Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Hoppin' John Recipe for New Year's Day!

There is a tradition in the Southern US to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.  The idea is that eating this food will give you good luck throughout the year. I grew up in the south and I don't remember having black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. But there are a lot of traditional Southern foods I don't remember having much until I got out to California. Grits is one. Now I do remember corn bread and pulled pork barbecue.

This is my husband's variation on Hoppin' John, which he will be preparing for our New Year's Day dinner.
  • 1 lb. mild bulk sausage
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 med. green bell pepper
  • 3 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 - 15 oz. cans black-eyed peas, undrained
  • cooked brown rice
1. Break up sausage and cook until done.
2. While sausage is cooking add onion, bell pepper, garlic and seasonings.
3. While sausage is cooking, heat black-eyed peas separately.
4. When sausage is fully cooked, add rice to the proportions you prefer (we add about 3 cups.)
5. Serve rice/sausage mixture as a base and spoon desired amount of beans on top.

The results are wonderful. It is relatively quick, depending on when and how you fix the rice. Our recipe is Glen's own invention, but we have had Hoppin' John soup, and other variations of Hoppin' John over the years.

Black-eyed peas can be purchased fresh (hard to find), dried, canned, or frozen. All versions are good. The dried beans take longer to cook but can be cooked to order, with seasoning. There is information at Dr. Weil's site for cooking with black-eyed peas.

Book to Movie Challenge 2

I am joining the Book to Movie Challenge for the second year. This year long event is hosted by Katie at the Doing Dewey blog, and co-hosted by Sergio of Tipping My Fedora. If you are interested, HERE is the sign-up post with more information.

There are five levels:
Movie Fan - read 3 books and watch their movies
Movie Devotee - read 6 books and watch their movies
Movie Lover - read 9 books and watch their movies
Movie Aficionado - read 12 books and watch their movies
Movie Auteur - read 24 books and watch their movies
I am participating at the Movie Fan level, read 3 books and watch their movies. I hope to read 6 books and watch the associated movies, but I am not committing to that. Reading the books and reviewing them is (relatively) easy. For me, writing a post on a movie is much more work.

There are so many books that have been made into movies that I want to read, watch and review. The list would be very long. There is In the Heat of the Night by John Ball, Hopscotch by Brian Garfield, and the Hildegarde Withers series by Stuart Palmer. There are several James Bond movies and several books by Raymond Chandler that have been adapted (multiple times). Other possibilities are The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and Hammett by Joe Gores.

I welcome any suggestions for book to movie possibilities.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Reads in 2013

I cheated somewhat here because one of my ten is a trilogy, and I could not pick just one from the three novels. Another pick is a reread, but I included it because I was just so impressed when I read it again. All of these books are by authors that I want to continue reading and catch up on their series.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
The first book in Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, set in 1948, post WWII, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a black man who moves to Los Angeles, California from Houston, Texas to look for a better life after serving in the military during World War II. I liked this for the characterization and the look at racism and prejudice in that time period.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler:
I loved this one because the writing is beautiful. It was his first novel and many readers say it is not his best book, but I was mesmerized by the writing. I don't know how much my opinion was influenced by my love of the movie (the Humphrey Bogart version).

The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza.
This is the first of a police procedural series that stars Inspector Espinosa of the First Precinct in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This detective is a book lover and a philosopher. His apartment is stacked with books. But mainly what I liked was the unusual format. The first section, which makes up about half of the book, is told in third person and sets up the basic story. The middle section is written in first person from the point of view of the detective, so at that point we are just getting what he knows about the event. The smallest section, at the end, returns to third person to tie up all the events, in a sense. I found this to be a compelling read and am eager to continue the series.

A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell
The story is told in first person, by Hannah Vogel, formerly a journalist, now on the run from the authorities in Germany. This book takes place in 1934, in the cities of Munich and Berlin. I like the strong, independent female protagonist. In addition, Hannah's story shows us Germany at a time when many are forced to join the Nazi party in order to keep their jobs, where parents are afraid to speak their mind because their children may inform on them. 

