Saturday, November 13, 2010

The House of Dead Maids

In Clare B. Dunkle’s young adult novel The House of Dead Maids, orphaned Tabby Aykroyd arrives at Seldom House to be a caretaker and playmate to the young “master.” She is immediately haunted by ghosts of her predecessors and tries to save herself and her young charge from a similar fate.

Dunkle’s novel is a fast, enjoyable read and maintains a consistently unsettling atmosphere throughout. The book cover is one of the creepiest I’ve seen, but it also claims the novel is “A Chilling Prelude to Wuthering Heights.” Dunkle ties the story to the Brontë family in the last few pages; however, I found this maneuvering unfortunate and gimmicky. The book could easily stand alone as a dark glimpse into a pagan Victorian England and only loses credibility by trying to piggyback on the Brontës’ fame. Enjoy Dead Maids what it is and not for what it is trying to be.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Five-year-old Jack in Emma Donoghue's Room has lived in the same room since his birth. His mother, Ma, has lived there for seven years—ever since she was kidnapped by “Old Nick.” The story of their captivity is narrated by the young Jack.

A lot of buzz has surrounded Donoghue’s latest novel—I first heard about it on NPR—mostly because of the young narrator. Jack’s voice is definitely unique. However, it is also often jarringly inconsistent. At times, Jack sounds like a caveman. At other times, he has the vocabulary of a PhD. Many times, Jack’s narration distracts from an otherwise interesting story.

If you can get over Jack’s voice, the story of what Ma does to survive and to protect her son, and the consequences of their captivity, is an intriguing one. The reality of teenagers and children held captive for years seems to be becoming more prevalent, and I appreciate Donoghue’s attempt to tackle such a sensitive topic without being overly sentimental.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure

“Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.”

How could I possibly resist this blurb on the back of Emma Campbell Webster’s novel Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure? As a child, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series (and still lament its demise) and eagerly jumped into this grown-up, literary version.

Although the book is essentially a retelling of all Austen’s novels, Campbell Webster adds clever commentary and re-imagines what would have happened if Elizabeth Bennet had married Willoughby or Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy. Her portrait of other Austen heroines isn’t always flattering, and Elizabeth’s fate often ends in marital failure (or worse), but the novel is meant to be all in good fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Blog - 61 Hours

I have had so so feelings about some of Lee Child's Reacher novels. 61 Hours in not one of them. Decidedly one of Child's better books. I cannot top the NY Times review of the book. It was very enthusiastic and points out that this mystery ends with a cliffhanger. The new book, Worth Dying For, which picks up where this one leaves off is already out. But you know me. It is so hard for me to part with the price of a hardback novel even from Amazon. Especially if it is one I am not likely to read a second time. Reacher is good the first time around but I am not sure Child's books are the read over and over again variety.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I’m a year (or two) behind the times—but, hey, I’ve been living in Turkey—and finally read Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce resides in an English country manor with her widowed father and two older sisters. Despite the seemingly-idyllic location, Flavia lives in a post-WWII society and family that struggles with the effects of war and the loss of its mother. She also happens across a dead body outside her bedroom window.

Flavia is a precocious crime solver who meddles in the police investigation and isn’t afraid to go anywhere or talk to anyone in her pursuit of answers. This cozy mystery is as charming and inoffensive as a murder mystery can be, and I can understand why it’s a bestseller.

Flavia, however, has some nastiness to her that I found rather off-putting. She deliberately destroys her dead mother’s pearls and sets out to poison one of her older sisters. I don’t expect—or want—a perfect lead character, but I prefer flaws that I can relate to rather than sociopathic tendencies.

