Monday, January 15, 2018

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude: Mini-Review

I love poetry. I love to read it and, occasionally, write it. But I find it extremely difficult to review. I find the Emily Dickinson quotes very apt: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold that no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry." and "If I feel physically as if the top of head were taken off, I know that is poetry." For me reading poetry is a very visceral experience--triggering memories and emotions and, in today's parlance, "giving me all the feels." Ross Gay's Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude gives me all the feels: joy and loss and nostalgia and hope--and everything else in between. His poems have a genuineness, an earthiness, an honesty that you cannot ignore. His poems about the fruit of the earth make you want to go out and plant a garden. His poems about lost friends make you want to rush out and find yours and give them a hug before they too are gone. 

Ross's poems are very evocative of Ross the man. I can't remember ever seeing him without a smile. A smile that bursts on your horizon like sunrise--full of joy and hope and gratitude. ★★★★

[Finished on 1/11/18]
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.
Read more at:
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.
Read more at:

World's Best Science Fiction 1966: Review

The title of World's Best Science Fiction 1966 edited by Donald A Wollheim & Terry Carr is a bit misleading. These are actually the best SF stories from 1965--and the collection was published in 1966. As the cover photo indicates, it includes stories by such SF luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak and also those not mentioned: Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison, and Fred Saberhagen. It also includes stories by authors unfamiliar to me: Jonathan Brand, Joseph Green, and David I Massan. There are tales about spaceships that can sail the solar winds, time travel, dystopian futures (see Ellison), mixtures of man and machine, intelligence agents who lose their memories, and robots that keep fighting long after their original enemies are gone. As with all collections (even those that claim to have only the best), the stories represent various levels of strength depending on your taste. My personal favorites are "Sunjammer" by Clarke (the solar wind spaceships), "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" by Ellison (a long-time favorite), "Over the River & Through the Woods" by Clifford D. Simak, "Planet of Forgetting" by James H. Schmitz, and "Vanishing Point" by Jonathan Brand. ★★

Here is a run-down of the stories:

"Sunjammer" by Arthur C. Clarke: John Merton becomes the first man to sail a solar ship solo in the race to the moon. It looks like he'll take home the honors...until the sun decides to misbehave.

"Calling Dr. Clockwork" by Ron Goulart: In a world where healthcare becomes automated, things can really go wrong quickly when they don't go like "clockwork."

"Becalmed in Hell" by Larry Niven: A man will be stranded on Venus if he can't convince his cyborg ship, Eric, that "he" really can feel his thrusters and can achieve lift-off. How do you psycho-analyze a ship with a man's brain?

"Apartness" by Vernor Vinge: Set in a post-apocalyptic world which saw the destruction of the northern hemisphere. A treasure hunt sponsored by the Southern American Empire discovers an isolated tribe of Afrikaners--the only white people to escape the purge in South Africa during/after the war.

"Over the River & Through the Woods" by Clifford D. Simak: Two children come to visit their grandmother--but they come from further away than just miles. They are her great-great-grandchildren and they may be staying longer than either she or they think.

"Planet of Forgetting" by James H. Schmitz: An intergalactic intelligence officer wakes up to find himself on a strange planet with no memory of how he got there or of the last several months. He's quite sure that his boss must have sent him on a mission--his memory stops just moments before entering the man's office. He'd better remember quick--or he's going to find himself in the hands of some very nasty enemies.

"'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison: One of Ellison's most famous stories about a dystopian world where time is regimented and if you waste it too much, you can find yourself quite literally "out of time" whenever the Ticktockman decides you've had your allotment. The Harlequin manages to disrupt the nice orderly society and Ellison uses him to make some very pointed social commentary.

"The Decision Makers" by Joseph Green: When mankind ventures out into the universe and encounters other lifeforms, who serves as his conscience? Who makes sure we don't run roughshod over potentially intelligent life? Green's story proposes the idea of the Practical Philosopher--and tells the story of one man's decision which affects an entire race of intelligent sea creatures.

