Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 1st Through the 15th

A woman of my word, here are brief reviews of the books I read in the first half of February.  I hope you all had happy Valentine's Days.  I spent mine at the doctor's and then in bed with a stomach virus.  Fortunately, I had my Valentine to take care of me.  Much better now.

I usually don't read modern books that continue an older series, but the two books I've read by Guy Fraser-Sampson that continue the Mapp and Lucia series are well done and capture the flavor of the originals.

Mapp (not very wealthy) and Lucia (wealthy) are continuously trying to outdo each other socially.  Lucia and her husband, Georgie, decide to vacation in the lakes section of Italy.  Mapp finds out and, lucky for her, one of Benjy's old India friends, a very wealthy man, asks Benjy if he'll escort his son on vacation until he is free to take him  -  all expenses paid.  So Mapp connives to go to the same little town and stay in the same hotel as Lucia.  All I can say is that pandemonium and laughter ensue.

I've read a few of the Judge Dee mysteries and this one wasn't one of my favorites.  It dragged and I didn't like the theme.  Judge Dee stops at a festival at which a young man is poisoned.  And a woman is found murdered.  There's much talk about the Emperor's Pearl, a valuable pearl stolen years ago from the royal jewels, thought to be a myth by many.

Judge Dee must solve the mystery.  What he finds is a sadist and a surprise.

This book was disappointing, too.  I like Amy Poehler.  I don't think you can beat her and Tina Fey for laughs when they get together.  But this book felt forced, disjointed, didn't make me like Amy more, and maybe even a little less.  I thought it would be funnier.

Another celebrity memoir, but this one was more enjoyable.  That is, despite the fact that much of the book is about Cumming's horrible father and how he beat Alan and his brother and made them feel that they were worthless.  When Alan was 45, his father called and told him that he wasn't his real father.

Alan, in the middle of the British show Who Do You Think You Are? is devastated.  Elated to think that he's not the blood of a monster, but having to reevaluate his life and family.  So, simultaneously, he investigates the truth of his father's declaration and the story of his mother's father, who elected to leave his family after the war and who died in a mysterious shooting incident in the Far East.

And, finally, an old mystery by a well-regarded mystery author.  During a dinner with his neighbors, a man complains of stomach pains.  One of the neighbors, a doctor, opines that it's an ulcer and advises him to lay off the booze and rich food for a while.  He sends over some medicine.  The next day, the man is much worse and he dies a few days later.

The dead man's estranged brother arrives and demands an investigation.  They find that the man died of arsenic poisoning.  There is much speculation about how he ingested the arsenic:  in the medicine is the first supposition, but he also could have committed suicide (his finances are tanking), or it could have been accidental (he's been experimenting with different washes for his fruit trees), or, his brother's favorite, his younger wife could have done it because she wanted to leave him for another man.  The revelation was a surprise to me.

So, there you are.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Rest of January

I like posting a half month at a time, so I think I'll continue this way.  I may post about single issues occasionally.  So, here are the books I read in the second half of January:

I like archeological mysteries and I bought a bunch of Lyn Hamilton's series at a local used book store.  The series features Lara McClintoch, an antiques dealer.  She's in business with her ex-husband, which causes some problems.  In this book, Clive, her ex, gets the brilliant idea that to stimulate interest in their antiques business, Lara should lead a history / antiques tour somewhere in the world.  They pick Tunisia.

A varied group signs up for the tour.  A couple of celebrities, a couple of widows and single women, a fellow antiques dealer whose interest is ancient coins, a guy who only talks about investments and is constantly on his phone.  One member of the group is found dead in the swimming pool, but it wasn't an accident according to Lara.  She has experience with murder.  A fire breaks out in a travel critic's room.  The clothes and accessories in another member's room are rearranged and her necklace is stolen.  

There's an archeological 'dig' going on in the harbor, searching for a sunken ship with a cache of gold.  One of their members dies and one is injured.  That's not an accident either.  Someone tampered with their air tanks.

There's a lot going on.  Mixed in with the contemporary story is the story of the sunken ship, sunk in the time of Carthage.  So I had some fun and I learned some things, too.


