Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Middle Sister's June Reads

I was able to read a lot this month, for several reasons: a longish plane trip, which gave me a good 7-9 hours of solid reading time each way; the deliberate decision to back off some of the mindless television I was watching and read on my new toy (Fred the Kindle); and knowing that come July, I need to concentrate on revamping my lecture notes for the class I'm teaching in the fall, which will cut into evening reading time. Besides, several were short stories that took no time at all to read, so the time investment is not as great as it might appear from the length of the list. So, here go my books and impressions:

  • Death of a Valentine, by M. C. Beaton  One of the few people I do occasionally lend books to is M, as we both love mysteries, but as she's a librarian, she is generally way ahead of me reading new books. But these Hamish MacBeth mysteries are such rapid reads that she read it in a weekend, gave it to me, and I read it in a weekend. Same old Hamish, still dithering and hamstrung by his inability to make a decision because a decision will mean things will change. But this cosy series is still charming, with quirky characters and beautiful scenery.
  • Raining Cats and Dogs, by Laurien Berenson Melanie Travis is newly married in this entry in the mystery series, and the book focuses in part on her new family situation, especially on her search for a larger house to accommodate the new husband and his dogs. Yup, that's why I read this series, mystery-solving dog-owner--even if she does show poodles. This one centered on Melanie and Faith, her black Standard Poodle, becoming a therapy dog team and visiting a local retirement community. Since K and I used to visit at an assisted living facility, you can understand the instant interest on my part. The murder wasn't exceptionally mysterious, although the twist at the denouement with the showdown was fun, and the author was a little vague regarding real therapy dogs (e.g., the dogs in the story are not part of any organized therapy dog group, and no mention is made of insurance and the need for liability coverage, but I'm probably more knowledgeable than the average reader just because I do this kind of volunteer work), but an easy summer read. Melanie continues to be a likeable character the reader will enjoy meeting over a cup of coffee.
  • The Bird and Insect's Post Office by Robert Bloomfield  An OOP children's book with the adorable premise that animals send each other little missives through the mail. Unfortunately, Project Gutenberg either doesn't have the illustrations referenced in the text or they don't download from PG, and I sorely missed seeing them. Very enjoyable for children who love animals (and grown-ups who believed in the worlds of Beatrix Potter and the Wind in the Willows). Very fast read.
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome Recommended in the 'favorite public domain books' thread on the Amazon Kindle forum, this humorous book relays the adventures of three late Victorian or early Edwardian men who decide to take a camping trip down the Thames despite their complete ineptness with regard to anything having to do with camping, boating, cooking, or navigating. Very funny, and only dated in a few places where references are made to carriages or shaving razors and things along those lines. The description of the men trying to erect a tent is surely the same experienced by lots of people this summer, as are other funny anecdotes about the preparation for the trip, what to bring, hiking along the tow path, cooking while camping, and other camping related activities that have changed very little over one hundred years. 
  • The Bloody Tower by Carola Dunn I should like these Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, I really should. They take place in a time period I like (the 1920s), in a place I like (England), but I just don't. They just let me down every time I read one. This one is better than the other admittedly few entries in the series I've read, and from a totally persoanl standpoint that's because this deals with the Tower of London and includes a lot of facts and descriptions about the physical setting and modern use of the Tower, and because there's a map in it. I'm always inclined to like a book that starts off with a map. But the mysteries in this series, to put it bluntly, are boring and poorly thought out, and Daisy is becoming a little too prissy and perfect for me.
  • My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner Delightful ruminations on a vegetable garden over the course of the summer, from the selection and planting of seeds through early frosts.Relevant today given the resurgence of urban homesteading, Mr. Warner discusses how even in the early twentieth century, the tomato you grow costs far more than the tomato you buy, but his essays help define why growing your own is so much more satisfying and rewarding. Another OOP you'll have to track down on Project Gutenberg, Archives, or Amazon (free for the Kindle).
