Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guest Blog – My Life in France by Julia Child

The movie I enjoyed most this summer was Julie and Julia. I thought Meryl Streep was brilliant. I came away from the movie so interested in Julia Child that I wanted to know more. Of course, I knew who she was and I have seen her kitchen at the Smithsonian, but I had not known much about her personal life. When I saw My Life in France at a local bookstore I bought it and packed it in my bag to read on my trip to Turkey to visit the Blogger.

The book was co-authored by a great nephew of Child’s, Alex Prud’homme, and came out after she died. Child lived at a time when the only practical and economical way to communicate with family and friends was by the mail. Both she and her husband Paul wrote long letters that their family and friends were wise enough to save. So it is not surprising that Child was able to tell us what they had for dinner on a certain important occasion.

The book is delightful. I fell in love with Paul Child. The world should be populated with men like Paul. He was devoted to her and supported her efforts while having his own successful life and career.

This was not a fast read. It is biographical and is full of talk of food and wine and French phrases. I wondered if part of my enjoyment of the book was that I knew where rue Lepic was and have my own photograph of the restaurant Lapin Agile from our recent sojourn in Paris.

My French is not very good, so it is a good thing that usually Julia translated her phrases. But not always. She is polite enough to leave some of the French “swear words” in their original French. I don’t suppose I will ever cook any of her recipes that she made simple enough for an American housewife to cook, but I really appreciate what an exceptional woman she was. I was glad to get to know her a little better even though she is no longer with us to wish us Bon Appétit.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Guest Blog - A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

While visiting the Blogger in Turkey, I picked up A Nation of Immigrants in her office and took it back to her apartment to read. I was familiar with Profiles in Courage by the late president, but had not come across this small book. It was actually published in 1964 a year after President Kennedy’s death. His brother Robert wrote a forward for the book and had it published.

Kennedy emphasized the fact that each new wave of immigrants coming to the United States of America met with prejudice and rejection beginning as far back as Quakers and Catholics in the northern colonies. Whether the immigrants were Irish or Polish or Italian, the established inhabitants saw them as a threat. The newcomers were seen as a threat to jobs and to political balance. Does that sound familiar? Kennedy did not live long enough to see the cruelty shown towards incoming Vietnamese or the present day anger shown by many towards Hispanics or Middle Easterners.

The only group of people who were excluded from any immigration at all is the Chinese. The laborers were welcomed when they quietly came and endured abuse while building the railroads heading east from California. However, when the railroad was finished, the population descendent from Europeans expressed their fear of foreigners by enacting an exclusionary clause. The only group of people who have ever been completely prevented from immigrating to the US have been the Chinese.

Kennedy pointed out that in order to keep the majority of the population not only Western European but predominantly from the British Isles, quotas were established limiting the number of people coming into the country from other nations.

Unless you are a Native American/Indian, if you are an American you are descended from immigrants. I think that part of the success of our nation is based on its immigrants who came with dreams of improving their lives. Our forefathers or perhaps parents came here eager to make a better world for their families. For the most part they have succeeded. I hope that those of us who have benefited from our ancestors’ dreams will feel a little more compassion for the latest wave of immigrants.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guest Blog - Yankee Stranger by Elswyth Thane

Not long ago my husband and I stopped in Chancellorsville, Virginia to see a memorial to Stonewall Jackson. Jackson was mistakenly shot by someone on his own picket line. He lost an arm and developed pneumonia. He died about a week after the battle between the Confederate and Union forces at Chancellorsville - killed by friendly fire.
About twenty years ago, I read the entire seven book series of historical novels about a Williamsburg family written by Elswyth Thane. After visiting Chancellorsville, I got out an old copy of Yankee Stranger to read the story of a Yankee who fell in love with a Southern beauty on the eve of the Civil War. The recounting of the siege of Richmond is well written. Thane describes a city caught with little food and no drugs to deaden the pain of wounded Confederate soldiers.
I enjoy historical novels because it is such a painless way to gain a little knowledge of days gone by. This novel by Thane is my of the series about Williamsburg that she wrote. Reading this book a few weeks ago, I was surprised by some of the very politically incorrect references to slaves. I had forgotten all of the negative language used in the book when speaking of African Americans.
Yankee Stranger is a good romance and a good historical novel. It is well worth reading but you need to take into account the fact that it was published in 1944. Hopefully we have become more sensitive in the years since then, but I suspect we have a very long way to go.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Guest Blog – Deadly Décisions by Kathy Reichs

I have been traveling in the last few weeks, so that means that I have been sitting on airplanes as well as sitting in airports waiting for or between flights. Before reaching the Chicago O’Hare airport I had finished the book I was currently reading and picked Kathy Reichs’ Deadly Décisions out of my backpack to read on the rest of my journey. Fortunately Reichs is excellent reading for long trips. She had no trouble keeping my attention and helping the long hours to pass quickly.
Deadly Décisions is about war between opposing motorcycle gangs in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Tempe is in Montreal to try to sort out the parts of two bikers who were blown up by their own bomb. Shortly after her arrival, a nine year old girl is killed in the street, shot by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting. Determined to find the person responsible, Tempe joins the special police group investigating the bikers.
Along the way, she discovers that Ryan is on suspension from the police force because stolen property and drugs were found in his apartment. How can this be? This is a man she trusts.
Deadly Décisions is another of Reichs’ excellent procedural novels. However, I wonder if she is a bit naïve about some police procedures. In the story the police stake out an internment at a cemetery. They are on the watch for one gang planning to take revenge on the mourners. However, no one who is watching out for the marauding bikers is on a SWAT team or is even carrying a rifle. They are all armed with weapons that are only accurate at close range. Of course, if someone had a sniper’s rifle it would ruin part of her story. However, it simply felt all wrong to me to have a police force watching for violence in a cemetery at 10 in the morning without anyone ready to pick off a fast moving motorcyclist determined to kill people at the funeral.
I have recently spent a couple of months in the last few years in Montreal. I do not recall having at any time seeing anyone on a Harley. If I was a reader who had never traveled to Canada or Montreal, Reichs’ books might frighten me into never leaving home. Thank goodness I am already enchanted with Montreal and Quebec City and look forward to visiting them again soon.
Despite what seem to me some obvious flaws, I am a "Bones" fan. I look forward to reading more books and catching up with the series on TV.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guest Blog - Fables by Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel has for many years been one of the children’s authors I most enjoy. His series of Frog and Toad books are among my favorites. I was not familiar with this book of Fables written and illustrated by Lobel although he received the Caldecott award for it in 1981.

Of course the illustrations are delightful. Easily the most charming part of the book. However, a few of the fables with their one line moral written at the bottom of the page frequently hit me just right too. I was delighted with the illustration and the fable in which the elephant son points out to his father who is absorbed in his newspaper that his slippers are on fire. I liked the ostrich who was happy simply loving from afar. The hippo who ate too much at dinner reminded me of a favorite tale of Winnie the Pooh. The hippo cannot get out from behind the table at the restaurant because of his gluttony and Pooh becomes caught in Rabbit’s doorway after eating all of Rabbit’s honey.

Naturally I read the book all at one time, but I think this would be a fun book to read to a child one or two fables at a time. Of course, they would have to look at all of the great pictures from beginning to end the first time they saw the book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Blog - Kathy Reichs

This spring I read a Kathy Reichs’ procedural mystery for the first time. I enjoyed reading it and have read several since then. Reading her mysteries also led to me watching the Bones television series.

The first difference that you notice between the books and the series is that in Bones, Tempe Brennan is not a woman in her forties with a daughter in college and an ex-husband. There are lots of other differences. In fact the series is almost unrecognizable. Kathy Reichs says of the series that she thinks of it as Tempe when she was young. It is entertaining but don’t base your ideas about the novels upon the series.

Just a few weeks ago at the local library, I picked up Deja Dead, Reichs first novel. I was delighted that I was acquainted with most of the characters and enjoyed reading her award winning first mystery. When I began reading Death du Jour though, I ran into a personal stumbling block. When it was discovered that the twin babies’ hearts had been cut out of their chests, I reevaluated whether I wanted to keep on reading the book. In Reichs' novels there are often grotesque and unlikely reasons for the deaths of several people. In one book the reason for the killings turns out to be a rite involving cannibalism. Part of the way into Death du Jour, I thought, “if this is going to be a book about Satan worship, I don’t think I am going to read it.” Does the fact that I put the book aside tell you anything?

