Monday, June 26, 2017

Manitou Canyon (Krueger) / Knife Creek (Doiron)

I've been off in the woods for the past week.  No black flies or dangerous animals or crazy people (who seem to populate those remote places).  I've been in Maine and Minnesota, deep in the wilderness.

In Manitou Canyon, Cork O'Connor is hired to find a wealthy dam builder.  John Harris disappeared while on a camping trip with his grandchildren, Lindsay and Trevor.  Lindsay and Cork go back to the place where he disappeared.  They're captured by Harris's kidnappers.  Why do they want Harris and his grand-daughter?  Or is it Cork they want?  Much excitement ensues.

Up in Maine, Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch and his girlfriend Stacey are asked to kill some wild boars who have worked their way north and are becoming a problem.  They find the boars, but they also find a dead baby.

Mike and the State Police investigate.  Mike finds the woman who had the baby, but she's being held captive by some very nasty people.  They're more than happy to kill to protect themselves.

I just realized that in both books, the protagonists are taken prisoner and almost killed.  Fortunately for readers who like either or both of the series, Mike and Cork are rescued and will, I hope, continue to entertain me in future mysteries.  These books are real page-turners, fast reads.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mystery Plant

This past weekend, Jack and I visited a friend who lives in Western Massachusetts.  Last year she moved to an old house, built in 1804.  She inherited gardens and is delighting in the surprises that inherited gardens bring.

She and I have both been avid gardeners for many years, but she has a plant that neither of us can identify.  Gardeners out there, any ideas?  Pink orchidish flowers and rather glossy pinnate leaves.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Travelling Hornplayer - Barbara Trapido

I'll get to the book, but here's our patio squirrel Fluffy.  She came to us with half the fur on her back missing, so we called her Scruffy.  Now that it's grown back, we call her Fluffy, or Fluffernutter.  We feed her nuts, shelled hazelnuts being her favorite.  She takes two from our fingers, never biting, sometimes using her paws to steady our hands.   Sometimes she helps herself to nuts left on the table. 

When it's hot, like it is today (98F), there's nothing better for a little squirrel than to sprawl on the cool metal pipe or the shady flagstones of the patio.  We have a pie plate of water our for her and the birds.  This is the city, a dangerous place for a squirrel.  I know someday she won't come back, and we won't know what happened to her.  Until then, we're good friends.

Now, on to The Travelling Hornplayer.  If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I discovered Barbara Trapido late.  If you haven't read her books yet, get going!  I'm so impressed by her writing and her characters and their stories.  They're strange but familiar.

The Travelling Hornplayer weaves together the stories of the Goldman brothers, Roger and Jonathan and their families, people we met in Brother of the More Famous Jack.  Separate events and different people tie them and their families together, but they don't realize that at first.  

Jonathan and Katherine have a daughter called Stella.  She is challenged, as we say today, in many ways.  Her mother devotes herself to trying to help Stella read and do the things other children her age do.  Stella is dyslexic, but she is a wonderful singer, cellist, and a brilliant and intelligent  conversationalist.

There's Izzy, a student artist.  Unkempt but brilliant.  Stella gives him her heart and he breaks it.  There are ramifications, serious ones.

The book is lightness and dark.  Parts are laugh out loud funny, others are sad.  There are some detailed sex scenes and adult conversations and language.  I hope that won't put you off.

The last few pages are like The Old Woman and Her Pig, if you're familiar with that folktale.  They knit up the loose pieces as Jonathan finally understands why Lydia Dent ran into the street and was killed by a car.

It's hard to write about this book because so many unforeseen and startling things happen.  I don't want to ruin the surprises for anyone.  I highly recommend The Travelling Hornplayer and Barbara Trapido's other novels, some of which I haven't read yet.  I'm sure they'll be good, too, though.

Monday, June 12, 2017

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

I read Cranford and loved it.  I was looking forward to another delightful novel from Elizabeth Gaskell, but I'm afraid North and South disappointed me.

Reverend Hale has some sort of crisis of belief and decides to give up his lovely, quiet parish in the country and move his wife and daughter to the mill town of Milton.  It's dirty and the people are crude.  He sets up as a tutor.  One of his pupils is Mr. Thornton, the owner of a mill.  They read and talk about classics.

Margaret Hale, the daughter, is a self-righteous snob.  She looks down on tradesmen, including Thornton.  But as she gets to know some of the working class, she becomes fond of them and respects their ideals and ethics.  She and Bessy Higgins are friendly, but Bessy is ill and dies in her poor house.

Bessy's father is a member of the union that calls a strike against the mills for higher pay.  They don't understand that sales are down and the owners can't pay more.  At Thornton's mill, the strikers are replaced by men and women from Ireland.  Hard times for all.

