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Readingomnivore Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by readingomnivore, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SHADOWS IN SCARLET by Lillian Stewart Carl is a stand-alone romantic suspense novel available as a free or inexpensive Kindle download. Its tone and plot are reminiscent of the early Barbara Michaels novels with their supernatural elements.

    On its simplest level, SHADOWS IN SCARLET is a ghost story. Protagonist Amanda Witham, 23-year-old graduate student writing her M.A. thesis in history, is working as a living history interpreter and caretaker at Melrose Hall, part of Colonial Williamsburg. Built in 1751 by American patriot Page Armstrong, Melrose Hall is associated with the dramatic love story of Sally Armstrong and British Captain James Charles Edward Grant of the 71st Highland Regiment, killed at a nearby battle in the Yorktown campaign. When a man’s skeletal remains are uncovered in an archaeological dig in the Melrose gardens, Amanda knows immediately that they belong to James Grant, whose ghost/spirit begins to appear in the house. Manifesting himself only to her, James fascinates Amanda with his story, producing her determination to return him to his home at Dundreggan Castle in Scotland.

    On a deeper level, SHADOWS IN SCARLET deals with the nature of truth. James tells Amanda his story, supported by historical documents and physical evidence, of how and why he died; it is factually true. But when she gets to Dundreggan and investigates the family archives, Amanda discovers that the factual story is literally not the truth of his death. Historical truth depends not just upon facts but upon the context which is often harder, if not impossible, to determine. [​IMG]

    Major improbabilities must be overcome in reading SHADOWS IN SCARLET. I question whether Cynthia Chancellor, even if she did donate Melrose Hall and contributes mightily to Colonial Williamsburg, would be allowed the decision-making power she’s given as the driving force behind the discovery and exploitation of James Grant’s skeleton. For one thing, there are strict laws about reporting, treatment, and repatriation of bones found in archaeological digs. I doubt the time frame in which the story occurs. Within three weeks, the bones are discovered, DNA testing done to identify them as Captain James Grant (compared with those of a descendant of his cousin who inherited Dundreggan), a facial reconstruction completed based on his skull, and his bones repatriated. I don’t know if the paranormal manifestations are au courant with ghostly phenomena. Still, if one suspends disbelief, it’s a decent story.

    A few editing problems bothered me. Hinky formatting results in the insertion of 3/4 at intervals in the middle of text where it was in no way pertinent. Carrie, one of the historic interpreters with whom Amanda is writing a paper about James Grant is referred to as both Carrie Shaffer and Schaffer. Which? “Principal” and “principle” are two different words.

    Characterization is conventional. Amanda is young and naive, clearly revealed in her romantic obsession with James Grant. We see the story through her eyes. Cynthia Chancellor is inconsistent--she begins as a dragon lady but later proves to be an overly-concerned mother with only the best intentions toward Amanda. Malcolm Grant is standard romantic hero.

    Easily the strongest element in SHADOWS IN SCARLET is the setting. “The car dived into an avenue lined with trees whose rushing shadows flickered bright and dark, bright and dark, making Amanda dizzy. One more turn, through an ancient stone gateway festooned with ivy and lichen, and there rose Dundreggan, House or Castle, surrounded by gardens.... What she saw was a building little more than twice the size of Melrose, though considerably less symmetrical. It looked like Dundreggan had been accumulated rather than built. A central keep was flanked with wings, towers, and ells, by the size and shape of their windows dating from several different eras. The only common element was the slate roof, the deep gray-black of a thundercloud behind its crow-stepped gables. A white and blue Scottish flag fluttered from the topmost tower. he castle perched comfortably atop its hill, its irregularly spaced windows like bright eyes gazing over the countryside. Amanda thought of a dowager duchess, left behind by time and fashion but regretting nothing, and was enchanted.”

    SHADOWS IN SCARLET is a pleasant read. (B- / C+)
     
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  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SUMMER WINE AND VINTAGE YEARS: A CLUTTERED LIFE is Bill Owen’s memoirs, published in 1994. Owen, after a long and distinguished career as actor, playwright, and lyricist, is best known for his long-running role as William “Compo” Simmonite in LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE.