I haven’t given up on Reichs but I am going to approach her with caution. I feel that there are too many books and television programs that are looking for something new and unusual and reach for something shocking instead. I am quite happy with an average old mystery where the person who dies is the rich old uncle or the innocent person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something that condemned her to death.

In the meantime, although Bones is not a lot like the novels, I am still enjoying viewing the reruns.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover

Cammie Morgan, spy-in-training, is back in Ally Carter’s Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover. Along with her three best pals at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (i.e., spy school), Cammie must try to stop a potential kidnapping. This time, though, the intended victim appears to be one of their own.

Macey, one of Cammie’s bffs, is on the campaign trail with her father who is running to be the next vice president of the United States. Macey becomes a target for the media, as well as another nefarious group. Cammie must help her friend, deal with the sudden return of her Aunt Abby, and try to figure out Zach, spy-in-training and boy of her dreams—not a small feat for a high school junior.

Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover is as light and entertaining as the previous two entries in the series. What girl (and 30-ish woman) doesn’t fantasize about being a brilliant spy? And what girl (and 30-ish woman) isn’t utterly confused by all male behavior?

Of course, Cammie and her gal pals still frustrate me with their sometimes lack of spy-itude. For being so brilliant and so well trained, they sure make some dumb moves and get caught off guard on a few-too-many occasions. But I will forgive them because they are high school juniors.

Carter clearly sets up the next book in the series, and I will willingly join Cammie for another adventure.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Holocaust by Bullets

In fall 2007, while living in Paris, my mother and I visited the Mémorial de la Shoah. The Jewish Holocaust museum was hosting a temporary exhibit called “The Holocaust by Bullets.” The exhibit featured a French Catholic priest’s project to collect the memories of “witnesses” to the massacres in Ukraine. The eyewitnesses, who must have been children at the time, are now extremely old, and Father Patrick Desbois is racing against time to record their accounts.

The exhibit had an overwhelming amount of information to process, and I struggled—and still struggle—to reconcile the country I love with such unthinkable brutality.

Last week, I happened upon Father Desbois’s memoir: The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews. He details his experiences recording the witnesses’ testimonies all across Ukraine. He talks about his grandfather’s own internment during WWII, his research team, and the process that team uses to record the testimonies.

Father Desbois’s story is interesting, but I was most intrigued in the witnesses’ accounts. I felt impatient reading about his life when what I really wanted to read was more transcripts. Despite attending the exhibit, despite reading countless memoirs and biographies about Holocaust victims, I continue to be surprised by the depths of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Father Desbois interviews one woman who as a child was “requisitioned” by the German army to walk across corpses in mass graves. Multiple eyewitnesses recall how the graves moved for three days with the wounded buried inside.

Holocaust by Bullets is not an easy read, but Father Desbois’s project is vital as very few eyewitnesses to the Jewish Holocaust remain.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’d heard that Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a must-read for the summer, so I jumped into the long library queue. Once I actually got my hands on a copy, I had no idea what to expect.

Guernsey is written in epistolary form—not my favorite literary devise. Most of the correspondence involves Juliet Ashton. A successful wartime (WWII) columnist, Juliet unexpectedly becomes involved with the titular Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the organization, Juliet exchanges letters with members of the society.

Through these letters, Juliet discovers more about the society, the German occupation of the island, and the fate of many inhabitants. Meanwhile, she also corresponds with a girlhood friend, her publisher, and a would-be suitor.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter—German occupation, prison camps, wartime casualties—the book has a light tone. It is a fast, entertaining, and easy read. Although Juliet is the main character, I—like Juliet—was more interested in the fate of one of the island’s inhabitants, Elizabeth. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to read a straight story about Elizabeth than Juliet’s letters. On the other hand, my interest in Elizabeth shows Shaffer succeeds in many respects.

Although far from a literary masterpiece, Guernsey is a book group favorite, and I can see why. It is an effortless read but also fodder for much discussion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guest Blog - Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

If I had not recently read Archer’s book A Prisoner of Birth, I probably never would have picked up Paths of Glory. When I read the jacket teaser, I was hooked. I am not at all familiar with mountain climbing. In fact I have felt mystified when I have heard news that another mountain climber has died on his way up or down a mountain. Why put your life at risk for something that seems of no real merit.

Of course, I had heard of Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first man to stand on the top of Mount Everest, but I had never heard of George Mallory. I soon began to learn more.

Archer started doing the research and writing of Paths of Glory while he was in prison. As he said, he didn’t have much standing in the way of reading all day long. After doing extensive research, he wrote a fictionalized version of Mallory’s life.

I will not spoil it for you by telling you that Mallory might have reached the top of Everest in 1924 and died during that attempt. It is a matter of record that he was last seen only about 600 feet below the summit. Mallory and his climbing companion, Andrew Irvine, never returned from their effort to "stand on the top of the world." In 1999 a search party found Mallory’s frozen body. The label on the back of his shirt clearly said, “George Mallory.”

I spent a lot of time reading the book wondering what was fact and what was Archer’s imagination. The book is engaging and easy to read, but I wondered if Mallory really was arrested while climbing the Eiffel Tower one night. After reading odds and ends on the internet about Mallory, there seems to be no doubt that he was a charming man who had a gift for climbing, a burning desire to "conquer" Everest, and an extremely supportive wife.

You can’t go wrong reading this novel/biography. It took me longer than I expected to read it simply because I had to stop and look up information on the internet, including some interviews with Archer. Archer may be of questionable character in real life but he certainly knows how to tell a story. My one disappointment was that Archer did not include a bibliography. I would have enjoyed being able to look at some of his sources.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Censoring an Iranian Love Story

The premise of the Shahriar Mandanipour’s novel Censoring an Iranian Love Story is intriguing. The narrator is an Iranian author, and the book alternates between the narrator’s thoughts, the story he is writing, and the story he wishes he could write. Everything the narrator thinks and writes is influenced by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which must approve (and will censor) the novel before it can be released for publication.

The narrator’s protagonists are Dara and Sara. Dara is a former political prisoner. Sara is a university student. They develop their relationship over banned books and try to navigate a romance under the restrictions placed by the Ministry.

As it progresses, the novel deconstructs. The line between the narrator and the story he’s writing, or wishes he was writing, blurs. Considering the restrictions Mandanipour, himself, is under as an Iranian writer, the novel is quite remarkable.

After living in eastern Turkey for a year, I was fascinated by the novel and often panicked by the possibilities. I struggle to thrive in a conservative Turkish society. I can’t even imagine life under the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and I hope I am never forced to find out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dark Summer

I’ve been reading Iris Johansen’s thrillers for years. I find, though, that I am liking her books less and less as time goes on. I don’t know if my taste in reading has matured or if Johansen’s writing has deteriorated.

In Dark Summer, Devon Brady, a veterinarian, is thrown into turmoil when she meets Jude Morrock and his dog, Ned. Devon reluctantly joins forces with Morrock in order to protect Ned from danger.

Ned is not the only dog in the novel. In fact, the book is full of animals. I can admit that I am not a huge animal lover, but I am certainly not an animal hater, either. I enjoy my sister’s dog/child. And I love my pet hamster, Handsome. However, I almost quit reading the book after the first few chapters simply because there was just too much animal love, adoration, and focus.

Like any good thriller, Dark Summer has action, violence, and sex. It follows the prescribed formula I am used to, but for some reason, the story left me cold. Maybe, though, the book isn’t at fault but a too-picky reader.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sworn to Silence

I first read about Linda Castillo’s novel Sworn to Silence in USA Today. According to the review: “Lovers of suspense will find no better novel to read this summer . . . a teeth-chattering debut thriller.” How could I resist reading it?

Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in small Painters Mill, Ohio. When Kate was a 14-year-old Amish girl, a serial killer terrorized the town. Now, sixteen years later, the killer appears to have returned, and Kate is called on to solve the crime.

I’ve never been a hardcore thriller fan (Iris Johansen and Catherine Coulter are as far as I go), so I wasn’t prepared for the graphic details of the murders. If you are a fan of the cozy mystery, this may not be the book for you.

