Monday, May 22, 2017

Assateague Island's Wild Ponies

Did you read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry when you were young?  I did.  I read every horse book I could get my hands on.  My friends and I pretended we were horses.  Even though I lived only several hours away from Chincoteague and Assateague, it took me roughly 55 years to get to see the wild ponies who live on Assateague.

Some say the ponies swam ashore from a Spanish shipwreck in the 1500s.  Others say that mainlanders brought ponies to the island in the 1700s to avoid a tax on livestock.  Being a romantic, I prefer the shipwreck story.

On a gorgeous day this past week, Jack and I left Philly at 10 AM and got to Assateague Island National Seashore at about 1 PM.  There's a Maryland state park there, too, but we went to the national park on the Maryland side.  (For any of you who are 62 or older, you can buy a lifetime pass to our national parks for $10 until the end of the year, when it goes up to $80!)

Assateague is split between Maryland and Virginia.  The Virginia ponies are owned by the Chincoteague Fire Department.  The Maryland ponies belong to all of us and are managed by the National Park Service.

Because I'm a vegan, I usually take at least some food with me when I travel.  I like good food and I can't count on restaurants to provide it for me.  No thank you, I do not want a salad or a plate of steamed veggies!  I made a non-egg and olive sandwich, with chips, and pickles.  Jack bought an awful sandwich at a chain sandwich shop.  We ate in the shade on the beach on the Chincoteague Bay side of the island, but I love the Atlantic Ocean side of the island best.  We took off our shoes and socks and waded in the salt water.

There are driving roads and hiking trails on the island.  We saw two ponies, a stallion and a mare, at a campsite.  We walked along the Marsh Trail boardwalk and saw crabs in the water, wading birds, an egret, an eastern kingbird, a cardinal, and other birds.  These were exciting to us because, normally, in Philadelphia, we see pigeons, sparrows, starlings, mourning doves, grackles, and the occasional hawk.

I was afraid that the two ponies at the first camp site were the only ones we would see.  I was hoping to see them frolicking in the waves.  There are about 300 ponies on Assateague, but they roam through the vegetated middle of the island, so they're not always visible.  Jack thought we should stop at one more camp site on our way out of the park and  -  we saw about eight more ponies.

They were all the solid chestnut and chestnut and white pinto types.  I was expecting them to be smaller, more like Shetland ponies, but they were 13 or 14 hands high.  (For non horse people, a 'hand' is 4 inches.  A pony is a horse that measures 14.2 or less at the withers / shoulders.  We had a Shetland pony stallion who was the same size as our Irish Wolfhound.)  The two young ones still had their winter / baby coats, but the others were sleek and shiny.

After walking around and watching the ponies, we sat at a picnic table away from the heard.  You're not allowed to touch or feed the ponies, for good reason.  They can be aggressive if they think you're going to feed them or if they feel they need to protect their herd.  Any horse can bite or kick, believe me!  I have been bitten and kicked and thrown.

As we sat there watching the ponies, I realized that one of them (the one to the left in the last photo) was watching us while grazing and moving toward us.  Horses can be sneaky and I thought it was wise for us to move back to the car.  

The horses on the Maryland side are given chemical contraceptives to control the herd size.  This is the most effective and humane way to control herds.  Those on the Virginia side are made to swim to Chincoteague, the foals to be auctioned off to support the Chincoteague fire department.  I prefer controlling the herd size with contraceptives.  You never know where an auctioned horse will end up, sometimes with the killers.  The wild horses out west should be given contraceptives instead of being rounded up, when some are always killed, and penned.  Your tax dollars at work.

It was a pleasure to watch the ponies on Assateague, roaming free, as wild horses should.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Another Year - R. C. Sherriff

Oh, Robert Cedric, how could you do this to me?!  I love you!  I've been telling everyone how much I love you!  And now this!

After finishing The Fortnight in September, my reserved copy of Another Year arrived.  I jumped right in.  The story started with a vicar, Roger Matthews, and his wife, Ruth, enjoying their many years in a quiet, beautiful, country parish.  They had always meant to go work in the slums of London, to really make a difference in people's lives, but they had just never gotten around to it.  Now, at age 57, Roger decides it's now or never.

They go to the awful riverside parish of Woodbank, where the congregation is small and is ruled by an elderly widow, Mrs. Bannister Paget.  Roger is ambitious and presents ideas to the church council to start some clubs to entice people, especially young people, with the hope that in addition to participation in the clubs, they'd try church, too.  The council (Mrs. Paget) refuses to allow him to use the church hall, which Mrs. Paget uses for personal storage.

Roger discovers an old boat house and finds the owner, another old lady, one who's moved away.  She agrees to rent it to him for recreational use only.  He starts a rowing club, hoping that he can lure some of the local boys away from the fighting ring of Joe Briggs.  They don't box, they fight drunk and get paid for blood.  He succeeds in getting Pete and Tony and Dick and Tom to try rowing.  They like it and start to understand the skill and strength and discipline involved.

Dick writes a play to try to raise money to buy the boathouse.  (It's interesting to note that Sherriff, apparently, wrote his first play to raise money to buy a boat for the Kingston Rowing Club.  He writes what he knows.)  It's a long, historical farce, but it gets a lot of young people enthusiastically involved.  A friend of a friend of Dick's will try to get a theatrical agent to attend the play.  If he likes it, maybe it will go to the legitimate stage and they'll make even more money for the club.  Roger and Ruth have a daughter, a beautiful girl, described by one young man as a 'dumb cluck'.  She has a small part in the play.  The agent sees her and thinks she'd be perfect for the movies.