"Traveler's Rest" by David I Masson: A war story about one soldier who is sent back to civilian life for a well-earned rest. But no one told him how brief that rest could be....

"Uncollected Works" by Lin Carter: A fairly mediocre tale about an aging literary critic who is interviewed by a young journalist. The critic name-drops all sorts of authors and then grows nostalgic over their future works of literary merit.

"Vanishing Point" by Jonathan Brand: A spaceman tells his kids a bedtime story about the time he and his shipmates went off to visit with the representatives of the Galactic Federation. The only person they meet is an old man on a bit of Eden-like ground. They make an odd discovery about the man and the place where they rendezvous.  Not high adventure--but a charming story.

"In Our Block" by R. A. Lafferty: There are some pretty unusual people living at the end of our dead-end block. They can manufacture whatever you want out of thin reasonable prices too. But one has to wonder why the two guys in the story don't take advantage of all the bargains....

"Masque of the Red Shift" by Fred Saberhagen: As the astute reader might guess, Saberhagen uses the Poe story as a bit of inspiration for his SF adventure. The Emperor of Esteel is hosting a party in honor of his "dead" brother Johann (a hero in the fight against the berserker robots) when a berserker is smuggled in under the guise of a captured anarchist. A little reanimation and a black hole is needed to get the survivors out of this mess.

"The Captive Djinn" by Christopher Anvil: A tale about an Earthman who uses a little Terran "magic" to escape his alien captors. Just remember what Arthur C. Clarke said--"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

"The Good New Days: by Fritz Leiber: About three brothers who live with their mother--who is described in ways that make her seem other than human. This is a breathless, fast-paced story which, I think is supposed to be social commentary, but which really didn't make sense to me at all.

[Finished on 1/9/18]

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Search for Spock: Mini-Review

Sooo...back in November when I was Christmas shopping for others, I found this Spocktacular parody of the Where's Waldo books. And decided that I needed it in my life. I discovered Waldo when my son was small and we had hours of enjoyment looking for Waldo in all of his different adventures.

This search for Spock is exactly like that (only not quite as difficult as some of the Waldo scenes). It was lots of fun hunting for Spock and recognizing all the in-jokes from various classic Trek episodes. The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars is because there weren't extra items to search for on a couple of the scenes. I don't know if that was a mistake and there were supposed to be an extra items list for those scenes (it seemed from the text that all pages were supposed to have extra items) or if that was intentional.

Bartholomew the Beaver: Mini-Review

This is a very cute children's book about a young beaver who doesn't want to grow up and do all the grown-up beaver things (like building dams, chomping down trees, swimming well under water, using his tail to slap the water and warn of danger) that his parents try to teach him. He just wants to play and have fun. Until one day when he meets up with a wolf and he learns how useful some of those skills can be.

~I collect beavers (figurines, Christmas ornaments, etc.). Any time I see a children's book about beavers I have to get it. I'm still trying to find the one my grandma had at her house when I was little. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Follow the Clues Winners!

 It's time to find out our winners for the inaugural Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge. Using my trusty Custom Random Number Generator, I'll plug in the parameters for all our participants. A whir here, a clank there (and a good kick or two--I think it's getting tired with all the winners tonight...) and it tells me that our random winner is...

JJ @ the Invisible Event

Congratulations, JJ (impressive stats and graphing on your wrap-up post!)

And...our overall winner with a chain of evidence with 168 links (!) is....

Kate @ Cross Examining Crime

Wow. With that kind of evidence, I'm sure Kate could put away the vilest criminal for several life-times! What an impressive chain.

Thanks for playing along with this one. And good luck to the detectives hunting for evidence chains in the New Year. I will contact JJ & Kate about prizes ASAP.

