming that he has a bunch of clippings that prove...whatever it is Howie wants to prove.  But he's never had to put his theories of detection into practice--until now.  James McFarley was a retired businessman with lots of money; a beautiful young wife from whom he was separated; a plump little stepdaughter who is his heir; and several hobbies--including a desire to play the clown in a real live circus.  

He gets his wish, but winds up dead from a gunshot wound in his apartment after only a few days under the Big Top.   He is dressed in full clown makeup and the doors are locked and it would take a human fly to get up the side of the building and through the window.  The police are all ready to call the death a suicide, but McFarley's widow, Mavis, refuses to believe that her darling would kill himself. Of course, it's to her advantage if he didn't...there's a hefty insurance claim that won't be paid out if McFarley did take his own life.  

Mavis is familiar with Rook's articles and letters to the editor regarding police procedures and calls on him to don a clown suit and follow in her husband's footsteps to prove that McFarley was murdered.  But someone doesn't take too kindly to Rook's snooping and Howie will have to be quick to finger the villain before the villain arranges for a similar grand finale for the circus's newest clown.

This one is sort of a mixed bag for me.  I like Howie Rook quite a lot.  I thoroughly enjoyed him going undercover in the circus and learning a great deal about how things operate behind the scenes.  I also enjoyed Howie's interactions with various characters in the book from the curvy Mavis to the delightful trapeze artist Mary Kelly du Mond to Speedy Nondello a winsome young circus brat who's major longing is to be a Girl Scout in the US. I think Palmer does a marvelous job setting up the hierarchies within the circus and showing Rook's interactions with them all.

The actual mystery...I'm not entirely sold on.  The locked room is explained, sortof.  But I'm still not sure how it could have been accomplished without there having been a more obvious clue when the room was examined.  And--as mentioned on GA Detection--while there are clues to be had and a cipher to be decoded (without the reader really being involved), the denouement isn't really much beyond a trick to get the culprit to reveal himself.  Rook doesn't have substantial proof.  And, in fact, he's still groping his way along throughout the final scenes.  Decent mystery; not quite as well-played as the Miss Withers stories.  Excellent characters and character interactions.  Three stars overall.


Challenges: Vintage Mystery Challenge, 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, Embarrassment of Riches, What's in a Name, Book Bingo, Mystery & Crime Challenge, Monthly Mix-up Mania


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mount TBR: March Checkpoint



The rumors are true...Your mountaineering guide is calling for the first quarterly check-in post. Let's see how our challengers are doing. Made it a couple of miles? Camping out in a cave 1/3 of the way up the mountain face? Taking refuge in a mountain hut along the way? Let us know how you're doing. For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
 
1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
 D. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

And what do you get for all that hard work (and distraction from the actual climb)? The link will close at 11:59 pm on Sunday, March 31.  On  Monday I will crank up the Custom Random Number Generator and pick a winning climber. He or she will have the chance to add to their TBR stack via my gently-used book vault (prize list will be sent). Just think, if you win a book you can start up a pile for next year's Mount TBR Challenge. 

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

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


Sign in below with your Checkpoint post.





Friday Memes--On Saturday




Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme now sponsored by Rose City Reader (who originally inspired the meme). Here's what you do: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section. Include the title and author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line and if you did or did not like that sentence. Link up each week at Gilion's place.

Here's the first few lines from Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer:
The mixed foursome in gala evening dress came to the party late, and found that there wasn't any party. No light showed over the transom, and nobody answered the bell. They hammered on the door and called "Mac?" several times and then got tired of it all and went away to have their nightcaps somewhere else. The silence surged softly back again.


The Friday 56 is a bookish meme sponsored by Freda's Voice. It is really easy to participate. Just grab a book, any book, and turn to page 56. Find a sentence that grabs you and post it.
 
Here's mine from Unhappy Hooligan by Stuart Palmer:
"It's hard for any man to live fifty-odd years without making a few enemies," he pronounced sagely.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Perfect Red: Review

I'm afraid that A Perfect Red: Empire Espionage, & the Quest for the Color of Desire didn't do a whole lot for me.  And I don't think it's Amy Butler Greensfield's fault.  You see, I was kind of confused when I picked this up at my local library's used bookstore in July 2011.  The kindly volunteers who manage the store had shelved it on the hardback fiction shelf and when I read the synopsis:


"A Perfect Red" recounts the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain's cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune.

