Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Middle Sister's November Reads

Okay, so I am teensy bit late in posting November's book reviews. I won't bore you with the details, but all readers will understand when I say that sometimes, life gets in the way. But life didn't interrupt the reading, because reading is life.

Yarned and Dangerous by Sadie Hartwell See my previous review of this charming mystery, a nice beginning to a series I hope will continue. The setting was well fleshed out, the character growth was at a believable pace, and the supporting characters were interesting and characters I'd like to learn more about. I hope the author increases her descriptions of the setting and people, however; the upstate New York setting is a gorgeous locale. And may I dare ask for a map? I dearly love a mystery with a map.

Death Comes to Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd I try not to completely pan a book, but, my word, this book was pretty awful. The series (which is several titles long by this entry) no doubt started as a way to cash in on the popularity of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey. But I do not believe the author has ever actually read Jane Austen or any other book written in the Regency era (when her book is set) or watched Downton Abbey, because her characters are totally unbelievable for that time period. Gentleman did not wink at ladies (at least not society ladies). Ladies never winked at all. Valets did not petulantly tell their masters that the master had woken them up. No man would complement another man by comparing him to a woman (location 165 on my Kindle). No one would say to Mrs. Fairfax's face, while in society, that her husband drank too much (although they would whisper about it behind their fans). Silly, perhaps, but these and many other inappropriate actions and language create a discordant element a mile wide. Many of the readers this book is aimed at have inhaled every second of these popular historical novels and television shows, many times over. A good editor was sorely needed, even if just to make sure that vocabulary was correct; 'bridled' means to be angry, which Mrs. Chingford most definitely was not when she was speaking with Lucy's father; preened would have been a better word. I know, I know, most readers of the cosy genre are not historians, and they are not looking for accuracy. But in today's world, when people believe tweets are factual news, cursive writing is no longer taught, and the idea of having to memorize basic information is deemed pointless, I am horrified that people might read this and think it accurately portrays a certain time and place. Mystery-wise, the story was okay and the identity of the murderer a nice surprise, but I nearly gave up getting to the end because of my disgust with all the inaccuracies I had to wade through to get to the end (and get to the end I had to, as I was reviewing this for NetGalley). It might have been better had this been proffered as a steampunk mystery and not a cosy.

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant My nineteenth-century literature book club decided to take on a biography from that period (after 7 years, we're searching hard to find new authors and seem to be unwilling to read ones we've read before). One member decided to read this, and the rest thought it sounded so interesting we all hopped onto her choice. I am glad I did. Although it is long (two volumes), it's very interesting. Grant's writing style is very crisp and clean, almost modern in its unfussiness. His critical assessment of confederate officers was surprising; he'd known many at West Point long before the war, and he painstakingly calls each by name honorable, well-prepared, good soldiers, and other complimentary terms despite their being collectively named the enemy. Refreshing in today's world, that recognition that someone you might disagree with is not an evil villain, but just a person with a different opinion. But I advise anyone who reads this to do so with a map of Civil War battlefields at the ready; I was constantly metaphorically kicking myself that I couldn't track troop movements while reading this late at night, in bed. Civil War buffs, this is a must read.

The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller Another NetGalley preview. Having read a few books on de-cluttering the past few years, I thought this would be a related approach to the question of how to simplify or live mindfully that might be interesting. There was no description that the publisher is a Christian publisher, and I hope that is made clear on the book covers. Anyone just searching for a book to help de-clutter and simplify might be put off by the heavy Christian element to the decision by Mr. and Mrs.Dannemiller to go an entire year without buying anything but necessities. What some would find inspiring text would be a definite off-putting factor to another. The comedy schtick routine got a bit thick and much sometimes and i wish an editor had toned some of it down. However, given the success of faith-based weight loss programs, a faith-based approach to lessening consumerism and living more mindfully may be equally successful. Certainly we could all do with much less than we have, no matter why we choose to do so.

Friday, November 6, 2015

We Interrupt Our Regular Schedule: Yarned and Dangerous

Interrupting our regular review schedule to review a book that will be published Nov. 24. Yarned and Dangerous by Sadie Hartwell is another in a string of cosy mysteries set in yarn shops designed to target to knitter/reader, and this one works. Our amateur detective, Josie, is struggling in her attempts to get her fashion career off the ground in NYC, so grudgingly accepts her mother's wheedling to go help her great uncle recuperate after a car accident that killed his new wife, Cora. Cora owned a yarn shop in the faltering town of Dorset Falls, and one of Josie's tasks is to get the shop and its inventory ready for sale. Naturally, she stumbles into a murder that soon involves her in the lives, loves, and drama of Dorset Falls.