The story alternates between a first-person narrative (Kate’s perspective) and third-person. I’ve seen this tactic employed to show the killer’s perspective, but that is not the case in this novel. As such, the shift seems unnecessary and distracting. Nevertheless, the story is engrossing and a definite pageturner.

Kate isn’t my ideal heroine. For a chief of police, she seems weak and not always intelligent. Perhaps she is meant to be more human, but I like my popular fiction females strong, smart, and superhuman.

Sworn to Silence is a fun read. But if you are looking for anything beyond the typical popular thriller, you are in for a disappointment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guest Blog - The Diary by Eileen Goudge

I was pleasantly surprised by this little novel by Eileen Goudge. Once in awhile I break away from mysteries and read something romantic. The blurb on the jacket of The Diary caught me. Two sisters, Emily and Sarah, find an old diary belonging to their mother in the attic. All of their lives they have heard about how their father, Bob, was the only man that their mother loved. As they begin to read her diary from 1952, they discover that she had a passionate romance with a man named AJ. Who is this mysterious man? And why did she marry Bob instead?
When I picked up the book and started reading I thought, “Oh no. Do I want to read this? Is this going to be another The Bridges of Madison County?” I never could believe Robert James Waller’s assumption that children would be touched deeply and feel sympathetic when they discovered that their dead mother had an affair years ago and only stayed with their family out of a sense of duty.
The Diary did not fall into the unbelievable pattern of Bridges. It has a life and story of its own. I will not ruin the ending for you. I will simply say that this is a romance that was a delightful break from my usual who-done-it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Newbery Award-winning The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was on the top of my reading list once I returned to the land of libraries (or rather, English-language libraries). I haven’t always been impressed with past Newbery winners, and Graveyard left me a little bit disappointed.

The book begins with a murder (actually, three murders). Although the murders’ description is not graphic, I found the deaths disturbing, and I am an adult reader. I can’t help but wonder what affect such details would have on a young mind.

One person, a child, escapes the murders by wandering into a graveyard. The child, Bod, grows up in the cemetery with other-worldly companions as his guides. The murderer, though, never forgets that Bod was the one who got away.

The murder mystery is intriguing, and the book begins and ends with this element. Yet, the middle of the book wavers from the mystery. Instead, the story meanders through anecdotes about Bod’s childhood and the graveyard inhabitants’ lives. Although some of these tales are charming, and they later play a roll in the novel, I felt frustrated at the book’s apparent lack of focus.

The Graveyard Book is well written and certainly creative. It is a fine book, worthy of reading, but I am just not convinced, in terms of organization and plot structure, that it was the best children’s book of the year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Guest Blog - Plum Lovin’ by Janet Evanovich

Evanovich is another author I had never read before. My sister has been encouraging me to try her novels for several years. She has qualified the recommendation by saying that it is not an author she would recommend to all of her friends. The books contain both language and sex.

At Clics I found several of her books and picked up the one that indicated that it was not necessarily part of the series. Plum Lovin’ falls “between-the-numbers.”

In this tale, Stephanie Plum can claim the woman who has jumped bail, if she will do some “relationship” work first. She sets off to bring some couples together before Valentine’s Day. Along the way, she meets some good guys and some bad guys. Overall it is a light hearted tale with lots of laughs. And yes, some bad language and lots of references to sex.

When I tackle one of the ‘numbered’ novels, I’ll let you know if it is funny or not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guest Blog - A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

While browsing through the new novels at Clics, my husband asked me if I had ever read anything by Jeffrey Archer. I had not. Archer is not only a novelist but has spent time in both the British government and the British penal system. I checked out the two novels on the shelf written by him and brought A Prisoner of Birth home to read. When I started reading, it was difficult to put it down to attend to other responsibilities in my life. Fortunately, I am on vacation so there are not too many of them.

In the novel, the protagonist Danny Cartwright thinks about Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, but once sentenced to 22 years of imprisonment for killing his best friend Bernie, he sees no way that he will ever be able to escape the high security prison where he is incarcerated. Fate has other plans for him, however.

The novel has quite a few court scenes. I thought that I would be bored and have to slog my way through those pages. I was surprised to find that I found Danny’s moments in court interesting. Of course, the story is totally implausible but it did not make it any less enjoyable.

England remains very much a society with clear class lines. Here in the US the lines are a little more blurred. But the reality is that most of us are in fact, prisoners of birth. Where we are born and who our parents are still make a huge difference to most of us on the planet. Often I forget how fortunate I am to have been born in North America to a good family.

Prisoner is not a conventional who-done-it, but I enjoyed it and am looking forward to exploring more Archer in the future.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran

I promised my friends (and boyfriend) in Turkey that I would read the Koran this summer. They are very concerned about the fate of their Christian friend’s soul. I appreciate their concern, so I agreed to study about Islam to alleviate some of their fears.

My first step, of course, was to buy an English translation of the Koran. I realized immediately, though, that I was entering into complex and confusing ground. My next step, then, was to put the Koran down and read, instead, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Koran.

This was my first foray into The Complete Idiot’s world. The book is clearly organized and easy to read. However, I never felt as if I was actually an idiot or that the book was written for a child or an adult with below-average intelligence. Instead, it has an easy-to-follow layout and stays with the basics.

I was expecting an explanation of the Koran itself, but the guide provides background information on the prophet Muhammad, the origins of the religion, and even addresses modern Islam. Although it makes many references to the Koran, most of the content deals with issues outside the book.

I believe I am approaching the Koran with an open mind. I live in an Islamic country. All of my friends there are Muslim. My boyfriend is a believer. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated by The Complete Idiot’s Guide. Rather than provide a subjective discussion of the Koran, the guide almost feels like a missionary tract—or something produced by a PR firm.

Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar, the author, is clearly concerned with Islam’s bad rap in Western countries, and justifiably so. I know from firsthand experience that much of what I hear about Islam in the Western media and popular culture is absolutely false, and Sarwar does his best to reverse and explain these misconceptions.

Yet, he paints an almost too rosy picture of the religion. No culture is perfect. I also know from firsthand experience that the culture (though not specifically the religion) can be deeply flawed (the same, of course, can be said of most religious cultures). I hoped for a more balanced view of the religion and culture. I wanted to know the good and the bad. I turned to the guide to learn the basics of the Koran and not to be proselyted to.

In the end, Sarwar invites the reader to pick up the Koran and decide for herself if it is really the word of God. I should have just done that in the first place instead of relying on The Complete Idiot’s Guide for background information.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Precious Ramotswe is back in Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. This time, she is investigating a flagging football (soccer) team and facing the possible demise of her little white van. Meanwhile, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, has a rival for her fiancé’s affection.

Tea Time is a fine addition to the series. Like the other novels, it has a gentle, relaxing, and rhythmic tone and pattern to it. Smith unravels the tale at a leisurely pace that never seems to drag and rarely fails to entertain. However, the conclusion feels rushed. Within a few pages, most questions and problems are resolved. Such haste is unnecessary and inconsistent with the previous 200 pages. The series is enchanting, and most readers would be willing to invest time in an extra 20 pages.

In another twist, at one point in the novel, Smith hints at darker possibilities for the future. This foreshadowing leads me to wonder if the next novel may have a shift in tone. I am not sure whether I am for such a move or not. The reason I like the series so much is because it is light and easy, yet still realistic-ish. I see enough tragedy in my actual life—I have no need for it in my pleasure reading. For now, though, Tea Time is exactly what I needed for my summer reading.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guest Blog - Ghost at Work by Carolyn Hart

I have enjoyed Carolyn Hart’s mysteries for years. I really like her character Henry O who is a retired newsperson. Henry O is a seasoned report who has worked all around the world. Her other leading lady is Annie Darling from the Death on Demand series. I am not a big fan although I have read a few of them. This series of books predates the television series on Hallmark called Mystery Woman about a book store owner who can’t resist getting involved with local homicides. I find Annie just a little irritating. It is really hard to justify her sticking her nose into every murder on the island. The population must be getting small.

