Monday, May 30, 2016

Murder, He Wrote ...

Title: Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by Paul Thomas Murphy
First Line: He stumbled upon her at 4:15 on Wednesday morning, April 26, 1871, half an hour before the sun rose, just as definition and color began to bleed into the amorphous black and gray.

My thoughts: This is the true story of murder in Victorian England and the police investigation and trials that followed. It's well-written and oddly compelling. Maid-of-all-work Jane Maria Clouson was seventeen and pregnant when she was viciously attacked and left for dead. The principal suspect in her murder? Edmund Pook, her former employer's twenty-year-old son and Jane's alleged lover. Jane's sad story swept the country as did Pook's arrest and subsequent trial. The author deftly chronicles both. Forensic science was in its infancy in 1871 and I found it interesting what the police could prove, and what they couldn't. Their investigation was far from perfect, but they tried their best to get justice for Jane. I found it sad that they couldn't. Overall, this was a fascinating look at mystery and murder in Victorian England.

Title: Shatter by Michael Robotham
First Line:  It's eleven o'clock in the morning, late September, and outside it's raining so hard that cows are floating down rivers and birds are resting on their bloated bodies.

My thoughts:  Clinical psychologist, Joe O'Loughlin is on the case again when a woman's suicide turns out to be something more. At first the police don't want to believe that there's a serial killer inciting these deaths. Then a second woman dies. The suspense in this psychological thriller really amps up when Joe's investigation puts his own wife and daughter in danger. Once I started this book, I did not want to put it down. Robotham has written another compelling mystery with a white-knuckle ending. I liked it as much as Say You're Sorry and Bleed For Me. (Just watch out for overuse of the F-word.)

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bookish thoughts...

On reading days.  In college, we always had a few days between when classes ended and finals began in which to study. We called them "Reading Days". And while I really don't want to go back to college, I wouldn't mind having designated days just for reading in my everyday life when everything else could just come to a stop. Wouldn't that be awesome? One or two days set aside every month just for reading! I would really like that. Wouldn't you?

On commenting.  As much as I love talking books with other bloggers, I sometimes find myself in a commenting slump. No matter how great the bookish post may be, there are days when I can't think of anything better to say than "sounds good" or "great review". It's sad, and a little embarrassing. I mean, who wants to be the person who signs everyone's yearbook with that lame cliched remark: "Have a nice summer"? I blame my sporadic slumps on stress and lack of sleep. So, when another commenting slump comes along, please forgive my lack of creativity and good conversation. It won't last long. Which is a good thing, because chatting about books with other bookish bloggers is what I like best.

On burrowing owls.  Just saw my first burrowing owl on Antelope Island. Mostly males, because the females are nesting. Soon there will be chicks! I love owls.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A fun read...

What is it about Westerns?  William W. Johnstone says, "The Western is one of the few true art forms that is one hundred percent American. I liken the Western as America's version of England's Arthurian legends, like the Knights of the Round Table, or Robin Hood and his Merry Men ... it has helped to shape the cultural landscape of America." Most importantly, "the Western is honest. In this great country, which is suffering under the yolk of political correctness, the Western harks back to an era when justice was sure and swift. Steal a man's horse, rustle his cattle, rob a bank, a stagecoach, or a train, you were hunted down and fitted with a hangman's noose. One size fits all."

What I like best about Westerns are the men. The men in Westerns are men of rugged individualism and character. They're strong, and decent, and not afraid to stand up for what's right. Despite their flaws and imperfections, they're heroes. And they sometimes make me wish more real men were like them.

In Those Jensen Boys! the heroes are Ace and Chance Jensen, twin brothers who are quick with a joke, quick with a gun, and even quicker to take up a cause. So when Brian Corcoran and his two lovely (and feisty!) daughters, Bess and Emily, need help against ruthless mine owner, Sam Eagleton, and his hired guns, Ace and Chance Jensen are quick to step into the fray. They may be outnumbered and outgunned, but they won't go down without a fight. This Western has everything a good Western should:  a saloon brawl, a poker game, an ambush, a stagecoach crash, several fist fights, and a final showdown with a hardened gunfighter. Ace and Chance even get to kiss the girls.