Overall, the novel is enjoyable and held my interest. Yet, despite Sweetness’s popularity, I’ve noticed the sequel, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, doesn’t seem nearly as in demand, which might really reflect readers’ feelings about the series.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best Birth

The title of this book, The Best Birth: Your Guide to the Safest, Healthiest, Most Satisfying Labor and Delivery, caught my attention since most expectant mothers, like me, must decide whether or not to have a “natural” childbirth or one using “medical pain-management options.” However, the introduction to the book might scare off many readers as it promotes the “McMoyler Method, the childbirth method for the twenty-first century.” Who is McMoyler of the McMoyler Method? Sarah McMoyler, the author and a labor and delivery nurse.

Ultimately, the book is less about promoting a certain method and more about providing a good discussion of what to expect during a natural, medicated, or cesarean childbirth. The author also includes helpful tips for what to bring to the hospital, how the husband or partner can be more involved in childbirth, the role of each member on the hospital staff, and even some of the nitty-gritty details women may not know about the birthing and recovery process.

This book is a manageable length, about 250 pages, and can be a helpful resource for any woman expecting a baby and looking for more information on the process.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Blog - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I just finished Stieg Larsson's last book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Once again his book was extremely difficult to put down to pay attention to real life. Definitely his best book. It is a loss to readers that he wrote only three books before his death.

Spoiler Alert: At least this book has a feeling of resolution and does not have a cliffhanger ending.

Thank you Larsson for hours of "sitting on the edge of my seat" worried about what is going to happen next.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Guest Blog - Double Play by Robert B Parker

Several years ago I heard a program on NPR which talked about Hank Aaron. Aaron was the man who broke Babe Ruth's home run record. The program recalled the many threats that Aaron received. Some of them were from fans of Ruth who did not want to see his record broken. Most of them were race related.

Double Play (2004) is about another courageous man who broke "the color" barrier in major league baseball; Jackie Robinson. In 1947 Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. The novel is a piece of historical fiction. It follows the path of Joseph Burke, a returning WW II veteran, who eventually ends up being Robinson's body guard.

A parallel story runs through the book. It is the story of Bobby Parker who was 9 when the United States entered the war. He was 15 when Robinson became a major league ball player. As most American boys of that era he was an avid baseball fan. He followed the statistics in the paper and listened to games on the radio.

The story is interesting, but examining the racial tension of that era is more intriguing. Both the white and the black fans and players felt threatened by this change. Robinson was in a position where no matter how angry he might feel about some of the abuse he received, he had to remain calm and ignore it. He had to be the perfect gentleman so that this experiment in crossing racial borders had a chance to make it.

Reading the book was a good reminder that we have come along way since 1947 in how Blacks are treated in the US. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we accept all minorities as fellow citizens.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Blog - Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead is without doubt Louise Penny's best book yet. The story and emotions are complex. In fact there are three different story lines in this novel. Both Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir are dealing with the wounds and scars left from an ambush only two months earlier. Both of them are on leave still recovering from the physical damage they incurred in the shoot out. Gamache is visiting his old friend and mentor in Quebec City in February, the month of the annual winter carnival. Beauvoir is back in Three Pines. He is supposed to be relaxing but is actually there at Gamache's request to look at the murder of a hermit. In Penny's previous novel, The Brutal Telling, the team investigated the murder of a recluse who lived in the woods outside the town.

I am not sure if you need to have read any of the previous books in order to enjoy this one. It is hard for me to be objective since I have read and liked all of Penny's mysteries. Although I think some type of acquaintance with her characters probably would help with understanding this novel, I don't want to discourage anyone from opening it up to read. The issues of dealing with change, tragedy and a need to belong are ones that all readers will identify with. How do you move on after loss or tragedy? Where do you fit in society at large or within a small circle?

This tale is not only thought provoking, it is an edge of the seat thriller as well. What really happened when one of their own was kidnapped? Is Olivier who is in prison a killer or not?

Probably adding to my enjoyment of the book, I have been to Quebec City in the winter although not for Carnival and there were so many sites that I recognized as Penny talked about them. I much prefer Quebec in the spring or fall. I found myself very interested in the history. I had no idea that although Samuel de Champlain died in Quebec that no one has any idea where he is buried. Other historic figures she talks about are genuine as well.