Ghost at Work is a whole other approach to solving mysteries. Bailey Ruth is a feisty red head who has been dead for many years. She is sent on an assignment back to her home town to aid a woman who is likely to be accused of murder. A body is about to be discovered in the back porch of the rectory. There’s a little of a feeling that she wrote this one over Christmas after watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but it is entertaining. The characters are interesting and well described. I truly did not anticipate the solution to this murder. . . I have decided that my detecting skills are at an all time low. However, I like a mystery that tempts me to look at the final chapter, but I resisted.

It is unclear in which decade Bailey Ruth died. Possibly the sixties. There is no doubt that she is visiting earth in the 21st century. She is puzzled by cell phones and computers. However, I am not sure if Hart has looked at what anyone is wearing in the last few decades. The ghost has the ability to imagine what she is wearing and it is so. One of her outfits is a purple velour jacket and pants. Are women over 80 still wearing those? Is it possible to buy a set like that? Another anachronism is that the mayor of Adelaide is wearing a beehive hairdo. Maybe Hart needs to get out more.

The book ends with the feeling that there are more Bailey Ruth stories in the making. And sure enough Merry, Merry Ghost is due out on October 27, 2009.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Death of a Witch

I've had a very lazy reading year (might have something to do with teaching 28 university class hours), but now I'm on summer vacation, I'm back in the U.S., and I have nothing more pressing to do than read.

What was my first choice? An old favorite and friend: Hamish Macbeth. M.C. Beaton's latest, Death of a Witch, did not disappoint. Hamish is as charming as ever as he tracks a serial killer in Lochdubh, Scotland.

Catriona Beldame moves to Lochdubh while Hamish is on holiday in Spain and immediately trouble follows. The village men are spotted visiting the “witch,” and not-too-surprisingly, murder results—in fact, multiple murders.

Despite chronically a killing spree, Death of a Witch is a light and enjoyable read. Hamish is brilliant, and his love life is as tangled as ever. Marion Chesney (aka M.C. Beaton) is now in her 70s, and this is the 25th book in her series. I just hope Hamish finds some sort of romantic happiness before it is too late.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Shack--The Popular Book That Lacks

The Shack, by William Paul Young, has earned itself incredible and unexplicable media exposure. Young wrote the book for his children to explain his ideas about God. Young's friends published the book by creating a publishing company after legitamate publishers rejected the work. I know why they rejected the work.

The book has a compelling story that sucks you in and then leaves you floating in a hundred pages of philosophy about God. The compelling story involves a tragedy around Mack's youngest daughter. Mack, turning from God and carrying great sorrow, ends up spending a weekend with the Trinity as he learns to deal with his pain.

The Trinity are portrayed as three beings (who can change appearance) but are somehow linked into one. For example, Mack meets God as a huge, African-American woman with a sense of humor and a love of coooking and a great love for her "boy" Jesus. Mack then spends the weekend learning how God's plan is about love and forgiveness and not about institutions (like religion or commandments).

Youngs's philosophy is often contrary to my own, but that's not what irks me about this book. What irks me is the poor writing, the skimming over of important healing processes, and the complete boredom I found trying to slog through the weekend of philosophy. I'm glad to know what's behind all of the hype, but I really had to force myself to finish this book.

On the positive side, I have to give Young credit for a few things. His message of tolerance and love and forgiveness is positive. His message of a personal relationship with God and Jesus is also wonderful. And if Young had to choose between simply writing his opinion about God vs. encompassing it in a story, I give him credit for choosing a story.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Guest Blog - Sorrow on Sunday by Ann Purser

For as long as I can remember Canadians have been paying quite a bit more for books than Americans have. If you look at the back of any paperback you will see what I mean. They are pre-priced and often the Canadian price is about three dollars more than the US one. During the past six months, the US dollar has lost its value internationally. At one point the Canadian dollar was on a par with the American dollar. When this happened, I asked the encyclopedia to whom I am married if this was affecting the cost of books in Canada at all. He told me that distributors were complaining about the price of books in Canada. If the dollar was on a par why should Canadians pay more for books?

During our recent stay the Canadian dollar was not par with the American but it was worth 90 American cents for a few days. Because of all of this, I was not totally surprised when I bought a paperback in Montreal that cost only C$7.50 when the American price was $6.99. The truth is I was delighted. I have always felt that publishers were really penalizing their Canadian audience.

The book I bought at the new lower pricing was Sorrow on Sunday by Ann Purser. It has been a long time since I have read one of her books. Of course it is a mystery. It is set in a small town in England and the heroine is a bright woman who is probably around forty. Purser started the series with Murder on Monday in which Lois Meade sets up her own business called New Brooms. She is an efficient and thorough house cleaner and soon discovers that she is just as good as a business woman. Because her job takes her in and out of local homes, the local police detective Hunter Cowgill decides that it is to his advantage to have Lois work with him on a few of his cases.

By Sorrow on Sunday Lois is a well established undercover agent for the police. However, she soon discovers that her work with Cowgill is no longer a secret when she becomes the target of a local crime syndicate. This mystery moves along at a good pace. It is uncomplicated and an easy and entertaining novel. I cannot decide whether I like Lois or not. She probably would have me totally intimidated if she and I were to meet. I am neither sassy nor outspoken.

Since Purser has made it all of the way through the week, her book that came out last November has a new theme, Warning at One. I’ll have to see if I can find it at my local library now that I am on my way back home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guest Blog – The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

The end of the month is drawing near and soon I will be traveling again. Away from Montreal and the McGill library. Therefore I have been trying to read all of the Louise Penny books that I can before leaving. I just finished The Cruelest Month and liked it more than her other mysteries.

Penny’s characters are vivid and believable. They remind me of people that I know. Penny though gives us a brief look at their thoughts and secrets. In the third Three Pines mystery, Clara Morrow still is going unrecognized for her art. Gamache is still being attacked personally from within the Sûreté. This book will bring to close some of the problems that he faces from his own comrades in the police force. Jealousy and revenge are major themes throughout the book. Jealousy of other people’s success and of others’ personal peace and contentment with life.

In life it is often difficult for each of us to find joy in other people’s accomplishment and success. In many ways, I think that is a mark of true friendship. It is not so difficult to commiserate with a friend over the struggles and challenges of life. Too often we discover within ourselves the reluctance to find joy in someone else’s joy or abundance in her life.

Basically that is what this story is about: the husband who is afraid that his wife is more talented than he is, the friend who can’t understand how his life long friend could find such happiness and contentment, the friend who thinks that other people like someone better than themselves. All people that you and I know. Thank goodness Penny manages to have good triumph over evil by the conclusion of her stories. I never have liked those stories where the protagonist dies on the last page.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Guest Blog – Dead Cold by Louise Penny

I have read only two mysteries written by Penny, but already I am attached to her detective, Armand Gamache. In fact at the end of Dead Cold when I discovered that someone in the Sûreté is out to get Garmache, I was really alarmed and concerned for him. My concern was connected to the fact that it was apparent that this antagonism towards Gamache would continue into the next novel and perhaps the one after that.

Not too surprisingly Dead Cold takes place in the small village of Three Pines at Christmas. The cold atmosphere was so vivid that I decided that I never want to be in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in the winter. Well, let’s make that all of Quebec. I did spend a few days in Quebec City in November several years ago and for the first time in years bought a hat to try to protect my head and ears from the biting cold wind. I haven’t worn the hat again. There has not been a moment since then when I have been exposed to cold as bitter as on that snowless winter day in Quebec City.

In the novel, a woman is electrocuted while sitting by a frozen lake watching a curling match. The first mystery in the story was ‘how could this have happened?’ Despite the fact that it is a murder mystery, Penny had me laughing out loud while reading. I had to struggle to resist boring my husband with another really funny incident in the novel just as the police officer had to fight the urge to blow on his hands to warm them while sitting inside the very cold house of Ruth Zardo.

Dead Cold was amusing and at the same time sad. Not all of the characters I grew fond of while reading made it to the end of the novel. I hope that Louise Penny finds readership south of the border. She is well worth reading. I am grateful to a friend in the United States who suggested that I look for her books.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Guest Blog - Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs

I learned about Kathy Reichs last summer while I was staying in Toronto and reading crime mysteries written by Canadian authors. I mistakenly thought that Reichs was one since she works out of Montreal as well as North Carolina. However, she is actually a native of Chicago and received her Ph.D. at Northwestern. However, her first book Déjà Dead won the Ellis Award for Best First Novel in 1997. The television series Bones is based on her novels. Although I have not actually watched one of the episodes, after reading Grave Secrets I have an incentive.