I did enjoy this mystery. The supporting characters were well fleshed and not just wallpaper to allow Josie to shine. Her curmudgeon of an uncle and the nice neighbor next door are realistically portrayed. Although I usually prefer a little bit more prose in my descriptions, the town and countryside and weather descriptions are sufficient. I did find one plot line that was tome irritating--no shop owner does not have an inventory somewhere, even if it's handwritten. I understand the author needed a ploy to get Josie to start to like the fiber and  begin to see a life for herself in Dorset Falls, but honestly, any shopkeeper that keeps a record of sales of yarn to particular customers by brand, color, weight, and dye lot would have kept an inventory. How else do you  know when to reorder? Okay, that's my inner sales clerk whining, but it kept nudging me through a large part of the book. Nonetheless, I will return to the Tangled Web mystery series.

Recommended for cosy mystery readers and knitters alike.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Middle Sister's October Reads

October has been quite wet out here, and there was plenty of bedtime reading, listening to the rain spattering outside and the wind chimes softly tinkling. Ideal reading weather.

Pagan Spring by G.M. Malliet I borrowed this book from the library based solely on its cover, I admit it. The description seemed right up my alley--murder in a small English country town, with a priest as the amateur detective. Well, there was a lot to like. There was a plan of the village on the flypaper (I love a book with maps); there were village eccentrics, some of whom I liked and some of whom were slightly annoying; there were some red herrings. But I didn't like our Anglican priest as much as I thought I would. I found it quite jarring when Reverend Max lectured a family on the apparel o their daughter at services. It added nothing to the plot at all, and just served to rile up my feminist sides. "Men need women to help set the boundaries--not the other way around." Excuse me? Men can't control themselves around a little female flesh? How outdated and infuriating an attitude, and since this was fairly early in the book, it didn't set me up to like him more.I didn't find his romance with Awena believable or realistic, nor his relationships with his bishop or the DCI. His bishop calls him in to counsel him against this investigating he's been doing (this is not the first in the series) and then ends the conversation by telling Max he'd better investigate this murder. At first the bishop is worried because Awena is not Anglican and then he's all for them marrying (of course, he doesn't know that she is essentially Wiccan). Which is it? DCI Cotton is a likable fellow, but the dynamics of their friendship pale beside that between Sidney (an Anglican priest) and Geordie (the DCI) in the Grantchester series. Mac/Cotton's relationship is almost a bromance, if I can steal that word from fan fiction circles. If I read another, it will be for the supporting characters, who were more interesting to me than the main characters.As for the murder mystery, interesting, but not necessarily believable in terms of coincidence. (hardcover)

The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Thyroid Disorders by Mario Shugor Factually accurate but offers nothing to the reader who is looking for advice on handling what appear to be endocrine-related symptoms but whose T4 and other values are within normal range. Little discussion of Hashimoto's disease, which is why I wanted to read it. (Kindle)

Lucia and the Diplomatic Incident by Tim Holt Luciaphiles, rejoice. This short story published originally in the Lucia society bulletin is now available as a Kindle short. The main thrust (that Lucia would read Miss Mapp's mail) was not convincing; my Lucia would not stoop so low, but would have guessed what the contents of the letter were from the return address alone. But it was lovely seeing my favorite characters in a new encounter.

Next month: my book club tackles the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which is quite long and which I started the third week of October.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Big Sis' Reads

Coming soon...

Under construction...

No excuse for the fact I haven't posted in a year!!!

I kept my list of titles so I'll be back with some updates soon - rather than reviewing EVERY book I read, perhaps I'll post the highlights of the time I've been MIA and then once I'm caught up, I'll go back to every book I read...

Opinions, anyone?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Middle Sister's July, August, and September Reads

Well, I have some catching up to do!

The Physiology of Taste by Jean Brillat-Savarin Book club selection. Odd treatise on food and lifestyles, with a couple of prescient observances re: the importance of fresh air and sleep. I just wish my copy included the translations of the French passages.

The Midsummer Crown by Kate Sedley A Roger the Chapman mystery set in medieval England during the tumultuous summer after the death of Edward IV and the accession of Edward V and then Richard III. The author does a great job reconstructing medieval England, and the book is very atmospheric. The mystery is good, with elements of religion and paganism woven into the unsettled political milieu.