I have found that the books I enjoy most are often the ones that cause me to look up information online or lead me to read another book. This book certainly falls in that category. If you are only looking for a good mystery be sure to try Louise Penny. She has only a few books, but is well worth looking for. Fortunately Penny's novels are available in the US as well as Canada.

If you click on Louise Penny above, you will be connected with her personal page which includes some great pictures of Quebec City.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Heist Society

As a fan of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, I eagerly read Heist Society. If possible, I actually enjoyed this book more than the series.

Katarina “Kat” Bishop tries to escape the “family business” and experience a normal adolescence by entering a prestigious boarding school. She lasts only a few months before being wrangled back into the fold, this time to save her father who has been accused of stealing five paintings from an unsavory collector.

In order to help her father, Kat gathers together a group of teens with special, if not necessarily legal, skills in order to pull off an impossible heist. Rather than let their age and experience handicap them, the characters use their teen status to their advantage.

Overall, Heist Society is a fun and fast read. Underlying the clever mayhem, though, is a surprisingly serious storyline about stolen artwork and restitution, as well as a hint of pedophilia. I was a bit disappointed that Carter doesn’t dwell more on these truly somber aspects and instead focuses on the fun. And this book is definitely good fun.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fly on the Wall

Gretchen Yee, in E. Lockhart’s young adult novel Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything, is a sophomore at the Manhattan School for Art and Music. When she wishes she were a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room, she never expects her wish will come true in such a dramatic way.

Gretchen isn’t exactly an average teenage girl, so some readers might have difficultly relating to her. She attends a special high school for artistic students in New York City and spends her time reading and illustrating comic books. Ultimately, though, she deals with family problems, boy troubles, and friend issues, like any other teen.

Since Gretchen spends much of the book hanging around a high school boys’ locker room, some readers might also find her experiences uncomfortable or offensive as she frankly describes both what she sees and hears.

Lockwood’s novel has a unique premise, although the execution leaves something to be desired. The ultimate message, though, is a good one: high school boys aren’t that different from high school girls. They also struggle with body image, identity, and relationships.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Blog - Paper Doll by Robert B Parker

Since I have read all of the Jesse Stone novels and a good share of the Sunny Randall ones, I thought it was time I tried a Spenser book. When Spenser for Hire was on television, I caught glimpses of it when my husband watched. I knew that Robert Urich played the lead and that Spenser had a friend named Hawk. That was about it.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this 1993 novel. In Paper Doll Spenser looks into a murder that looks as if it was random street violence. When the police can go no further, the husband of the victim hires Spenser to solve the cold case.

Paper Doll has lots of surprises. Nothing about the victim is as it seems at first glance. When Spenser starts asking questions, someone in a powerful position tries to keep him from asking any more.

I thought this was a good mystery. A little more rough language than I prefer but other than that I felt comfortable trying out a whole new world with lots of books by Parker.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something Wicked: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery

I can't remember the last time I wrote a review, but now that I'm back in the US and have access to an English-language library, I have no more excuses. I'll start with a short one to ease myself back into the routine:

Something Wicked is the second entry in Alan Gratz’s Horatio Wilkes Mystery series. In this retelling of Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Horatio attends the Scottish Highland Games with his childhood friend, Mac, and Mac’s demanding girlfriend, Beth. When Mac’s grandfather is murdered, Horatio joins forces with the local police to solve the crime.

Horatio is a bright and witty hero, but sometimes he reads much older than a junior in high school—particularly when he casually throws off references to Shakespeare and Freud. Perhaps this maturity is why his parents allow him to go alone to the Highland Games for the weekend, rent a room in a seedy motel, and solve murders. Overall, Something Wicked is a fast and entertaining read, but the light tone does mean the murders can come as a bit of a shock.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Guest Blog - Candle for a Corpse

At the moment, my husband and I are living in a huge apartment/condominium complex in Northern Virginia. One of the minor amenities is a small library in the "commons" area. It is completely borrow and return on your own. No oversight whatsoever. Recently I picked up a few mysteries to read. I started a very promising little one by a Canadian author I did not know. However, I was not stealing time from other responsibilities to read it. That really is my measure of how much I am enjoying a book.