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch:
A cross-genre novel, blending fantasy and crime fiction. Most often I have seen it categorized as Urban Fantasy. The main character is a policeman and is actively investigating crimes so it also fits the definition of a police procedural. It is humorous and fun.

Crooked House by Agatha Christie
I have read eight Agatha Christie books this year. This one is not in a series, but stands alone. I liked everything about this book. I particularly appreciated:
  • The story is told in first person, by Charles Hayward, who wants to marry Sophia Leonides. I generally enjoy books told in the first person, because you get closer to the character.
  • It is a love story, but the love story does not dominate. As the reader, I wanted the love story to end well, but as with all the mysteries by Christie that I have read, I was never sure what was coming.
  • The story features a strong woman as a central character, and I always appreciate that. Especially in a vintage mystery.

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters:
The story of a policeman, Detective Hank Palace, pursuing a homicide case in a pre-apocalyptic world. In a world where many people are abandoning their jobs or changing their entire lives, Hank is stubbornly investigating an incident that every one else thinks is suicide. This book was compelling and thought-provoking.
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Milo Weaver works for the CIA, in the Department of Tourism. "Tourists" are described as undercover agents with no identity and no home. Milo is not the James Bond type, although there are plenty of thrilling escapades and violence. But we see the other side of this spy's life, the family he wishes he could spend more time with.

A White Arrest / Taming the Alien / The McDead by Ken Bruen
These three books make up The White Trilogy, a book that includes the first three Sergeant Brant mysteries. A White Arrest introduces Chief Inspector Roberts and Detective Sergeant Brant. They are working on two cases, one involving murders of dope dealers, the other a killer aiming at members of the England cricket team. In Taming the Alien, Brant visits Ireland and New York. The McDead is a story of revenge, with Roberts seeking to get back at the man who killed his brother, who seems to be protected by the higher ranks in the police department.

Ken Bruen's writing is poetic. He draws me into the story and I don't care that the protagonists are hard and violent and willing to bend the law. 
Plots and Errors by Jill McGown.

This book is the tenth in a series of thirteen books set primarily in a fictional town in the UK called Stansfield. These police procedurals star Chief Inspector Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill. The books do not follow a formula. Lloyd and Hill, and their ongoing relationship, are the mainstays of the series, but each book takes a different approach to telling the story. The unique aspect to Plots and Errors is that the structure is like a play and it is interspersed with quotes from Hamlet. There is a prologue, five acts, and an epilogue. There is even a list of the Dramatis Personae.

The character development is superb, from the main policemen to the subsidiary members of the team to the various family members whose lives have been affected by the crime.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mr. Ives' Christmas: Oscar Hijuelos

Mr. Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos is a novel that tells the story of a man's life and the grief he suffers when his son dies in a senseless robbery. Mr. Ives' religious beliefs and faith are at the center of this book. He lives in a neighborhood in upper Manhattan, with a mix of ethnic groups, and he likes it that way.

From the description at Goodreads:
Hijuelos' novel tells the story of Mr. Ives, who was adopted from a foundling's home as a child. When we first meet him in the 1950s, Mr. Ives is very much a product of his time. He has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he is on his way to pursuing the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed violently at Christmas.
A central theme in the book is religion, and faith, and whether faith is enough for Mr. Ives. His life is forever altered by his son's death, as are his relationships with his wife and daughter and friends.

I had a very emotional response to the book. It is a sad story and there are no easy answers. My religious beliefs and experiences are not close to those of Mr. Ives, yet I felt there was a universality in his experiences related to loss and grief. My father had deep religious beliefs and he did truly try to live those beliefs everyday, as Mr. Ives does. I did not realize until I had finished the book how much Mr. Ives reminded me of my father. All of the characters seemed very believable to me. I think that this is one of the gifts of the book, that we can all see something of ourselves in the family relationships and friendships depicted here.