A Brisket, A Casket by Delia Rosen Cosy mystery set a Jewish deli in Nashville. I admit I got a little tired of the in-your-face attitude of the main character by page 49, never a good sign. I wanted to like the police protagonist, but when he subtly paid her a compliment on her looks while interrogating her as a suspect, I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room. (Never fear, I love my Kindle way too much to risk it.) I hate it when professionals are made to act little junior-high students.Or when interesting supporting characters and their dialogue, necessary to introduce them to the reader, are belittled by the main character. I stuck it out, even though it was very clear early on who the murderer was, but the final straw was the last paragraph, when Gwen accepted a date with Royce, the annoying guy she turned down for several sentences before saying yes. Pushy men are not acceptable in my book. No means no. So no, I'm not visiting this series again.

Murder a 'La Mode by G. A. McKevett  Fun little mystery that takes place on the set of a medieval times reality show in Texas. Savannah is a fun, endearing character, her supporting cast is equally engaging, and the situation is timely and funny. And I really like the grumpy bear of a detective/probable love interest for Savannah, Dirk. Yea, she didn't act like a 40-year-old woman should act, especially with regard to Lance Roman the model, but the rest of the story was entertaining, so I overlooked that grating element. I will visit this series again.

Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper An interesting way to start a story--our heroine's restaurant has failed, so she runs home to lick her wounds. I wanted to like Sophie and her grandmother a little bit more than I did, but I did enjoy the mystery and the whodunnit, which was a neat little twist. The setting in upstate New York is nice, and I'd like a little more atmosphere in the next. Not a resounding home run for the first in a new series, but I see potential and will likely read more of the series.

The Beetle by Richard Marsh Book club selection. Creepy! I am not a horror fan, so what creeps me out may not even cause an eyeflicker in a seasoned fan of the genre. But the general consensus amongst my fellow book club readers was that the creepy atmosphere in this book was excellent, and we all confessed to our skin crawling at times. We also agreed that the ending was a bit unsatisfactory, but we all enjoyed getting to it immensely. I recommend this to anyone who likes horror and wants to explore some of the historical past of the genre.

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night by James Runcie I did enjoy the Grantchester mystery series on Masterpiece on PBS this year, so when I stumbled across this second (or maybe third) book in the series, I wanted to give it a try. Mostly dialogue, but when Mr. Runcie decides to describe a setting, he's very good. The book is composed of several short stories that take place consecutively over several years, so we don't get as much character development of the love story and how Sidney comes to fall in love with his wife, but they are still still easy to read, and were a lovely reminder of my time on Cambridge and my walks and punts on the river Cam to Grantchester.

Oak and Dagger by Dorothy St. James I gave up on this one. I was first irritated that someone working in the White House would not be confused that the latest set of plans she had for the irrigation system was 30 years old. I was further irritated when the murder victim was found, and, after making several allusions to the previous mysteries the heroine had been involved in, she acts like a ninny. Okay, I get the victim is a coworker, I get shock, but I don't get ninniness. By the time we hit the back story of her serial murderer father, which was three irritations later, I decided that this was a cosy-in-disguise, and not a very good one at that. I dislike panning a book, but I can't recommend this one at all. Which is too bad, as the historical tie-in with the First Ladies was a great idea, the dog on the cover was cute, and I've actually been to Washington DC and so could picture some of the setting in my mind.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

May and June Reads

This list is going to look very short, especially since it's covering two months, but I was trying to get caught up with the backlog of magazines cluttering my coffee table. My 19th century novels book club was reading a novel by Edgar Allen Poe--The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. It's Poe, it's Nantucket, I should have been enjoying it, but the Project Gutenberg .pdf I downloaded to my Kindle Voyage was at such a small font, I could/can barely read it. But I did read:

Dead Reckoning by Catherine Aird Ms. Aird is a Golden Age of Murder Mysteries Grand Dame living amongst us. There's just enough character development to keep the modern reader happy, but loads of mystery and atmosphere to keep us mystery devotees happy. I give this one, like all her books, a hearty recommendation.

Murder, She Barked by Krista Davis A cozy read by my online cozy book group. A small town that has re-configured itself as a pet resort--sounds perfect for this pet lover. Except that I didn't really care for the heroine, the mystery was rather boring, and there were just too many coincidences. It's got a cute cover, but I'm not interested enough to continue the series.