    Born to working class parents in Acton Green, London W4, 14 March 1914, William John Owen Rowbotham experienced the reality of economic hard times without much chance of improvement, producing his life-long interest in the class structure, unionism, and Socialism. Many of his plays reflected those concerns. His career as a song and dance man was beginning at the outbreak of World War II; drafted, he was commissioned and assigned to training his Regiment’s Headquarters staff in battle skills. After a land mine explosion, he suffered PTSD (in modern terms) and was invalided out of the Army. He transitioned into legitimate theatre. In 1949, he played Touchstone in the New York Theatre Guild’s production of As You Like it with Katherine Hepburn and Chloris Leachman. He premiered the role of Mack the Knife in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera and Alfie in Alfie Elkins’s Little Life, the film role played by Michael Caine. Other major roles included Ko-Ko in The Mikado at the Sadlers Wells Opera and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; he also appeared in Georgy Girl with Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, and Alan Bates. For his work for Boys’ Clubs, he was made MBE in 1976. Unfortunately, there’s apparently not a complete filmography for his career.

    Owen’s memoirs are episodic, with memories of major life events tied with the work he was doing at the time. His political leanings are in your face from the beginning. While it’s inevitable that there are many names of great and not-so-great actors and parts, Owen doesn’t bog down into a list. I enjoy his comments on friends such as James Hayter (Mr. Tibbs in Are You Being Served?), Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey), and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band (Brassed Off)--one of my hobbies is “spot the actor and role.” [​IMG] His remarks are generally kind and/or funny. There’s no dishing the dirt in SUMMER WINE AND VINTAGE YEARS.

    Unless you’re a die-hard fan of LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE, or a devotee of British film history, SUMMER WINE AND VINTAGE YEARS: A CLUTTERED LIFE probably won’t be of much interest; if, however, you are either, it’s definitely worth a read. (A-/B+)
     
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  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DALZIEL AND PASCOE, Season 7, continues the story of Reginald Hill’s characters Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, aka the Fat Man or Fat Andy, and his legman Detective Inspector Peter Pascoe. They are played by Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan respectively, ably supported by David Royle as Sergeat Wield, Diana Quick as ACC Stella Applegarth, and Susannah Corbett as Ellie Pascoe. The roster of actors playing assorted villains and victims is an all-star lineup of British character actors, many of whose names we may not remember, but whose faces are well-known.

    In THE UNWANTED, Peter Pascoe has returned home to his family’s farm for a wedding and becomes embroiled with neighbor Ted Lowry’s (played by Jim Carter) exploitation of illegal Bosnian workers; his father Bill Pascoe (played by John McEnery (whom I will always remember as Mercutio in Zeffiorelli’s Romeo and Juliet), is still at odds with Peter for having left the farm, as is Peter’s brother Tony (Jonathan Ryland), who has his own fiddle going. Multiple murders occur before everything is disclosed, and Dalziel is hospitalized with a severe heart attack. (A-)

    MENS SANA involves a convalescent Dalziel in a series of murders of the elderly inhabitants of the Paxley Hall Clinic, when he goes undercover as a patient to investigate. This episode introduces Keely Forsyth to play Detective Constable Carrie Harris; Norman Wisdom plays Bernie Marks and Anthony Booth plays Sir Christopher Wynne, important clients at the Hall. Dalziel finds all sorts of familial, sexual, financial, and emotional entanglements among the clinic’s patients and staff before solving the series of murders. Dalziel in a sitz bath is worth the price of the DVDs. [​IMG] (B+)


    SINS OF THE FATHERS involves Dalziel and Pascoe in matters of faith, religion, and miracles, as well as Dalziel’s family. Dalziel’s sister Harriet Dalziel Clifford (played by Anne Reid) is dying of cancer. The murders and mysteries stretch far into the past and involve the supposed miraculous healing of Byrony Blackstone, allegations of sexual molestation of children at a long-burned Leeds orphanage, and clerical blackmail. James Bolam and Roger Lloyd Pack play the clergmen.

    (A)


    FOR LOVE NOR MONEY, Dalziel’s connection to crook Danny Macer (John Duttine) goes back twenty years, when police cooperation “lost” evidence against Macer, allowing him to sue Dalziel for wrongful arrest. Now, Macer has just been acquitted of the murder of Ted Barnes, largely through the assignment of Superintendent Donald Fitzgerald to the case when Dalziel was on sick leave; the night Fitzgerald retires, he’s found murdered under circumstances similar to those of Ted Barnes. ACC Applegarth (Diana Quick) sees Dalziel as prejudiced agasint Macer, takes him off the case and puts him back on leave, giving the case to Pascoe. It’s clear that Macer has bought off the police, but who? (B+)


    The final two episodes are a two-parter, DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD, which involves multiple murders centering around the opening of a heritage center, with a short-story contest, premiere of a play, library, art galleries, and studios. The murders are heralded by the arrival at the library of elaborately illustrated manuscript versions of stories giving details of the deaths that indicate that they were written by the killer. But what is the connection between the deaths? John Sessions, Dominic Wafham, John Light, and Tim Piester are familiar faces. (A)


    This is a strong series that I’ve enjoyed very much across the years, highly recommended.
     