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events No. 1, The Bad Beginning, or Orphans! and No. 2, The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket  I know, I'm jumping on the bandwagon with these children's books a decade after everyone else. Very enjoyable. I enjoy the elaborate writing style and how the children never succumb to adversity, but instead assume they will figure a way out, no matter how dire things appear. The interpretation of Sunny's nonverbal communication got old after a while, but a child probably won't tire of it. And really, how could the adults still not believe the children when they try to explain how mean Cousin Otto is after all his dastardly deeds of the past, but then, there wouldn't be a series if they did believe the children. I think I find Otto even creepier as an adult than I would have as a child. And I like how the author hasn't sugarcoated that bad thing happen even to children.
  • The Secret of the Silver Car by Wyndham Martyn  A perfect example of why I love my Kindle. This exciting mystery has long been out of print, and because there's no sex, extreme violence (although there are some flying fisticuffs, gun shots, and general scary menacing), or technogadgets, it's unlikely to see print again. But it's a fast action thriller, with our hero, a Master Criminal, putting himself in danger to retrieve documents that could end the career and ruin the reputation of the father of the woman he loves. Excellent and recommended.
  • Four Max Carrados Mysteries by Ernest Bramah The Max Carrados detective stories were contemporary with Sherlock Holmes (and even published in The Strand), but are unknown today. Their twist lies in that Max Carrados, our detective, is blind, and therefore relies on his own heightened senses and other people's impressions to solve the mysteries. The quality between these four short stories varies, but all are fast reads and worth the investment for mystery fans.
  • The Serpent in the Crown by Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody. Need I say more? You either love or hate these, and I love them. Ms. Peters is winding down the series, with Amelia and her husband growing older (gray hair and a less active role in the mystery for Amelia) and her son Ramses and his cohort taking on the more active roles, such as midnight chases around the Valley of the Dead in Egypt. I'll be sorry to see them go. Perhaps not the strongest entry in the series, but still very well written, with an excellent and factually correct representation of early 20th century archaeology in Egypt, with real archaeologists making cameo appearances (e.g., Howard Carter).
  • Walking by Henry David Thoreau A short essay extolling Thoreau's love of walking for it's own sake. Read to inspire me during my marathon training.
  • Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon Another 'favorite public domain books' recommendation. When it was compared to The Prisoner of Zenda, one of my all time favorite movies, I had to read it. This is Book 1 of 6, and introduces us to the fictional principality of Graustark, somewhere in eastern Europe. A bit slow moving, and frankly I got a bit tired of the hero's constant pining for the Princess (c'mon, he has one very brief conversation and falls instantly in love? Yea, I do believe in love at first sight, but I also know you don't really know the person at first sight, as the hero seems to think he does despite all evidence to the contrary). A little less pining and a bit more action would have been good. But interesting enough that I will eventually read the next 3 novels, which are already on my Kindle.
  • Death of a Trophy Wife by Laura Levine How did I miss this funny mystery series? No new ground in the genre broken, no chilling mystery, but a sympathetic and funny main character with whom I instantly identified. The side story provided by the email correspondence with her parents was very funny, and I hope I meet her parents as characters in another story. Definitely a series I will pursue.
  • The Twelve Sacred Traditions of Magnificent Mothers-in-Law by Haywood Smith  I know, I know, I an not a mother-in-law nor do I have one. But the author get great reviews online, and I thought a humorous little book could not be a waste of time. Despite not having anything in common with the premise, I don't feel I wasted half an hour reading this because I walked away determined to apply one precept to my life today: "Just for today, I will not criticize. No, not one bit." And the book ends with the uplifting advice that "the secret is to keep trying and to keep laughing." Good advice for all.
  • Letters From a Cat by Helen Hunt Jackson An OOP short story with a cute premise that fails in execution. The author should never have told the reader what ultimately happened to the cat in the introduction. Totally ruined it for me. Yea, I'm a sap.
  • First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal Charming short story from the Tor imprint this month, this time traveling fantasy has a grandmother traveling back in time to witness the Wright brothers and the first airplane flight. The time travel premise--you can only travel back as far as the year you were born--was an interesting and novel twist to the time travel genre. Very enjoyable.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my you two have a lot of time on your hands! Little Sister's June & July read: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro.