Saturday, October 13, 2012

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Mid-Event Update

Unfortunately I have been coming down with a cold, so there has been more sleeping than usual in this particular read-a-thon. In all fairness, when I'm sick I like nothing more than to spend my time on the couch or in bed with a book. I just keep dozing off. Ah well.

 1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired? Yeah, I've been dozing off.

 2) What have you finished reading? Two books- Agatha Christie's The 4:50 from Paddington and a Nancy Drew mystery: The Bungalow Mystery.  That's definitely far short of my usual read-a-thon progress.

 3) What is your favorite read so far? I've enjoyed both.

4) What about your favorite snacks? I just went and got some strawberry ice cream :) (hey, I'm sick!)

5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love!  Not yet.  I"ll probably explore more after the read-a-thon is over.

Read-a-Thon Begins!

Here I am.  It's 5am.  I don't do mornings, and I especially don't do 5am mornings, but my coffee and I are here and ready to read (at least until it's nap time).

Here's my answers to the introductory meme:

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Washington State, USA
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
>I'm about to finish Agatha Christie's The 4:50 from Paddington, so I'm about to find out whodunnit!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I think I'm going to go to Subway and get a sub for lunch.  I'm pretty excited about that.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a figure skater in my free time.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Be more willing to take naps.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: The First Rule of Ten

Tenzing Norbu is not your average detective. Raised in a Buddhist monastery in India, son of a Tibetan father and American mother, hes escaped the monastery to fulfill his dream of becoming a police detective in Los Angeles. This book finds Ten having just retired from the force, ready to set up shop as an independent private detective.

And Ten quickly finds himself embroiled in a mystery. A former member of a religious cult turns up dead, and the cult's next-door neighbor, an almond farmer, is receiving threats. What follows is a complex mystery involving life insurance scams, property development, and a religious cult's demands for devotion. There is truly never a dull moment in this book.

A Buddhist monk detective is indeed a new twist to a well-worn genre. I got into this book quickly and was excited to see what happened. Ten's police connections make this much more police procedural than cozy mystery.

Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, The First Rule of Ten (Hay House, 2012) ISBN: 1401937764 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Original Sin

A publishing house finds itself in the grips of fear after its director is murdered. The murder follows a series of odd pranks and suicides. It is clear that something is not right at the Peverell Press. Inspector Dalgliesh is called in along with two junior detectives. It seems clear that the murderer had to be one of the staff, but how and why remain a mystery.

As James always does, she manages to develop numerous complicated characters and a multi-faceted plot. On the side of law and order the two junior inspectors are more important than Dalgliesh to the plot and the investigation. As with the suspects, their own lives and histories will play pivotal roles in the investigation and its resolution. James does not disappoint in this mystery, and the book follows patterns seen in her other Dalgliesh novels. In the end the police discover that an alibi is not quite as unassailable as it seems. 

P.D. James, Original Sin (Vintage, 2009) ISBN: 0307455572 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: An Expert in Murder

Mystery writer Josephine Tey appears in this book as the protagonist, an amateur detective in a case that develops from the last performances of her play, Richard of Bordeaux. On the train to London, Josephine meets a young woman who later turns up dead. It appears that the victim and all the suspects had connections to Richard of Bordeaux. Josephine's friend Archie Penrose is the Scotland Yard inspector on the case. Josephine undertakes her own investigations too, trying to find the killer of the woman on the train, Elspeth Simmons.

This is a good mystery, and Tey is an essential part of the story. I was somewhat concerned that Tey might be merely a gimmick, but really the story could not have happened without her. The play and its environs involve a group of rather histrionic theater folk, but this is not overdone. Generally this is a solid story full of suspense. I didn't necessarily feel like I was connecting with the same Tey as when I read Tey's own works, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book all the same.