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  4. Reads to Sleep

    Reads to Sleep Moderator Staff Member

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    I've read all the Dalziel/Pascoe books, and they are top-of-the-line. I haven't seen any of these on DVD. Now I will. Thanks very much for the rundown.
     
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  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Everyone says that the later seasons of DALZIEL AND PASCOE aren't as strong as the earlier ones, but I've certainly been pleased with all I've seen of them to date. Of course, as in all good film/TV adaptations of mystery novels, BBC got the casting right on the major characters. Like Morse and Lewis, and Watson and Holmes, et al, I enjoy the relationship as well as the mystery.
     
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  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Jayne Ann Krentz’s BETWEEN THE LINES was originally published as a Harlequin Romance novel in 1986, now available as an inexpensive Kindle download. The romance element is predictable--a marriage of convenience that becomes very real. Krentz does a creditable job of vitalizing Amber Langley and Cormick Grayson beyond usual romance novel leads, largely through her making Gray the world’s leading literary critic of the works of Western poet Sherborne Ulysses Twitchell. Twitchell’s poetry is so bad that it’s difficult to believe that even one critic has looked at it. Then, in response to his learned article on the desert as a metaphor for loneliness in Twitchell’s poetry, Gray receives a letter from Ms. Honoria Tyler Abercrombie, in which she announces the publication of her learned article on the sexual metaphors in Twitchell’s poetry. Let the battle begin! [​IMG]

    BETWEEN THE LINES is a quick fun read, made memorable by the learned literary discussion of Twitchell’s execrable poetry. (A-)
     
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  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    One of the great mysteries of the twentieth century is the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller off Dutch New Guinea in 1961. How can the son of one of the richest, most powerful men in the world simply vanish?

    Carl Hoffman’s SAVAGE HARVEST: A TALE OF CANNIBALS, COLONIALISM, AND MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER’S TRAGIC QUEST FOR PRIMITIVE ART is a new (2014) account of the disappearance of 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller in Dutch New Guinea in November 1961. The catamaran carrying him, Rene Wassing, and two teenaged Asmat natives, Simon and Leo, capsized in the Arafura Sea some five to ten miles off the southwest coast of New Guinea on November 18, 1961; it carried no radio. The teenagers swam to shore to summon rescue. After a night on the water, at 8 AM on November 19, Michael Rockefeller decided that, with the aid of two empty gasoline cans tied to his body as flotation devices, he would also swim to the Asmat coast. Wassing, not a strong swimmer, stayed with the boat; Michael Rockefeller disappeared.

    Wassing was rescued the following day, dehydrated and sunburnt but otherwise healthy. A massive air and sea search for Michael Rockefeller began and continued for ten days. At the end of the search, it was announced and commonly accepted that Michael Rockefeller had either drowned or been eaten by sharks or crocodiles. The alternative explanation, that he had reached the shore of Asmat, been taken by headhunter / cannibalistic natives, killed, and eaten, was generally disregarded.

    Hoffman’s research in Roman Catholic Church records from missionaries in the area, official Dutch government documents and reports, and personal interviews with surviving priests, Dutch government officials, and tribesmen, leads him to believe that this latter explanation is correct. He emphasizes that there is no absolute proof--no Asmat ever plainly confessed to being part of the party involved in Michael’s death, and there’s no physical evidence at this point fifty years on. Circumstantial evidence, however, is strong. Villagers of Otsjanep had motive, means, and opportunity; their action was common knowledge among the tribesmen of the area. There is direct documentary evidence that government and Church officials engaged in a coverup, based on the Netherlands’ push to retain sovereignty over their half of New Guinea. One of the questions Hoffman was not able to answer is whether the Rockefeller family knew of the coverup or whether they accepted the official story.

    SAVAGE HARVEST is speculative history at its finest. [​IMG] Hoffman has searched the archives for information and provided an essential frame of reference for Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance, including the culture and belief systems of the Asmats, the background of events in Southeast Asia, the spread there of Communism, the end of colonization in the area. His writing style is accessible, and his facts are mainly from primary sources. There are excellent maps of the Asmat area of New Guinea inside the covers. He builds a logical conclusion but, because of lack of direct evidence, does not proclaim it ‘the truth.’

