Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Books Read

I know I have another eight or so hours, but I also know that I'm not going to finish any more books in March. I did considerably better in March than I did in February.  I know it's not a race, but there are SO many books to read!

Purgatory Ridge  -  Krueger

How to Live  -  Bakewell

In Other Words  -  Lahiri

Murder with Mirrors  -  Christie

Home Life:  Book Three  -  Ellis

Passing Strange  -  Aird

The Waters of Eternal Youth  -  Leon

On the Loose  -  Fowler

The Riviera  -  Scott

I plan to post about The Riviera shortly.  It's a special book for a couple of reasons.

Happy April reading!

Bryant & May: On the Loose / Christopher Fowler

I didn't do justice to this book.  It's a slow mystery, but a good one.  However, I was not in the mood to read it.  I needed a fast-paced mystery to take me out of my life for a while.  I started this months ago but put it aside until a week ago.  Once I was able to concentrate on it, it went quickly and I had trouble putting it down.

John May and Arthur Bryant are older policemen, old-style detectives.  They're members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit  -  which has recently been disbanded.  When headless corpses and stag-headed men start appearing, they're called back to action, minus the resources of the regular police department.  They reorganize their group, with former members who have retired or taken different jobs.  All are eager to be back on the job.

A large development company is buying up all the properties around Kings Cross.  With the government's approval, they are creating a new commercial and residential area.  Some people are not pleased.  Xander Toth, an environmentalist, stages protests and is determined to save what he can of the area.  The company is missing one deed for a vital piece of property.  A construction worker clearing houses for the company, finds it. 

Fowler moves the plot along slowly, but not stagnantly.  He lards the story with details of the history of London, in this case, with the ancient history of St. Pancras Old Church.  I'm never sure whether or not to believe bits of history in fiction, but I've read that his historical detail is real.

The mystery is convoluted and layered.  I thought I knew what was going on, until I realized I didn't.  I have to warn you that the book ends without a resolution and is continued in the next in the series, Off the Rails.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Waters of Eternal Youth / Donna Leon

Donna Leon is back in the saddle.  Almost literally.  I've been a fan of hers for twenty years, but her last few haven't been very satisfying.  I admit that I like reading about Commissario Brunetti's home life, about the food Paola cooks, the books they read, and it seemed to me that there has been less of that lately.  Some of the books also had incomplete endings.  As a mystery reader, I like resolution at the end of a book.  But this one was good, I read it in two days.  I could barely put it down.

A friend of Paola's mother, an elderly contessa, asks Brunetti to look into a 15-year-old incident.  Her granddaughter fell / was pushed / was thrown into a canal when she was 15.  It was unlikely an accident because she was terrified of water after almost drowning as a child.  A drunk man jumped in and pulled her out, but when she awoke from a coma, it was clear that she was brain damaged.  Her brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long.

The contessa is wondering if she had been the cause of the incident, or if she could have done something to prevent it.  The girl, Manuela, had been different in the months before the accident, withdrawn.  She had been a devoted horseback rider and her grandmother had refused to pay for her horse's board because Manuela's mother only spent the money on drugs and alcohol and then asked her ex-husband, Manuela's father, for more.  Could Manuela have tried to commit suicide?  The contessa would like to know if she's at fault before she dies.

There isn't much to go on, but Brunetti and Commissario Griffoni, with help from the amazing Signorina Elettra, find connections between the old accident and a recent murder, the murder of the man who pulled Manuela from the canal.

The ending is satisfying and I enjoyed the book very much.  Thank you, Donna Leon!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Passing Strange / Catherine Aird

This is the third Catherine Aird mystery I've read.  It's been a while since I read the other two.  I don't have any real memories of them, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them.  Although this is a modern mystery, written in 1980, it has that Golden Age rural mystery aura.

During the annual Flower Show on the Priory estate in the village of Almstone, Joyce Cooper, the village nurse disappears.  She had been posing as a fortune teller in one of the tents at the show, but now she's gone.  As they strike the tents at the end of the day, her body is found under a tarp.  She's been strangled.