Desperate to find their own sources of the elusive dye, the English, French, Dutch, and other Europeans tried to crack the enigma of cochineal. Did it come from a worm, a berry, a seed? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their own colonies? Pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies -- all joined the chase for cochineal, a chase that lasted more than three centuries. A Perfect Red tells their stories -- true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

I thought that this must fictional history.  I've read those before--heavy on the history, but still a fictional account.  Well.  No.  This actually is the factual history of the "perfect red"--and expecting a fictional story, I have to say that the historical story bored me.  We got really hung up on those Spanish conquistadors and how they didn't take full advantage of the cochineal tribute that their Indian conquests were providing.  But tales of "mystery, empire, and adventure" this ain't.  Another reviewer on GoodReads mentions the blurb on the back cover where the LA Times says that this book is "rollicking."  No, it's not.  Informative? Yes.  In-depth? Sure--too much so for someone looking for "tales of mystery," "espionage," or a "rollicking" good story.  Two stars.

Challenge Complete: Book to Movie

BookToMovie
Katie at Doing Dewey is hosting her first ever reading challenge, the 2013 Book to Movie Challenge. The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to review books and the movies which they’ve been made into.  Back in December, I committed myself to the Movie Fan level (3 books and their movies).  I have now completed my commitment with the wonderful 84, Charing Cross Road.  I have several more books on the docket which have been made into movies, so it's possible I'll make it up to the Movie Devotee level--but for now, I'm complete.

 
Movie Fan - read 3 books and watch their movies

Here are the books and movies completed so far :

1. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (3/11/13)
2. The Lady Vanishes by Ethel Lina White (3/17/13)
3. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (3/20/13) 

4. The African Queen by C. S. Forester (4/6/13)
5. Death in the Air (aka Death in the Clouds) by Agatha Christie (8/5/13)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Bingo: Square #14





Another square!  AND...I'm poised to capture TWO Bingos with the completion of the "Read 5 books from the TBR pile" Square.  Now I just have to resist the Library books I just picked up and read some of my own....



Read 2 Everybody But Me
1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (3/20/13) [at least everybody else participating in the Blogger Recommendation Challenge]
2. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (3/7/13)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

84, Charing Cross Road: Review

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is an absolutely delightful book.  It is one of those rare things--a book that is not a vintage mystery that, having now read it from the library, I simply MUST get my hands on and own as soon as possible.  Yes, it's that good. It speaks directly to the soul of every book lover.

It begins in October of 1949 when Hanff, a poor proofreader and budding scriptwriter, first writes a letter to Marks & Company in London.  She is in search of inexpensive antiquarian books of good quality--something she can't find in her native New York. What begins as a search to quench her literary thirst turns into a twenty-year correspondence with Frank Doel (and other staff members at the British bookshop).  Although Helene writes often about her dream of visiting London one day, the two never meet and their correspondence becomes a lovely friendship based on their common love for the written word.  

This is a charming book that immediately won over this long-time bibliophile.  I can certainly understand Helene's raptures over receiving a perfect copy of a book long sought after.  I share her horror at finding that Marks & Co. wraps its shipments in pages from dismantled books (although I am dismayed to discover she had no problem tossing some of her lesser valued books in the trash to make room for more beloved books).  At just 100 pages, it seems hard to believe that two personalities could take such a firm hold on the imagination.  It is wonderful to read these letters from an era when one could get three antiquarian volumes (yes, THREE) for about $5.00 (and it doesn't make me too envious....).  Once I get my hands on my very own copy I will most definitely be rereading to discover any gems that were overlooked on this go-round.  Five stars--absolutely.  Filmed version is next on the docket.  Review to be added soon.

3/21/13: The film

Oh my.  How often does a film version of a book live up to expectations?  Not very.  But, oh my goodness, this does. Anne Bancroft is marvelous as the brash American looking for rare books in all the wrong places....until she discovers that ad for Marks & Co in London.  And Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the reserved British bookman who can't help smiling over the outrageous notes he receives from overseas.  The movie perfectly captures the time period as well as the camaraderie that develops between the two book lovers who never have the chance to meet.  I don't tear up often over movies, but I did when Helene had to cancel her plans for a trip to London in favor of necessary dental work and then again when she finally makes it "across the pond" after Marks & Co is closed and Frank Doel has passed away.  A touching, charming, delightful movie that breathes life into the letters that passed between these two.  A five-star movie as well as a five-star book.