    Hoffman is successful at creating the sense of place for the story: “Asmat is, in its way, a perfect place. Everything you could possibly need is here. It’s a petri dish, teeming with shrimp and crabs and fish, clams and mussels and snails. Crocodiles fifteen feet long prowl its riverbanks, and jet-black iguanas sun on uprooted trees. In this jungle there are wild pig, the furry, possumlike cuscus, and the ostrichlike cassowary. And sago palm, whose pith can be pounded into a white edible starch and which boasts the larvae of the Capricorn beetle, both key sources of nutrition. The rivers are navigable highways. There are flocks of brilliant red-and-green parrots. Hornbills with five-inch beaks and blue necks. White sulfur-crested cockatoo and coal-black king cockatoo sporting elaborate crests. And secrets, spirits, laws, and customs born of men and women who have been walled off by ocean, mountains, mud, and jungle far longer than anyone knows.” (14-5)

    I have a few criticisms. The photos are few, small, and duplicated on the page with the text, so they are not as sharp as if reproduced as photographic plates. A list of characters with a brief identification would have simplified readers’ dealing with a huge cast of individuals. The narrative cuts between 1961, 1957 and the establishment of the Museum of Primitive Art by Nelson Rockefeller, Michael’s father, and the author’s experiences in Asmat in 2012. This movement makes the story choppy. Hoffman’s description of Rockefeller’s presumed death is graphic.

    SAVAGE HARVEST is probably as close to the truth of what happened to Michael Rockefeller as anyone can come after fifty years. Recommended. (A)
     
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  8. Reads to Sleep

    Reads to Sleep Moderator Staff Member

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    Wow. Thanks, RO.
     
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  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DRAGONDRUMS is the final book in Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy set on her sci fi / fantasy world of Pern, where human settlers have over the course of generations have created a new culture in response to its unique challenges. The story resumes three Turns (years) after the close of DRAGONSINGER. Menolly is eighteen, now trusted journeywoman to Robinton, Master Harper of Pern; she and Sebell, Robtinton’s senior journeyman, are in the forefront of his plans to change hidebound attitudes and to preserve order on Pern. Their “journeying” includes gathering intelligence as well as disseminating information.

    DRAGONDRUMS focuses on Piemur, the young scalawag apprentice who welcomed Menolloy to Harper Hall, became her friend, and helped her adapt. He’s now fourteen Turns old, and his voice changes, leaving him unable to sing. Robtnton chooses him as a special apprentice but assigns him to the drum heights, to learn the signals for the great metal drums used to communicate from Hold to Hold. He’s also sent on confidential errands. During his work with Sebell, Piemur steals a queen fire lizard egg, accidentally is taken to the Southern Continent in a bundle of illicit trade goods destined for the Oldtimer dragonriders of Sothern Weyr, and escapes to explore the continent while waiting for the egg to hatch so that he can Impress his very own fire lizard.

    DRAGONDRUMS is not as strong as DRAGONSONG and DRAGONSINGER, in large part because the action of the book shifts between the Harper Hall (Robinton, Sebell, and Menolly) and Piemur (various places on the Northern Continent, then Southern). There’s less characterization since most characters, and all the important ones, have already been introduced in the first books.

    The Harper Hall trilogy is considered young adult, in the sense that the protagonist in all three is a teenager, but the caliber of the writing and the adult issues involved make them appropriate reading for all ages. They are accessible and thought provoking. DRAGONDRUMS was published in 1979, but the setting on Pern keeps the series from being dated. I recommend the whole series. DRAGONSONG (A) DRAGONSINGER (A) DRAGONDRUMS (B)
     
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  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND JASMIN FIELD by Melissa Nathan was published in 2000. It is one of the most effective updatings of Jane Austen’s classic that I’ve read. Part of its appeal is that, in making Jasmin Field a magazine columnist, Nathan gives her a believable forum for her opinionated nature; in Harry Noble as the stellar actor, she provides a reasonable explanation for his superiority complex. She brings them together in Noble’s direction a one-night only adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for charity, its cast a combination of professional actors and other celebrities. Jasmn auditions and, blasting Harry after she hears him refer to her as “The Ugly Sister,” wins the part of Elizabeth Bennet. Noble had not intended to act in the play but, when theatre critic Brian Peters proves totally incapable of playing Darcy, steps into the lead. As expected, sparks fly; Jazz’s perfect family turns out not to be so; Harry saves the day; opinions change, true love prevails.