Before you know it, the Matthews family is whisked off to Hollywood.  They sail on the Queen Mary and then cross America by train.  Mr. Matthews is amazed, frightened, and enchanted by all the details of their travel.  (Once again, Sherriff writes what he knows:  he wrote the screenplays for several well-known movies and was nominated for an Academy Award for Goodbye, Mr. Chips.)

I don't think I can say much more without giving away some plot points.

What I have to say is that after I got over worrying that this was going to be a religious novel, I loved the story.  I loved it the whole way up to page 265 in my edition  -  when it stopped.  Seriously, I kept turning the last page back and forth thinking there was something wrong.  Maybe the final pages had been torn out.  No, I didn't have a defective or damaged copy.  Maybe the last part was written in invisible ink.  The book left me hanging.  There were so many things completely unresolved and I'm disappointed.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Fortnight in September - R. C. Sherriff

This was a Persephone e-book (more about that later), so there's no lovely cover to go with this post.  Somewhere, there must be a photo of the cover of the original, but I can't find it.

R. C. Sherriff has become one of my favorite authors.  First, I read Greengates and loved it.  I read The Hopkins Manuscript next.  I don't usually like Science Fiction, but this was the kind I do like.  Perfect.  Then I read Chedworth, another book I adored, and now The Fortnight in September.  I'm hooked.  I think I have five more to go, but some of them are hard to find.  I've been lucky to find three at my library.

The Fortnight in September is about normal people going to the seaside for their two-week vacation.  They're British, it's the 1930s (I believe), and they go to Bognor, to Seaview, the same holiday rental they've gone to for twenty years, since before the children were born.  Mr. and Mrs. Huggett owned the place, but Mr. Huggett has died.  Mrs. Huggett struggles these days.  She's getting older, as is the house, and some of her seasonal regulars are going to nicer places.

Mr. & Mrs. Stevens, their daughter Mary, their sons Dick and Ernie, plan and pack and divvy up the pre-vacation chores.  Mary takes Joe, the canary, to a neighbor, Mrs. Stevens takes the key to the retired policeman and his wife across the street.  The milkman will bring milk for the neighbor to give to the cat.  It's all so ordinary.  They leave on the train and they see their house from the tracks at the end of their yard.  Mr. Stevens is relieved to see that he did remember to close the bathroom window and there's Puss sitting on the shed roof.

Sherriff captures the holiday feelings many of us have.  The breeze from the open train window is refreshing;  at home, it would be a draft and the window would be closed.  They envy the trunks on the train that are plastered with labels from all over the world.  They anticipate the long break, they're a bit depressed mid-holiday when they realize that their vacation time is slipping by, they feel superior to others who are only day trippers.  They rent a larger beach hut than they usually do, one with a balcony, and they enjoy the luxury.

At the seaside, Mary meets a boy, Dick realizes that his education and job are second class but were all that his hard working father could afford.  Ernie is only ten and is a hoot.  At the train station, he wonders if the ticket seller was shoved through the ticket slot as a baby because he can't see how he could have gotten in otherwise.  He sees a notice warning people not to throw things out the train window that might hurt railway workers.  He thinks, in fairness, they should list the things it's okay to throw out the window.

I think it's a wonderfully detailed, relaxing book.  I've said that R. C. Sherriff's books are all different, but I do notice a few themes.  He's aware that the countryside is disappearing under housing estates.  'Villas had risen where larks used to rise.'  He also has great respect for ordinary people.

Back to the Persephone e-book format.  I bought this from Amazon.  I had to check because the book was so confusing at times that I thought I might have downloaded it from Gutenberg or one of those sites.  I have no idea how you screw up a book this badly!  Voice recognition?  It certainly wouldn't pass Spell Check.  I was reading along and ran up against total nonsense.  In addition to the whimsical and random use of commas, here are just a few of the many, many hilarious errors:

     'these cretary'  (should be 'the secretary')

     'Here ached for the jam.'  ('he reached for the jam.')

     'this knobs witches it off'  ('this knob switches it off')


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

PLEASE Help Save Threatened Wild Horses and Burros!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In 1971, Congress unanimously passed a bi-partisan piece of legislation known as the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.  UNANIMOUSLY!  How often does that happen?  Now, under the new budget, those horses are threatened again.  Despite promises to return government to The People, OUR government is preempting our wishes.  Hundreds of thousands of people have voiced their opinion that these horses and burros on public lands deserve federal protection.  The feds haven't done a very good job, but turning their care over to states could be disastrous.  Please help!  Please e-mail or call your legislators, the legislators designated in the post below, and the White House.  Remind them that the United States is a representative democracy and that they represent US!

The post below is from the American Wild Horse Campaign (

I'm sorry to have to give you some devastating news. In the wee hours of Monday morning, Congress released a 1,600+ page spending bill for 2017. Buried on page 804 is Section 116, which allows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to strip wild horses and burros of federal protection and “immediately” transfer them to state and local governments for use as "work animals."
But with no definition of work animal, and no limit to the number of horses and burros that can be transferred, this language could provide a back door route to killing thousands of these national legacy animals. Although Congress added language prohibiting commercial slaughter and putting some restrictions on "euthanasia," signalling its intent to prevent the killing of healthy horses. However, ambiguities and loopholes in the language leave it open to abuse. Especially at risk are the older mustangs and burros, now protected under federal law. Under the language these majestic, elder animals could be killed simply due to "advanced age," a term that is undefined.
We can’t let this stand...Congress should not be allowed to undermine the will of the American people and a unanimously-passed Act of Congress - the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act - through a last-minute spending bill. 
We have just hours to make our voices heard... Please click below NOW to call and send a message to key appropriators asking them to strip this devastating provision that could result in the killing of thousands – and potentially tens of thousands -- of America’s cherished wild horses and burros.
If you do one thing for wild horses and burros, please do this now!