Quotes:
I don't add too well in plain American. I haven't a prayer of ever mastering bilingual arithmetic. (p. 3)

Savage Landor arrived safely and promptly opened to a Roman dialogue where two cities had just been destroyed by war and everybody was being crucified and begging passing Roman soldiers to run them through and the agony. It'll be a relief to turn to Aesop and Rhodope where all you have to worry about is famine. (p. 7)

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to "I hate to read new books," and I hollered, "Comrade!" to whoever owned it before me. (p. 7)

I require a book of love poems with spring coming on. No Keats or Shelley, send me poets who can make love without slobbering-- (p. 10)

WELL!!! All I have to say to YOU, Frank Doel, is we live in depraved, destructive and degenerate times when a bookshop--a BOOKSHOP--starts tearing up beautiful old books to use as wrapping paper. (p. 17)

WHAT KIND OF PEPYS' DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS?  this is not pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot...i enclose two limp singles, i will make do with this thing until you find me a real Pepys. THEN i will rip up this ersatz book, page by page, AND WRAP THINGS IN IT. (p. 31)

you better watch out. i'm coming over there in 53 if ellery is renewed. i'm gonna climb up that victorian book-ladder and disturb the dust on the top shelves and everybody's decorum. Or didn't I ever tell you that I write arty murders for Ellery Queen on television? All my scripts have artistic backgrounds--ballet, concert hall, opera--and all the suspects and corpses are cultured. Maybe I'll do one about the rare book business in your honor, you want to be the murderer or the corpse? (p. 47)

First, enclosed find $3, P-and-P [Pride & Prejudice] arrived looking exactly as Jane ought to look, soft leather, slim and impeccable. (p. 58)

Don't remember which restoration playwright called everyone a Varlet, i always wanted to use it in a sentence. (p. 61)

Why is it that people who wouldn't dream of stealing anything else think it's perfectly all right to steal books? (p. 61)

I'd love to have the Macdonald edition--or any nice edition. If it's Reasonable, of course. Nothing's cheap any more, it's "reasonable." Or "sensibly priced." There's a building going up across the street, the sign over it says:
     "One & Two Bedroom Apartments
     At Rents That Make Sense"
Rents do NOT make sense. And prices do not sit around being reasonable about anything, no matter what it ways in the ad--which isn't an ad anymore, it's a Commercial. (p. 69)


Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Library Books Challenge, Book to Movie Challenge, Book Bingo, A-Z Reading Challenge, Book Blogger Recommendation, 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Monthly Mix-Up Mania

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: Review

Let me just confess up front...Young Adult literature is not my thing.  It wasn't really my thing back when I was in the appropriate age group.  And I certainly never sought books out because they were geared for me as a young adult.  The main thing I think about when choosing books to read is whether the story interests me...and the stories that have interested me most since I graduated from Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Chronicles of Narnia and the like (all read pretty much pre-fifth grade) have been stories about adults.  I'm sure there are all sorts of reasons for this...but I attribute it to the fact that for the longest time I was the youngest in our extended family and I spent a huge portion of my time with cousins, aunts, uncles and second cousins who were all much older than me.  Sunday afternoons were spent at Grandma's where all the adults would sit in the living room, around the card table, and at the dinner table sharing adult "stories."  These made up the narrative of my life.

So...when I pick up a Young Adult novel, there has to be a compelling reason. Sometimes it's because a title/cover just happens to catch my eye when browsing; sometimes one of my beloved fellow bloggers brings up a book that just sounds too good to miss; and sometimes my weakness for challenges makes me go out of my comfort zone and find a YA novel for one reason or another.  This time it's the Criminal Plots III Challenge sponsored by Jen.  Jen has asked us to read 6 crime/mystery novels from different categories....one of which is a YA crime novel.  Which brings me (the long way 'round) to Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams.

This is the first novel in his Echo Falls mystery series and features Ingrid Levin-Hill as a Sherlock Holmes lover who finds herself smack in the middle of her very own murder mystery.  Ingrid is thirteen, a whiz a soccer, miserable at math, and an aspiring young actress.  When her mother doesn't show up on time to take her from an orthodontist appointment to soccer practice, Ingrid attempts to walk to the soccer field.  That little detour from her usual routine brings Ingrid to the wrong side of the tracks in Echo Falls and sets up a meeting with Cracked-Up Kate, one of the town's unconventional residents.  Within twenty-four hours Kate has been murdered and Ingrid will realize that she has lost her lucky red soccer shoes at the scene of the crime.  An attempt to retrieve the shoes without running into the police (or anyone else who might be watching the crime scene) leads from one thing to another....and before she knows it, Ingrid is trying to emulate her favorite fictional detective and discover the murderer on her own.  But her snooping attracts attention and if she's not careful there just might be another murder that needs solving...her own!

