Thursday, August 1, 2013

Middle Sis' July Reads

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas I'm eager to read the recent biography of Dumas the father, so when my online book group read The Three Musketeers, it seemed like a good intersection of current and future book choices. I've seen several movie versions but did not, of course, expect them to be very similar to the original book. They weren't. The book was surprisingly engaging, with a lot more dialogue than I'd expected for a swashbuckling tale of adventure written in the mid-1800s. No pages and pages of Dickensian descriptions here. The female characters are very one-dimensional (even Milady, who is just beautiful and evil and nothing more), either all good or all evil, which was also expected. Someone in my reading group said the descriptions of parts of Paris were recognizable today. I read this one aloud to Pipsqueak while she was in the hospital, so while it will always be a bittersweet memory, it is a good read for those wanting something thick and action-packed and classic to while away the dog days of summer. Recommended. (Kindle)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad The same online reading group read this next, which couldn't have been more different from The Three Musketeers. Dark, very dark. I know only a little about the Belgian Congo, and I did a little research on Conrad to fill in some background. He ran a steamship in the Belgian Congo, so he was an eyewitness to what he wrote. Horrifying. But his phrasing, his terminology, his descriptions are just fantastic--evocative, beautiful, haunting, terrifying. Amazing to remember that English, in which he wrote, was not his native language. Recommended, but prepared to be haunted by the imagery.  (Kindle)

How Many Dogs?! by Debby McMullen Advice book for multiple dog households. I hoped to get a few new ideas on how to deal with my larger-than-expected doggy crew, and really didn't. Not the fault of the author; my own fault for having half a bookshelf devoted to dogs, dog health, dog behavior, etc. This is an okay introduction for someone thinking about adding a second pet, but don't expect lots of tips. There are an awful lot of "You'll know when it's working for your dogs" types of statements that don't really help a novice dog owner. And while there are photos during the discussion of multiple dog play, McMullen has large working dogs (which I do, too), and their aggressive, loud style of play is not the same as that of terriers or other dogs, so that section is not helpful to owners of other types of dogs. In fact, there's little about breed specific problems or issues for dogs of other types (e.g., sporting dogs, terrier group, etc. ). Not recommended for new dog owners or owners of non-working dog breeds. (Trade paper)

Grapes of Death by Joni Folger I read two books in a row that take place in and around Austin, Texas, a favorite place of mine. This one does a far better job of incorporating Austin and environs into the book as a character, even though it has a minimal presence (a shame, it's such a great little city). The Texas wine country is the setting for the murder of a black-sheep uncle, and his whole family are suspects as are some particularly nasty acquaintances of his. The main character, Elise, is generally likeable and sympathetic, although I did get tired of her repeating being told to stop investigating by the sheriff, agreeing to do so, and then turning around and detecting anyway.  There were a few glaring bumps (out of whole bookshelf of books, Elise's friend just happens to grab the one with evidence off the shelf, when the two are surreptitiously trying to quickly search Uncle's home without the sheriff finding out; and if I am escaping a murderer intent on killing me and I run into an office to hide, the first thing I'm looking for is a telephone to call for help, not scissors to cut tape or a place to hide) that showed where the author had backed herself into a corner and couldn't figure a clever way for Elise to find the clue or get help, but I'll chalk that up to debut novel in the series syndrome. I liked the characters very much, especially her grandmother (who looks to figure more in the next novel), and the light romance with the sheriff was just romantic enough to add some spice without overwhelming the mystery aspect. Recommended to mystery lovers and summer readers. (NetGalley)

Out of the Frying Pan by Robin Allen The second book to take place in Austin this month. Interesting concept--restaurant-based and foodie mysteries abound, but this one centers on a former chef turned county health inspector. An interesting twist, and the author has clearly done her homework (see acknowledgments); I learned quite a bit about how a health inspector would go about their job. But, I was mightily confused in the first chapter by the rapid-fire introduction of a slew of characters, so much so that I had to keep going back to find out who was who, who was whose child, and eventually just stopped caring. It's not the first in the series, so maybe many are recurring characters that regular readers would know, but not every reader will be a devotee of the series who reads series books in order, and an author should make sure characters are distinct and memorable for those of us attracted by a cover or who get the book secondhand. The mystery itself was interesting, the murderer a bit of a surprise (but part of that may have been because I actually had to re-read the murderer's initial introduction to remember who it was), but the first half of the book, which took place during several hours at a party, dragged on and on. Poppy's investigation kept getting sidetracked, and while this was probably a deliberate plot device, the end result was a widely scattered, half-hearted attempt to nail down clues and information before the police arrived that didn't go anywhere. Not likely to be recommended, but good enough that I would probably give the series another read. (NetGalley)

Daisy's Aunt by E. F. Benson E. F. Benson's Lucia novels are the book I'd bring with me if stranded on a desert island (the old 5 volumes in one edition published years ago by Harper and Row; my copy is disintegrating, I've read it so much). I cannot believe this book was written by the same author. The characters are uninteresting, the premise tedious, there's no witty banter or biting social commentary. It's just--well, to use the common Internet verdict: meh. Not recommended unless you're a Benson diehard, and even then, prepare to be disappointed. I wonder if he was trying to parody a well-known book or play?