Monday, August 1, 2016

Middle Sister's July Reads

Three out of five books were successes this month--not a great month for escapist summertime reading.

The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson The month started off with a bang. The current selection by my 19th century literature book group can only be described as a Victorian-era screwball comedy. Those are not four words one normally associates with each other. Stevenson wrote this with his stepson, and I do not know which author contributed the madcap comedy, but it's hard to believe this was written by the same author of Treasure Island. There are similarities between the two: good pacing throughout the novel, interesting and unusual and sympathetic characters, surprise twists. But Stevenson surprised me with a genuinely likable and strong, albeit minor, female character (she's got the brains), and managed to make the reader forget all about the unlikely coincidences that move the story along because they were laughing too much. Recommended (Kindle)

Yellowthread Street by William Marshall Police procedurals generally aren't my cup of tea, but I decided a change of pace this summer would be welcome, and the reissue of this 1988 novel in ebook format worked perfectly. Yellowthread Street had the perfect blend of police grit, zany minor characters, and strong characters that make an ensemble story work. The tory successfully veered from understated gore while the Manchurian was being hunted to the understated poignancy of Harry Feiffer's wife's telephone conversation, all wrapped up in an exotic setting--pre-unification Hong Kong. I read this in two nights because I couldn't put it down. Recommended (NetGalley)

A Very Vintage Christmas by Bob Richter Christmas in July? Why not? This unusual history of Christmas decorations was liberally punctuated with the author's reminiscence's about past Christmas celebrations and his own hobby of collecting Christmas ornaments. I just wish the Kindle ARC had better graphics, as at least half of the photos were not visible. If you love Christmas, or are beginning your own Christmas ornament collection, you'll enjoy this breezy read. After all, every one of us who decorates for the holidays is a Christmas ornament collector. (NetGalley).

I guess I have read too many genre mysteries and too many ARCs now. I find I have lost my patience with stories that don't capture my attention. And if they capture it for the wrong reasons...

An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards This book had a couple of elements going for it that intrigued me: it's a historical mystery, centered on a woman who joins the (real life) Pinkerton Agency. But I barely made it past the first four chapter. In Chapter 1, Lilly is urged to divorce her philandering husband. In Victorian American society, this was still highly scandalous, and even though Lilly is an actress, it would have been socially unacceptable. And then Lilly is convincing herself that she can join the Pinkertons because she has been taught by her acting  mentor everything from "agriculture to zombies." Zombies? Victorian society had never even heard of zombies. I've read plenty of Victorian literature, published in the US and UK, and have never read that word in a book actually published in the year the story takes place. So I looked it up; the first book to popularize zombies was published in 1929, 50 years after this story takes place. So I gave the book up. If it had been steam punk lit, I'd have persisted. But I am tired of authors who think that readers want a 21st century story with 21st century characters speaking like 21st television stars, wearing costumes.  Not finished and not recommended. (NetGalley)

A Child's Garden of Death by Richard Forrest Again, a promising abstract: English professor helps police chief friend solve strange murder. The discovery of the burial of three people in a small pit far from any residential or commercial development that appears to date to thirty years ago--promising. The setting was Connecticut--promising. Because many ebooks don't list the originally publication date, it took clues in the text and some online research to discover the book was originally published in 1975. There were elements of the story that just dated it too much for a modern reader: the references to the main characters meeting during the Korean War; Lyon's (yes, the main character is named Lyon) hot air balloon ride to take photos of the crime scene (twenty-something readers will not realize drones didn't exist then; thirty-something readers will wonder why he didn't use a glider instead). But I started hating the book when the medical examiner identified the seven-year-old victim as a girl. You CANNOT identify the sex of children from their skeletons. The secondary sex characteristics osteologists use to identify the sex of a skeleton don't appear until adulthood. Osteologists and forensic anthropologists call these subadults for a reason. The child was buried with a doll; wouldn't it have been better plot point for the police chief to assume it was a girl from this and then be surprised when it turned out to be a boy? I'm assuming the identities of the victims was eventually discovered. I stopped reading the book shortly after this. We've known for a very long this simple fact and even in 1975, a quick glance at an anatomy book or an encyclopedia would have told the author that identifying a 7-year-old as a girl or boy would have been impossible. The constant interruption for dream sequences, with no indications in the text or formatting to indicate we'd switched from action to dream, was extremely annoying, too. Not recommended. (NetGalley)

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