I discovered this book via Moira's Clothes in Books blog. See her posts on this book here and here. Each post has an excerpt and you can get a look at the writer's style.

I also liked this article at NPR Books, titled 'Mr. Ives' Christmas' a Holiday Hymn to New York. The author likes the depiction of New York. An excerpt is also included there.

Mount TBR 4th Quarter Check-up and Final Wrap-up

As 2013 draws to a close, Bev at My Reader's Block requests our summaries of how we did in the year, regarding attacking the TBR stacks. In the year, I read a total of 48 books from my TBR stacks. My goal had only been 36 books, thus I exceeded my goal.

These are the books I read for this challenge in October, November, and December:
  1. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
  2. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
  3. White Nights by Ann Cleeves
  4. Dark Star by Alan Furst
  5. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  6. Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill
  7. Hard Currency by Stuart M. Kaminsky
  8. Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson
  9. Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
  10. Murder in Belleville by Cara Black

Bev also asked us to complete this little quiz:
My Life According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, please associate each statement with a book read on your journey up the Mountain.
It was a stretch with the list of books I read, but for once I made the effort.
Are you male or female?:  The Case of the Angry Actress
Describe yourself: Devil in a Blue Dress
Describe where you currently live: The Stately Home Murder
If you could go anywhere where would you go?: The Broken Shore
Your favorite form of transportation: 
The Mystery of the Blue Train 
What's the weather like?:  Silence of the Rain
Favorite time of day?:
White Nights
Your relationships:
You fear:  Daemons Are Forever
What is the best advice you have to give?:  Take The Nearest Exit 
If you could change your name, you would change it to:  Roseanna
My soul's present condition: Mind's Eye

Although I have not formally joined in yet, I will be taking part in this challenge for 2014, because I am always trying to work away at the books I already have rather than buy and read new ones.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Films Watched

On Christmas Day, we planned to watch three movies with a Christmas theme. We ended up watching two on Christmas Day, and the third one on the day after Christmas.

First up was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The basic plot of the movie is that a group of Martians kidnap Santa Claus because their children are sad and they have been told that Santa Claus can make them happy. Unfortunately two earth children are kidnapped too. The rest of the story takes place on Mars, with Santa setting up a workshop and the kids helping him produce toys for the children of Mars.

If you are not familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, also known as MST3K, this was a television show that first was carried by Comedy Central and then later picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel.  The basic premise at the beginning of the show was: a man has been sent to space in a satellite, creates two comical robots, and is forced by the evil scientists to watch bad movies. They comment on the movies, and do several skits each show. The show ran from Thanksgiving Day, 1988 (starting out at KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota) to August 1999.

The movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, is aimed at children and is hilarious and without logic. Pia Zadora had her first role in a movie as the Martian daughter. That alone makes it worth watching. The skits on the satellite are fun. To fit the shows format, a small amount of the movie is cut.

Our other two Christmas movies were more traditional -- Holiday Inn and The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Holiday Inn, released in 1942, is a favorite because it has Fred Astaire and tap dancing and some great songs by Irving Berlin. Many of the songs were written expressly for the movie, including "White Christmas." Although the movie covers all the holidays in the year, it starts and ends at Christmas.

The film also stars Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, and Walter Abel. Astaire and Crosby both play cads who are competing for Reynold's attentions. Crosby and Astaire have a song and dance act and Crosby wants to retire to the country. He sets up his farmhouse as "Holiday Inn," where he will have shows only on holidays, fifteen days a year. Reynolds plays in the shows, is discovered by Astaire and he tries to steal her away.

The photo above shows Crosby and Reynolds singing White Christmas, one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

On the day following Christmas, we watched The Man Who Came to Dinner. This film, also released in 1942, is a comedy based on a stage play  by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Its stage origins are obvious, because almost all of the scenes in the movie are played in one room.

Radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (played by Monty Woolley) slips on the icy steps of the house of the Stanleys (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke). He had merely come to dinner (under protest), and because of injuries sustained, insists on recuperating in their home during the Christmas holidays. Under threat of an expensive suit, he takes over their home, banishing the family to the upstairs rooms. He and his overbearing ways come to have an effect on the family members and others who visit the home. Sometimes negative, sometimes positive. 

One of my favorite characters in the film is played by Bette Davis, in an uncharacteristic performance. She plays Whiteside's assistant. There is a romantic subplot when she meets a hometown newspaperman, and Whiteside tries to undermine the romance using the charms of an actress, played by Ann Sheridan.

We also have a fondness for Christmassy action movies. We often watch Die Hard or Lethal Weapon at Christmas, because Christmas figures into the story. This year, a few days before Christmas, we watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, released in 2005, and starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan. This movie is a mixture of genres: a noir thriller with comedy and romance, with allusions to Raymond Chandler's books and based partly on Brett Halliday's novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them. The story isn't very realistic but it is lots of fun, and Downey and Kilmer have great chemistry.

The poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from enigmabadger via Flickr.

Friday, December 27, 2013

TBR Pile Challenge 2013 Wrap-up

I completed the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted at Roof Beam Reader, on Dec. 19, 2013. Cutting it close, as usual.

These are the books I read...

(1) Murder In Belleville by Cara Black
   Set in France. Features an independent, plucky, and daring heroine. The theme behind the story is anti-immigrant racism and the innocent people who are caught up in these problems.

(2) Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt
   I read this for the Canadian Reading Challenge 6. It was a compelling read but I often wanted to put it down and give up on it, due to the explicit nature of the descriptions of the crimes.

(3) The Smoke by Tony Broadbent
  Historical mystery, set in 1947 London, postwar, my favorite time period to read about.

(4) A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell
   Another historical mystery, this time in Germany between World War I and World War II. This is the second book in a series and I enjoyed both books immensely.

(5) Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
 Set in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. This was the first book in the Shetland mystery series. I had only intended to read the first book, but as soon as I finished it I had to move onto the second, White Nights.

(6) Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
   This is the first book in a series about a detective in ancient Rome. Marcus Didius Falco describes himself as a "private informer." This story takes place when Vespasian Augustus is Emperor of Rome.

(7) The Ransom Game by Howard Engel
    I read this for the Canadian Reading Challenge 6. The book is set in a small city in Canada near Niagara Falls: Grantham, Ontario. This town is based on the real city of St. Catharines, Ontario, where the author was born.

(8) Dark Star by Alan Furst
   Spy fiction, another favorite genre. Alan Furst tells the story of a journalist who is forced into being a spy and turns into a very good one, although he doesn't really enjoy it. The journalist is a Russian Jew, and the year is 1937.

(9) Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill
    Reginald Hill was awarded the Gold Dagger for this book, the eleventh in the Dalziel and Pascoe police procedural series.

(10) Hard Currency  by Stuart M. Kaminsky
  Hard Currency (1992) by Stuart Kaminsky is the 9th book in a series featuring Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, a police investigator in Moscow, and the team that he works with. When the series started, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was still in existence.

(11) Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
   The first book in Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, Devil in a Blue Dress, has an interesting setting: 1948, post WWII, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a black man who moves to Los Angeles, California from Houston, Texas to look for a better life after serving in the military during World War II.

(12) A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
   I read this for the Canadian Reading Challenge 6. This is the second in an extremely popular and successful series of mysteries set in a small village in Quebec.

There were two alternates, in case there were problems in reading any of the main books on the list.  I read only one of them:

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
  CIA thriller. I purchased this book because I loved the author's first series. Now I have read the first two books in this trilogy, and I like these books almost as well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Man-Eater of Malgudi: R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan, an Indian writer, is the creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, in South India. He wrote many books and short stories about this town and its inhabitants. The first book he published was Swami and Friends, in 1935. Swami and Friends was rejected by many publishers in London, until Graham Greene read it and helped to get it published. The book I am reviewing, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, was published in 1961, and it is dedicated to Graham Greene, "to mark (more than) a quarter of a century of friendship."