I picked up another book and started reading it and didn't want to put it down after the first few pages. I have heard of English author Ann Granger but don't think I have ever read anything that she has written. This one, Candle for a Corpse, is a cozy mystery. Right up my alley.

When a grave is opened to bury an elderly woman with her long gone parents, the grave diggers discover the bones of a young woman. Superintendent Alan Markby and his friend Meredith Mitchell become involved in trying to find out who the young woman was and how long ago she was killed and buried. It is a satisfying mystery with plenty of interesting characters and complications.

The book had another intriguing feature. Periodically all of the way through the book, words were underlined. Perhaps only one on a page. Some pages had no underlining. At the beginning of the book little notes had been made next to the highlighted words. The notes were in Chinese characters. Of course, I was interested in the mystery of the paperback book itself. I noticed that the underlined words were usually ones that were idioms. Some word that an English as a Second Language reader might be completely unfamiliar with. In fact an American reader might wonder at the usage of a word by the English author. What is chutney or daft? What does "twelve years back" mean? The notes in Chinese ended after about page 95 but underlined words in pink highlighter continued to the end of the book. Did the original reader finish the book? Was it someone else who underlined the occasional word on the remaining pages? I will never know. However, the previous reader added to my enjoyment of reading the mystery. I wonder if I will find another book with marginal notes in Chinese. I hope so.

By the way, I have been wondering if small English villages still have a grave digger who uses a shovel to prepare the ground for a funeral. I am pretty sure that here in the U.S. a grave digger operates a backhoe. According to Granger in the early or mid 1990s, England made it mandatory for people to be buried or cremated in biodegradable material. I don't think I have anything that is all cotton or linen to be buried in. I had better hang on for a few more years.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guest Blog - Hard Row by Margaret Maron

Hard Row came as a bit of surprise to me. I thought that I did a fairly good job of keeping up with the latest books by some of my favorite mystery writers. I don't know how I missed this one by Margaret Maron. It was actually published in 2007. It is a Judge Deborah Knott mystery. She is recently married to Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant with his son a part of their family. On the domestic side Knott is cautiously feeling her way through her new role as a stepmother but loving being married to Dwight. On the legal side, there are still lots of glimpses into the crazy cases brought before Judge Knott.

I think I liked Hard Row more than any of Maron's other mysteries set in North Carolina. This time we got to see the information not just from Knott's view but also from her partner in life and crime solving, Dwight Bryant. In the past Knott has been a bit of a pain, sticking her nose in where it really didn't belong. Now their partnership makes a logical and complete working relationship. They pool their information and find the killer who cut up a body and distributed the parts along the banks of the river.

You don't have to have read other books about Deborah Knott to enjoy this one, but it does make it a bit easier if you have already been introduced to her extensive family and bootlegging father. Maron does a good job of filling in the gaps though if you are a first time reader of her mysteries.

The first Margaret Maron I read was located in New York City with Sigrid Harald, a police officer. I met her in Corpus Christmas and really liked this heroine. I wasn't sure whether I would like the Knott mysteries but am well hooked. There are two more recent books out there that I have not yet read. I'll be looking for them so that I can catch up the the Knott-Bryant saga and a good mystery.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Guest Blog - Split Image by Robert B Parker

Much to my delight, I discovered that before Robert B Parker died in January, he had finished a book about Jesse Stone and sent it on its way to the publisher. After reading Split Image, I felt that Parker must have known it was the last Jesse Stone mystery that he would ever write. It has a very satisfactory ending in Stone's personal life. The novel left me with a feeling of completeness and appreciation for the author.