Nicola Upson, An Expert in Murder (Harper, 2008) ISBN: 0061451533 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Death of a Snob

Christmas finds Hamish at a loose end. When he receives an invitation to a health farm on a rural island he jumps on it. The other guests include Heather Todd, a snob who fancies herself the toast of Glasgow society. She proceeds to annoy everyone at the resort. When she turns up dead no one seems to be all that sorry, and just about anyone could be responsible. As per usual, Hamish's arch-nemesis Blair is anxious to get the incident declared an accident so that he can go home. It will be up to Hamish to prove that the death was a crime.

This was certainly an enjoyable installment in the series. I have yet to be disappointed by one of the Hamish Macbeth books. I do wonder about the extent of the hostility towards outsiders that is supposedly displayed on Eileencraig. Do such places really still exist? I wonder.

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Snob (St. Martins, 1991) ISBN: 0312058519 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster

William Starr is a man who is a bit obsessed with Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell. In the eighteenth century Boswell and Johnson toured Boswell's native Scotland. Starr decides to recreate this voyage in the twenty-first century. Throughout the text he compares his impressions with those of Boswell and Johnson. From Glasgow through the islands and the Highlands, Starr gives us his impressions of the countryside, people, weather, and lore that define each area of Scotland.

Starr is clearly a man who loves Scotland. He is in his element while travelling through the Scottish countryside, though he harbors a certain amount of nostalgia for a Scotland long gone. Ultimately this leads to a bit of golden ageism. Starr is also a man who loves Boswell and Johnson, more so than the average reader likely will. The text is littered with passages quoted from Boswell and Johnson's own writings, more than the average reader will likely appreciate. I wish that Starr had focused more upon his own travelogue and less on Boswell and Johnson. Starr has an entertaining, Bill Bryson-like style that reads easily, but I would rather read Starr on his own than with the crutch of Boswell and Johnson.

William Starr, Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster: Traveling through Scotland with Boswell and Johnson (University of South Carolina Press, 2010) ISBN: 1570039488 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: The Lost Women of Lost Lake

At the Minnesota resort of Jill Ivorson and Tessa Cornell a mystery seems to be brewing. A mysterious man has arrived looking for two aging radicals wanted for the 1960s murder of a policeman. It appears that Tessa may know something about the case. What follows is a period of intense secrecy and suspicion, as some of the people at Lost Lake try to determine what deeds others at the resort have done. Complicating matters is the arrival of Jill and Tessa's nephew, Jonah, trying to escape his parents' arguing by moving in with his aunts.

This is certainly a cozy mystery, enmeshed in a resort community, perpetuated by a restaurateur-cum-sleuth. I appreciated, though, that this book dealt with more social issues than the average cozy mystery. This book touches on domestic violence, youth radicalism, and the secrets of our pasts. I enjoyed the book, and will look for more in the series.

Ellen Hart, The Lost Women of Lost Lake (Minotaur, 2011) ISBN: 0312614772 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Final Notice

When Helma's Aunt Em arrived in Washington for a visit Helma is expecting the staid, responsible woman who was Helma's role model. Instead, she finds a woman who likes to kick back and have a good time. Aunt Em is recovering from a brain injury and her memory has suffered its effects. She brings numerous odd artifacts with her, things from her past whose meaning is a mystery. As Aunt Em starts remembering Helma stands to learn a great deal about her aunt's past, and a dangerous mystery is uncovered.

Helma is her usual irritating self in this novel. It's still unclear to me why the police chief puts up with her unwillingness to commit, though a relationship in which the female half is the commitment-phobe is certainly a refreshing change. The part of the book I found most problematic was the new age chief librarian, Moonbeam's color-personality test. The library staff are required to take it- if they refuse Moonbeam will answer the questions for them. Now, I happen to live in the area where the Miss Zukas mysteries are set. This region is full of people who would be all over a color-aura-personality management scheme. What doesn't make sense is the library director answering questions for people. Perhaps this is a sign that I've lived here too long, if I'm irritated that it doesn't follow the rules of hippie logic. Whatever. In any case, there's nothing out there quite like the Miss Zukas series. Anyone who enjoys quirky, cozy mysteries should give this a try.