This was my first Dorothy Whipple book.  I've already bought another of hers, Because of the Lockwoods.  I loved this book, a domestic mid-20th century novel.  It's a genre that I've previously disregarded.  My copy of The Great Mr. Knight, which seems to be the American title of They Knew Mr. Knight, was from my library, firmly covered in unremovable plastic, hence the lousy photograph of an interesting cover.

Thomas Blake works at the factory his family founded.  Against Thomas's pleading, his father sold the factory to raise cash after his mismanagement caused the business to falter.  Thomas believes that the factory should be his.  He, his wife and three children live in The Grove, a respectable neighborhood.

Thomas contrives to meet Mr. Knight, a wealthy financier who rides the same train.  Knight takes Thomas under his wing and gives him investment tips.  He buys Thomas's factory and puts Thomas in charge.  As he makes more money, Thomas and his family move up the wealth ladder.  They move to Fairholme, a house his wife doesn't like.

When Knight moves out of his country estate, Field Place, and back to London, he suggests that Thomas buy Field Place and offers him a good deal.  He and his family love Field Place.  But Knight has abandoned Thomas and Thomas has gotten himself entangled in too many questionable financial dealings, in way over his head.  You see what is coming, don't you?  I did, but I still wanted to read about how each family member reacted to their changing fortunes.

I felt it was time for more mystery and a move to Sicily, so I reached for an Inspector Montalbano book by Andrea Camilleri.  They're dependably good.  I can't form a good image of Montalbano, though.  I believe him to be a middle-aged (early 50s), sort of heavy man, not especially attractive  -  but women in the books seem to find him appealing.  He's always getting involved with beautiful women, despite his longterm, long-distance relationship with his girlfriend / fiancee (?) Livia.

There are two mega yachts in the harbor.  One has brought in the body of a badly beaten man, so badly beaten that he can't be identified.  The wealthy owner of the sailing yacht is gorgeous and overbearing.  The woman from the harbor master's office is gorgeous, too, and attracted to Montalbano.  They play relationship tag.

Montalbano is, as usual, in trouble with the police department he works for.  He lies, he avoids, he annoys his bosses.  But he does figure out the identity of the dead man and the secret of the two ships.

This classic was interesting for many reasons.  I realized that this book and The Great Mr. Knight were both about reaching for financial and social success and the risks people will take to acquire and keep them.

Pere Goriot lives in a down at the heels boarding house.  It appears he's very poor, but he always seems to be able to sell something when one of his spoiled daughters makes a demand.  He was once wealthy, a self-made man.  His daughters' wishes were always granted, so they grew up to be selfish and thoughtless women, continuing to make financial demands of their poor father while relegating him to his poverty and shunning his company.  Both are married to men of social and financial standing.  Goriot worships his daughters.

A young medical student is also a boarder at the house.  He comes from a modest family in the country, but he soon abandons his studies for the more attractive social scene.  The problem is that he doesn't have any money.  He thinks that being a doctor will take too long and won't produce enough income.  He decides that he must edge his way into society, which he does with the assistance of a distant relative.  He plans to marry or pledge himself to a wealthy woman.

He has a choice between another boarding house resident, a young heiress whose father refuses to recognize her.  If her father makes her his heir, she'll be very wealthy.  She's a sweet, innocent pretty girl.  But he's attracted to one of Goriot's married daughters.  Goriot likes him and is delighted.  He does everything he can to encourage the relationship because he thinks the young man makes his daughter happy and that her husband doesn't.

My goodness.  I'm glad I don't have either social or unattainable financial goals.  I wanted to shake several of the characters in the novel, Goriot and his daughters, and others, too.  At the end, Goriot realizes what his daughters are, but he blames himself.  It's a sad ending.

I hope that life is calming down and that I will have time to continue reading Don Quixote.  It's a funny and surprising book, but a long one.  I haven't found a good audio of the whole book, parts 1 and 2, to listen to while reading.  That helped me through Moby Dick and I was hoping listening and reading would get me to the end of Don Quixote.  I'm not forcing myself to read it, I just need a nudge to keep focused.  Wish me luck!

Monday, January 16, 2017

So Far in January ....