Split Image is a bit of a strange premise for the murder mystery but it is a good read. Of course, for every 'yup' that Stone says, I can see and hear Tom Selleck. Which doesn't hurt my perception of Stone one single bit.

If you have never read one of Parker's Sunny Randall books, I highly recommend them. Especially since Randall shows up in this final story about Stone. I found a Randall mystery, Melancholy Baby, at the Goodwill bookstore and read it just after I had finished reading Split Image. I am a Sunny Randall fan and liked this novel. Randall and Stone have a lot in common. Both of them are struggling to get passed their attachment to their ex-spouses. In Melancholy Baby, Randall's ex remarries. That leads her to seek someone new to see for counseling. This is a good look into a therapist/client relationship besides a very good mystery.

I am sorry that there will be no new Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall novels to enjoy. I have read that Tom Selleck is going to do more stories about Jesse Stone despite his new series premiering this fall. I am delighted.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guest Blog - Appointment with Death

A few weeks ago, we watched the new Poirot on Mystery. Of course, my problem with Agatha Christie stories is that I keep saying "it didn't happen like that in the book." I have really tried to contain myself and not bore my family to death with such comments. I found it interesting the next day that one of my daughters sent me an email message saying that she found the show disturbing. I didn't hesitate to tell her that my memories of the book were that it was quite different. I don't think that Agatha Christie was into child abuse. Manipulative people and controlling people but not ones who enjoyed the physical punishment of children.

By chance I came across a 99 cent copy of Appointment with Death at the Goodwill Bookstore. Naturally I had to reread it. This time I really do think that Christie got the story right and the recent production of her book got it wrong.

Christie's second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist and she traveled with him frequently to excavation sites in the Middle East. Appointment with Death is set in Jerusalem and Petra. The mystery is center around an American family that is controlled by a power hungry matriarch. As in many of Christie's mysteries, the person you 'love to hate' is the victim. Since Poirot has no tolerance for murder he feels compelled to investigate.

If watching the recent PBS show disappointed you, I really encourage you to try the book. It has a satisfying ending that puts the problems of all of the characters into perspective. Much more satisfying than this Mystery.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guest Blog - The Double Comfort Sarari Club

During the last several summers, I have stayed at the "cottage at the beach" and have read all summer long. This summer, I am just not reading as much. In fact I feel as if I have read very little this year.

However, I recently finished Alexander McCall Smith's last book about Promise and Grace. I frankly have to think of the two of them that way, because I have far too difficult a time with their surnames. The Double Comfort Safari Club proved to be an enjoyable encounter with old friends. Life continues to have its challenges and ups and downs but the people I have become fond of over the years are doing well. If you are a fan, I think you'll enjoy the book. It was a comfortable afternoon past time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest Blog - The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart

While looking for a book by Agatha Christie, I came across an enjoyable little book written by Anne Hart. Published in 1985, The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple is in fact a biography of that well known sleuth created by Agatha Christie.

When I started reading the book, I wondered what Hart could have found to say about a fictiticious character. Miss Marple made her debut in short stories and went on from there to to be featured in several novels. Hart identifies Miss Marple's family, friends and collegeaus. We learn about St. Mary Mead as well as the furniture in Miss Marple's drawing room.

The one regret that Christie spoke of regarding Poirot and Marple was that they were so old. In essence she said that if she had known she would have been writing about them for so many years, she would have made them younger when she created them. Miss Marple spent about forty years hovering around 60. In At Bertram's Hotel, Lady Selina Hazy comments, "Why I do believe that's old Jane Marple. Thought she was dead years ago. Looks a hundred."

I have no idea how difficult it is to find Hart's little book, but I found it a delightful addition to my Agatha Christie reading. I am more attached to Miss Marple than I have ever been.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guest Blog - The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

When I was about thirteen, I read my first Agatha Christie novel. That first book by Christie was The Mystery of the Blue Train. I have been a Christie fan ever since and the Blue Train remains one of my favorites.