The Hale's son, Frederick, is a fugitive.  He's a wanted man in England for starting a mutiny.  He did it because the captain of the ship was unfair and cruel.  If he is found in England, he'll be tried and probably hanged.  But he returns to England from Spain when his mother is ill and dies.

Thornton, who has proposed and been rejected by Margaret, sees Margaret with her brother and thinks it's her lover.  Even so, he quashes an inquiry into the death of a drunken man whom her brother pushed and who subsequently died.  He doesn't want any shame to come to Margaret.

Meanwhile, Margaret has lied to the police so they don't find out that her brother was in the country.  Thornton knows she lied and she's shamed by that.  They don't talk, they avoid each other.  Margaret inherits a small fortune from her godfather and she invests in Thornton's failing business, and they fall into each other's arms.  The end.

Cranford is a delightful book, laugh out loud funny in places.  North and South is dark and relentless and heavy-handed.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

It's really hard to take a photo of marbleized paper!  My hand isn't still enough and so the paper looks sort of psychedelic.  This copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, pretty and substantial, is from The Heritage Press / The Heritage Club.

Truthfully, I had the same problem with this book that I had with Moby Dick:  too much information. I was expecting an exciting adventure under the sea, as the title suggests, but several times I was pounded with so much information that my head hurt.  I didn't need to know the Latin names of all the fish and mollusks and whales and other sea creatures.  Paragraph after paragraph.  I happen to like Latin, studied it for a bit, and love it when it applies to plant names.  But not in my escapist adventure book.

A mysterious 'thing' had been crashing into ships.  A moving island or sand bar?  A creature of the deep?  Nah, it's Captain Nemo in his submarine!  Mr. Aronnax, Assistant Professor in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, is asked to go on a ship, the Abraham Lincoln, to find this thing and identify it.  The thing crashes into the Abraham Lincoln and M. Aronnax, his personal assistant, Conseil, and a Canadian harpooner, Ned Land, are thrown overboard. 

They find themselves inside Nemo's submarine, the Nautilus.  Captain Nemo tells them that once on the Nautilus, they can never leave.  He can't have his secrets revealed to the world.  They're treated well, they're fed well.  But they're still imprisoned on the submarine.  Aronnax, being a scientist, doesn't mind so much.  Seeing the underwater world through the windows of the Nautilus is fascinating.  Nemo has a wonderful library (and an organ, famous artwork, all the comforts of a wealthy home), too.

They travel around the world  -  under the sea.  They occasionally surface to replenish their fresh air and there are times when they are allowed to explore islands.  They almost get done in by savages in Papua.  They sometimes put on diving gear and Nemo takes them exploring underwater.  They get stuck under an iceberg, they watch Nemo and his crew 'bury' a dead crew member in a coral cemetery.  They're attacked by giant cuttlefish and sharks and other scary, watery beings.

But Ned Land wants off the vessel.  He, Aronnax, and Conseil try several times to escape, but either the sea's too rough, they're too far from land, or something else interferes.  The Nautilus sinks a ship and then wanders aimlessly through the sea.  They realize that Nemo is a madman, on a voyage of revenge.  The Nautilus gets sucked down by a huge whirlpool off Norway, but the three escape in a small boat that, somehow, survives the maelstrom.

I admire Verne for his thorough research and some creations that eventually were realized.  But, for my taste, the adventure was thin and the facts were heavy.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Monkey's Mask - Dorothy Porter

I couldn't resist a book hyped as 'an erotic muder mystery' -  in verse.  Really?  I've certainly never read one of those before.

My library had a copy, so I got it and read it in two days.  I probably could have read it in one if I had started it earlier in the day.

It is in verse.  There is a murder.  It is a mystery.  The investigator is a lesbian who falls in love with a the murdered girl's poetry professor, who has a boyfriend.  I didn't think it was very erotic.

Normally, I abhor fiction with a gimmick.  But this one didn't bother me at all.  I can't say that I recommend it, but for novelty's sake, you might be interested.  It seems to be one of a kind.

Friday, June 2, 2017

May I Share a Few Titles With You?

Here are the books I finished in May.  I have posts on two of them ready to publish, but I'll space out my posts a bit.  I hope you had a good reading month.

The Fortnight in September  -  R. C. Sherriff

Cargo of Eagles  -  Margery Allingham

Another Year  -  R. C. Sherriff

McNally's Secret  -  Lawrence Sanders

The Monkey's Mask  -  Dorothy Porter

The Moving Finger  -  Agatha Christie

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea  -  Jules Verne

The Case of William Smith  -  Patricia Wentworth