Description from Goodreads:
This is the story of Nataraj, who earns his living as a printer in the little world of Malgudi, an imaginary town in South India. Nataraj and his close friends, a poet and a journalist, find their congenial days disturbed when Vasu, a powerful taxidermist, moves in with his stuffed hyenas and pythons, and brings his dancing-women up the printer's private stairs.
Vasu is a bully, who worms his way into some empty rooms over Nataraj's business. Nataraj is a man who cannot say "no," whose natural mode is to give in to all demands of his friends and business associates. This is the story of how Vasu affects the small town he moves into, and how the problem is dealt with.

My copy of this novel is in an edition that also includes A Tiger for Malgudi, published in 1984. There is an introduction by Pico Iyer, which was very useful to this novice reader of Narayan.

I found this book very interesting and enjoyable to read. The story affected me very much. I was easily irritated with Nataraj; I wanted to scream at him to stop giving in and placating Vasu. I was surprised by the ending. It was not so much a happy ending as a satisfactory ending.

I look forward to reading more stories of Malgudi by Narayan. I am not sure if I want to get one of the earlier novels first, or a book of short stories, or continue with A Tiger for Malgudi.

This book completes my requirements for the Global Reading Challenge. When I signed on for the Global Reading Challenge, Prashant at Chess, Comics and Crosswords suggested several Indian writers for me to try. I chose R.K. Narayan and was glad I did. This has been an entirely different reading experience for me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Children's Books with a Christmas Theme

When my son was young, we bought quite a few illustrated children's books. We used the library a lot too, naturally. We had access to a used book store and a lovely woman who worked there would look out for great illustrated kid's books for us. And we ended up with a collection of illustrated children's books for all age levels.

The Church Mice series of picture books by Graham Oakley were a big favorite. These books are about a group of church mice, led by Arthur and Humphrey, and Sampson, the church cat. The first book came out in 1972. The books are picture books, with very detailed illustrations, but they have quite a bit of text also. I would say we have them all, but I think several have come out since 1990.

The Church Mice at Christmas features the church mice raffling off Sampson the cat to raise money to have a Christmas party. The stories are always very complex and this one is no exception. Goodreads describes each book in the series as "a picture book for young children" but really they are so much more and appeal to adults also.

At Graham Oakley's website, see this page with illustrations from the book. Oakley writes and illustrates the books.

Next are the Father Christmas books by Raymond Briggs.  We always thought of these as children's books and my son enjoyed them, but I read many comments online that they present too negative a picture of Father Christmas for kids.

Raymond Briggs is a well-known British illustrator and graphic novelist. Among other awards, he received two Kate Greenaway Medals for distinguished illustration.

Per the article on Raymond Briggs at Wikipedia:
Father Christmas (1973) and its sequel Father Christmas Goes on Holiday (1975) both feature a curmudgeonly Father Christmas who complains incessantly about the "blooming snow". For the former, he won his second Greenaway. Much later they were jointly adapted as a film entitled Father Christmas.
The second book is not truly a Christmas book, as it is about what Father Christmas does when he takes a break. He goes to France, Scotland, and Las Vegas. The story is more complex.

The last book I am featuring is one purchased for myself, fairly recently, just because I really like the author, Daniel Pinkwater. Pinkwater is the author of one of my favorite children's books ever, The Wuggie Norple Story.

Daniel Pinkwater is a very prolific writer of children's and young adult books, so I don't know what is typical for him. A lot of his books are funny and quirky.

This Christmas book, however, is a sweet story about a family of wolves who venture close to a small town at Christmas. The book is illustrated by his wife, Jill Pinkwater.