I've been reading, but I haven't been writing about what I've read.  I've told you before, I'm lazy.  Every minute spent not reading is taking away from my reading time.  It's that simple.  But the whole point of a blog is to communicate.  I want to talk to you about books and I want you to talk to me.  A pet peeve:  bloggers who don't respond to comments.  That's one-way.  I'm not interested in a lecture.  I want a conversation.

I like archeology and I love mysteries.  Even in real life, they often go hand in hand.  I've bought all of the books in Margot Arnold's Dr. Penny Spring and Sir Toby Glendower mystery series.  They're an odd couple, to be sure, but they're great at solving mysteries.  This time, they're in Hawaii.  They're supposed to be there for a vacation and so Penny can mediate an argument between two professionals regarding the existence of Hawaiian 'little people', like leprechauns.  But the bodies start piling up, so Penny and Toby go to work.

Although I like the Miss Silver mysteries, she hardly makes an appearance in this one.  Two sisters inherit.  One is married to a very handsome man, one is single.  The single one, lost in the London fog, overhears someone hiring a man to commit murder for hire.  She also meets a handsome architect in the fog.  All three meet again at her sister's house, the one they're renting and that her husband wants desperately to buy  -  using his wife's in-trust inheritance.  The husband's ward, an obnoxious young girl, falls to her death.  There's something odd going on here and Miss Silver helps point the police in the right direction.

This one was a Christmas gift from my niece Amy.  She knows how much I love the inside story on musicians.  Howard Smith was a journalist who had a radio show, too.  He was the only journalist who broadcast live from Woodstock (I think I have that right).  He made hundreds of tapes of his interviews with people like Ravi Shankar, John and Yoko, Frank Zappa, Jane Fonda, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Norman Mailer, Jerry Garcia, Dick Cavett, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin (just days before she died), and many, many more.  The tapes were made between 1969 and 1972 and lay untouched in an attic for decades, until Smith's son found them.  I told Amy that the book brought back so many memories for me.  Ramparts and Avant-Garde magazines (I've always been ahead of the curve), the news on the radio of the Manson murders and the deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin, Vietnam anti-war marches.  It was an exciting and terrifying time to come of age.  Things were far more turbulent then than they are now, IMHO.

I think Australia is too alien for me.  I don't doubt that it's breathtaking and amazing, but I think it's so different from any landscapes I know.  When I got off the plane in Salt Lake City, Utah, I felt like I'd landed on Mars.  I feel the same way about Australia, even though I've never been there.  Napoleon Bonaparte is a police detective, part white, part Aborigine.  He's very good at what he does, so he's sent to the east coast of Australia to find out who killed a former Scotland Yard inspector.  He went out deep sea fishing and disappeared with the two men who owned and ran the boat.  Until his head came up in a trawler's net.  There were some incredibly boring (to me) parts, with pages and pages of descriptions of catching sport fish.  I thought I'd put down Swordfish Reef and accidentally picked up The Old Man and The Sea!  The mystery was fine, but I'll take my time before reading another in this series.

I've had Richard Adams' A Nature Diary for years.  I read Watership Down when it first came out in the 1970s and remember liking it.  In A Nature Diary, Adams identifies and lists the birds, insects, and plants that he sees while taking extensive walks with his dog, Tetter, on the Isle of Man, where he lived.  Adams just died this past December, at the age of 96.  According to Wikipedia, his wife died in 2016, too.  He's left most of the descriptive writing out of his Nature Diary.  It's mostly notes about the weather and what he sees while walking.  I'm envious of (or exhausted by) his walks of four to six miles.  I like the illustrations very much.  I've sent the book on to my friend Jenny who is a veterinarian, vegetarian (as all veterinarians should be), writer, and artist.  I think it'll be the perfect book for her.

Then, for some excitement.  I still haven't read the first Harry Hole book, although I have it on my Kindle.  This one, the second in the series, came up first, so I read it.  Harry is sent to Bangkok to discover who murdered the Norwegian ambassador, found stabbed in the back in a cheap motel, waiting for a prostitute.  But Harry's been sent just to wrap things up without unleashing a diplomatic scandal.  Of course, Harry can't do that.  He's got to get to the bottom of the corruption and evil.  And he does.  It's dark, and Harry may not make it out of the hole (get it? a play on this name? am I not a clever girl?) that he throws himself into after solving the murder(s).

