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.