Friday, November 25, 2016

The Skeleton Road - Val McDermid

I've read a lot of Val McDermid's books, but I gave up a while ago because they were so violently graphic.  Or graphically violent.  Maybe I've been reading the wrong series.  Those were the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan ones.  This is a DCI Karen Pirie book.  It takes place in and around Edinburgh.

During a routine safely inspection of a long abandoned building, a skeleton is found on the roof.  No identification is found on the body except a hotel key card and bits of bank card information rubbed off on the key card.  Pirie discovers that the bones belong to a Croatian general from the Balkan wars in the early 1990s.

Her investigation takes her to Oxford, to Maggie Blake, an Oxford professor, and her best friend, Tessa Minogue.  The general had been living with Blake after the wars and had disappeared eight years earlier.  Blake thought that he had decided to go back to whatever he left in Croatia.  A wife?  A family?  She had never known anything about his past.  It was only the present and the future that mattered to them.  She never tried to contact him or find out where he was.

In the meantime, someone is killing war criminals from the Balkans, people the war tribunal is about to arrest.  Someone is meting out swift justice of their own.  Was the general killed by the same person?  For the same reason?

DCI Pirie goes to Croatia to investigate.  Pirie stays one step ahead of the lawyers trying to solve the case of the premature murders of war criminals.  They do not like her for that.

I think this book lacked the intensity of the Tony Hill books.  Maybe that's something the violence brings to them.  But I enjoyed the plot and the characters in The Skeleton Road.  I'm up for another DCI Pirie case.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nayeli, A Child in Need

Most of us want to help others in need, especially children.  Here's a chance to change the life of Nayeli, a young girl who has suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her family in Nicaragua.  A family here in the United States wants desperately to adopt her, to bring her here to be part of their family, to be safe, but they need some help.

Atalanta Sunguroff is my best friend's daughter.  She's the kind of young woman who gets things done, who puts her ethics first, who doesn't give up when things get difficult.  When she was just a teenager, she founded a charity to bring education and medical care to families living in the mountains of Nicaragua.  She hiked into the villages and organized opportunities for young people.  She's the real deal.  She doesn't talk about changing lives, she changes them for the better.

Atalanta is raising money to help with the expenses for adopting Nayeli.  You can read Nayeli's story in the information on the fund raising page at the link below.  Any amount will help Atalanta and her family save this little girl.  It all adds up.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Turn Right at Machu Picchu - Mark Adams

When I was younger, I was more adventurous.  I don't think that's unusual.  Jack and I travelled a lot in the 1980s and were interested in the non-tourist side of travelling.  Although we could have been kidnapped and murdered, or just kidnapped, or just murdered, several times, by taking chances, we took those chances.  We went to a posh, private gaming club in London, invited by non-felonious-looking English people.  And we got a private, unexpected tour of St. Lucia's decidedly non-tourist side by a man who jumped into our car at a forlorn crossroads and said he was a tour guide.  We couldn't get him out of the car, so we gave in.  A little riskier, but there was a rain forest and hot springs  -  into which we could have disappeared forever.  According to the newspaper, those things do happen.

Anyway, I'm much happier to travel via armchair and book.  The last time I flew to Boston, I had to almost strip in the middle of the Philly airport.  Is that civilized?  I think not.  I worry more about bug bites and non-vegan edible food, bathrooms, sleeping quarters, delayed flights, etc., than I ever did.  So I love a good travel narrative, and Turn Right at Machu Picchu is that.  I also love lost cities and exploration (yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite movies), so I especially loved this book.

Mark Adams, a travel journalist who works mostly in an office, decides to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor credited with finding Machu Picchu, the city of the Incas, in 1911.  Bingham's story alone is worth reading.  Adams hires John Leivers, an Australian guide whose passion is documenting Inca structures before they're 'saved' by a sometimes inept Peruvian government and overrun by tourists.  Many of the perfectly constructed Inca roads have been paved over and the caretakers have badly repaired some ruins.  Machu Picchu, although the most famous of the Inca cities, is not the only one.

Adams writes humorously at times, like Bill Bryson, but he also adds the history that we should know to appreciate the world of the Incas, destroyed by the treasure hunting Spanish in the 1500s.  He alternates the story of the Incas and the Spanish, the story of Hiram Bingham, and his own excursion into the deserts and jungles of Peru.  I'd like to read more about John Leivers.  He's such a character that he deserves his own book.

This was an interesting and fun book.  I learned a lot about the Incas, the structures they left, the indigenous people of Peru, and the natural beauty and dangers of the country.  If this book piques your interest, you can find lots of things on YouTube and the Internet about Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, and Peru.  For movie buffs, Secret of the Incas, a movie starring Charlton Heston, is available only on YouTube, as far as I can tell.  I have a first edition of Bingham's book Lost City of the Incas, so I've been delving into that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bodies in a Bookshop - R. T. Campbell

A little while ago, my friend Peggy reviewed another R. T. Campbell book, Unholy Dying.  She made it sound so good that I had to find a copy.  I did, and I added Bodies in a Bookshop to my order.  What reader can resist a mystery about a bookshop.

How can you not love a book that starts:  'I don't know what came over me.  It wasn't as if there were not enough books in the house to begin with.  There were books on the floor, books on all the tables, books on the beds  -  and in the beds if one wasn't careful.'  The narrator, Max Boyle, then goes out to find a book he wants to read  -  and ends up in several bookshops, with several bags of books.  Until he finds two bodies in a bookshop.  Even then, he's careful to package up the books he's found there and write his name on the package so whomever inherits the store will know to contact him about buying the books.