Grave Secrets is not centered around deaths in either Montreal or Raleigh. The main character and voice in Reichs' mysteries is Temperance Brennan who like Reichs is a forensic anthropologist. The story begins in Guatemala where Tempe is volunteering her time to help identify the remains of Mayan people who were killed during the civil war that lasted from 1962 to 1996. The remains of twenty-three women and children have been lying at the bottom of a well since 1982. Tempe and her team are there to retrieve the bones and identify them so that they can be properly buried by their families.

The mystery is intriguing and the story moves quickly. It never gets bogged down anywhere, but if you have too much imagination, the retrieval of a decomposed body from a septic tank may be too graphic. Since I am in Montreal at the moment, I was pleased that Brennan returns to Montreal for a part of the novel. It was fun to be able to recognize where her neighborhood is located and where the holding cells are.

I thoroughly enjoyed Reichs and am looking forward to reading other mysteries written by her. However, there was one aspect of the story that nagged at me. Throughout the book, Brennan asks herself again and again and again, “Will the killing never end?” She is so tired of death. I wanted very much to yell at her, “Get a grip, woman! If you are tired of dead bodies, change your profession!” I’ll let you know if in Reichs' later novels, Brennan is less likely to bemoan the fact that she is surrounded by dead bodies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Guest Blog – Dragon Bones by Lisa See

Two years ago I read Flower Net, the first mystery by Lisa See. The protagonists are David Stark, an American attorney from San Francisco, and Liu Hulan, a top investigator in China’s security force. Liu is from a prominent family in Beijing but was actually educated in the United States. She and Stark first met when they were attorneys in the same firm in San Francisco.

In Dragon Bones the two are married and mourning the lose of their daughter who died from meningitis when she was three years old. Liu is dealing with the lose by isolating herself and seldom interacting with Stark. Liu’s old mentor Zai sends the two of them off to investigate the death of an American archeologist on the Yangzi River close to the Three Gorges. A huge dam is under construction that will flood the Three Gorges and displace millions of peasants. Archeologists are frantically digging and searching for artifacts before the dam is completed and the area is flooded permanently.

Dragon Bones was published in 2003 before the dam was completed. Needless to say one of my first breaks in reading was to look at the Three Gorges dam on the Internet. It was completed in part in 2006 but is not scheduled to be fully operational until 2011 . The dam was created to supply China with energy that is so badly needed as the country becomes an industrial nation.

The book is filled with discussions about Chinese history and folklore. If you are interested in the ancient history and folk tales of China, the book is filled with information. If you are a casual mystery reader like myself, you will need to be patient and determined to make it through the information. I have realized that I have only a very basic knowledge of the nation and know even less about China’s creation stories.

Overall I am glad that I read the book. I certainly have learned a lot more about China and its ancient civilizations. Part of the book involves the dead archeologist’s interest in the development of written language. I found this interesting since I was aware that all of the Asian languages with characters owe their roots to China. Japan although it has an ancient history had no written language until it started having commerce with China.

If you are looking for a good book about the early Chinese immigrants to the United States, I highly recommend See's book On Gold Mountain. I found the early history of See's ascendants fascinating. I came away from reading it with a much greater respect for those determined and hard working men who came to a hostile environment to help better the lives of their families in China.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Guest Blog – Still Life by Louise Penny

Canadian author Louise Penny is relatively new on the mystery writing scene. Her first book, Still Life published in 2005, won the New Blood Dagger in Britain and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel. Since then she has received more awards for her writing. Her novel, The Cruelest Month, won the Agatha Award..

It was by chance that I picked her first novel off the bookshelves at McGill’s library. It was a good introduction to her inspector, Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec and the small town of Three Pines.

Penny lives in a small town south of Montreal close to the US border. That is the setting of Three Pines. Still Life is a very comfortable cozy mystery and I enjoyed it very much. I decided early on who the murder was and was surprised when I discovered that I was wrong in the last few pages. Of course, if I had been thinking while I was reading, I would have seen the clues leading to the revelation of the killer. I am not sure whether Penny is available in the US. Probably not at my local library. I might have to try to read more of her novels in the next few weeks before I head back to the United States. I liked her inspector and I liked her character Clara Morrow in this first novel. When I read about Penny on the Internet I was delight to find that both Gamache and Clara appear in later books. Another good reason to read more Penny.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest Blog - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

If you have not had a chance to watch the new HBO television shows from Alexander McCall Smith's series of books about Precious Ramotswe and her friends, I hope you will put it on your list of DVDs to rent when they come out. Both my husband and I have enjoyed watching the unfolding tale of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. We look forward to Sunday night and are grateful that we can watch missed episodes on HBO On Demand.

This is such a great adaptation of the books. And if you have not discovered the books, I highly recommend that you read them. They are more than good mysteries, they are a gentle and frequently amusing look at the strengths and failings of man/womankind. Happy reading and watching!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Guest Blog – Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

Nothing to Lose was released in the paperback edition this spring. Child’s novels are usually around 400 pages long. This one had another one hundred. And I got bogged down in the middle. Probably largely motivated by the fact that my reading materials were limited, I slogged on.

The villain in this story is a man who owns the metal recycling plant in a small town called Despair in Colorado. Thurman not only owns the only place of employment but he owns his employees' homes as well. On top of that he is the local preacher at the only church in town. Thurman is a believer in the rapture and in Armageddon. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that he is a fanatic.

I am not exactly sure why I enjoyed Tripwire (see an earlier blog) so much and struggled through Nothing to Lose. Perhaps it was because in Tripwire, Child allows us to see what the antagonist is doing while Reacher is slowly gathering facts and information. I had a sense of two forces building and getting ready to collide at the end of the novel.

Nothing to Lose is well constructed but there was just something that rubbed against me. Perhaps it is the fact that although I don’t believe in ‘the rapture,’ I do believe in respecting other people’s religious beliefs. I am aware that there are extremists among all followers of religious or philosophical thought, but the small town in the middle of nowhere that was a fortress against the world did not sit well with me. I have never been a fan of the story where the stranger walks into a small town and discovers that the whole town is evil and out to get him. Nothing to Lose just didn’t work for me.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Guest Blog – A Murder of Quality by John le Carré

When I was a teenager, I saw The Spy Who Came in From the Cold with Richard Burton. I have not seen it since but I still remember Burton’s performance and the chilling ending. The book itself established le Carré as an author. Since then I have seen George Smiley played by Sir Alec Guinness on Masterpiece Theatre. He is quiet and unobtrusive with a very sharp mind. But I have never read any of le Carré’s books until now.

With small tight type, A Murder of Quality is only 150 pages long. When I picked the book up, I hoped that it would be a satisfying read. It didn’t disappoint me. It had a few conversations between its characters that left me feeling as if I was an uneducated participant on the sidelines. However, I am used to that from reading authors such as Dorothy Sayers. British authors of a certain period seem to have this desire to show off their education by quoting Latin or spouting intellectual piffle. 'Piffle,' by the way, is a good Lord Peter Wimsey word if I remember correctly.

I found the book interesting largely because the victim of the book is describe by various acquaintances in very different terms. Some say she was gauche, some say she was kind and went out of her way to help others. It isn’t until the end of the book that the reader discovers what Stella was really like. The discovery changes one’s perspective completely.

I don’t think that John le Carré is reading for everyone. Younger readers might find him stuffy and dismiss him. However, this is only his second novel. I am interested in reading something more recent. In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed A Murder of Quality. It was certainly a very nice and sophisticated break from reading Lee Child.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Guest Blog – Eyes of a Stranger by Rachel Ann Nunes

I have a friend who seems to read only fiction written by authors who are LDS. She reads mysteries. Obviously there is a market out there and my friend and co-worker helps support it. She frequently gives me books for my birthday or eagerly lends one to me saying, “This is so good. You’ll love it.” Being a loyal friend, I reluctantly accept her offerings. One of the more recent loans was Eyes of a Stranger.

