Saturday, December 27, 2014

Alex - Pierre Lemaitre


I don't think I can say much about this book without giving away some important plot points.  

One night in Paris, a young woman named Alex is abducted on her way home from a solitary dinner.  The man who kidnapped her beats her and puts her in a cage suspended in a derelict warehouse.  She's stripped naked and starved.  There are rats.  She doesn't know why he's done this.  All he'll say is that he kidnapped her to watch her die.  But why her?

A stranger reports seeing Alex being snatched, but he doesn't know who she is and can't give the police much helpful information.  The police can't find out who she is, which makes it more difficult to find her.  By the time they find the man who's abducted her, Alex has taken things into her own hands.

This is a roller-coaster of a book that will have your sympathies shifting.  Is Alex a victim or isn't she?  It's violently graphic, but it's a gripping read.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to All!

                                                           MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Mystery in White - J. Jefferson Farjeon

I've been reading other bloggers' posts about this book for months and now I've been reading that Mystery in White is becoming a best seller.  They had me at the cover illustration, although I downloaded Mystery in White as an e-book.  I finally read it last week and I loved it.

What could be cozier than reading about passengers on a train stuck in a terrible snowstorm?  Some of them leave the train to hike to another station.  They get lost in the storm but find a welcoming, warm, cheery house in the country.  Fires lit, kettle boiling, tea laid  -  but no one is home.

The travellers dry off, get warm, have something to eat, and wait for the owners to return.  But they don't.  There are some suspicious people among the strangers from the train and a few more people arrive later.  Then the bodies start appearing.

I liked this book a lot.  I liked the writing style, the characters, the atmosphere of the house in the snowstorm, and the plot.  The author wrote many other mysteries and I'm hoping I can track some of them down.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My New List Project

I love making lists.  It makes me feel that I'm in control of something in this chaotic world.  Or maybe I just like order.  I've been making lists of one sort or another most of my life.  Christmas lists, grocery lists, lists of errands.

When it comes to books, I've been keeping track of what I've read since 1966.  The only book on my list that year was Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which if I remember correctly, I read over the course of two summers while volunteering at the library.  I know I read more than one book that year, but that's the only one I recorded.  I recorded it in my 'Books I've Read' 3-ring binder and on a 3 x 5 card in my card catalog.  I don't remember where I kept my cards before I bought my antique oak drawers several years ago.  Probably in a cardboard box.

In 1967, I read two more by Hardy:  Far From the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native.  I read all the well-known books by Hardy when I was in my mid-teens.  (Full disclosure, I was born in the enchanted year of 1952 AD, pre-carseats, pre-playdates, pre-every child having allergies, pre-after school activities.)  I also read Valley of the Dolls, Man-Eaters of Kumeron, Yankee Ghosts, Lizzie Borden:  The Untold Story, and several James Bond books.  

For better or worse, my parents never tried to keep me from reading anything.  I'm sure I read books that other parents would have been horrified to find in their child's possession.  Volunteering at the local library, where it was often just me and whomever was acting librarian that night, gave me access to the racier stuff they kept for adults under the desk.  But this was a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, so there was nothing to blow off your hat, maybe just Peyton Place or The Group.
I'm making quick progress because it's sort of mindless work and because I'm pretty good at data entry.  I'm good at that and can use the calculator without looking, but my skill on the piano is not what it used to be.  Too much computer and accounting work and not enough piano.  Anyway, I'm up to Janet Evanovich now and have over 600 books logged in.  But I still have a lot to go.

What makes me mad is that I know I've read books that aren't on my list or on a 3 x 5 card.  Damn it! Why wasn't I as obsessive and compulsive when I was younger as I am now?!  There are some years missing completely and some with very few books listed.  

It's rewarding to see that I've consistently increased my reading through the years.  I now average 2+ books a week, although I read several books at once so there are weeks when I don't finish anything and weeks when I finish three.  It's also interesting to see how much I read and what I read during different times of my life.  The years my mother was ill, the years with significant relationship ups and downs, the year I started a new job.

This is an interesting project for me.  I've set up the program I'm logging the books into so I can sort the records by author, title, or year.  It's fun (or embarrassing) to see how many books I've read by certain authors.  I see I'm very heavy on mystery writers, but that's not really a surprise.  I see that I read more classics when I was younger.  I think my powers of concentration were better then and I was more excited about trying to read all the 'great books'. 

It's also interesting to see how my handwriting has changed, from the full and rounded, slightly backhanded teenagerish writing to forced forward slanting script to the almost illegible half printing half cursive I use today.  There are white cards and blue cards, heavier cards and cheap cards.  There are inks of every type and several different colors.  It's personal history in a box.  And now on my laptop.

The Paper Moon - Andrea Camilleri


In The Paper Moon, a woman comes to the police to report her brother missing.  Montalbano goes to her brother's apartment with her and they find him dead, shot in the face and with his trousers 'in disarray', to put it politely.  Michela, the sister, is certain that his married mistress, Elena, did it in a jealous rage.

Montalbano interviews the beautiful and sexy Elena and falls under her spell.  Maybe.  He believes her story and thinks that someone else must have killed the man.  They discover that he, an ex-physician turned pharmaceutical rep, has been moving cocaine for one of Sicily's mob families.  The last batch he distributed for them had been fatal for several of their well-known clients.  A couple of politicians died, their causes of death hidden, of course, to protect their good names.  Surely the mob offed the man for screwing up.

Not so fast.  Let's look at the suspects again.