Jo Dereske, Final Notice (Avon, 1998) ISBN:0380782456 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The second book in the Millennium trilogy picks up a year after Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist pulled off their various coups. Lisbeth has been traveling, but suddenly a dangerous thug seems to be trailing her. Through a strange course of events, Lisbeth is wanted by the police for murder.

I enjoyed this second installment in the trilogy significantly more than the first one. This book deals more with Lisbeth than with Mikael, and she is by far the more interesting character. Mikael, after all, is a man who liked going to prison because he found it "restful." This book delves into some of the issues of Lisbeth's past, especially a devastating event that is mysteriously absent from her social services file.

This book is absolutely bursting with suspense, and this was a book I literally couldn't stop reading. I was desperate to see how all of the pieces fit together. Who is the mysterious giant? What happened in Lisbeth's past? Finishing this book made me want to start the next one immediately.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage, 2010) ISBN: 030745455X 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: In Search of the Rose Notes

This retrospective novel follows Nora and her childhood friend, Charlotte, as they revisit the unsolved disappearance of their babysitter, Rose. As children Nora and Charlotte were fascinated by their teenage babysitter. Rose had all the cache of adolescence, but one day on her way home from Charlotte's house she disappeared.

In the wake of the disappearance Nora and Charlotte try all sorts of paranormal methods to divine Rose's location. Much of this centers on their fascination with the Time-Life series of books on the supernatural, the ones that were constantly advertised on television in the early-1990s. Nora is disturbed by their forays into the supernatural, but Charlotte is older, wealthier, and bossier, so they continue.

As adults Charlotte is still annoying. I couldn't figure out why Nora was so willing to spend time with her and share her secrets. It's understandable as children, but it made little sense as adults. We do ultimately discover what happened to Rose, but not before coming to the conclusion that Charlotte really needs to go away.

Emily Arsenault, In Search of the Rose Notes (William Morrow, 2011) ISBN: 0062012320 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

This novel is a fictionalization of the life of Clara Driscoll, the head of the women's division at Tiffany Studios. The novel looks at a broad swath of Clara's life, from the point at which she develops the design for the iconic Tiffany lamp, through her career with the company. Much of the book is about Clara's relationship to her artwork. Glass is her life, many will tell her to a fault. So much work means little time for relationships, and Clara always seems to put work ahead of love. Tiffany Studios had a policy excluding married women, and after a brief and devastating marriage Clara finds it hard to trust another relationship. Gender issues also shape Clara's work life, as the men's department at Tiffany is constantly trying to exert its superiority over the women, and desperately wants to see the women's division closed.

There were definitely things I enjoyed about this book. I loved reading about how Tiffany glass is made, and I had no idea that women were so involved in its production. It was also interesting to get a glimpse of New York City at the turn of the century.

That said, there were also problems. I began to tire of Clara's constant discussion of the meaning of art in her life. It becomes tiresomely repetitive. I also found the book's format distracting. The book is divided into a number of sections that jump across the decades, each section consisting of only a few chapters. I felt like I was always reorienting myself to a different point in Clara's life.

Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany (Random House, 2011) ISBN: 1400068169 

Reading Challenge: 50 States

I didn't quite finish this challenge last year, but I had quite a bit of fun attempting, so I'm going to try the 50 States Reading Challenge again.  The goal is to read a book set in each of the fifty states.  One thing I learned last year is that I read a shocking number of books set in Massachusetts and California.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Mount TBR

I like to say that I have more of a TBR black hole than a mountain.  It's a swirling vortex that sucks in everything around it.  In aid of reducing it to something slightly less daunting, I am joining the Mount TBR reading challenge.  The attempt is to read 50 of my own books by year's end.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Off the Shelf

Those who have followed my posts here will be well acquainted with the fact that I have Too Many Books.  In an effort to get through them, I am joining the Off the Shelves reading challenge for 2012.  The goal is simply to read the books I acquired before 2012.  Fair enough.  I am going to aim for 50 books off the shelf.  We'll see how that goes.