Some of the authors I have read in this niche of books, are not much more skilled than a senior in high school. Rachel Ann Nunes is better than that. Her mystery takes place in Portland, Oregon and is centered around the destruction of the Hawthorne Bridge. It has never actually collapsed in "real life." It did burn down in 1902 and was replaced by the current lift bridge. The novel has romance and mystery. And a bit of a twist at the end.

I don’t think I am going to give up reading mass market paperbacks, but it was a pleasant excursion into a gentler area of fiction. By the way, this book has no references to religion. Possibly Nunes was hoping to bring in a wider readership.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Guest Blog – Tripwire by Lee Child

I keep telling myself that I am going to start reading best sellers, classics or something intellectually stimulating. So far it hasn’t happened. When I was looking for something to read on a cross country flight, I bought a Lee Child mystery/thriller. It took no time at all for me to become engrossed in Tripwire. In fact, I wanted life to quit getting in the way of reading.

Tripwire is a story that has its roots in the Vietnam conflict. Therefore the villain is from my generation. Every time that I read a Lee Child I feel certain that the next book cannot possibly have a bad guy worse than the one in the novel I am reading. Somehow though they always manage to horrify me with their evil deeds. Hobie in Tripwire is certainly no exception. He has a scarred face from severe burns and has lost his right hand. In place of the hand he has a hook that has a razor capability. He uses the hook to intimidate and injure people who get in his way.

It takes the entire novel for Reacher to come face to face with this evil man. And the ending is surprising. I will tell you that Reacher meets the love of his life and I am curious to know how and why he goes back to wandering the country leaving her behind. I guess I will have to check out the next book in the series, Running Blind.

Child is enthralling but he does have his flaws. Of course, this is not great literature, but that doesn’t bother me. This time he totally gets it wrong by saying that the guys going to Vietnam all wanted to be Frank Sinatra. I wonder how he got his timeline and wars so mixed up. Sinatra was the idol during WW II. Who do you suppose guys wanted to be in the late sixties? I have no idea. Certainly in Good Morning, Vietnam no Sinatra recordings were played.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Guest Blog - Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker

I just finished my second book about Sunny Randall. This one was slower going for me. I actually did the laundry and loaded the dishwasher instead of throwing all responsibility aside to read the book.

In Shrink Rap, Sunny Randall is hired as an escort and bodyguard for a woman novelist who is being stalked by her ex-husband. Her ex turns out to be a psychiatrist who became her lover while she was still his patient. Sunny decides that she is going undercover to learn more about the stalker, John Melville, and ends up putting herself in peril in order to trap or entrap the "shrink."

There is not a lot of sexual detail. Parker stays true to his past form. However, as Sunny places herself in a situation where she may be "gang" rapped by men in monogrammed shirts and suits, I felt really uncomfortable. Parker was able to convey the concern that Sunny and her close friends feel as she contemplates putting herself at risk. But being a cynic, I could not help but wonder if there were men who read the end of the book and felt excited about the dramatic scene while I was feeling panicky despite knowing it was "only" a book. Fortunately, I will never know. I would hope that the male portion of the population felt sympathy for the victims. Overall there was just a little too much mental illness or just plain weirdness in this novel for my liking.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Guest Blog- Perish Twice by Robert B. Parker

I had no trouble finding some of Parker's novels about Sunny Randall. And no trouble getting lost in the pages and finishing the book in a very short time. In this story, Sunny's sister comes to her to have her shadow her husband to find out if he is cheating on her. Sunny's best friend is bored with her marriage and having an affair. Sunny herself is recently divorced but keeps on seeing her ex-husband Richie. A powerful women's rights advocat comes to Sunny because she is being stalked by a man who talks about "slapping bitches." Soon someone turns up dead.

I am not sure that Sunny sounds very different from Jesse Stone. I am not totally sure that she really has a woman's voice, but she is enjoyable and the book was absorbing. This particular book had just about every type of sexual relationship that women have except a healthy marriage. The relationships ran the gamut from prostitution to unhappy marriage and lesbian commitment.

Like the Jesse Stone books there is just a sprinkling of rough language and sexual relationships are conducted off the page. I like both of these factors. In Perish Twice, Sunny ably solves the mystery. And I am ready to try another book featuring this feisty female detective.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Guest Blog - Die Trying

I really did not plan to stay awake half the night finishing Lee Child’s Die Trying. If my husband was not out of town, I am sure I would have been sensible and would have closed the book with 200 pages left to read instead of reading all of the way to the end. By the way, I am handicapped by being a very slow reader.

Ironically I got halfway through the book and wondered whether I really wanted to read it all or just skip to the last pages. The story is about the kidnapping of an FBI agent in Chicago. Jack Reacher is in the wrong place at the wrong time and he gets picked up and pushed into the car with Holly Johnson. So many of their attempts to escape fail and when they finally do escape but are quickly recaptured, I was about to give up on the novel. If I had, I would have missed out on a lot of action and on Jack managing to outwit the head of the militia.

Just a few days ago I watched a repeat of NCIS where weapons stolen from the Marines were being bought illegally by a right wing militia group. The buyers drove up in their Humvees dressed in military uniforms. It took a moment for me to realize that these men in uniform were not a legitimate military group. It was easy to carry that image over to Die Trying. The kidnappers turn out to be a militia group that is determined to establish a new independent nation within the United States with a government like the Founding Fathers intended.

At over 400 pages of small print, Lee Child is not a fast read for me, but I keep going back to read about this loner’s action-packed adventures. I am learning a lot about military weapons. Since I am definitely a pacifist at heart, I am sure the knowledge will really pay off in the future.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Just a quick note. Thanks to my review reading children, I am aware that tonight HBO will air a pilot for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Most of the media has good things to say about it and imdb.com already has a page about it. I am ready to enjoy the series and to be beguiled. See you tomorrow morning to see what you thought about it.

Guest Blog - Night and Day by Robert B. Parker

It feels as if I haven’t read anything in weeks. I have started several books and have not got beyond the beginning chapters. Then I got notification that the new Jesse Stone was available for me to pick up at the local library. I was caught from the first page and before I knew it I had finished Night and Day.

As usual, I could see the whole story played out with Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone. And I could hear his voice with every line and I could see Kathy Baker and Kohl Sudduth as his two sidekicks. For some reason on the TV series Molly played by Viola Davis has morphed into Rose. She is still Molly in the books but I now have Baker in my head.

Will I spoil the story for you if I tell you that this is not a story about a murder investigation? Instead it is a tale of obsession. Obsession on many levels afflicting various people and destroying their lives or preventing them from moving forward with their lives. It is a good story and a quick and enjoyable read.

Sunny Randall is back in this Jesse Stone story. I like her. She too has an obsession with her ex that is keeping her from moving on. While browsing, I discovered that Robert B. Parker has several books that are about her. I will have to check the library and find out if any of the books featuring Randal are carried there. I have never got into the “Spenser for Hire” ones, but I would like to read about her. I wonder if Jesse Stone shows up in the pages.

So if you have run into a reading block, I recommend this new one by Parker. He might get you past the beginnings of the best sellers or biographies that you have been trying to read and back into the middle of a book.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Guest Blog - Killing a Unicorn

I spent last week visiting three of my granddaughters. The youngest who is not quite three years old had me read some witch stories again and again. I don’t remember being attracted to witch stories when I was little. However, I did notice that at the end of all of the tales, the wicked witch received a just punishment. Maybe Camille’s enjoyment of reading witch stories gives her the same reassurance that justice can prevail as a good mystery with a satisfactory ending brings to me.

I did find time to read Killing a Unicorn by Marjorie Eccles on my trip. I still have not read any of Eccles’ books about Gil Mayo. Killing a Unicorn is a cozy murder mystery where it doesn’t take long for the police to realize that the murder of Bibi must have been committed by someone in the family.

The story was satisfactorily interesting and so were the characters, but I did not feel comfortable with the author’s shifts from past tense to present tense throughout the story. “Forty minutes later, Fran steps off the train...” just does not feel comfortable to me as a reader. The use of the present tense did not give me any sense of being right there in the action of the story. The words were still there on the page that was apparently printed in 2002.