This is a fun read. It has action and humor. Bess and Emily are smart and tough and almost as good with a shotgun as Ace and Chance. And the good guys win. The two Jensen brothers reminded me a lot of Louis L'Amour's Sackett clan (though L'Amour does it a little better). I look forward to having more adventures with Those Jensen Boys! 

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

May's bookish art ...

Winslow Homer -- Girl Reading on a Stone Porch, 1872
"Very few among us read too much; most of us read too little."
--Joseph Fielding Smith

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ibid: A Life

Clever. That's the best word to describe Mark Dunn's fictional biography Ibid: A Life, a novel told solely in footnotes.  (Quirky is another good word for it.) When the only copy of Dunn's manuscript about Jonathan Blashette, a man born with three legs, is accidentally destroyed, Dunn's publishing company agrees to publish what's left:  the footnotes. Set in the early 1900s, Ibid is a "biography by inference"; everything you learn about Blashette's life--his tour with a traveling circus as a child, the many women he loves, and his invention of deoderant for men--is hinted at through side stories and interesting, albeit somewhat trivial, historical tangents.

It's an intriguing way to tell a story, though it did feel a little choppy. And it was sometimes hard to find the thread of plot. Some chapters were really humorous and entertaining; others dragged. And through it all, I never felt like I really got to know Blashette. Still, I'm glad I read this original novel by Mark Dunn. It's only 269 pages, so it reads pretty fast. Though I have to admit, I like his novel Ella Minnow Pea better.

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A bookish update...

Recently finished reading:

Reading goal for May:  "No Women Allowed"
So far this year I've read more than twice as many books by women authors as by men. So I thought I'd try to remedy this by instituting "Men Only May". I know, I'm starting a little late, but for the rest of the month I'll only be reading books written by men--see if I can even out my numbers a little. (And maybe have a little fun at the same time.)

So here's who I just checked out of the library:
Mark Dunn: Ibid
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Matthew Riley: The Great Zoo of China
William Johnstone: Those Jensen Boys!
Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49
Michael Robotham:  Shatter

Quote for the week:
"Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, 
and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. 
Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets,
 and life will become a beautiful success."
--Louisa May Alcott

Up Next:

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Celebrating Daphne du Maurier

I've never read Rebecca and I thought it was high time that I did. And what better day to post about it than on du Maurier's 109th birthday?

As I started reading this classic novel I realized that while I knew that Rebecca is the name of Maxim de Winter's dead wife, and that the story revolves around his new, young wife who remains unnamed throughout, and that it takes place at Manderley in Cornwall, I didn't know much about the story itself. Only that it's a modern Gothic. Oh, and I knew about the infamous Mrs. Danvers and her unkind treatment of her unnamed heroine. (Mostly because two of the main characters in Barbara Michaels' novel Into the Darkness discuss her at length.) So needless to say, I was curious about the rest of the story, and eager to know what the fuss is all about.

First of all, I have to say that I really like the way du Maurier writes: her descriptions of Manderley, her voice, and the way she sets a scene. She's good at building suspense and she also writes very memorable characters. I think it's impossible to have lukewarm feelings for Maxim and his new wife, or Mrs. Danvers. Or Rebecca herself. I either loved them, or hated them...or desperately wanted to slap them, which shows how invested I became in their lives, and in this story. There were times I got a little impatient with the pacing. And I got a little impatient with Maxim and his young bride, too. I wanted them to solve their miscommunications more quickly. But that's just because I wanted them both to be happy. All in all, I really liked this book. And I'm glad I finally got around to reading it (and that I finally know how it ends!). Now I can happily cross it off my "To Read" list and add Daphne du Maurier's name to my list of favorite authors.

Happy Birthday, Daphne du Maurier!
(And happy reading.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reading New England...

"A Gothic is a story about a girl who gets a house."
--Abby Adams Westlake

The Inheritance by Tom Savage

The house.  Set in Connecticut, Randall House is a three-story mansion with tall columns and ivy-colored stone walls. Built over 100 years ago on a cliff overlooking Long Island Sound, it is a house that has seen scandal and murder; a house that holds many secrets.