Interested in signing up?  Click on the image!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Married to Bhutan

If anyone should ever need proof that some people have a spiritual home, a place where they feel fully comfortable and at peace, they need look no further than Linda Leaming in Bhutan. After a trip to the remote, mountainous country of Bhutan Leaming decided that she had to move there permanently. And move there she did. This memoir details Leaming's life in Bhutan, from her early days in the country to marrying a Bhutanese husband. Life is certainly different in Bhutan; values, material goods, and the pace of life are all completely anathema to those in the United States. The pace of life in Bhutan is slow, and the most important things are happiness and spiritual enlightenment. Life is physically difficult, but people seem happier than many of those in other places.

Bhutan is certainly an interesting place. Its size and terrain have led to significant isolation from the rest of the world. I definitely go the the sense the life in Bhutan would not be everyone. It likely would not suit me very well. Still, I appreciated the chance to learn about a place about which I knew almost nothing. Leaming's love for the place infuses every page of this memoir, and that is really what makes it a pleasure to read.

Linda Leaming, Married to Bhutan: How One Woman Got Lost, Said 'I Do,' and Found Bliss (Hay House, 2011) ISBN: 1401928463 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Pretty

Bebe is a recovering drug addict mourning the death of her boyfriend. In the space of a year Bebe's life has gone from looking towards a promising future to marking time in a rehab facility and slacking her way through cosmetology school.

While the book is really about Bebe's efforts to come to terms with her boyfriend's death in an accident that left her with significant physical scars too, I found Bebe's efforts to recover from drug addiction more interesting. I am not especially interested in the music industry, and Bebe's boyfriend, Aaron, was a musician. The parts of the book that look at life before the accident seemed to be wound up in music industry stuff that simply wasn't very interesting to a reader who was not similarly invested.

I had previously read Lauren's memoir, Some Girls, and I can say that I definitely preferred her non-fiction to her fiction. I never managed to care all that much about the characters in this book. Bebe, and particularly Aaron, bored me.

Jillian Lauren, Pretty (Plume, 2011) ISBN: 0452297346 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Dry

This is Burroughs's memoir of getting sober, of giving up alcohol and learning to live with alcoholism. Treatment comes to Burroughs when he is given an ultimatum- go to treatment or lose his job. And the job is a significant source of the addiction. Burroughs worked in advertising, an industry that he portrays as high-ego, high-stress, alcohol-soaked, and drug-addicted.

As with anyone else, Burroughs finds sobriety to be a difficult process. His efforts to stay dry are complicated by the fact that one of his close friends is dying, and one of his more obnoxious colleagues continues to try and tempt him to drink.

The book offers a gritty look at the day-to-day process of sobriety. This is not a book about rehab, it's a book about what happens after rehab. There's definitely suspense laced throughout this book- will Augusten fall off the wagon or won't he? This book also offers a rather interesting look at the over-the-top world of New York advertising. If you didn't already find advertising loathsome, you probably will after reading this book.

Augusten Burroughs, Dry (Picador, 2004) ISBN: 0312423799

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan made educated and independent women prisoners in their own households. Aside from grave human rights abuses, the Taliban also created an immediate practical problem for thousands of women who could no longer work to support their families. One Kabul woman, Kamela Sediqui, tacked the problem by creating her own sewing business. When the Taliban came to power Kamela Sediqui was a student who traveled independently around Kabul and who was looking forward to a career. But Taliban occupation led Kamela's parents to flee to the countryside, and left the Sediqui sisters to try and support the family from the confines of their home. Kamela lacked sewing skills, but she saw a need for stylish women's clothes that fit within Taliban restrictions. This small enterprise grew into a veritable workshop that employed numerous girls in the neighborhood. This is certainly an inspiring story. Kamela's business was fraught with danger. She and her employees constantly risked being caught by the Taliban. I learned quite a bit about Kabul before the rise of the Taliban, and it made the regime's corruption all the more striking.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Harper, 2011) ISBN: 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