Last Sunday my husband and I watched a new dramatization of The Secret of Chimneys on PBS. The mystery was solved with the combined efforts of Chief Inspector Finch and Miss Marple. I do like Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. She is neither flirty nor frumpy. Just an intelligent woman. A pleasant change. However, while watching I puzzled over the story. Why was it that I did not recognize this story?

At the first opportunity, I checked the novel out from the library. And it was not at all surprising that I did not recognize the story. I am sure I must have read it at some point in my long, long life, but I certainly do not remember it. For one thing, the original story does not include Miss Marple. It is one of those rare novels that does not include any of Christie's well known sleuths. In fact the original book bore little resemblance to the television production. I will commit heresy and confess that I thought the story was much improved by this new production.

Christie has just a few mysteries that are based upon stories of political intrigue or organized crime. In my opinion, she does not do them well. Her forte is definitely the small village or snowed-in cottage mystery with few complications beyond love and hate and greed and fear of exposure. The Secret of Chimneys has political intrigue occurring in some fictitious Balkan country with a mastermind jewel thief thrown in. The characters are likable but the story is too heavy. It is bogged down in contrived rebellions of post WW I Europe and royalty with unpronounceable names.

Watch the new version of Chimneys and enjoy but don't bother with the old novel. Christie has much better books to reread and enjoy than this one. (By the way, click on the previous word "chimneys" and watch the PBS mysteries for a limited time online.)

By the way, I do highly recommend The Complete Christie by Matthew Bunson. He does not give the plots away but he has a great encyclopedia of characters and preludes to plots that is a handy addition to the personal library of any Christie fan.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Blog -6 1 Hours by Lee Child

The Friday, May 14th Weekend Arts section of the NY Times had an article about the new novel by Lee Child coming out later this year. Janet Maslin and I seem to like the same kind of page turners. I recently read two books about Jack Reacher and I'll actually write more about them when I quit digging my garden.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest Blog - Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

A few weeks ago, my sister told me that all of the readers in her family, had laughed while they read Dog On It by Spencer Quinn. I listened politely but was a little skeptical when she told me that this mystery solved by partners Bernie and Chet is narrated by Chet. Chet is the canine half of this detective duo. (I don't know how reliable my link for Spencer Quinn is, but if it is correct, the author himself is a mystery).

It did not take me long to get attached to Chet. Fortunately I got to read the mystery about a teen who vanishes while I was traveling. If you haven't flown lately you might not know that waits in airports can be longer than the flight. Chet turned out to be very good company.