An excerpt from the book:
   We didn't see any humans. They were inside the wooden things with the light shining out through the holes, and the glittering lights on the outsides and the smoke coming out and the snow on top.
   We didn't see the humans, but we could hear them. They were singing. We listened. It was nice. I thought, even if they are dangerous, they are animals, just like we are. Then we threw back our heads and sitting on the hillside above the place where the humans live, we wolves sang, too. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2013: Wrap Up Post

In 2013, the theme for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge was Scattergories.  Bev at My Reader's Block came up with over 30 categories and challenged us to read vintage mysteries that fit the categories. The goal was to read eight mysteries that fit eight different categories. Once the 8 book minimum was met, any category (except the Get Out of Jail Free category) could be repeated any number of times. 

Listed below are the books I read for this challenge.

Vintage Categories:

Colorful Crime: a book with a color or reference to color in the title

    The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
Leave It to the Professionals: a book featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, professional spies, etc.

    The Mugger by Ed McBain
    The Pusher by Ed McBain

Jolly Old England: one mystery set in Britain

    Crooked House by Agatha Christie

Yankee Doodle Dandy: one mystery set in the United States
     The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

World Traveler: one mystery set in any country except the US or Britain
    The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Dangerous Beasts: a book with an animal in the title

    The Chinese Parrot by Earl Derr Biggers

Scene of the Crime: a book with the location of the crime in the title 
      Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: a mystery that involves a mode of transportation.
     The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Size Matters: a book with a size or measurement in the title 
    The Big Sleep by Raymond  Chandler

A Calendar of Crime: a mystery with a date/holiday/year/month/etc. in the title
     Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

Psychic Phenomena: a mystery featuring a seance, medium, hypnotism, or other psychic or "supernatural" characters/events
     Murder at Hazelmoor by Agatha Christie ("table-turning")

Serial Killers: Books that were originally published in serial format, probably from the pulp era.
      The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

 Get Out of Jail Free: This is a freebie category.  One per customer. 
       The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov 
       (cross-genre mystery, sci fi)

I was disappointed not to read 16 vintage mysteries this year. But I did make progress and I did enjoy what I read.

You will notice that the majority of books that I read for the Vintage Mystery Challenge this year were by Agatha Christie, mainly because I am trying to read all her books, roughly in order, and am participating in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, hosted by Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise. I haven't read an Agatha Christie that I did not enjoy since I started the challenge, so that is going well.

The Color Coded Reading Challenge 2013: Books Read

This is the first year that I attempted the Color Coded Reading Challenge, hosted at My Reader's Block. This one required reading nine books, each with a different color in the title, and Bev accepted any shade of the required colors.

I did not do as well as I hoped but...

Blue:  Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Red:  Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
Yellow:  A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
Green: Green-Eyed Lady by Chuck Greaves
Brown: The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
Black: Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
White: White Nights by Ann Cleeves
Any other color: Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
A word that implies color:

As you can see I did not read a book where the title included a word that implies color. What I have found in this pursuit for books with color in the title (most of which were run into serendipitously anyway, or I would not have done this well) is that I have a lot of books with RED in the title. Black is also a big one.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas in Mysteries

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness is collecting posts about Christmas books and stories and films, for adults or children. I had been planning to read Christmas books in December, but now December is almost over and I haven't had as much time to spend on that as I had planned.

My first Christmas book for this December was Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie, from 1938. I posted a review on that book here.

Next up was I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. This is part of the Flavia de Luce series and my review is here. From the description at Fantastic Fiction:
It's Christmastime, and the precocious Flavia de Luce - an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving - is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces' decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern.


Other books that I may read this year... or next year:
A Season for Murder by Ann Granger, the second book in the Mitchell and Markby series. I have read the first one... years ago.