The mystery revolves around stolen books and prints of a certain degree of pornographic imagery.  At the same time, it's a humorous book.  'I had rarely heard a man say less at greater length.'  In addition to Max, there is his employer, Professor John Stubbs, a Scottish botanist, and Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop (The Bishop), of Scotland Yard.  All three collaborate to nab the killer.

I'm not one of those readers who tries to figure out who did it.  I'm happy to lazily wait for the killer to be revealed.  But I did figure this one out on page 148.  That didn't make the rest of the book uninteresting.

I liked the characters and I will go on to read Unholy Dying.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fifty Days of Solitude - Doris Grumbach

I had heard of Doris Grumbach, but she wasn't really on my radar.  When a Kindle deal for Fifty Days of Solitude came up, I bought it.  I'm so glad I did.

This short book is Grumbach's observations and contemplations on solitude and loneliness.  Her partner, Sybil Pike, went off for several months to buy books for their bookstore in Sargentville, Maine.  Grumbach is determined to spend her fifty days alone, appreciating the silence.

I made so many notes while reading this that I can't put them all here.  She says that Edward Hopper, the painter, was a master at depicting loneliness.  I agree.  Even with no one else in the house, she finds there are so many distractions.  There's the distraction of paying her annual taxes, during which she wonders why it's called the Internal Revenue SERVICE.  Whom does it serve?  Certainly not the taxpayers.

She feels guilty because her friends think her solitude is a rejection of them.  No one wants to be alone, do they?  By herself, she can concentrate on seeing, listening.  She reads and listens to music and writes and thinks.  She realizes that sharing her experiences is exhausting.  She hates the concept of sharing feelings.

To isolate herself further, she doesn't read newspapers or watch the news.  In her self-imposed small world, the important things are the arrival of birds, the freezing of the cove.  What would the world be like if these were the things more important to people than war and violence and money?  She gets letters with the news of deaths of friends, though, and that shatters her solitude.  In particular, the death of Dr. Anna Perkins distressed her.  I wish I could find a doctor like her.

Grumbach wonders if contentment is more obtainable in places of physical beauty, like the coastal Maine village she lives in.  I think that's true.  

When she reads about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, she goes to her bookstore to find out more about her.  Then she calls the library for an interlibrary loan of a biography of her.  She also sounds like an amazing woman.  Isolating herself doesn't mean diminishing her world in all ways.

The absence of another person intensifies cold.  'Silence seemed to lower the temperature of the room and to extend the size of it, death is the great cold, I thought, and turned on the radio.  Sound, I found, was somewhat warming, even the sound of a talkative host interrogating sleepless callers.'

Not everyone is fit to live in silence.  Small noises, a refrigerator running, the scraping of branches on a roof, a log falling in a fireplace, can be disturbing.  Velcro is noisy.

Silence made her value written and spoken words more. 

'In the silence I eagerly sought, I could hear myself think, and what I heard was, sadly, often not worth listening to.'

Until death, it is all life.

If you want to know more of her insights and thoughts, you'll have to read it yourself.  I don't think you'll be sorry.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd - Bradley / The City Baker's Guide to Country Living - Miller

I finished these two library books in the last few days.  I whipped through both of them, so you get a 'two-fer' today.

I've read all the Flavia de Luce books.  They're like a cross between Nancy Drew and the Addams family.  I like that sort of mix.

Flavia rides off on Gladys (her bicycle) to deliver a message to an old man who does wood carving.  Someone has damaged some of the carvings in the local church.  Flavia finds the man dead, hanging upside down from a contraption of some sort.  She, of course, investigates before calling the police.

I think the mystery in this one is a little thin.  I was a bit disappointed by the perpetrator and the solution.  But, on the way, there were some interesting characters and incidents.  The ending was abrupt and unexpected, though.

Danielle at A Work in Progress mentioned The City Baker's Guide to Country Living a while ago and just recently posted her review of it.  Danielle is a much better reviewer than I am.  I'm always in too much of a hurry to get on to the next book.

Olivia Rawlings is a baker who sets a prestigious private club in Boston on fire while serving Baked Alaska.  She was ready to leave anyway, to leave the club and her married, wealthy lover.  She goes to visit her friend Hannah in Vermont and ends up taking a job baking at the Sugar Maple Inn.

Livvy, as her friends call her, also plays the banjo.  She's invited to play with a group in town.  One of  the other musicians, a fiddler, is handsome and she falls in love with him.  His family treats her like a daughter.  But it all comes apart when his father dies.  It's the kind of small town where everyone has known each other for generations and where everyone knows everyone else's business, even though there are lots of secrets.

This was a light read, full of lots of baking and cooking.  It inspired me to bake a Lemon Drizzle Cake, which I've been intending to do for weeks.  Once it's baked, it has to be eaten, which is why I'm feeling a big porky at the moment.

It also ticked several of my boxes, as they say.  Olivia lived and worked in Boston, where I used to live and work, she has an Irish Wolfhound mix, and I've had the pleasure of sharing my life with three Irish Wolfhounds, and she uses Nancy Drew books to level the legs of a table, and I love Nancy Drew.  Although I'd never use them to level a table.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

October Books

I only read a measly eight books in October.  I don't know what my problem was.  It seemed like I never had time to sit down, but don't ask me what I was doing because I can't remember.  I keep a journal, if you really want to know, but I don't think you want to waste your time.

The Man Without a Face  -  Armstrong

Vermilion Drift  -  Krueger

Northwest Angle  -  Krueger

Trickster's Point  -  Krueger

(I was trying reading straight through all the books by an author I like, but I don't think that's for me.  I like more variety.)

Death is a Word  -  Holt

Tenting To-night  -  Rinehart

Marking Time  -  Howard

Hungry Heart  -  Weiner

I hope you had a good reading month.  Here's to more time to read in November!