I am not sure that being a dog-lover is a prerequisite to enjoying Quinn's book, but it might not hurt. I suspect though that anyone who has seen a dog with its head hanging out the window of a car will know just what Chet is talking about. I noticed that Quinn has a new hardback out. Thereby Hangs a Tail was published in January. Do I wait for the library or splurge on Amazon? Chet really stole my heart.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Guest Blog – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When my daughter suggested that I read a fantasy or futuristic book, I told her that I didn’t think so. However, she had enjoyed it so I decided to try it before she returned it to the library. Much to my surprise I was hooked by the end of chapter one.
Probably you have encountered stories similar to The Hunger Games. Two stories with the same theme are a short story The Lottery and the movie or novel The Wicker Man. Both of them are centered on seemingly normal towns where once a year a person is chosen to die to appease some greater power. Essentially that is the idea behind The Hunger Games. At some future time in North America, the people are kept in line by an annual sacrifice of an adolescent boy and girl from their district. From 12 districts the 24 youth come to fight on a televised set until only one survives.
Sounds pretty grim and Collins does a good job of portraying both the tender and the violent youths who have been selected at random. Katniss is one of the two sent from District 12. She also is the narrator. The story starts with the hope that this will mean that she survives until the end of the story.
The Hunger Games finishes with the closing words “End of Book One.” I’ll have to let you know if I decide to look for book two. This story pulled me in and I actually found myself crying around page 250. But do I really want to read more about this group of people who seem so powerless? We’ll see. For those of you who are waiting to see the movie, there is one in the works.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Blog – Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Recently I heard part of a discussion about books on the radio. The speaker concluded that rather than isolating you, a book brings you closer to understanding people. Only in a book do you know what the characters are thinking. Motives are very clear.
I mention this because I recently saw the movie version of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont written by Elizabeth Taylor. My local library did not carry the book, but it did have the DVD. The movie enchanted me. It is the story of a widow who has moved into a hotel in London that rents rooms by the month. The other long term tenants are also elderly individuals who are on their own after losing their spouses. By chance, Mrs. Palfrey meets a charming young man who is living on practically nothing while he endeavors to write his first novel. A warm relationship develops between the two of them as Ludo pretends to be Mrs. Palfrey’s grandson.
Just a few days ago, I found the book and immediately began to read it. The story and the characters are essentially the same as in the movie. However, when you are able to read about Ludovic Myers’ thoughts and motives much of the enchantment disappears. The movie with Joan Plowright as Mrs. Palfrey captures Taylor’s tenants at the Claremont so well. The movie is definitely a feel-good show. At the end of a long and productive life, Mrs. Palfrey faces loneliness without her husband. Instead she meets Ludo and develops a relationship that rescues both of them from isolation in a big bustling city.
The book is a more accurate picture of what old age can be. We get to see the small lies that sustain the dignity of the residents of the Claremont. Although there are few of them, it is important for them to save face among their peers. Mrs. Palfrey values Ludo’s friendship much more than he values hers. In reality his interest in her is for information to use in writing a novel about old age.
I turned 60 last summer. Reading about Mrs. Palfrey and the small group at the hotel, has reminded me of how challenging growing old can be. I hope that in my old age, I will somehow escape the long empty days that Taylor so vividly describes. The edition that I read has an interesting introduction by Paul Bailey. Since most of us will either have elderly relatives or be elderly relatives ourselves, I recommend what Bailey calls Taylor’s best novel. It is not an unkind portrayal of being old and alone and perhaps forgotten.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest Blog – Max and Maddy and the Bursting Balloons Mystery

Guest Blog – Max and Maddy and the Bursting Balloons Mystery

A trip to the library with my three young granddaughters is an adventure. My daughter has a very large recyclable shopping bag that soon fills up with a book from here and a book from there. I am not quite sure how many books they came home with. The advantage is that they are probably books I have never read so it is interesting to read the new stories or have them read to me.
Recently my daughter found a book in the bag written by Alexander McCall Smith. Since both of us are fans of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, we were interested in this children’s book we had stumbled across. The local library has Max and Maddy and the Bursting Balloons Mystery listed as Juvenile and a First Chapter book. This one is the second in a series of mysteries that are solved by a brother and sister. The arch villain is Professor Sardine. I am sure that he will show up in the next story about Max and Maddy.
I have decided that I know next to nothing about what would interest a child. This book has seven chapters and an easy vocabulary. I am not convinced that some of the aspects of the story are scientifically accurate. For example if a hot air balloon is hit by an arrow, does it pop? I am a bit dubious about that and other aspects of the tale. However, this might be a great introduction to mysteries for someone in first or second grade. The mysteries that we got involved with when my daughters were small were the stories about the Box Car Children and Encyclopedia Brown. Even as an adult, I enjoyed reading them to my girls despite the fact that they were vintage at that time. I am not so sure that Max and Maddy would capture our imagination in the same way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guest Blog - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Just a quick note. When I wrote the review about Larsson's book, I did not mention all of the financial intrigue in the novel. Today I received this link in an email. For those of you who have been attracted to Larsson' book, I hope you will take the time to read this New York Times op-ed. The first part of the book refers to the court case against Blomkvist who is being sued for libel. He specializes in investigating financial entities. The book concludes on the same theme. I found it fascinating because of course, we have been going through a similar crisis in our nation...several years after Larsson, a journalist himself, wrote about the corruption he saw in Sweden's financial world.