The girl.  Adopted at birth, the girl in question lived the first twenty-four years of her life as Holly Smith. Only she is really Holly Randall, heir to Randall House and the entire Randall fortune. But not everyone is happy to see her come home. Like her Uncle John and his wife, Catherine. And the residents of the town of Randall, Connecticut. 

The mystery.  Like every good Gothic story, The Inheritance has a crazy girl living in the gatehouse, the possibility of a romance with the handsome young chauffeur, and a mysterious old man who creeps through the halls of Randall House like a ghost. Then there's the hit man who's been hired to make Holly's death look like an accident. (And the one who hired him.) As well as a silent outsider, his German Shepherd in tow, who watches everyone and everything. And it's at Randall House where all these lives, and all the secrets of the past and present, intersect.

My thoughts.  This is an interesting mystery. Every time I thought I had it figured out, it took a turn that I wasn't expecting. Especially at the end. Some of the turns I liked, some I did not. It was the same with the characters; there were so many plots and counter-plots it was hard to know who to trust. Or like. But this modern-day Gothic mystery is still a pretty entertaining read. It'll never be my favorite, but it did keep me guessing.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

First impressions...

These first lines made me want to keep reading; see if any of them make you want to read more, too:

First line: On my sixteenth birthday, I went to the Moon.
Title: Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele
(Entertaining YA science-fiction novel set on the moon; it reminded me
of my favorite Heinlein novels.)

First lines: June 4th, 1911--Today Miss Chandler gave me this beautiful book. I vow that I will never forget her kindness to me, and I will use this book as she told me to--I will write in it with truth and refinement.
Title: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
(14-year-old Joan Scraggs escapes her family's hardscrabble Pennsylvania farm in order to find a better future for herself in this delightful YA historical fiction novel.)

First line: Wherever he went that night people insisted on confiding in him.
Title: The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell
(This is my favorite Dawn Powell novel.)

First lines: As my train pulled into London, I looked out at the early summer rain and was glad to see the dreary day had followed me from Hampshire. It suited my mood. 
Title: An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd
(Another excellent Bess Crawford mystery set in England in 1917.)

First line: It wasn't a lot of luggage for six years; for the longest journey anyone has ever taken.
Title: Marsbound by Joe Haldeman
(Science-fiction adventure set on Mars.)

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

From the P Shelf...

Author:  Orhan Pamuk
Title:  The New Life
First Line:  I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.

Isn't that a great first line? Orhan Pamuk's novel My Name is Red is one of my all-time favorite reads, so when I saw this book by Pamuk sitting on the 'P' shelf at the library, I couldn't resist checking it out.  It begins with Osman, an engineering student, finding and reading a book that utterly transforms his view of the world, and opens his mind to the possibility of a new life. So much so, that he becomes obsessed with finding it.

"Not only had the book permeated my being like a secret or a sin, it had dragged me into the kind of speechlessness one experiences in dreams.  Where were the kindred spirits with whom I could talk? Where was the country in which I'd find the dream that spoke to my heart? Where were those who had also read the book? Where? ... If only I could go on journeys, it seemed I'd reach the universe in the book. The glow of the new life I felt inside me existed in a faraway place, even in a land that was unattainable, but I sensed that as long as I was in motion, I was getting closer. I could at least leave my old life behind me."
 So begins his journey. He meets and falls in love with Janan, the girl who first showed him the book. Then he loses her. So he quits school and begins criss-crossing Turkey in random buses looking for her and this new life he hopes exists somewhere. But even when he finds Janan, his illusory journey goes on...and on.

I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't. In fact, I couldn't even finish it. Osman's odyssey was too introspective for me. Nothing much happens for a long time. After 60 pages, it started to feel like I was reading a surrealistic, overly-long soliloquy.  And I just couldn't do it any more. I did skip ahead hoping it got better, but it didn't. This just wasn't the book for me. No serendipity from the 'P' shelf with this read. Oh, well. Maybe with the next one.

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ode to May

Song on a May Morning
by John Milton

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.