2017 Vintage Scavenger Hunt Winners!

Well, the entries for the 2017 Vintage Scavenger Hunt Wrap-Up and Prize Drawings have closed. I pulled out the Custom Random Number Generator and have selected our 6+ and 12+ prize winners as well as visited the wrap-up posts to find our Grand Prize Winner. After much clanking and whirring, our prize winners are

In the 6+ drawing: Neer @ A Hot Cup of Pleasure
In the 12+ drawing: Sergio @ Tipping My Fedora

And our Grand Prize Winner, with two full scavenger hunt cards for a total of 150 items found: Joel from I Should Be Reading. Joel is a regular scavenger hunting machine!

Congratulations to our Winners (let's have a rousing round of applause)! And thank you everyone who joined me for a year's worth of scavenging. I hope you all have joined me in the 2018 edition of the Vintage Mystery Challenge--Just the Facts Ma'am!

I will contact the winners as soon as possible with details on the prizes.

2017 Mount TBR Final Check Point Winner!

Today was an absolutely crazy day at work (it's graduate student admission season at the university), and I almost forgot that it was time to find a winner for the Final Checkpoint prize.  So....without further ado, I will just plug in the random number generator and enter in the parameters....and the lights flash and webpage whirs and we get  (drum roll, please).....Link #10!  That means that Barbara H @ Stray Thoughts is our winner!  Congratulations, Barbara!  I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list.

Thanks to everyone for participating in the final check-in.  I enjoy seeing your progress and the way you fit the titles to the proverbs (for those who did). Thanks as well to all climbers for joining me in scaling those Mount TBR heights in 2017.  Hope to see you on more mountains this year!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Man Lay Dead: Review (possible spoilers)

A Man Lay Dead (1934) by Ngaio Marsh finds us in a typical country house mystery setting. Sir Hubert Handsley is well-known for his country house parties full of dancing, "rags," and general shenanigans. This weekend he decides to invite guests to participate in the latest thing among those "in the know"--Murder. Invited to the doings are Charles Rankin--ladies man and privileged scoundrel who manages to put up the back of nearly everyone he meets; Nigel Bathgate--Charles's cousin (invited strictly on that strength) and journalist who's looking for a big story to make his break into the big-time; Rosemund Grant--in love with Charles and expecting to marry him;  and Arthur and Marjorie Wilde--an archeologist and his attractive wife. Also on hand is Angela North, Sir Hubert's niece, who is a thoroughly modern girl and an intelligent love-interest for Nigel; Dr. Tokareff--a Russian with knowledge of Russian secret brotherhoods and weapons; sundry maids; and Vassily,a Russian butler who also knows about weapons.

They all gather for pre-dinner drinks and Sir Hubert describes the game--in which one member of the company will be given a red placque by Vassily to indicate their status as Murderer. She or he will have until 5:30 pm the following day to plan their attack and must then proceed to "murder" someone ("You are the corpse") between 5:30 and 11 pm. Then the clue-finding, cross-examining, and deductions will begin. Sir Hubert has a vast collection of weapons and in the midst of comments about what a lot of choice the murderer will have in doing away with his victim, Rankin reveals that he is carrying a dagger himself. It is an extremely valuable, extremely sharp weapon and the Russians immediately dispute his right to the dagger--it apparently is a ceremonial dagger belonging to one of those Russian ideal weapon with plenty of intrigue behind it to add spice to their game.

However, when the game is well and truly begun and the corpse is found next day it is a very real one. Someone has plunged the Russian dagger into the back of its owner. Inspector Roderick Allen of the Yard is called in to investigate the delicate affair. He arrives to find not only the Russian angle, but a how full of jealousy, spurned love, collector's greed, and an inheritance not to be sneezed at. Nearly everybody has a motive of sorts, but it appears that nobody could have committed the crime in the time allowed. He must discover the meaning of the burned glove, track down the missing butler, find the "package to be destroyed" in Tunbridge B., and break a cast-iron alibi before he can bring the culprit to book

It's been a long time since I read the first book in Marsh's Inspector Alleyn series (back when I discovered her at our local library some 30-odd years ago). I had quite forgotten about the Russian intrigue and I had also forgotten that Sergeant Fox was not Alleyn's right-hand man in this one. Nigel Bathgate is an okay Watson and even has a few shining moments, though why Marsh had to have him fall into the hands of the Russians and have pins stuck under his fingernails is beyond me. Bathgate does serve his purpose, though, he provides the eyes through which we observe Alleyn and learn about him in this first story. And since he (Bathgate) has a journalist's interest in the affair it helps keep the reader focused on the story.