Other than that quirk of the author, it was an enjoyable novel with a few twists that I did not expect. The wicked were punished and the innocent resolved their problems. A comfortable ending.

However, I never quite understood the title of the novel either. I have always associated the killing of a unicorn to an act of wanton violence. The dead woman in the story does not turn out to be the kind and caring person that she seemed at first glance. Definitely not a person who is gentle and good like a unicorn or without enemies.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Guest Blog - The Unexpected Guest

The Unexpected Guest is the adaptation of an Agatha Christie stage play by Charles Osborne. According to an afterword by Osborne, the play was written in four weeks by Christie. It opened in Bristol in 1958 and played successfully in London for 18 months. The adaptation by Osborne was copyrighted in 1999.

I was hoping for another Agatha Christie novel. The Unexpected Guest does not fulfill that wish. It reads very much like a stage play despite the fact that Mr. Osborne takes some of the action outdoors. Like a good Christie work there is no unnecessary conversation. All of the information you are given leads to the solution of the mystery. However, the solution became apparent to me early on in the story. Have I read her mysteries too often? Is it the fact that I am an older reader? I am not sure if someone less aware of Christie’s stories would be deceived or not.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I would love to hear if anyone else was unsurprised by the conclusion. Do not read Wikipedia's information on the book because it gives away the ending. By the way, Charles Osborne seems to be a bit of a mystery man himself. The internet does not seem to have the final word on him. In a site mentioning that he has written several books about music, it makes no mention of his adapting several Christie plays into novels. The best information I could find on him was inside the back cover of the paperback I just read.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Guest Blog - The Camomile Lawn

I am so glad that the Bookrater’s blog is subtitled “or what I'm reading now.” I am not reading anything intellectual. In fact it was several years ago that I read The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. However, I came across the DVD of the novel the other day at the library and just had to check it out. Needless to say, there was way too much sex for my taste when I read the book. I should not have been surprised that the televised version was the same. I think I saw more nudity in this series than I have ever encountered before. Perhaps that is partly due to the fact that it was a mini series produced in the UK with five episodes. But I kept on watching even though I resorted to fast forwarding through a few conversations between individuals in their all together.

I was attracted to the novel in the first place because it is the story of an English family. The story covers the summer of 1939 and continues into the years that Britain was at war. All of the young people who are carefree while visiting their Aunt Helena in Cornwall with the lawn planted in camomile find themselves dealing with the world as it changes when their nation goes to war. Of course all of the young men join the military. One of the girls goes to work for the war office.

This looked like my type of book until I got into it a bit. I did not read about Mary Wesley until I watched the DVD this past week though. She was born in 1912 but did not have her first adult novel published until she was 71 years old. Over the next twenty years she had several best sellers. I noticed that the Sunday Times obituary writer seemed to be sympathetic with my view of her novel. “But the vast amount of time her characters spend thinking about bedroom matters was, perhaps, both her selling point and her one shortcoming as a writer. Occasionally, one could not escape the suspicion that she was going out of her way intentionally to shock.”

By the end of The Camomile Lawn I had come to the conclusion that not one person in her novel had any sense of sexual morality. The uncle put his hands up the skirts of little girls, the young adults slept with everyone they met and even the ten year old in the story confesses at a funeral forty some years later that her first sexual encounter was with a family friend who was about forty years her senior.

In a depressed mood, I picked up D.E. Stevenson’s novel about post WW II at the library. Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is the story of an army wife who decides to get a job while her husband is stationed in Egypt and her two children are away at school. Hester ends up assisting the owner of a bed and breakfast in Scotland. On one occasion Mrs. Tim and Erica discuss the behavior of a Mrs. Ovens whose husband is still posted aboard in the military.

“About that lady.”
“Nasty piece of work!”
”Erica,” I say in a lower voice, “There’s something odd going on between her and Mr. Wick. Perhaps I should have told you before but...”
“Something odd!” exclaims Erica fiercely, “What a way to talk! I hate mimsey-mouthed people - why can’t you call a spade a spade!”
I am so roused by the accusation of euphemisms that I tell Erica in Elizabethan language exactly what I suspect
(Stevenson, p 138-9).

This exchange recorded by Stevenson is exactly my kind of reference to sexual encounters on the page. She left no doubt of what was going on and left me chuckling over their conversation.
Undoubtedly because of authors like Wesley, I keep on reading mysteries. Even with mysteries I prefer discreet references to the characters' love lives and sketchy information about violence. There is a long list of best sellers by Mary Wesley but I don’t think I am going to be checking them out at the library or looking for them on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Guest blog - Reflex by Dick Francis

I thought that I had read all of the mysteries written by Dick Francis. However, I picked up a novel at the local thrift store for only 50 cents and soon discovered that it was a new story to me.

Reflex has all of the elements of a Francis novel. Philip Nore is a jump jockey as Francis was in his own life. That makes him medium height but still constantly watching his weight so that he is not too heavy to ride. Steeplechase jockeys ride on courses about two miles long and encounter ditches, fences and hedges along the way. In all of the Francis novels I have read, steeplechasing is described as a dangerous sport. It is not uncommon for rider and horse to come down after misjudging a gate and subsequently be trodden on by the horses following. This by itself makes for a tough hero well acquainted with pain. Usually in a Dick Francis mystery the ability to endure pain pays off because each hero is at some point beaten by the bad guys. However, unlike a few writers I have read, Francis always has a satisfactory ending. And I am definitely addicted to the just if not legal ending for a mystery.

In this story the death of a photographer happens before the story opens. It is not until you are well into the novel that it becomes apparent that the death was not an accident. Philip Nore becomes entangled in clues left behind by the photographer and soon finds himself in danger. Of course, there is a sprinkling of romance as well. This is an older novel written when I think that Francis was at the height of his career. Definitely an enjoyable tale.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guest blog – 13 For Luck

A few evenings ago, I found myself waiting for my husband who was in a meeting. Reading a collection of thirteen short stories by Agatha Christie was the perfect way to pass the time. My battered paperback copy of 13 For Luck was published by Dell in 1968. The spine says that it sold for 50 cents. It is probably still available at your local library or perhaps at a used book store. I think that it is only available as a used book. Agatha Christie’s books featuring Poirot or Miss Marple keep turning up in new publications at the local bookstore. However, this group of stories features problem solvers that many Christie fans might not have heard about before.

Not too surprisingly there are 13 stories in this collection. Several of them feature Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Tuppence and Tommy Beresford have one story while Christopher Parker Pyne and the invisible Mr. Harley Quin have two each. Inspector Evans seems to have appeared in one short story only.

I think this is a great little collection of stories. Each detective is introduced in a short paragraph or two on the page before the first story. In about 20 pages each of the mysteries is presented and resolved by one of Christie’s brilliant solvers. Good short mysteries and perfect for sitting in the doctor’s office or waiting for half an hour for someone to finish a meeting. However, be forewarned, once you have read one, you will want to finish all of the stories. And probably go check out an Agatha Christie that you haven’t read for a few years. I recommend the Tommy and Tuppence stories. They haven’t been on television recently so they might feel completely new even to an old fan like me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar is overweight, a sci-fi aficionado, and a sucker for beautiful—and not so beautiful—women. Not too surprisingly, he lacks the “mojo” emanating from all his Dominican relatives and neighbors and suffers because of his quirks.

Oscar's ups and downs are detailed in Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The novel jumps between Oscar's life and those of his older sister, Lola, and mother, Beli. Though they live in New Jersey, their fates are inextricably tied to the Dominican Republic and their ancestors there.

I was not overly drawn to or sympathetic with either Oscar or Beli. The only family member I truly cared about, was interested in, and related to was Lola, a loyal, loving, and patient sister.

In fact, perhaps the most intriguing and involving character in the novel is the Dominican Republic itself. Using mostly footnotes, Diaz explains the tragic politics in the DR's not-so-distant past. To my shame, I knew very little, if anything, about the area and had never even heard of the despot Trujillo before reading the novel. Oscar Wao gives an enlightening yet entertaining education on DR history and left me with a desire to research (and verify) more about these historical events.

Diaz has a casual writing style. The narrator relates Oscar's tale in a conversational, and thus often vulgar, tone. I found the storytelling comfortable and inviting (like listening to one of my male colleagues), but some readers may be turned off by a free use of profanity and sexuality.

