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?!