    Nathan’s characterization focuses, as it should, on Jasmin “Jazz” Field. Jazz is thoroughly modern, self-involved, and inclined to be snarky. “Jazz had the perfect personality for a columnist. When George [Jazz’s sister Georgia] was ready to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, Jazz was happy to give them the benefit of her wisdom. SHe was highly judgmental of everything and everyone. She could spot bluff at a hundred paces. She couldn’t help it, it was like a sixth sense. But most importantly for a columnist, Jazz was very emotional and easily riled. Her weekly tirades were a unique blend of heartwarming tales about her perfect family and home life, mixed with apoplectic opinions about society’s foibles.” (35)

    PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND JASMIN FIELDS is an enjoyable read. (A- / B+) [​IMG]
     
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  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Matthew David Brozik’s WHIMSY & SODA: THE MORE/MOST UNLIKELY ADVENTURES THAT BERTIE WOOSTER AND HIS MAN JEEVES (N)EVER HAD was a free or inexpensive Kindle download published in 2012. It is a collection of short story parodies of P. G. Wodehouse’s celebrated duo. I wlll not be assigning a grade because I have no intention of reading the entire collection.

    The first five stories share the plot device of placing Bertie into the situation of other famous stories. In the first, “By and By, Bertie,” akin to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Bertie is turned into a parakeet by the curse of a burlesque dancer who took exception to being pelted with bread rolls at the Drones Club. Jeeves is able to persuade her to transfer the remainder of the curse to Tuppy Glossop. The second, “G.E.V.E.”, has Jeeves on holiday at Bognor Regis”, who presumes to rearrange furniture and to advise Bertie on his life style. G.E.V.E. thinks Beritie should get an entirely new set of friends, give up the Drones, and stop drinking. I don’t know what story this may be based on, but Asimov wrote several that deal with human/robot interaction.

    Did you know that Sherlock Holmes’s plan for retrieving the incriminating photograph in “A Scandal in Bohemia” was devised by Jeeves? According to Brozik’s story of the same name, Jeeves and not Holmes received the emerald ring from the hereditary king of Bohemia. In “Bertie Wooster and the Offer of Admission,” Bertie at age eleven is bombarded with telegrams from Stevedore Candlewas, offering admission to Frogparts Academy. When he fails to respond, a hairy giant comes to fetch him, but Bertie chooses Eton instead. In “A Bertie of Very Little Brain,” Bertie has an adventure in a strange land which he enters through a wardrobe in one of the lesser guest rooms of his Aunt Dahlia’s home. I give up.

    These stories are neither fish nor foul. They aren’t good parodies of Wodehouse--the whole tone is off, Bertie uses way too much French, and Jeeves isn’t anywhere close to his original self. They are much too short and summarized to evoke much of the original story on which they’re based. They all seem pointless. Bertie Wooster’s in them, so what? [​IMG]

    No grade, but certainly most thoroughly NOT recommended.
     
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  12. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    This sounds beyond awful. What could the man have been thinking?
     
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  13. Reads to Sleep

    Reads to Sleep Moderator Staff Member

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    A better question might be: what could the man have been drinking?

    Bertie as a parakeet made my jaw drop and that was only for starters. Perhaps when you're in the proper mood (a bout of food poisoning?), you could read the other stories and tell us about them, RO. I love your reviews of bad books.
     
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  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    The subtitle of Carol Drinkwater’s THE OLIVE ROUTE: A PERSONAL JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE MEDITERRANEAN summarizes her book neatly. Her memoir was published in 2006, so many of her observations are pertinent background to events now occurring throughout the Mediterranean basin.

    She states her purpose explicitly: “Why? I had spent so long alone during the difficult years of my marriage, running the farm, battling for its existence, that I felt a need to strike out for myself. I was not leaving home. Quite the contrary. I believed this journey would deepen my understanding of olive farming, of nature, the Mediterranean. If I could find the earliest ancestors of the olive tree or the reasons for the reverence bestowed upon it, I believed there might be something I could take from it. I had no idea what.” (18) So, traveling mostly alone and inexpensively, speaking no Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic, using local transport and seeking locals who are or who know olives and olive growers, Drinkwater spends eight months in North Africa, the Levant, and the Middle East. Her discoveries make up THE OLIVE ROUTE.