I enjoy this series of Sicilian mysteries with Inspector Salvo Montalbano as the main character.  I have a picture of him in my mind, though, that doesn't seem to jibe with the way he's portrayed in the TV series (which I haven't been able to get on Netflix).  I like that he lives alone in a house on the beach, that he has a long-term, long-distance relationship with a sometimes difficult woman, Livia, that he likes to eat and his meals are often described in detail, and that he's intuitive, which all good detectives should be.  I like him so much I don't really care if there's a mystery involved, I just want to read about his life.

Philadelphia Bridge of Sighs

Philadelphia has many hidden architectural gems.  They've destroyed a lot of them in the name of progress and modernity.  But if you look down alleys at the backs of buildings and in the corners of the city that haven't yet been 'improved', sometimes you find treasure.

Inga Saffron, the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a piece recently about an interesting structure that I don't think I knew about.  It's a Venetian Bridge of Sighs.  I've been to Venice and walked past the original several times a day for a week.  This isn't a reproduction but is a very impressive nod to the original.  

It was designed in 1912 to allow employees to move from Lit Brothers department store (itself an architectural wonder) to the Cast Iron building behind it.  You can read her article here.  You can read about and see photos of Lit Brothers here.

Lit Brothers is still mostly intact, but they're about to build a skyscraper above and behind it, with the stipulation that the bridge remains.

I wish businesses appreciated the buildings they're in and stopped putting new lower facades or entrances on them.  It destroys the architectural integrity of the building.  They look like someone in a tuxedo or gown wearing combat boots.

Here are two photos of Philadelphia's Bridge of Sighs I took on Saturday:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Murder by Request - Beverley Nichols


Beverley Nichols is known mostly for his gardening books, his books about cats, and his autobiographies.  I've read quite a few in each category and enjoyed them all.  But it was news to me when my friend Katrina at Pining for the West ( mentioned that he'd written several mysteries, too.  There appear to be five of them and Murder by Request is the last of them, published in 1960.

His sleuth is Mr. Horatio Green, retired, slightly plump, almost sixty years old, an avid gardener, and with a renowned 'keen olfactory sense'.  The latter helps him solve mysteries.  He tells one of the characters in this book that he's a retired psychiatrist, but I'm not sure if he really is or if he's just telling her that.  When he's thinking hard, he blinks rapidly.  He lives with his niece Charlotte in a cottage in Surrey, England.  Charlotte tries to protect his health by attempting to keep him away from detective work.

He's approached by Sir Owen Kent, a wealthy financier, who has been receiving notes telling him that he's going to die between December 21st and December 29th.  He wants Mr. Green to go to Harmony Hall, the Nature Cure facility he owns and where he always spends Christmas, to investigate, so Charlotte finally relents.  She's been trying to get her uncle to go there to lose some weight and improve his health.

The 'nature cure' institution is full of characters, some are patients and some are employees.  Sir Owen's sister Maisie, who was recklessly driving the car that crashed and killed his beloved daughter  is there.  His twin sister, Catharine, and her husband run the clinic.  There is the down-to-earth cook, Mrs. Dee, and two masseurs:  the Adonis-like Mr. Garth and Mr. Button, devoted to Sir Owen, having been his bat boy during the war.  Button will do anything for Sir Owen.  There's Sir Owen's secretary and mistress, Louise Delamere, and the flamboyant and annoying journalist and singer, Paul Stole.

As per the letters he's been receiving, Sir Owen is shot to death during a group television viewing he's invited everyone to.  The lights go off, bang, bang, and he's dead.  Now it's up to Mr. Green and the police to find out what happened, who did it, and why.

Nichols can't restrain himself from throwing in a few comments about cats and plants.  A key point in solving the murders involves a list of plants bought from a local nursery.

This was an entertaining book.  I liked Mr. Green and his niece and would like to read more of their adventures.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Urban Bestiary - Lyanda Lynn Haupt


Do you know the wild animals that live around you in your city or suburb?  Lyanda Lynn Haupt does.  She can help you get to know them, too, introducing you to a fascinating world.

Did you know that pigeons are the only birds in the world that drink by sucking water up, like horses, rather than dipping their beaks in water, tilting their heads back, and letting the water run down their throats?  They're also good at math.

Did you know that if you happen upon a black bear you should not say 'Go away, bad bear' (variations of which are recommended whenever you meet a wild animal, who is probably at least as startled as you are) because he / she may have been fed by idiot humans who offer donuts or sandwiches saying 'Here bear, want a sandwich?'  Bears may interpret the word 'bear' as an invitation.  They're not as stupid as some of us are. 

Did you know that in the last thirty years there have been two hundred injuries to humans by coyotes but there are 4.5 million domestic dog bites each year, eight hundred of those serious?  Each year there are dozens of fatal attacks on humans by dogs, but there are only two known human deaths by coyotes in North America.  Did you know that our government spends more money each year killing coyotes than the cost of the damage they do to livestock?

Did you know that opossums sleep up to twenty hours a day, five of those in REM sleep, which means they may dream more than humans?

I have always loved animals and been interested in learning about them.  Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist, a terrific writer, and an eco-philosopher.  She and her family sleep in a tent in their backyard in the summer.  She sits quietly and watches the world around her and relates what she sees.

Haupt urges us to observe the natural world around us in our urban or suburban lives, not only to learn more about the fellow creatures who share it with us, but because connection to nature is essential to our health and mental well-being.  It can also teach us how small things have a huge impact, showing us the interrelatedness of all things.  It is truly the butterfly effect.  We like to separate ourselves from nature, but when it comes down to it, we're all animals.

This book is filled with facts and personal observations about some of the most common urban / suburban animals and birds.  There's even a section about trees and the comfort and inspiration many of us get from them.

I loved this book for many reasons.  I hope you love it, too.

Later:  For Stephanie  -  Haupt writes about keeping journals and says she likes to use Noodler's brown ink!