D.C. Sloan is sent to investigate.  Everyone liked Miss Cooper.  She'd been the village nurse for twenty years or so.  She knew things about people, but did she know any secrets worth killing her to keep her quiet?  Maybe she did.

The owner of the Priory estate died recently and there is a problem with the inheritance.  The heir to the estate was killed in South America, where he'd lived most of his life with his daughter.  The daughter, Richenda Mellows, has returned to Great Britain and taken a job as a file clerk.  She, apparently, didn't know that she was being sought as the heiress.  Now someone has raised the question of whether she is who she is supposed to be.

As it turns out, the village nurse was present at her birth.  She would know if Miss Mellows was the true heiress.  So who would want that information suppressed?  D. C. Sloan will find out.

It takes a while for this book to get off the ground.  There's a lot of debate between the rural locals about the results of a tomato contest.  Something is not right when the obvious winner wins nothing and first place goes to a completely awful specimen.  This, however, does have something important to do with the murder, as we find out at the denouement.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Murder with Mirrors (They Do It with Mirrors) - Agatha Christie

It's been quite a while since I read an Agatha Christie mystery.  I prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot, so Murder with Mirrors was a good choice.

An old school friend, Ruth Van Rydock, asks Miss Marple to go check on her sister, Carrie Louise, also an old school friend of Miss Marple's.  Ruth had visited recently and felt that something was wrong.  She couldn't put her finger on it, but she thought Miss Marple could.  She wasn't wrong.

Carrie Louise and her husband run a school for wayward boys at their country house.  Carrie Louise's husband, Lewis Serracold, was sure that the boys, headed for a life of crime, could be persuaded to pursue legitimate careers.  The school provided training and psychological counseling.

Shortly after Miss Marple arrives, Carrie Louise's step-son is shot to death in the house while most of the household is listening to a fight between Lewis and one of the students.  Shots are fired, they open the door, and Lewis and the boy are fine.  Then they discover that Christian Gulbrandsen has been shot to death in another room.

The house is full of family:  a grown daughter, a granddaughter (daughter of an adopted daughter), a step-son, and two sons of a former husband of Carrie's.  I had trouble keeping the relationships straight.

Carrie Louise never thinks anyone is bad.  She lives in a Pollyanna world.  Or does she?  Maybe she sees more clearly than other people.  Everyone loves her, she's sweet and kind.  So who's trying to poison her?

In classic Christie style, there are plenty of red herrings, lots of suspects, many diversions.

In Other Words - Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, her debut work.  In Other Words is the story of her quest to learn Italian, to speak it and write in it like a native Italian.

Lahiri was born in London but moved to New England with her family when she was two.  Her mother wanted to retain their Indian culture, so Bengali was the language they spoke to each other.  Lahiri feels, though, that she is a native-born American and that English is her first language.

When she was in her mid-twenties, she went to Rome with a friend.  The language all around her swept her up, called to her, she felt at home.  Back in the US, she began a 20-year journey into Italian.  She took lessons for years, from different people.  She could speak the language well in private classes, but when she was in Italy, the language didn't come naturally.  She persevered.

Eventually, she wrote In Other Words.  She wrote it in Italian and had it translated into English.  It's a dual language book:  the left page is her Italian, the right page is the English translation.  It's a little disconcerting when you turn a page after reading English and, out of habit, your eyes go to the left page, and you find yourself struggling with Italian.  After a while, I got it right, most of the time.

I've always loved languages, English and the Romance languages mostly.  I studied French for several years and Latin and Spanish for shorter periods.  I've lost a lot of my French and most of my Spanish and Latin.  I wish I had known my French friend, Francoise, all those years ago.  She could have kept me fluent.  I still love seeing the connections between languages, the shared roots, the obvious similarities.  I was pleased that with my French, Spanish, and Latin background, I could often puzzle out the meaning of the Italian.

Lahiri writes of the difficulty she has as an obviously Indian woman who doesn't feel part of any of her three languages.  Because of her appearance, no one will mistake her for a native Italian speaker.  People often ask her where she's from, no matter what language she's speaking.