Fer de Lance by Rex Stout Nero Wolfe. His first appearance. Say no more.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Middle Sister's April Reads

April was a fantastic reading month. I only read three books, but each was a gem and was thoroughly enjoyed. Forthwith:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows This book has been on my TBR list since it was published. Why did I wait so long to read it? Read it, read it! I fell in love with every single character in the book. I had one, just one, little thing I would nitpick, and that's only because I have read a little about Alan Turing. But it's so minor I will easily let that little bit of modern political correctness slide by. This easily ranks as one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Go read it. So highly recommended there are no words

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson I like a dry sense of humor, so Bill Bryson's books are always an enjoyable read for me. And I love to walk and hike and be in nature, so it was a given I'd enjoy his memoir about hiking part of the Appalachian Trail. However, his cogitations on history, tackling a quest, coming to grips with your own failings, and other philosophical ramblings make this a book even a non-hiker will enjoy. Recommended

For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend by Patricia McConnell Wonderful book about dogs that focuses on emotions, something which, until recently, many scientists insisted digs did not possess. Good background information on the neurological and physical underpinnings of emotions in both species, the books focuses on the least understood and, to many, most frightening aspects of dog emotion: fear, aggression, and jealousy. A must read for any dog lover and any dog owner. I love dogs and am nerdy and have read many books about them, and I still learned several very useful and interesting things. Recommended

Monday, April 13, 2015

Middle Sister's March Books

March was a fairly slow month, reading-wise, but I did get in three enjoyable mysteries, my favorite genre.

Treachery in Bordeaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen Part of the Winemaker's series that is just being translated into English, this quick read was enjoyable enough that I'll probably read more in the series if it comes my way, but probably won't seek it out. Pluses: interesting setting (French vineyards), an intelligent, happily married amateur detective, very interesting secondary characters (all the women, and expanding their characters would have been a bonus to the story), a detective who turns things over to the police. Cons: light on plot, the relationship between our detective and his sidekick is not well developed, an awfully light of time is spent discussing wines which may or may not be fictional and which adds little to the plot. Recommended to Francophiles and anyone looking for anew series.

Past Tense by Catherine Aird A Sloan and Crosby mystery, this lives up to the great string of mysteries in the series. Although I had added in my own little twist when I figured out the whodunnit that Ms. Aird did not include, the book was still enjoyable. Well paced, well plotted, with enough red herrings if you weren't paying attention. The only thing that rankled were Sloan's cryptic comments about his wife and marriage (they're happy comments indicating a happy marriage, but seemed a little heavy-handed after the third or fourth occurrence). Recommended to all mystery lovers, not just Anglophiles.

Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout Caesar was not who I expected him to be. Really intriguing Nero Wolfe mystery as it is one of the few in which Wolfe is not in his NYC townhouse, but is actually outside. He even gets some fresh air in the real outside. Entertaining entry in the series. Just remember it was published in 1939 when Wolfe reveals his misogynist tendencies. Recommended for genre lovers, of course, because Wolfe is classic. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Middle Sister's February 2015 Reads

Hi ho, book lovers! I haven't been shirking my reading (well, not too much), but after a near-killer, 3-month out-of-town work project, during which I could only read magazines because I was so tired at night, I am back in the reading groove. Alas, I have to report the death of my Kindle 2, but am awaiting delivery of my Kindle Voyage eagerly.

Old Age Can Kill You by Rita Laken Fifth in the series set in a retirement community in-where else?-Florida. The characters were cliched but still endearing, but the mystery left a little bit to be desired for this reader. C for effort, and recommend edonly to those who like squeaky clean mysteries with little action.

Death Times Three by Rex Stout Three novellas featuring Nero Wolfe that were originally published decades ago, then re-worked by Mr. Stout but never re-published. Nero Wolfe is always entertaining, but the introduction, which details the original stories and how they were reworked, makes this a winner. A all around

When William Came by Saki The favorite author of E.F. Benson, perhaps my favorite author, the book, originally published in 1913, presents an England that has lost a major war to Germany (note this was published before World War I) and is now living under a new German king. Written to warn England against its isolationism, there were some interesting parallels to modern society. The character of Joan Mardle could, with some embellishment, been part of Benson's Tilling society easily. B, and recommended only to those with an interest in Saki, Benson, or Britain at the turn of the 19th century

Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh One of the grand dames of the golden age of mystery and one of my favorite authors and favorite characters--what's not to love? Set in a small English village where a centuries-old mummers play is performed every winter solstice, this was a great read. Yes, I figured out whodunnit and partially why, but that did not detract from my enjoyment. A

Death in an Ivory Tower by Maria Hodgins Academics, Oxford, Shakespeare, King Arthur--it should have been an easy sell to this reader. However, I never warmed to Dotsy Lamb, the narrator and amateur sleuth, and the setting is only minimally present (disappointing, since I've been to oxford and would have been delighted to revisit in the pages of this book). Another where I knew whodunnit pretty early, although not exactly why, and that's where my major problem with the book derives. We learn the reason for the murder (blackmail) in the final pages, but how the blackmailer discovered the information they were using to blackmail was never revealed; at least, I searched several times for it and never found it. So it left me supremely dissatisfied at a murder with only a partial explanation. For this reason, a D.