Now I'm on to Old Goriot, as my copy calls Pere Goriot, The African Quest by Lyn Hamilton, and Mrs. Milburn's Diary.  A classic, another archeology mystery, and a WWII diary.

BTW, can anyone recommend a WWII AMERICAN war diary?  I've read several British ones and, undoubtedly, life during the war in Britain was a completely different experience from life in the United States.  But we were affected, too, and I'd be interested in the diary / diaries of ordinary people and their every days lives in that time period.  Anyone?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leave Me the Bleep Alone!

I don't know how you feel about it, but I'm sick to death of machines telling me what to do.  Alarms, warnings, alerts.  Enough already!

This is precipitated by our security system warning us of something, we didn't know what, on Sunday afternoon.  Because the system wasn't armed, it was a constant high-pitched noise.  The security panel said Check 16, which is the Glass Break alarm in the kitchen.  We had been in the kitchen and hadn't noticed anyone breaking in.  I called the security company and they directed me to reset the system.  Fine.

At about 3:30AM Monday, system armed for the night, the alarm went off.  The real one, the one that wakes the neighbors because we're under siege.  But we weren't.  I flew downstairs to the security panel and reset the system.  The security company called us that time to make sure we weren't being held captive in our home.   They said they'd send a technician out on Tuesday.  Nerves jangled, I tried, unsuccessfully, to go back to sleep.  What a fun way to start a Monday.

When they came on Tuesday, they said the sensor in the kitchen just needed batteries.  Well, why hadn't the panel said so?  We might have been able to manage that on our own.

I'm very sensitive to noise.  All noise.  There was one upside to 9/11:  there were no planes for a week.  I noticed that and I loved it.  Humming, buzzing, clanging, backup alarms, smoke detectors with their intermittent and random beeping when their batteries need to be changed.  Our car beeps when you lock it, although it often doesn't recognize me as someone authorized to unlock it with our keyless system.  I stand beside it like a supplicant, waiting for it to allow me in.

I've turned off the End of Cycle alert on my dryer, but I can't find where to do it on my washer.  My dryer beeps while I remove the clothes.  Door Open it says, yes, I know;  I opened the door and I'm standing right here.  Thanks for nothing.  My refrigerator beeps if the door's left ajar or if either the refrigerator or the freezer drops below a certain temperature.

To me, trying desperately to read or relax (I'm pretty much retired, I've put in my time and deserve it), this all sounds like someone snapping their fingers and yelling 'Hey, you, get out here and fold the clothes (change the batteries, close the door, etc.).  Who died and made you the boss?!

Do we really need all these cautions?  Aren't we grownups who can look after ourselves?  Do we need all this help to function today?  I'm ready to throw out anything that requires electricity or thinks it knows better than I do.  If I need a burglar alarm, I'll get a dog!  Just leave me the bleep alone!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Books / December Books Read

It's that time of year when many readers tally up the books they read during the year.  I don't keep detailed tallies: sex or nationality of author, fiction or non-fiction, etc.  You're welcome to keep spread sheets, I'd rather read.  I read 110 books last year, more than the two previous years.  Because I've been posting the books I've read each month, that's what you get in this post.

Death Under Sail  -  C. P. Snow

Airs Above the Ground  -  Mary Stewart

The Crime at the Noah's Ark  -  Molly Thynne

Tamarack County  -  William Kent Krueger

Maigret and the Headless Corpse  -  Georges Simenon

Murder in Academia  -  Christine Poulson

Windigo Island  -  William Kent Krueger

Turbo Twenty-three  -  Janet Evanovich

The New Adventures of Ellery Queen  -  Ellery Queen

You can see that I needed comfort reads, all mysteries of one sort or another.  I'm hoping 2017 will be a year of peace and quiet and good health so I can enjoy some books that require more attention.  I have to admit, though, that mysteries are my first love.  When I was a child, I wanted to learn to read so I could read Nancy Drew by myself.

I wish you all a happy reading year, with many interesting books and the time to read them.