Over the weekend, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees restored language to the 2017 Omnibus spending bill that opens the back door to killing potentially thousands of wild horses and burros. The language amends the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act by stripping them of their federal protections and transferring them to state and local governments ostensibly for use as “work animals.”
With no limit to the numbers transferred and no definition of “work animal,” the language provides a vehicle for delivering thousands, and potentially tens of thousands of wild horses and burros, into the hands of government agencies that actively push for mass roundups and slaughter of these national icons. The Section 116 language can be found on page 804 of this link
Congress did include prohibitions on commercial slaughter and some restrictions on “euthanasia,” signalling their intent to prevent the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros. However, the restrictions are not enforceable, there is no penalty for violating them, and the many ambiguities and loopholes leave the language open to abuse.  Especially troubling is a provision to allow the killing of “advanced age” animals, a term that is undefined and could result in the destruction of thousands of healthy middle- to older-aged horses and burros.
While defeating this language at this late stage is going to be difficult, the spending bill only funds the government for the next five months. So taking a strong stand now will set the stage for fixing this problem when Section 116 expires on September 30, 2017. 

What You Must Do NOW!

1. Please immediately call these numbers and voice your objections to the committees that approved this devastating last-minute addition to the spending bill. If you don't reach them this afternoon, please try again in the morning!
** Please remember: the best way to help the horses is to be polite! **
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Chair, Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
DC office: (202) 224-6665
AK office: (907) 271-3735 
Sen. Tom Udall, Ranking Member, Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
DC office:(202) 224-6621
NM office:(505) 346-6791
Rep. Ken Calvert, Chair, House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
DC office: (202) 225-1986 
CA office: (951) 277-0042
Rep. Betty McCollum, Ranking Member, House Interior Appropriations Committee
DC office: (202) 225-6631
MN office: (651) 224-9191
Here’s what you need to say: I am very upset that Congress has included language in Section 116 of the Omnibus spending bill that will strip up to 50,000 wild horses and burros of federal protections that were passed unanimously by Congress and have been in place for nearly 50 years. Unfortunately, restrictions put in place to prevent the killing of healthy horses and burros are not sufficient to protect these animals, and thousands that currently enjoy federal protection could be killed, or worse, enter the slaughter pipeline.  I urge your office to remove this destructive language from the Omnibus, and if unable, then it must be removed when this spending bill expires later this year.”

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April Books

I didn't post a list of books I read in March.  I think I said I'd post short reviews of books I read rather than a list.  I didn't think I'd posted much in April, but, looking back, I guess I did.  I know I've overwhelmed my readers with four posts today!  Sorry!  Anyway, here's my list of books I read in April, some of which I did not post about.

The Moon-Spinners  -  Mary Stewart

Heir to Murder  -  Miles Burton

Earthly Remains  -  Donna Leon

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham  -  M. C. Beaton

The Crime Coast  -  Elizabeth Gill

A Cat with a Fiddle  -  Lydia Adamson

Long Live Great Bardfield  -  Garwood

Unholy Dying  -  Campbell

I'm currently reading a few books, but I won't finish any of them by tomorrow night.  So, this is it for April.  I hope you had a good reading month.  Have you read any favorites?

Unholy Dying - R. T. Campbell

This is the last book of the month.  I read another of R. T. Campbell's mysteries a while ago, Bodies in a Bookshop.  I enjoyed that one, but I thought this one dragged.

There are two murders, both rather close to the beginning of the book, both by cyanide.  Both occur off the page, so there's very little action involved in either.  After the murders, Professor John Stubbs, a botanist, proceeds to puzzle out the solution, again, with very little action.  For me, that's a lot of not doing much, a lot of talking and thinking.  Because the murders take place at a scientific conference, almost anyone could be the murderer.

The characters are different in this book, except for Stubbs, the loud, portly amateur detective who likes his pint.  There's still humor, though.  The author references several well-known mystery writers, like Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie, in passing, joking about fictional detectives.

Of the two R. T. Campbell books I've read, I prefer Bodies in a Bookshop, maybe because it starts in a bookshop.

Cruiser Olympia

You know how when you live in a place you often don't go to the tourist attractions?  I got to see all the sites in Boston when we lived there because my sister and brother-in-law would bring their three girls to visit the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, etc.  If they hadn't, I probably would never have seen them all.

Now we live in Philadelphia.  One of the walks we take goes along the Delaware River and past several ships permanently docked there.  I believe I've already done a post on my favorite ship:  Moshulu.  It's now a restaurant.  I've never eaten there, but on nice summer days, my husband and I sometime have a beer on the top deck.  It's the ship Eric Newby wrote about in The Last Grain Race and it's beautiful.

But for years we've been saying we should tour the Cruiser Olympia.  There's an early submarine there, too, the Becuna.  I have no interest in submarines and touring one would be a nightmare for me.  A few weeks ago, we finally toured the Olympia.  Jack toured the Becuna - by himself.

USS Olympia was commissioned in 1895 and was Commodore Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila during the Spanish-American War.  She was decommissioned in 1922.  If you want all the details, here's the Wiki link:

Jack was interested in the engines and the guns, I wanted to see how the crew lived aboard.  The ship has beautiful wood work, but, alas, like many of our National Historic Landmarks, it's in need of extensive repairs and maintenance.  We, as a country, should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing our history to rot away.

Here are some photos of the outside and the inside (that's the Becuna to the left in the photo):

Above, officer's quarters.  Below, below decks.

The galley is above.  The ship was lucky in that it, apparently, had one of the first ice machines.  This was especially nice because she was sailing in the Pacific.

If you needed surgery, this was the place where it happened. Gulp!

Then, of course, you'd want to wash all those bloody cloths in the laundry.

These are a few of the signs on the ship that I thought were interesting or funny.  I especially like the Overboard Volunteer one!