This was a fairly enjoyable book.  It had a lot of action and it swept me right along.  I did spot the culprit early on, but that didn't bother me too much.  I liked Ingrid and I think Abrahams did a good job making her a fairly realistic teenager--although I do think the chief of police (father to Ingrid's soon-to-be first boyfriend--if I'm not misreading the signs) is a bit slow on the uptake in several scenes where he finds her out wandering about (looking for clues) when she obviously should have been either home in bed or off at school.  I also think it odd that a girl who loves the logical Holmes and his methods should be so dismal at math.  Not looking for a math genius here--but I'd expect a better showing.

I'm sure the rest of the series will be quite delightful and, although I probably won't be reading any more myself, I would definitely recommend the books to anyone who enjoys Young Adult novels and mysteries.  Three stars for a good solid read.

Teaser Tuesdays


MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (p. 17):

WELL!!! All I have to say to YOU, Frank Doel, is we live in depraved, destructive and degenerate times when a bookshop--a BOOKSHOP--starts tearing up beautiful old books to use as wrapping paper.


I must say....I agree. (And that goes for all the book "art" floating around out there which is made from cut up books.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
 
Still running at least three books behind.  Can't seem to catch up this year....

Books Read (click on titles for review): 
Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
The Perfect Landscape by Ragna Sigurdardottir 
The Diplomat & the Gold Piano by Margaret Scherf 
The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White 
 

Currently Reading:
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams: Ingrid is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least her shoes are. And getting them back will mean getting tangled up in a murder investigation as complicated as the mysteries solved by her idol, Sherlock Holmes. With soccer practice, schoolwork, and the lead role in her town's production of Alice in Wonderland, Ingrid is swamped. But as things in Echo Falls keep getting curiouser and curiouser, Ingrid realizes she must solve the murder on her own -- before it's too late!
 
AND (one fiction & one non-fiction)
 
A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield:  Recounts the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain's cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune.  Pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies -- all joined the chase for cochineal, a chase that lasted more than three centuries. A Perfect Red tells their stories -- true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

   
Books that spark my interest:
Holiday Homicide by Rufus King
The Hollow Chest by Alice Tilton
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Lady Vanishes: Review



my copy
Here is another entry into the Book to Movie Reading Challenge (as well as a whole boat load of other challenges).  Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins (1936) was snapped up by Alfred Hitchcock and transformed into The Lady Vanishes (1938). This is another of the very rare cases where the movie is better than the book.  Or maybe it's just that once I find something in one medium I rarely like it better in another....I first watched The Lady Vanishes about 20 years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed Margaret Lockwood as Iris Henderson, a rich young Englishwoman who befriends a governess by the name of Miss Froy while traveling on a train through Europe.  Mid-way on their journey, Miss Froy disappears and Iris cannot make anyone believe that the woman ever existed, let alone that she has vanished.  Her fellow passengers blame Iris's "fantasy" a blow to the head that she had received earlier, but Iris knows that something is wrong.  Gilbert, a musicologist and fellow passenger, is the only one who finally believes her and together the two piece together how someone could not only disappear into thin air, but have their existence erased completely as well.

The book is very slow-moving. The beginning, which I guess is supposed to drill firmly into the reader's mind how selfish Iris is, really doesn't seem to all that necessary--at least not in the length presented.  And it takes a good half of the book to get to the real action--the disappearance of Miss Froy.  There is good build-up of Iris's frustration and her feeling that perhaps she really is mad (as suggested by several passengers)  She is far more on her own than in the movie--in the book, she appeals to a professor and his young friend, a linguist, but neither of them truly believe her the way Gilbert does in the film.  The novel, as a whole, didn't hold me the way the movie did and it ended fairly abruptly.  Hitchcock is a master and mixed just the right amount of humor with his suspense.  He adds a few characters (such as Charters and Caldicott, the cricket enthusiasts) for color and tells a ripping good tale.  He also adds a more detailed, action-packed ending to add a bit more excitement.

If you're going to do both--I would definitely suggest reading the book first.  It's possible that a reader coming to the story in book-form first might have a greater appreciation for White's novel.  I don't think reading the book first will dampen your enthusiasm for the film.  Two and a half stars for the book.  Four stars for the film.

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, Book to Movie Challenge, Ethel Lina White, Mount TBR Challenge, Off the Shelf, Outdo Yourself, Vintage Mystery Challenge, European Reading Challenge, Around the World [For European & Around the World Challenges--takes place on a train in the "Balkans" which covers parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, etc. I have arbitrarily attributed the action to Bulgaria.]