March 23 - This morning I read a review of the Swedish movie in Entertainment. Critic Lisa Schwarzbaum says of the movie: "I don't know why Lisbeth is the magnet for so much male rage. Nor why Larsson and director Niels Arden Oplev linger on the sight of Lisbeth being hideously raped - and later punishing her tormentor with even more sadistic acts of violence." It can only be hoped that the American version will dwell a little less on the sadistic aspects of the book.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest Blog - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

A friend recommended The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He was the one who introduced me to Donna Leon so I listen when he sends a note suggesting a book. In no time at all I was caught up in the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is being sued for libel. When the judgment comes and he is sentenced to some jail time, he decides it is time to distance himself from the small journal that he has been publishing. Wealthy Henrik Vanger has a temporary job for the investigative reporter. He wants Blomkvist to look into the death of his granddaughter Harriet forty years earlier.

The characterization is excellent and I had no trouble avoiding real life and being swallowed up by the novel. I casually mentioned to a friend that I had started reading Stieg Larsson's book and was enjoying it. As I got further into the book, however, I sent an email to her telling her that I didn't think she would enjoy the book. The sex and violence in the book is not described in detail, however, most of my circle of friends are on the conservative side. There are no titillating sexual descriptions, however, I soon realized that this was not a book that I would be recommending to anyone for her book club.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is a brilliant researcher who eventually comes to work with Blomkvist. Lisbeth Salander has a dark past and an even darker present.

The entire book centers around the victimization of women. Not one of my preferred topics. As the mystery unfolds you discover that the some of women are sexually abused not only be strangers but by the men in their lives whom they should be able to trust. As Blomkvist continues his investigation, he finds that Harriet's disappearance seems to be linked to a series of violent murders in the past.

I enjoyed the peek into Swedish culture. From all that I have heard from people who have lived in Sweden, casual sex is an accepted lifestyle as is homosexuality. Reading this book, I discovered that I am a very old fashioned woman. If you are too, this mystery is probably not one that you will enjoy. However, Larsson had a very short writing career. He died in 2004 from heart failure and his books were published posthumously. Despite the grim topic, I am looking forward to reading his other two novels. Hopefully these books about Salander are not about the victimization of women or children.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Guest Blog - Death of a Valentine

My husband and I have several police/procedural television shows that we watch on a regular basis. Frequently we find ourselves asking each other if we have seen this “repeat” that we have taped. Often we don’t remember the mystery in the story but we recognize the episode from the story line in the lives of the regular characters. We’ll say, “Oh yeah. We’ve seen this one. This is the one where Tony thinks he has inherited a lot of money. Or this is the one where Tempe sees her father again.”
I have just finished reading M. C. Beaton’s latest Hamish Macbeth mystery and I have discovered that I have the same relationship with novels that I do with current TV series. I enjoy the back and forth of Hamish’s relationships with regular and new characters in the novel just as much if not more than I do the mysteries themselves. When I asked the Blogger what she thought about Death of A Valentine, she replied , “Well, you know. It is a Hamish novel.” I suspect that she feels exactly as I do. On one hand you would like Hamish to get on with his life but then maybe you really do like the story better when he is devoted to Lugs and Sonsie, his two beasties, and is content not to have a woman in his life.

So really there is no point in writing a review about Beaton’s latest novel about Hamish. I am attached to Hamish and it was a delight getting acquainted with him again. The only problem was that the end of the book came too quickly. I suppose that is why I keep rereading some of my favorite books. The pleasure of their company.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Guest Blog - Good-bye to some of the best

With the death of Dick Francis, I have come to the conclusion that I have to start looking for younger authors to read. I am not at all sure though that there are too many who can live up to the writing standards set by Francis, Parker and Hillerman. Gentleman, I will miss all of you. Thank you for many hours of reading.