Long Live Great Bardfield - Tirzah Garwood

I like Persephone Books.  I like the immediate recognizability of their covers, but the covers provide no clue to the book inside.

Tirzah Garwood was an artist married to an artist, Eric Ravilious.  She was born in 1908 in Kent, England, into what I believe was an upper middle class family.  Eric was below their social status.  She died of cancer in 1951.  Eric, an Official War Artist, died when the plane he was in disappeared in 1942.

Tirzah met Eric at the art school she attended, where he was a teacher.

Tizrah wanted her grandchildren to know what their lives had been like and she spares no detail.  She tells stories about their friends and their work as artists.  She and Eric loved each other, but Eric had love affairs.  Tizrah was hurt by some of these.  On occasion, Eric would leave Tirzah and live with his lover.  She fell in love with several other men and often consummated those relationships, but not always.  Some of these extra-marital affairs were with partners of their friends.

This book is almost 500 pages and was edited by Eric and Tirzah's daughter, Anne.  I think it's a bit long, but maybe I began to lose interest because I didn't know who most of the people she wrote about were.  There were almost no dates, so it was difficult to orient events with a timeline.  But it's a slice of life from a certain time and of a certain group of people.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Crime Coast - Elizabeth Gill

Paul Ashby is off to the south of France for a vacation.  Before he leaves, an old man falls down the steps outside his flat.  He brings the man in for a drink and a chat to make sure he's recovered.  When the old man, Major Kent, finds out he's off to the French Riviera, he asks him to look for his son, Adrian Kent.  Adrian is an artist who's disappeared after the his older lover is murdered.  He's a prime suspect and the fact that he's disappeared makes him look even more suspicious.

On the train, Paul shares a compartment with a lovely girl, but she runs off when he asks if she knows Kent.  Once along the coast and settled in his hotel, he begins his detective work.  He meets Benvenuto Brown and discovers that he's trying to find out who killed the woman that Adrian's suspected of killing.  He knows Adrian well and knows that he didn't do it.  He also knows the beautiful girl on the train, Adelaide Moon, also an artist.

Paul and Ben (Benvenuto) team up to find Adrian and the killer.

Elizabeth Gill only wrote three mysteries before her death from complications of surgery when she was in her early thirties.  I enjoyed this book.  I have the author's other two mysteries and am looking forward to reading those.  They were all written in the 1930s, a period I like.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Earthly Remains - Donna Leon

Commissario Guido Brunetti needs a vacation.  In order to stop one of his policemen from making a serious mistake, Brunetti fakes a heart attack.  The doctors, however, tell him he needs to take a break  from the constant stress of his job.  A relative of Paola's has a villa on one of the islands, so Brunetti goes there, alone, for two weeks.

His plan is to read and swim and ride bicycle and isolate himself from the world.  He discovers that the man who maintains the villa, Davide Casati, was a friend of his late father's.  They had rowed together.  Casati asks Brunetti if he'd like to row.  They spend their days rowing in the lagoon and visiting Casati's beeshives.  Casati says his bees are dying.  He says that he killed them and that he killed his wife, who died of cancer.  Brunetti doesn't understand why he says that.  Casati disappears after a storm and his daughter asks Brunetti to find him.

I read my first Donna Leon / Brunetti mystery in 1999, so I'm a long-time fan.  Several of her recent books have dealt with the gradual destruction of Venice and the lagoon from climate change, pollution, and the dumping of toxic waste.  I still enjoy the books and I appreciate Leon's emphasis on environmental and ethical issues.   But I miss Paola, with her constant reading and cooking, who appears only briefly in these later books.  These books introduced me to prosecco, so, thank you, Donna Leon!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Rainy Day in April

My husband still insists on watching the television weather forecasters  -  who seem to be wrong 98% of the time.  Today we were told excitedly that there would be heavy rain and flooding.  As the host of the classical radio station we listen to in the morning noted, he wasn't sure if it was light rain or a heavy mist.  Really.

I have two books to write about.  The first is one many people know:  The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart.  I read this decades ago and watched the Hayley Mills movie an eternity ago.  I've been re-reading Mary Stewarts books after having read some recent blog posts and finding three almost new  paperbacks in a Boston used book store.

Nicola Ferris, on vacation from her job at the British Embassy in Athens, encounters a disheveled and armed man while walking to her hotel in Crete.  He takes her to a shepherd's hut, where an injured man is hidden.  The injured man is Mark Langley, shot when he, his friend, Lambis, and his little brother, Colin, witnessed a local man being murdered.  Mark was shot when they escaped.

Nicola helps the men, although Mark doesn't want to endanger her.  She gathers information in the village and hunts for Colin, who has disappeared, probably kidnapped by the murderers, maybe murdered.  Her Aunt Frances, a botanist, joins her and, between the two of them, they discover who the murderers are and why they killed one of their cohort.

As with all the Mary Stewart books I've read, there are detailed and wonderful descriptions of locations and landscapes.  You can feel the heat of the sun, taste the salt of the ocean, see the wildflowers and birds.  There's also just the right mixture of suspense and romance.  To me, it was a  pleasurable book.

This is a mystery and author you may not be familiar with unless you're a fan of Golden Age Mysteries.  I read it on my Kindle.  I discovered that I have a hardback of another of Burton's mysteries.  I've had it for ages but haven't read it.  After reading Heir to Murder, I'm eager to read it.

If you're a fan of Murder She Wrote, you may think that Cabot Cove and Carmouth are very much alike.  The ratio of murder to residents is very high.  Carmouth is a small, coastal English village.  Heir to Murder starts out with the drowning death of the local doctor, drowned when his car rolled off the pier into the water.  His death is ruled accidental.  Then his nurse falls of a cliff walk one night on her way back to the village after attending to a patient.  Another accident.