I'm fairly certain that this was my first fictional introduction to the "murder game" playing a part in an actual murder. I've read several variations since then, but I still remember my sense of surprise when they found Charles dead near the cocktail table. I sensed that the game would go awry in some fashion--but I wasn't quite sure just how at the time. 

Reading it a second time, I was struck by how little Marsh really tells us about our detective. We know that he's a Scotland Yard man and we get the impression that he comes from a genteel background--but that's about it. Having read all the stories at one time or another, I know Alleyn--at least as much as Marsh allowed us to know him--but I realize that readers meeting him for the very first time may find him a little lacking. He's not fleshed out and really isn't very interesting at this point. Fortunately, the fun and games at the country house and the Russian intrigue add a bit of spice.★★ and a 1/2

With Bathgate as an integral part of the story, this fulfills the "Journalist" category under "Who" in the Golden Detective Notebook for Just the Facts, Ma'am." Also = my Freebie choice for the Book Challenge by Erin 8.0.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The White Cottage Mystery: Review

In this case there doesn't seem to be any proof except that everyone is innocent...Everyone wanted to kill Crowther--everyone admitted they entertained the idea--everyone had an opportunity, and yet nobody did it. It's an incredible situation.
~Detective Chief Inspector W. T. Challanor

The White Cottage was first published by Margery Allingham in serialized form in The Daily Express (1927). It was later edited by her sister, Joyce, to remove the repetitions found so often in serializations and published in book form after Margery's death.

It opens with Jerry Challanor motoring along country roads when he spies a pretty young woman deposited along the road by a bus. She is struggling with a basket and he offers her a lift. She seems oddly unwilling to allow him to carry the basket into White Cottage for her and he is intrigued--both by her manner and her beauty. He dawdles a bit down by the gate--smoking a cigarette and and passing the time of day with the local constable when a shot rings out and a cry of murder goes up. Mr. Eric Crowther, the nearest neighbor to the cottage has been shot to death in the dining room. Jerry announces himself as the son of Chief Detective Inspector W. T. Challanor of Scotland Yard and soon his dad is on the case.

It doesn't take long for the Yard Inspector to discover that Crowther was a thoroughly unlikeable fellow. He took great delight in finding out secrets about anyone and everyone and then serving up unhealthy doses of mental blackmail. Crowther didn't want money...his only payment was the thrill he got from watching his victims' torment. Mental anguish was the coin of his realm...and it seemed that he had a hold over nearly everyone connected with the case from Mrs. Christensen of the Cottage to her sister (the pretty young Norah who had caught Jerry's eye) to his own manservant and the mysterious (and missing!) Italian who had been at his home. 

Challanor's search for the truth takes him to France where two documents will seem to give him the proof he needs. But every time he's sure the evidence is pointing towards a particular person, he finds that they couldn't possibly have done it. Until he's left with no one. But it is obvious that someone must have pulled the trigger. A single sentence finally puts him on the right track...but will justice really be served?

I have to admit to being thoroughly bamboozled by the plot twist. I thought for sure I had seen my way around one of the difficulties...only to be proved wrong. I do think the ending is a bit of a cheat, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable light and breezy example of the early detective novel. It has just that hint of romance in it--that doesn't overpower the mystery plot. A short, quick read that was just right to kick off the new year. ★★ and a 1/2.

This checks off the "Color in the Title" category under "What" in the Golden Just the Facts Notebook. Also counts for the Winter Respite Readathon.