Oscar Wao is an absorbing novel. Though I certainly would not have declared it the best book of the year, it is a good read for anyone interested in contemporary literature or Caribbean history.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Guest Blog - Bad Luck and Trouble

In Bad Luck and Trouble, it is through a deposit into his bank account that Jack Reacher finds out that one of his ex-army colleagues wants to speak to him. When he meets with Neagley, he discovers that one of the special team of investigators that they belonged to has been murdered. Together with two other former MPs, Reacher and Neagley set out to discover who was responsible for their friend’s horrible death. Unfortunately, they discover that he was not alone. In fact, he was not the first of their friends to be thrown alive out of a helicopter at 3000 feet.

In the end, the four friends discover the treachery that led to the deaths of their old friends. The build up to the story seemed a bit slow to me, but the novel has a fast action and violent finish. When Reacher meets up with the men who killed his friends, he discovers that revenge holds little satisfaction. There is no way to compensate for the loss of those you love. Nothing can bring them back.

Despite the fact that Reacher regrets the passage of time without seeing his old friends, it seems likely that he is not going to schedule time with his remaining friends any time soon. I wonder where Lee Child will place him in his next novel.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Guest Blog - One Shot

Lee Child does not write cozy English mysteries and Jack Reacher is not a conventional hero. He is an ex-military police officer who has left the army and convention behind. After living a life regulated by Army rules, Reacher has chosen a life of wandering. He not only doesn’t own a home, he doesn’t own a suitcase. When the clothes he is wearing become dirty or torn, he simply purchases new ones and discards the old. He puts his clothes under the mattress at night so that they will look pressed in the morning.

This unconventional hero does have qualities that make him larger than life. He is a smart and meticulous investigator. He has an uncanny sense of survival. Despite the clothes under the mattress and the disposable razors, Reacher has appeal.

One Shot begins with a sniper shooting five people as they leave their office building after work. Everything leads the investigators to a former US Army sniper. When arrested, James Barr says little in his defense. He asks the DA to “Get Reacher for me.” In Miami Reacher hears about the slayings and immediately gets on a bus headed for Indiana and what looks like an open and shut case.

I could hardly put down the book. Life just kept getting in the way of reading the next chapter. Now that I have finished the book, I am not really sure whether Child is a good writer or not. Was it just the action? Was it the plot? Was I attracted to the characters? It is pretty obvious that no one from this novel is going to make it into the next book I read by Child. After all, Reacher just got on another bus and headed for a different city.

One Shot had a very satisfying if violent ending. Reacher found the bad guys and rescued the innocent victims. There was a sense of justice that brought me satisfaction. I am looking forward to reading another of his mysteries and meeting Jack Reacher again. Even if he is wearing the same clothes he had on three days ago.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guest Blog – Death Cap by June Thomson

During the extremely icy and snowy first weeks of this month, I returned all of my library books and did not check out any others. Because of that I had to resort to going through the old paperbacks around my house. When I do that, I frequently find books I have read before but can remember nothing about. This time I picked up an unknown author, June Thomson. Thanks to the internet I have been able to discover that she was born in 1930 and published a new novel as recently as 2006. Death Cap was her second mystery and it was published in 1971. As I was browsing the Internet, I kept coming across information saying that she has written mystery novels about Sergeant Tom Boyce and Detective Chief Inspector Jack Finch. Well, DCI Finch did not feature in the novel that I read but Death Cap was there clustered among those with presumably these two leading characters. Finally I came across a site that explained the conflict. Apparently for some reason Finch became Rudd in the novels when they were published in the United States. At the time the novels flew across the Atlantic, was Jack Finch a well known name in other circles? I don’t know.

Death Cap typifies the cozy English novel. It has all of the elements of a good “home by the winter fire” read. Small town. Just a handful of suspects. In fact I have realized that there is very little difference between a cozy mystery written in 1971 versus one written in 1931. Technology had yet to burst upon the scene. Is it the 1990s before DNA testing and computers and cell phones changed how every mystery would be written? I love mysteries but am not an expert in the genre. Even at that, do you realize that 1990 was almost 20 years ago? I think that mysteries will never be written the same as the days when Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were writing.

Death Cap is the investigation into a seemingly accidental death from eating a poisonous fungus mixed in with mushrooms. The tedious police procedural is well defined. It becomes apparent that it was no accident that the amanita phalloides found its way into the farmer’s field of mushrooms, but is there any way to discover who is responsible for putting them there or of finding enough evidence to arrest that person? That is the real mystery in this novel. Thomson manages to produce a very satisfying ending to this bucolic puzzle.

Although there were times when I felt that the novel was moving slowly, I will be checking to see if some of Thomson’s more recent mysteries are in my local library. I will also be interested to find out whether it is Finch or Rudd who is the DCI.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guest Blog - Dewey

At first glance Dewey may appear to be a book that only cat lovers and owners would enjoy. However, the book is more than the biography of an orange cat who came to live in the library. Vicki Myron with Bret Witter also tells the story of her own life with its many challenges and successes. Besides her story and Dewey’s, she relates the struggles of small towns and family farmers in the Midwest.

On a cold morning in January 1988, Myron and a co-worker found an abandoned kitten in the metal book drop box of their library in Spencer, Iowa. He was a fragile little animal with frost bitten paws and so filthy they had no idea that he was a long haired marmalade cat. The staff of the library decided to keep this tiny stray and soon called him Dewey (as in the library numbering system) Readmore Books. It also is a good question for a librarian to ask.

Since the Blogger happens to be a librarian, I found it interesting to read about Myron’s own journey to become a librarian and to read about her strong feelings about what role a library should play in a community. For example, she told about a neighboring town whose library loaned cake pans in different shapes and forms. You could check out a pan that looked like Garfield or a school bus, I suppose. Dewey himself turned out to be a draw that brought people who had never visited into the library. In fact he turned into a national celebrity.

Even though I knew the outcome of this story (after all cats rarely live to be twenty), I enjoyed following Dewey’s and Myron’s progress through the years. I also appreciated the intimate look at the demise of farms, small schools and even small towns as the nation moved from a rural society to an urban one. I have traveled past cornfields and sunflowers for as far as the eye can see while crossing our nation by automobile, but I have never got out to really look at the corn. Myron says it grows to be ten feet tall in Iowa.

By the way, we happen to have two cats. One we rescued from a shelter. The other is a throw away cat that no one wanted. They have very different personalities. One is a bully who nips at me. The other is a snuggler who touches his nose to mine. Dewey reminded me a lot of the cats I have known in my life. Thank goodness none of them had an addiction to eating rubber bands as Dewey did. You’ll have to read this feel good book to discover more about him. This is not a classic but I think you might enjoy it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Guest Blog – Secret Santa: A Novel

About two years ago I read several Christmas stories. I read John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, David Baldacci’s The Christmas Train and Robert Tate Miller’s and Beth Polson’s Secret Santa: A Novel. By far the story that I most enjoyed was Secret Santa. It is the story of a young reporter who constantly ends up doing the fluff pieces for the newspaper. More than anything Rebecca Chandler wants to be taken seriously as an investigative reporter. When her dreams of the future and for Christmas fall through, she sets out to prove that she can unearth the truth behind a small town’s secret Santa. Every Christmas for several years someone has given a much needed gift to a town resident during the holiday season.

As Rebecca tries to unearth the identity of the town’s benefactor, she falls under the spell of the little community and the kind people who live there. I will not be a spoiler and tell you how the story ends. That is part of the mystery. As I read the novel, I felt certain that eventually she would find out who the generous individual was, but the question was what would she do with that knowledge. I will just tell you that Miller and Polson do not disappoint. They keep the Christmas magic going until the last page.

I recently had the chance to see the television production of Secret Santa and was not disappointed. On imdb.com the only review said that it was apparent who the Secret Santa was early in the show. I did not have the same experience reading the book. The end was a delightful surprise.

Now that Christmas is over, I guess I will have to put my decorations and seasonal story books back into their boxes. I feel a little sad about doing so. There is nothing I enjoy much more than a good holiday story. Now where did I put that mystery I put aside at the beginning of December?