Desmond and Mavis Merrion come to spend some time in Carmouth for Mavis's health.  Desmond is an ex-military intelligence officer.  Mavis wants to say hello to Lady Violet Vernham, an old friend of her late mother.  She lives on her estate, Dragonscourt, outside the village.  Lady Violet insists that they leave the hotel and stay with her indefinitely.

To amuse himself, Desmond investigates what he feels are the murders of Dr. Murford and Nurse Penruddock.  Then someone shoots at Lady Violet's estranged nephew, Philip Sampson, and bashes the local curate, Colin Carew, over the head one dark night.  Desmond realizes that, somehow, the murders and attempted murders are related to Lady Violet and who will inherit her wealth.  Because she has no children, she wants to leave her money to whomever will use it to help the people of Carmouth.  Oh, by the way, her niece works for her as a companion.  No one knows that Olivia Jones is her niece.

I think the book is written well and that the narrative flows.  I liked the characters.  I was kept guessing about the murderer until the very end.  Miles Burton is an author I'll look for again.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Middling March

I'm having an awful time reading at the moment.  I've been distracted by several things.  Sometimes that means that I can lose myself in a book, but other times it means that I'm stuck in the real world.  In a fit of discontent, I've started and tossed several books, not even giving some of them the 20 or 50 pages I normally would.  'Off with their heads!'

I did finish two books, one of which I'm not going to review.  It was about a British couple and their two dogs.  They're looking for a retirement estate in France, someplace where they can shoot wildlife.    I tried to overlook that, but it colored my feelings about the book.  There were some funny incidences, but I wasn't enjoying myself.  Enough said.

The other book I read was The Mill on the Shore by Ann Cleeves.  I haven't read a lot of hers, but I think I prefer the ones that take place in the Shetlands.  The Mill on the Shore wasn't a compelling read, but I was surprised when the murderer was revealed.

I hope I'll do better in April.  I'm still reading Don Quixote and The Travels of William Bartram, both of which I started over a year ago.

Yesterday was the birthday of my first dog, a gorgeous blonde Afghan hound named Sinya's Wild Child.  She was my companion when I was a mid-teen, about 50 years ago.  I often think about her and the other animals I've loved and lost.  Maybe I think about them too much.  Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Happy April!  Where are those spring flowers?!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not Quite the Complete (I Hope) Second Half of March

Accumulating my little reviews and publishing them twice a month is boring me.  So here are a few books I finished reading since my last post.

Lara McClintock is wondering why a famously reclusive millionaire would contact her and ask her to buy a piece of Etruscan art on his behalf.  She meets him and is satisfied that he wants her to represent him because no one would imagine that he's behind the purchase.

But purchasing the elusive Etruscan piece is not that easy.  It's owned by a dying man in a wheelchair  who is selling off his art to finance a trip to a secret Etruscan admiration group.  Except that he doesn't really want to part with any of his things.  He's found dead shortly after Lara visits him.  At least one of his Etruscan pieces is missing  -  and turns up in the trunk of Lara's car.

There's a lot of back and forth with the piece.  It's like a game of 'hot potato'.  Lara puts it in someone else's car, then it turns up in her hotel room.  No one wants to get caught with it because it doesn't seem to be legal.  No one has purchased it since the dead man's father purchased it, and he may not have done that legally.

There are a lot of fakes around:  fake Etruscan pieces and fake people.  The Eturscan Chimera was a fun read, but my head was spinning by the end of the book.  

I am not a Romance reader.  Yes, I enjoy a bit of romance in books, but I don't want it to be the focus of the story.  However, after reading so many enthusiastic reviews of The Grand Sophy, I bought it and read it.  It was great fun!

Sophia Stanton-Lacy arrives to stay at her Aunt Elizabeth's in London while her father is overseas on business.  He hopes that she'll find a husband while he's away.  

Sophia (The Grand Sophy) has been living in Spain with her widowed father.  She has quite a reputation for unconventionality and she sets her aunt and uncle's lives spinning.  She gallops her horses in the park, drives her own carriage pulled by spirited steeds, she carries a loaded pistol (of ladylike proportions), and she can take care of herself.  Woe to those who think she can't.  Or shouldn't.

Although she's only about eighteen, she is perceptive and adept at problem solving.  She sees that her cousin Cecilia has made a mistake by throwing over a terrific man for an oblivious and poor but handsome poet.  Her cousin Charles has engaged himself to a very proper (in her own mind) woman who believes that correct behavior is everything and that fun is suspicious.  No one is with the ones they love, so Sophy decides to fix things.

The ending is like a Marx Brothers movie.  This person enters from one door while another exits by another, a box of ducklings intent on escape appears, an Italian greyhound dances around, a grand Spanish woman cooks in the kitchen, the poet wanders abstractedly about looking for his muse.  But Sophy accomplishes her mission.  As Shakespeare said, all's well that ends well.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Snow Day Madness

A 'perfect storm' (I survived a couple of those when I lived in New England) was predicted for this past Monday night and Tuesday.  We were all going to die if we stepped outside or didn't have enough chips and beer to last for a week or two.

We took appropriate action and broke open a jigsaw puzzle, which soon became an obsession.  In less than two days, we were finished.  We've vowed not to start another one right away.  Maybe next week.  I've been buying them and stockpiling them (for the perfect storm), but we don't have a good place to work on them.  This time, I sacrificed half of the dining room table.

Here are two photos, one in progress and one of the finished puzzle.  I like these old travel posters, as do a couple other bloggers I know.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Marching Along

I love Ellery Queen, both the books and the TV show from the 1970s.  The first book I finished in March was The Siamese Twin Mystery.  Ellery and his father are returning from a vacation.  Ellery decides to take the scenic route back to New York City and ends up racing up a mountain to avoid a forest fire.  They arrive at the top of Arrow Mountain at night to find a dead end road and a creepy  house.