From the Publisher's Weekly review:
The impact of modern life on English villages is vividly captured in Granger's second murder mystery. British consular officer Meredith Mitchell rents isolated Rose Cottage in Pook's Common when she is posted back to England.
Meredith works with local CID Chief Inspector Alan Markby to investigate a crime. Note that the cover of this book also has a skull. No, I did not buy it just for the skull cover, it was just a bonus.

Mr. Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. I learned of this book at Moira's Clothes in Books blog. See her post on that book.

From the description at Goodreads:
Hijuelos' novel tells the story of Mr. Ives, who was adopted from a foundling's home as a child. When we first meet him in the 1950s, Mr. Ives is very much a product of his time. He has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he is on his way to pursuing the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed violently at Christmas.

The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
I had this one on order and it has finally arrived.

From the summary at Amazon:
On Christmas Eve, 1943, the newly formed but undermanned Homicide Dvision of the Melbourne police force is called to investigate the vicious double murder of a father and son. When Military Intelligence becomes involved, Homicide’s Inspector Titus Lambert must unravel the personal from the political.

Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod, first in the Professor Peter Shandy series.
From the description at Fantastic Fiction:
Professor Peter Shandy discovers more than mistletoe hanging in his living room when he returns home from vacation to find the campus librarian dead.
I read that one years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. I would love to reread it this year or next.

Two mysteries in Jane Haddam's Gregor Demarkian series are set at Christmas. I enjoyed both.
  • Not a Creature was Stirring is the first book in the series. There is a good review at Murder by Type.
  • A Stillness in Bethlehem is the seventh book in the series. Description from MysteriousPress.com.
In a small New England town, a Christmas controversy is grounds to kill

Bethlehem, Vermont, is a sleepy little town, distinguished from the neighboring hamlets by its Christmas pageant. The holiday spectacular dates back generations; as the village’s only tourist attraction, it brings in much of the money that keeps Bethlehem afloat. The festivities are held on publicly owned land, which might be a slight violation of the separation of church and state, but no one has ever complained until Tish Verek comes to town.
Another book I would like to read someday is Red Christmas by Patrick Ruell (aka Reginald Hill). There is a review at In Reference to Murder.

There are so many more mysteries set at Christmas... some that I have and have forgotten. There is a list of about 200 mysteries set at Christmas here at Goodreads.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: Alan Bradley

This is my second Christmas-themed book in December. And again, it is a country house mystery, set in Britain. This one is a historical mystery; my first Christmas book this month was a vintage mystery by Agatha Christie (review here).

To describe the basic setup of this series... The books are set in post World War II Britain, in the village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia is the youngest daughter (around 11 years old) in the de Luce family; she lives with her two sisters and their father in a very old country house that requires a lot of upkeep. Her mother died when she was young. Each member of the family is unique, and none of them communicate their feelings very well. Thus Flavia is an outsider and a loner, in her family and in the community.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  I have read the first three books in the series and enjoyed them all. One of the most enjoyable elements of these books are the recurring characters. Some of my favorites are Dogger, and Aunt Felicity, and Flavia's oldest sister's many suitors, and Inspector Hewitt. I find Flavia's immediate family irritating, although we do get more information about each of them in this book.

The plot this time revolves around a film company coming to the de Luce home. Flavia's father has given them access to most of the house for filming a movie in exchange for enough money to be able to live there for a few more months. Eventually one of the visitors is murdered, and Flavia investigates, as always. The mystery in this book is slight, in my opinion, and I got confused at to the relationships of various members of the film company, but that did not mar my enjoyment of this novel.

I read these books less for the mystery and more for the picture of the times and to follow Flavia's story. When I read the first book in the series, I doubted whether Flavia as a heroine could sustain a series that I would be interested in, but so far she has.

In some ways I liked this one better than the others; I liked that it was restricted to the de Luce home, and that they were snowed in. I liked Flavia's experiments to prove or disprove the existence of Father Christmas. And I especially liked the further development of some of the relationships and characters. Dogger (mentioned above) is an old friend of her father’s, who handles just about everything around the house (except the cooking). Dogger and Aunt Felicity are fleshed out more in this book, a definite bonus.