Each year, one of my resolutions is to 'Learn Italian'.  I've taken stabs at it over the years, but, clearly, I don't have the passion, drive, obsession that Lahiri has.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Live or A Life of Montaigne - Sarah Bakewell

I've dipped into Montaigne's Essays over the years.  It's not the sort of book you sit down and read from start to finish.  The ones I've read have been funny, honest, like talking to a good friend, or to an interesting and gabby stranger.  Katrina, at Pining for the West, and I were to read How to Live together, but she rocketed through and I've just caught up.

Michel de Montaigne, known for his essays, was born near Bordeaux, France, in 1533 to a reasonably wealthy family.  His father decided that Michel's first language would be Latin.  His family and servants were required to learn Latin and speak to him only in Latin.  An usual start, to be sure.

His brother was killed playing tennis, hit by a ball.  Michel was almost killed in a riding accident.  He had been terrified of death, but his experience with the accident was peaceful, although others said he appeared agitated and distraught.  He and his wife had several children, but only a daughter survived.

France in the 16th century was a violent place.  There were repetitious religious wars, there were tax riots, there was plague.  Life was uncertain, even for the privileged and rich.  Montaigne was raised a Catholic but was seldom in church.  He was horrified by the wars between Christian sects and thought 'there is no hostility that exceeds Christian hostility'.

Montaigne probably started writing his essays in or around 1572.  The first edition of his Essays was published in 1580.  He spent the rest of his life enlarging the body of that work, writing new essays and adding to the originals.

I was interested to read that he held animals in high regard.  He observed them and felt that they have attributes that humans don't and that allow them to be more perceptive than humans.  He thought we did them a disservice by comparing them to our limited faculties.  He was sympathetic to their plight.  The book ends with a great couple of paragraphs about him and his cat.

Montaigne wrote about sex, too, sharing his thoughts and observations of his own sexual being.  He thought that women knew more about sex than men think.  He even admitted to being 'unfairly and unkindly' endowed by nature himself.

What he is good at is viewing from other perspectives, whether human or animal.  He wrote what he thought, but he ended his essays by saying something to the effect 'or maybe not'.  He doesn't really tell us how to live, he tells us how he lives.

He was a man different in many ways from men of his time.  His essays were his thoughts and feelings about everyday things and about everything.  Often, people who read them thought that they could have written them, the kind of things people think but don't say or write about.  He had his detractors.  Descartes and Pascal hated him.

The essays have a quality of humanity, something we all share, something we can all identify with.  They've transferred well through the centuries.  Each person who reads the Essays reads them differently.  You should read them (and this book) for yourself.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Purgatory Ridge - William Kent Krueger

I'm doing a bit of binge reading.  I've written about how much I like this series, the Cork O'Connor books by William Kent Krueger.  I wasn't sure if I could read this one, the next in the series, because it starts out with a logging company planning to log a stand of ancient pines.  This is the kind of thing that I fight against in real life, so I wasn't sure I wanted to read about it in my escapist fiction.  But the story quickly veers off to kidnapping.

Grace Fitzgerald, the wife of the logging company owner, a very rich woman, and her son by her previous, dead husband are kidnapped.  Cork's wife Jo, with whom he's in the process of reconciling, and their son, Stevie, were visiting the woman and were taken by the kidnappers, too.  Cork and the woman's husband team up to find them before it's too late.  There's a real surprise near the end, or at least I didn't see it coming, although it crossed my mind at one point.

In addition to the kidnapping, there are explosions, sabotage, forest fires, damaging hail, raging storms, sinking boats, wreck diving.  Come on, there's got to be something there for you!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

February Books

I only read a paltry seven books in February.  I had too many things on my mind and couldn't settle or concentrate.  I have started a bunch of books, but we'll see how I do finishing them.  Here are the ones I finished:

     The Rogue Not Taken  -  MacLean
     The Road to Little Dribbling  -  Bryson

     A Faint Cold Fear  -  Slaughter

     Forty Plus and Fancy Free  -  Kimbrough

     Growing Up  -  Thirkell

     Murder by the Book  -  Brown

     Boundary Waters  -  Krueger

I hope to read more in March.  Spring is coming, isn't it?  Today is windy and much colder than yesterday.  Maybe the seasons are going backward.