No one answers when they pound on the door.  Eventually, a man answers.  He says that they were wary of strangers arriving at their remote location at night.  More people appear, some very strange.  They all seem tense and Ellery and his father don't know why.  One of the men is a famous retired surgeon, another is his brother.  Then there's the doctor's wife, another young woman, and the servants.  And a mysterious scrabbling in a dark hallway and a hidden person.

It's not fair to reveal too much when talking about a mystery.  So I'll just tell you that there are two murders, some mysteries are solved, there are misdirecting clues, and that raging forest fire that puts everyone in jeopardy.  It's a page turner.  Ellery solves the murders after some complicated cogitating.

I tend to think that animal mysteries are often too cute for me.  But this series by Lydia Adamson has a bit of heft to it.  I bought several of the series in a used book store last year and have enjoyed this one and the other one I read.

Alice Nestleton is a beautiful actress of a certain age and a cat sitter.  She has two of her own cats and loves cats in general.  She and some friends have been gardening in a community plot, raising herbs and flowers.  They plan to sell their organic catnip.  They have a small party to celebrate the harvest and brewing of peppermint tea  -  and one of the friends jumps to her death from the balcony during the party.

Alice can't believe that the woman committed suicide.  As she digs further into the woman's life, she's sure she didn't commit suicide.  But she's having trouble convincing others.  Alice figures out how and why the woman was killed.  Her friend on the police force helps out and he and she capture the killer, who has a secret history.

These books are fast reads and are fairly short.  They're a pleasant break from more serious or longer fiction and from more violent mysteries.

I must have read The Story of Doctor Dolittle when I was a child.  I know the story, I loved / love animals, I couldn't have missed it.  But, just in case, I read it again.

Doctor Dolittle, a kindly doctor, is always treating people for free.  When his parrot, Polynesia, tells him that all animals have their own languages and arranges for him to learn them, he becomes an animal doctor.  Of course, he's still kind and too generous for his own good.  He becomes a poor but famous doctor.

He gets a message that monkeys in Africa are dying of a mysterious illness.  The monkeys ask him to come help them.  He borrows a boat, loads up his animal friends, and sets off for Africa.  When they get there, they're captured by a wicked king.  Polynesia helps them to escape.  There are a few hair-raising episodes, with the king's men on their trail, and a wonderfully original end to the chase.

Dr. Dolittle saves the monkeys and then sets off for home.  Polynesia and the other animals originally from Africa decide to stay there.

On their way home, they're belayed by an evil pirate.  They outsmart the pirate and find a little boy who's lost his uncle.  Jip, the dog, smells his way to a rescue.  Dr. Dolittle and Jip are richly rewarded.

When they finally get back to their own country, they travel around displaying the pushmi-pullyu, who has decided to allow this to help Dr. Dolittle to earn money.  The pushmi-pullyu is there at his own free will.  He's a rare creature and many people want to buy him, but Dr. Dolittle refuses.  By the time they get tired of touring and return to Dr. Dolittle's home, they have lots of money.  As Dr. Dolittle says, money may be a bother, but it's nice not to have to worry about it.

This Dutch author has at least two books that take place in Maine.  I was puzzled about that until I read his biography on Wikipedia.  He moved to Maine and died there.  Now it makes sense.

In The Maine Massacre, the commissaris (who is never named) goes to Maine after his brother-in-law dies in an accident.  His sister can't wait to sell up and move back to Holland.  A few of the people at the police station in Amsterdam where he works are concerned about him because he's been very ill and has debilitating rheumatism.  They want someone to go with him.  He refuses, but they send one of their men, Sergeant de Gier, as part of a police exchange program.

While there, they both realize that there have been five accidental deaths in the last three years on a small area called Cape Orca.  They can't all have been accidents.  There's a new sheriff in town and he's been thinking the same thing.  Together they collect evidence and piece together the solution.

They have to deal with an obnoxious local gang of troublemakers and intellectuals.  Plus the strange people who live in the area.  They live far away from cities and towns, so they're independent and tough.

The police from Maine and Holland share techniques and experience.  They bring justice to the small town of Jameson, Maine.

I'm finished.  I'm done.  Whatever am I going to do now?!  

All Change is the final (fifth) book in The Cazalet Chronicles.  I started reading the series tentatively but quickly became engrossed in the family and their triumphs (not really that many) and tragedies (more of them).

I admit that even reading the fifth book, I had to refer to my list of characters, in particular which children belonged to which couple.  There are a lot of children!  But the reader has the privilege of watching them grow up.

Just like in real life, I liked some characters better than others.  I despised some and I wanted to shake others and tell them to wake up!  I could see the mistakes they were about to make and wanted to spare them the consequences.  I would like to have gone out for dinner or drinks with a few of them.

I don't want to get into much detail because I don't want to ruin things for new readers.  There are marital problems for most of the couples.  Some of them are worked out satisfactorily, others are not.  By the end of the book, most of the adults have been married at least once and most have children.

There's nothing spectacular in this series.  The stories are the kinds of stories that you might hear from your friends.  Or might have yourself.

I know there are other family sagas out there, but I'm not ready to commit to any of them just yet.  I'm still living with the Cazalets.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February: Part 2

In Diamond Solitaire, Peter Diamond, having lost his job as a policeman, proceeds to lose his job as a security guard at Harrods.  A little Japanese girl is found hiding in the furniture section after hours.  She doesn't speak and no one can find out who she is.  No one claims her.  

It's decided that she's autistic.  She's placed in a school for autistic children in London.  She haunts Peter.  He decides to devote himself to finding out who she is.  She begins to trust him and to draw.  The drawings are clues to where she came from.