Reporter's Challenge 2018

Sponsored by Ellie at Dead Herring 
Thru Goodreads Group: The Challenge Factory

The challenge runs from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018.

Who? What? Where? When? How?
Why? – because it’s fun to read!

Read books that fulfill the various categories under the reporter's standard questions.

Cub reporter: 5 books (1 from each category)
Columnist: 10 books (2 from each category)
News Anchor: 15 books (3 from each category) 
Editor: 20 books (4 from each category) 

Newspaper Mogul: 25 books (5 from each category) 

BONUS CATEGORY: Pulitzer Prize Winner (Newspaper Mogul plus Bonus Category) = 30 books

As in past years, my declared commitment will be for Cub Reporter and I can consider the challenge fulfilled at that level. My ultimate goal will, of course, be to try for all thirty books--but I can see some tricky ones on the list, especially since I want to fulfill all my challenges with books I own. Not sure I have any more books with dead people  or where three people are killed using three different methods. We'll see... 

Protagonist is a religious person (priest, nun, cleric, minister, deacon, etc)
Victim is in the medical profession (doctor, nurse, EMT, hospital staff, etc.)
A Main Character is a dead person (ghost, skeleton, vampire, zombie…anybody who is dead)
Victim is a John Doe (identity of victim is not known immediately)
Not your typical protagonist (deaf, blind, wheelchair-bound, ADHD, Aspergers, etc.)

Animal in the title
Title is at least 5 words
Color in the title: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)
A Cold Case (crime investigated is over 10 years old)
Time in the Title (minute, week, clock, year, hour, etc)

Set in a Southern town
Set in a mansion or hotel
Set in a state beginning with the letter ‘I’
Set in Europe (anywhere but England)
Out of Town (protagonist is not in his/her hometown)

Set during a competition (Olympics, ballroom dancing, cooking contest, rodeo, etc.)
Centers around a celebration (holiday, birthday, wedding, etc.)
Set in the 1800’s
Set during bad weather (blizzard, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, etc.)
Set during summer

(Method of Murder)
Poison is murder weapon
Knife/stabbing is murder weapon
Gun/shooting is murder weapon
Rope/strangulation is murder weapon

WHO - Protagonist has a connection to newspaper industry: A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh [The "Watson" Character is a Journalist] (1/7/18)
WHAT – Your name (first, middle or last) is the same as the author’s name (1st or last) or protagonist’s name (1st or last) Nicknames acceptable (ex: if your name is Elizabeth and protagonist’s name is Bessie – that counts, and if spelled differently ex: Isabel & Izabelle – that counts, etc)
WHERE – “Locked Room” mystery (not necessarily a room, as long as the scene is contained)
WHEN – Book set pre 1800
HOW - At least 3 different people killed by 3 different means, all in one story


A Century of Books Challenge

Simon at Stuck in a Book has declared 2018 as the year of A Century of Books – henceforth to be known as ACOB. Back in 2012, he put together a challenge to read and review a book for every year of the 20th century – not in order. I joined in a bit late and made my timing flexible (because Simon is good with a little flex in the rules).  This time he has shifted the  century is shifting a bit –1919-2018 – making it a century including this year. I'm going to join him and, like before, I'm going to plan on taking two years to complete it. If I get at least 50 years covered in 2018, then I may count it towards completed challenges for the year. I'll keep track of my list below. To make it even trickier, I'm going to try and fulfill every year with a mystery.

If you'd like to join in, please click the link above.

1927: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham (1/1/18)
1934: A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh (1/7/18)


January Monthly Key Word Reviews

January Key Words = White, Ice, Year, Baby, Hat, Dance, Top, Road, If

Please link up reviews for any books read with the January Key Word (or "tweaked" variation) here:

January 2018 Follow the Clues Reviews

January 2018 Mount TBR Reviews

2018 Color Coded Implies Color Reviews