I did not pick this book to read this month because of the skeleton on the cover, but it is a definite plus. And I did buy the 2nd book in the series at my favorite book sale because it was in good condition and had a great skeleton on the cover.

The author of this book is Canadian, therefore this book counts for my Canadian Book Challenge.

My reviews for the first three books in the series:
 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
 The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
 A Red Herring Without Mustard

Other reviews of this book: at Mysteries in Paradise, at Ms. Wordopolis Reads, and at Stainless Steel Droppings. I give credit to Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings for introducing me to the Flavia de Luce series. Until I saw his very enthusiastic review for the first book, I had dismissed the series.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Night of Long Knives: Rebecca Cantrell

A Night of Long Knives is the second book in a four book series by Rebecca Cantrell. The series is set in Germany in the 1930's prior to World War II. This book takes place in 1934, in the cities of Munich and Berlin. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I find it hard to review. To tell much about the story, I have to reveal some events that unfold in the first book. I don't want to do that so my synopsis will be brief and incomplete

Hannah Vogel was a journalist in Berlin three years earlier, but circumstances forced her to flee Germany. She has lived in Brazil since then. This story starts with Hannah making a trip from Brazil to Switzerland via zeppelin, enticed to Switzerland to write a story about the trip. This trip could give her a rare opportunity to spend some time with her lover, Boris. Unfortunately, the zeppelin does not get to Switzerland. It is rerouted to Germany and Hannah is kidnapped by Ernst Rohm, head of the SA.

The story is told in first person, by Hannah. She is headstrong and independent, and willing to take risks. She is also anxious about the situation she is in and doubts her ability to survive at times. She comes across as a brave young woman, struggling with the situation she has been placed in. On the days following her capture, the Nazi purge called the Night of the Long Knives begins, and she escapes. Nevertheless, she is still in a dangerous situation.

This is the second book in a row that I have read written by a female author and featuring a strong, independent female character. In addition, Hannah Vogel's story shows us Germany at a time when many are forced to join the Nazi party in order to keep their jobs, where parents are afraid to speak their mind because their children may inform on them.

I enjoyed this book immensely. My review of the first book, A Trace of Smoke, is here. I borrowed this book from my husband and he has the entire series. He liked all of the books, but the third was his favorite, so I am looking forward to continuing the series.

At the author's web site, these quotes describe very well what I thought of this amazing book:

 “In the midst of an action-filled plot, A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES will make you think. It should remind you of all that we take for granted on a daily basis. The blending of historical facts and the passionately imagined lives of these characters makes for a thought-provoking, riveting read.” –Jen Forbus at jensbookthoughts

“A Night of Long Knives” does what I love historical fiction to accomplish. It makes me interested in learning more about the times presented and as a sequel it shows characters from previous books moving forward as individuals and evolving in their relationships with each other…Brava on a job well done and I’m looking forward to more adventures with Hannah and Co.” – Jayne at dearauthor.com

“This is a fascinating, meticulously researched view into Germany in the 1930′s.  Hannah again shows her bravery matches anyone, and she finds a way to deal with some of the world’s most evil people, coming out on top…The characters are fully drawn and both inspiring for bravery, as well as inspiring hate, for their horrific actions.  I felt like I was in a Germany of a time we wish could be erased.  The setting is extraordinarily well done.  I look forward to the next book in the series.” — Maggie Mason, Deadly Pleasures Magazine

“Rebecca Cantrell has written another exciting thriller and with Hannah Vogel’s sometimes frenetic first person narrative she gives the reader a feeling of what it must have been like to be in Germany during those terrible years. She has cleverly blended her fictional story in with real life events and real life characters, such as British journalist Sefton Delmer, while cleverly imparting snippets of information that add to the atmosphere.” — CrimeScraps