The clues lead to an international pharmaceutical company and the development of a drug for treating Alzheimer's and which may also help maintain youthful brain function.  It turns out that the little girl's mother is a chemist who had worked on the drug.

Peter is helped by a very famous sumo wrestler who foots the bill for Peter's investigation.  He also plays a large, if you'll excuse the pun, part in an exciting rescue.

I like The Cazalet series very much, but this third book was aptly named.  I had difficulty reminding myself which character the chapter was about or which character was talking.  Confusion concerns mostly the young women in the family:  Zoe, Louise, Angela, Clary, and Polly.  They're all unlucky in love.

If you've read the series in order, you've watched the girls grow up and move out into the world.  Zoe's husband Rupert is MIA in World War II.  She's in limbo, not a wife and not a widow.  Louise marries Michael, a painter who is too devoted to his manipulative mother.  Clary and Polly are dipping their toes into romance and life in London.  Angela, after an unfortunate affair with a co-worker and an unwanted pregnancy, has given up.

Don't count on Elizabeth Jane Howard to deliver a happy ending, just interesting characters and slices of life in England before, during, and after the war.

It just so happened that while I was reading Confusion (see above), I was also reading Mrs. Milburn's Diaries.  I love reading diaries written by normal civilians during World War II.  Mrs. Jack Milburn (Clara) kept her diaries from 1939 through 1945.  She and her husband lived near Coventry, England.  Their only son, Alan John, was captured at Dunkirk and spent the next six years in German prisoner of war camps.  News of him was sporadic, although he and his mother exchanged letters, often much delayed.

Clara was active in the war effort, the Land Girls and the Women's Institute.  She was proud of their cars and volunteered to drive people from place to place, patients to doctors and hospitals, etc.  She also gardened and kept chickens.  A photograph of a watercolor she did of Coventry Cathedral shows that she was an accomplished artist as well.

She had a housekeeper, Kate, who cooked and cleaned and kept things in order.

Alan came home on May 10, 1945, and the diaries end.  Judy Milburn, the woman Alan married, adds information about what happened to everyone after the war.

I enjoyed reading these diaries.  It still overwhelms me when I read the number of people killed, soldiers and civilians, the amount of planes and bombs.  And it happened within living memory.

As diaries of World War II go, my favorites are still the diaries of Nella Last.  Her personality came through more in her writings.

Does anyone know of any World War II diaries by American women?

Murder at the Motor Show was first published in 1935.  Mr. Nigel Pershore, a wealthy gentleman, goes to an auto show and drops dead.  The coroner can't find a cause of death, except that his healthy heart suddenly stopped.  The autopsy reveals, however, that he had arsenic in his body, but not enough to kill him.

The police investigate and are sure they have the killer.  It must be the man's niece, who stands to inherit the bulk of his fortune.  Or is it his nephew, who will inherit even more because he knows something that the others don't know.  But maybe it's the man whose mortgage will be satisfied by Pershore's death.  Maybe it's not any of those.  Who is the mysterious woman who visits Nigel Pershore?

The book starts slowly, in my opinion, with too much detailed information about the innovative cars at the show.  Dr. Priestly, the detective of the series, doesn't intervene until late in the book.  I've only read one other Rhode book, The Claverton Affair.  I think I need to read a few more before I decide whether or not I like this series.    

Who knew that going to a car show could be so dangerous?!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 1st Through the 15th

A woman of my word, here are brief reviews of the books I read in the first half of February.  I hope you all had happy Valentine's Days.  I spent mine at the doctor's and then in bed with a stomach virus.  Fortunately, I had my Valentine to take care of me.  Much better now.

I usually don't read modern books that continue an older series, but the two books I've read by Guy Fraser-Sampson that continue the Mapp and Lucia series are well done and capture the flavor of the originals.

Mapp (not very wealthy) and Lucia (wealthy) are continuously trying to outdo each other socially.  Lucia and her husband, Georgie, decide to vacation in the lakes section of Italy.  Mapp finds out and, lucky for her, one of Benjy's old India friends, a very wealthy man, asks Benjy if he'll escort his son on vacation until he is free to take him  -  all expenses paid.  So Mapp connives to go to the same little town and stay in the same hotel as Lucia.  All I can say is that pandemonium and laughter ensue.

I've read a few of the Judge Dee mysteries and this one wasn't one of my favorites.  It dragged and I didn't like the theme.  Judge Dee stops at a festival at which a young man is poisoned.  And a woman is found murdered.  There's much talk about the Emperor's Pearl, a valuable pearl stolen years ago from the royal jewels, thought to be a myth by many.

Judge Dee must solve the mystery.  What he finds is a sadist and a surprise.

This book was disappointing, too.  I like Amy Poehler.  I don't think you can beat her and Tina Fey for laughs when they get together.  But this book felt forced, disjointed, didn't make me like Amy more, and maybe even a little less.  I thought it would be funnier.

Another celebrity memoir, but this one was more enjoyable.  That is, despite the fact that much of the book is about Cumming's horrible father and how he beat Alan and his brother and made them feel that they were worthless.  When Alan was 45, his father called and told him that he wasn't his real father.

Alan, in the middle of the British show Who Do You Think You Are? is devastated.  Elated to think that he's not the blood of a monster, but having to reevaluate his life and family.  So, simultaneously, he investigates the truth of his father's declaration and the story of his mother's father, who elected to leave his family after the war and who died in a mysterious shooting incident in the Far East.

And, finally, an old mystery by a well-regarded mystery author.  During a dinner with his neighbors, a man complains of stomach pains.  One of the neighbors, a doctor, opines that it's an ulcer and advises him to lay off the booze and rich food for a while.  He sends over some medicine.  The next day, the man is much worse and he dies a few days later.

