Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Mistress Masham's Repose

This week my teaser lines come from a book I'm reading for the Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge -- Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White.  The story revolves around the ten-year-old orphan Maria who discovers a whole city of tiny people inhabiting an island in a lake on the estate where she lives.  Needless to say, Maria is fascinated with the little creatures and soon becomes completely involved in helping them and protecting them from harm.  But, as we see in this snippet, she also begins to have problems controlling their relationship:
The more she adored and wondered at the doings of her six-inch People, the more she wanted to take control of them. She wanted to play with them, like lead soldiers, and even dreamed of being their queen.  She began to forget what the Professor had said, about not being an owner.
But the Lilliputians were not toys. (p.82)
Yes, Lilliputians.  As in Gulliver.  It's a very cute story and I'm hoping for a happy ending.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Reading Update

Another Monday, and another week gone by!  (And half the year gone, too!)  Time to take stock and do a little future planning.

Since my last Monday check-in, I've finished two books:

A Fearful Madness, by Julius Falconer

& Sons: A Novel, by David Gilbert

You can see my review of A Fearful Madness here (strange book).  I'll try to get a review of & Sons up later this week (another strange book -- but in a good way).

Also posted a review of a book I finished earlier this year:

Fer-de-Lance, by Rex Stout

Can't believe it took me so long to discover that one.

This week, I'm having dental work, so I'm not sure how much reading I'll be doing.  But I'm hoping to finish up Inferno by Dan Brown, and the classic children's book I started over the weekend:

Mistress Masham's Repose, by T.H. White

As usual, I'm way behind on my reading.  Probably won't even make it to fifty books this year, but I'm still aiming for that.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Fer-de-Lance

Written by Rex Stout
Bantam Books, 1992; 290 pages
First published 1934

Publisher's Description:
As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin knows he's getting dreadfully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. As for Wolfe, he's playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda -- whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who's still got poison in his heart.
My Thoughts:

In Fer-de-Lance, Nero Wolfe solves two seemingly unconnected murder cases, shows that they are indeed connected (making the authorities look like blockheads), and avoids an attempt on his own life -- all without ever leaving his house!

This is the first book in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mystery series, published almost 80 years ago.  I've read other books in the series (and enjoyed a lot of the movies and TV shows based on the books), but somehow I'd managed to skip this first installment until this year.  What an idiot!  Such a wonderful book -- now I'm hooked on the classic series and I'll be moving on to the second book, The League of Frightened Men.

If you're not familiar with the series, you should understand that Nero Wolfe is a crime-solving genius.  As the publisher's blurb says, he's an "arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth" who grows rare orchids on an upper floor of his Manhattan brownstone.  He runs his detective service out of the same brownstone, and since he never leaves the place (well, very rarely anyway), he employs the younger Archie Goodwin as his more-mobile partner/assistant/legman.  They're a very appealing but extremely unlikely duo -- a sort of American Holmes and Watson.  That is, if you can imagine Watson as a wise-cracking tough guy in a fedora. 

The books are narrated by Goodwin, and he's an excellent story-teller.  He admires his employer without being completely overawed by him, and frequently disagrees with Wolfe (although he doesn't always let the great man know it).  One interesting note about their partnership -- even though this is the first book in the series, Goodwin establishes early on that they've already been together for a number of years; and he refers to several cases they've solved in the past, as though the reader should be familiar with their work.  Sounds like it would be confusing, but it really just adds to the pleasure.

After a string of so-so reads, I'm happy to say this is one I enjoyed without any reservations whatsoever!

Review: A Fearful Madness

Written by Julius Falconer
2013, Pneuma Springs Publishing (UK); 187 pages
ISBN 978-1-78228-261-7

Publisher's Description:
A police investigation into the violent death of a part-time cathedral verger stalls for lack of incriminating evidence. However, three people have a close interest in clearing the matter up where the police have failed: the dead man's sister, anxious to see justice done, and two of the police suspects, both released without charge but keen to clear their names.
Striking out on their own, each approaches the murder from a different perspective: book-trafficking on the black market; revenge by an extremist religious organisation for the dead man's betrayal of them; and retaliation in a case of blackmail. The police continue to maintain that the murder was committed out of sexual anger, even though they have no proof apart from the circumstances of the verger's death.
Eventually DI Moat and his assistant DS Stockwell, from the North Yorkshire Force, take a hand. Moat pays his predecessors in the investigation, both professional and amateur, the compliment of taking their findings seriously - but comes up with an idea of his own. 