Heather Sellers has a rare neurological condition that leaves her unable to recognize faces. This is her memoir of trying to live an adult life with this disorder. I expected that the memoir would begin with Heather having a diagnosis, but that is not the case. For most of her adult life Sellers had no idea why she couldn't recognize people, and she had to try and compensate. Much of the memoir chronicles Heather's search for a diagnosis. This book is also a story about childhood. Sellers grew up with mentally ill and negligent parents. Her parents had little time for Heather's problems; they were consumed by their own. This helps to explain how Sellers could grow into adulthood unaware that she had a neurological problem. I learned a great deal from this book. I had never heard of this particular disorder, prosopagnosia. Indeed, it is rare. In a world in which everyone seems to claim that they have problems recognizing faces, it is hard to recognize, and get recognition, for such a disorder. It is also difficult to get a diagnosis. Really, there's enough material for two memoirs here: one on childhood, and one on face-blindness. The jumping back and forth from childhood to adulthood was sometimes distracting. Like many other children of troubled parents Heather is still searching for their approval and love as an adult, which leads to problems with attachment and commitment. The best example of this is Sellers's unwillingness to share a home with her husband. Sometimes I found myself feeling the most empathy for Heather's husband. He seems to have put up with quite a bit, both in regard to his wife's commitment issues, and with his troublesome in-laws. This is not necessarily the best memoir I have ever read, but it does tackle interesting and rare subject matter, and I have certainly developed a new appreciation of how difficult it must be not to recognize others' faces.

Heather Sellers, You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know (Riverhead, 2010) ISBN: 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: The Case of the Gilded Fly

A wildly unpopular actress is murdered in Oxford. No one is especially sorry that Yseut Haskell is dead, and no one seems all that willing to track down her killer. Everyone is happy to profess their hatred of Yseut. Literature professor Gervase Fen knows immediately who the killer is, but that will stay under wraps until the end of the book. The mystery is a closed-room case. It seems like no one could have gotten into the room to shoot Yseut. This is not necessarily a remarkably unique closed-room case. It relies heavily on the characters to carry it along. I rather enjoyed the university setting of the book. Fen is certainly not my favorite literary academic, but he's well-drawn enough to keep me entertained. I was less interested in the world of the theater. Actors can be very tiresome. I'm hoping that the later installments in this series dispense with the theater and focus on the university.

Edmund Crispin, The Case of the Gilded Fly (Felony and Mayhem, 2005, orig. 1944) ISBN: 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reading Challenge: Dewey Decimal

One of my goals is to read my way through the Dewey Decimal System.  My interest was sparked by Librarything, and I'm slowly working my way through.  To help the process I'm joining the Dewey Decimal Challenge.  My goal is to read 16-20 non-fiction books.  I will be the Dewey Decimal Master!

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!  

Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

I'm going to be joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2012, hosted by The Historical Tapestry.  My goal is to read 10 historical fiction books.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Review: Death at Bishop's Keep

This book introduces Kathryn Ardleigh, a nineteenth-century New Yorker who writes mysteries under a pseudonym. Just as she is looking for her next commission, Ardleigh finds herself summoned to England by a previously unknown aunt to serve as secretary for a mystical society, the Order of the Golden Dawn. When Kate arrives at her aunt's estate, Bishop's Keep, she finds a second aunt who spends her days terrorizing the servants. She also discovers ample material for her next murder mystery. An unidentified dead body suggest possible connections to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Throughout the story Kate must balance her interest in crime with all of the Victorian proscriptions on ladies engaging in unsavory activities. This book was certainly an entertaining read. This is the book that has to send Ardleigh to England to perpetuate the series. I found Kate to be more charming than usual in this book. Her friend Charles Sheridan, on the other hand, was more simpering and pathetic than usual. I did manage to figure out who the murderer was, but there were enough twists and turns to make me doubt myself. All in all, a satisfying and entertaining mystery. 

Robin Paige, Death at Bishop's Keep (Berkley, 1998) ISBN:  0425164357