The dead man's estranged brother arrives and demands an investigation.  They find that the man died of arsenic poisoning.  There is much speculation about how he ingested the arsenic:  in the medicine is the first supposition, but he also could have committed suicide (his finances are tanking), or it could have been accidental (he's been experimenting with different washes for his fruit trees), or, his brother's favorite, his younger wife could have done it because she wanted to leave him for another man.  The revelation was a surprise to me.

So, there you are.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Rest of January

I like posting a half month at a time, so I think I'll continue this way.  I may post about single issues occasionally.  So, here are the books I read in the second half of January:

I like archeological mysteries and I bought a bunch of Lyn Hamilton's series at a local used book store.  The series features Lara McClintoch, an antiques dealer.  She's in business with her ex-husband, which causes some problems.  In this book, Clive, her ex, gets the brilliant idea that to stimulate interest in their antiques business, Lara should lead a history / antiques tour somewhere in the world.  They pick Tunisia.

A varied group signs up for the tour.  A couple of celebrities, a couple of widows and single women, a fellow antiques dealer whose interest is ancient coins, a guy who only talks about investments and is constantly on his phone.  One member of the group is found dead in the swimming pool, but it wasn't an accident according to Lara.  She has experience with murder.  A fire breaks out in a travel critic's room.  The clothes and accessories in another member's room are rearranged and her necklace is stolen.  

There's an archeological 'dig' going on in the harbor, searching for a sunken ship with a cache of gold.  One of their members dies and one is injured.  That's not an accident either.  Someone tampered with their air tanks.

There's a lot going on.  Mixed in with the contemporary story is the story of the sunken ship, sunk in the time of Carthage.  So I had some fun and I learned some things, too.


This was my first Dorothy Whipple book.  I've already bought another of hers, Because of the Lockwoods.  I loved this book, a domestic mid-20th century novel.  It's a genre that I've previously disregarded.  My copy of The Great Mr. Knight, which seems to be the American title of They Knew Mr. Knight, was from my library, firmly covered in unremovable plastic, hence the lousy photograph of an interesting cover.

Thomas Blake works at the factory his family founded.  Against Thomas's pleading, his father sold the factory to raise cash after his mismanagement caused the business to falter.  Thomas believes that the factory should be his.  He, his wife and three children live in The Grove, a respectable neighborhood.

Thomas contrives to meet Mr. Knight, a wealthy financier who rides the same train.  Knight takes Thomas under his wing and gives him investment tips.  He buys Thomas's factory and puts Thomas in charge.  As he makes more money, Thomas and his family move up the wealth ladder.  They move to Fairholme, a house his wife doesn't like.

When Knight moves out of his country estate, Field Place, and back to London, he suggests that Thomas buy Field Place and offers him a good deal.  He and his family love Field Place.  But Knight has abandoned Thomas and Thomas has gotten himself entangled in too many questionable financial dealings, in way over his head.  You see what is coming, don't you?  I did, but I still wanted to read about how each family member reacted to their changing fortunes.

I felt it was time for more mystery and a move to Sicily, so I reached for an Inspector Montalbano book by Andrea Camilleri.  They're dependably good.  I can't form a good image of Montalbano, though.  I believe him to be a middle-aged (early 50s), sort of heavy man, not especially attractive  -  but women in the books seem to find him appealing.  He's always getting involved with beautiful women, despite his longterm, long-distance relationship with his girlfriend / fiancee (?) Livia.

There are two mega yachts in the harbor.  One has brought in the body of a badly beaten man, so badly beaten that he can't be identified.  The wealthy owner of the sailing yacht is gorgeous and overbearing.  The woman from the harbor master's office is gorgeous, too, and attracted to Montalbano.  They play relationship tag.

Montalbano is, as usual, in trouble with the police department he works for.  He lies, he avoids, he annoys his bosses.  But he does figure out the identity of the dead man and the secret of the two ships.

This classic was interesting for many reasons.  I realized that this book and The Great Mr. Knight were both about reaching for financial and social success and the risks people will take to acquire and keep them.

Pere Goriot lives in a down at the heels boarding house.  It appears he's very poor, but he always seems to be able to sell something when one of his spoiled daughters makes a demand.  He was once wealthy, a self-made man.  His daughters' wishes were always granted, so they grew up to be selfish and thoughtless women, continuing to make financial demands of their poor father while relegating him to his poverty and shunning his company.  Both are married to men of social and financial standing.  Goriot worships his daughters.

A young medical student is also a boarder at the house.  He comes from a modest family in the country, but he soon abandons his studies for the more attractive social scene.  The problem is that he doesn't have any money.  He thinks that being a doctor will take too long and won't produce enough income.  He decides that he must edge his way into society, which he does with the assistance of a distant relative.  He plans to marry or pledge himself to a wealthy woman.

He has a choice between another boarding house resident, a young heiress whose father refuses to recognize her.  If her father makes her his heir, she'll be very wealthy.  She's a sweet, innocent pretty girl.  But he's attracted to one of Goriot's married daughters.  Goriot likes him and is delighted.  He does everything he can to encourage the relationship because he thinks the young man makes his daughter happy and that her husband doesn't.

My goodness.  I'm glad I don't have either social or unattainable financial goals.  I wanted to shake several of the characters in the novel, Goriot and his daughters, and others, too.  At the end, Goriot realizes what his daughters are, but he blames himself.  It's a sad ending.

I hope that life is calming down and that I will have time to continue reading Don Quixote.  It's a funny and surprising book, but a long one.  I haven't found a good audio of the whole book, parts 1 and 2, to listen to while reading.  That helped me through Moby Dick and I was hoping listening and reading would get me to the end of Don Quixote.  I'm not forcing myself to read it, I just need a nudge to keep focused.  Wish me luck!