My Thoughts:

This is a very short book, and could most likely be read at one sitting. However, it took me more than a week to get through it, and of course that's a sign that I just wasn't connecting with it -- never did.

So many things bothered me about this book, it's hard even to begin to review it. The story was all over the place -- plot devices thrown at the reader with no apparent rhyme or reason. The characters were mostly stereotypes and tended to pop up out of nowhere, spouting various literary quotes and references and recommendations at an alarming pace.  Now I realize there was a certain literary aspect involved -- several of the characters were involved in black-market book sales.  Even so, it was a bit of shock to hear references to Diderot and quotes from The Duchess of Malfi.  I don't know about you, but Diderot doesn't come up in my day-to-day conversations very much.

Falconer has three different characters or groups of characters investigating the crime, at the same time though separately.  Each investigation went off in a different direction and seemed to lead nowhere, so that by the time the police showed up toward the end of the novel, I was actually pretty bored with the whole business.

Worst of all, the ending wasn't just a surprise -- it was a smack in the face, with yet another new character (or two?) showing up out of the blue. In a way, the ending makes the entire book feel like one big "red herring." It also made me think that maybe I just hadn't read carefully enough and missed something important along the way; but I was so frustrated by then, there was no way I could contemplate any rereading to figure out where I lost track. Definitely not a book I'd recommend; but I understand Julius Falconer has published quite a few books and has a devoted following of readers (this is at least the third book to feature Inspector Walter Moat), so maybe A Fearful Madness is just a poor example of his work.

Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Is This Tomorrow

This week my teaser lines come from Is This Tomorrow, by Caroline Leavitt:
When he got to the door, he turned and waved with both hands, grinning.
Later, that's what she told the police. How happy he was. How he smiled.
I've only read a few pages of this one, but I think it's got me hooked.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: A Fearful Madness

This week my teaser lines come from A Fearful Madness by Julius Falconer.  I'm just starting this one, and don't really know much about it.  These are the book's opening lines:
It has been said, by whom and when I have forgotten, that the four ingredients of a good story are religion, sex, aristocracy and mystery.  In line with this recipe, one practised hand penned the following line:
'My God,' said the duchess, 'I'm pregnant. I wonder whodunnit.'
Very droll.  It should be interesting to see where we go from there.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Monday Reading Update

So, here we are in June already!  I say this every year, but it's really true this year: I can't believe how fast time is passing.  And I don't seem to be getting nearly as much reading done as I'd hoped (yeah, I know -- I say that every week).  Oh, well....

Didn't finish any books last week, but I'm nearly done with two new ones:

& Sons: A Novel, by David Gilbert


Inferno, by Dan Brown

What's next?  Well, I have a bunch of ARCs I need to get to.  To give myself a nudge, I signed up for the 2013 ARC Reading Challenge.  (You can join any time during the year, so if you'd like to sign up, just go here and add your link.)  Next up, I think, will be one of these:

A Fearful Madness, by Julius Falconer

 A Fatal Likeness, by Lynn Shepherd


 Stranded, by Alex Kava

I also want to re-read some Barbara Pym this month (she was born a hundred years ago, in June 1913 -- hard to believe).  So I've got this one on my list, too:

 Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Barbara Pym's Century

Barbara Pym with her cat Minerva

Today, June 2nd, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of English novelist Barbara Pym.  I think if I were pressed to name one favorite author, she would probably be my choice.  I've read all her books multiple times and loved each and every one.  So, in honor of her 100th, I've decided to reread a few of my favorites, starting with the first one published, Some Tame Gazelle.  In case you aren't familiar with her work, here's a little taste -- the opening paragraph of "Gazelle":
The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down.  Belinda had noticed it when they had met him for the first time at the vicarage last week and had felt quite embarrassed.  Perhaps Harriet could say something to him about it.  Her blunt jolly manner could carry off these little awkwardnesses much better than Belinda's timidity.  Of course he might think it none of their business, as indeed it was not, but Belinda rather doubted whether he thought at all, if one were to judge by the quality of his first sermon.
Barbara Pym died in 1980. She was 66 and had published nine novels; four more were published posthumously in the years after her death.  Not a huge body of work, but a wonderfully rich one.  If you haven't read any of her books, you really should give them a try.