    Drinkwater is a gifted writer, possessing as she does the ability to create small vignettes that reveal place and history. Of a grove of ancient olive trees at Bechealeh, on Mount Lebabon outside Beirut, she writes: “The fellows i was standing alongside were a mere eight thousand years younger than the last Ice Age, which was remarkable, but even more remarkable was the fact that these were not wild trees; they were of the genus Olea europaea, cultivated olive trees. Somebody had planted these six-thousand-year-old compelling beauties and somebody had farmed them. ... ..the trees were older than Christ--four thousand years his senor. They predated not only Christianity, but Islam and Judaism, too. I took a good long look at them. They were growing in an aligned row. Each possessed a collection of five to eight trunks fanning on either side of the original, now a shell, and from each grew silvered, feathery young branches. Every one of the spawned extensions dwarfed us and their height was exaggerated by banyan-like roots, perforated, knitted, honeycombed. The trees appeared half-human. Awesome, prehistoric creatures on tiptoe caught in a frenzied dance, pushing against gravity or tearing themselves out of the ground. It was a marked affirmation of energy, of life force.” (20-1) She found no older trees.

    Drinkwater’s description of Benghazi, Libya, seems almost prophetic. “Sand, beige and gritty, like granulated sugar, was blowing everywhere, carpeting the already dirty streets. Plastic bags were sailing through the nght ar like schools of flying jellyfsh. The young Arab me on the streets--there were no women, of course--had angry eyes and many were as obese as young Westerners, products of the fast-food culture. A brooding frustration darkened their faces. Disenfranchised youths, tattered souls. They slouched on plastic chars or at the kerbsides beneath decomposing arcades playing cards or staring as we passed by, puzzled by a female out this late. The parked cars were wrecks and every now and then one screeched to a halt, a quartet of young men piled out and mooched along the water front,,,." (208)

    It would be easy to continue to quote excerpts, but reading the book is better. Inside the front and back covers is an attractively colored map that shows the sites Drinkwater visited. Organization is chronological and geographic, following her journeying from place to place. Despite the intensely personal nature of her quest, there’s less sense of Drinkwater’s individuality in THE OLIVE ROUTE than in previous books in the series. My biggest criticism is that the map s the only illustration--no other pictures whatsoever of anything or anybody. [​IMG]

    Recommended as travelogue and quest journal. (B)
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Elsabeth Crabtree’s DEADLY MAGIC was a free or inexpensive Kindle download published in 2012. It opens on Halloween Sunday at the Dragon’s Lair Theatre where Franklin Straker, head of Straker’s Toys, is celebrating his fiftieth birthday with a costume party featuring a magic performance by the great Ilya Dragovich. Lily Staker, Frank’s estranged wife and Ilya’s former stage assistant, is hanged during the course of a magic trick, but police rule her death a suicide. Within a month, Straker has staged a complete reorganization of his company, firing every single employee who had not been present at his birthday party; his decisions make no business sense and alienate both his family and remaining employees. At this point, 16%, I officially give up.

    The protagonist is set up to be Grace Holliday, who’s worked in designing dolls; she’s thirty-something (apparently), has a dismal record with men, and doesn’t believe Lily Straker killed herself. Her new job is to head development of a new board game department aimed at teenagers. I can’t describe her more completely because there is almost no characterization in DEADLY MAGIC, at least so far. There’s a superfluity of names, several of them first names only, with an unexplained tangle of past and present relationships.

    Plot development has not yet begun, and the method of death is not believable, even in a world of magic and illusion. There’s no setting beyond the date and mention of New York; no atmosphere creates a sense of involvement.

    Since I’m not finishing the book, I give no grade, but I haven’t found anything in DEADLY MAGIC to make me think it worth the time it’d take to read the rest. I’m getting too old for lost causes. [​IMG]
     
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  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Andrea Frazer’s GLASS HOUSE is the latest to date in her mystery series featuring Detective Inspector Harry Falconer of the Market Darley CID and his legman, Detective Sergeant “Davey” Carmichael. It is available as a free or inexpensive Kindle download published in 2014.

    The small village of Fairmile Green is disrupted first by remodeling of its largest house The Orchards, renamed Glass House, then by the incoming of its new owner Chadwick McMurrough. Outrageously gay McMurrough had won a reality television show called The Glass House, parleyed his win into a cameo role on the soap Cockneys, and used that as a springboard to his own talk show Chatterers. He and his decades-older partner Bailey Radcliffe are immediately unwelcome, since McMurrough orders delivery of multiple peacocks, whose calls disturb Fairmile Green at all hours of day and night, and a miniature dachshund puppy whose traumatic parting from mother and siblings cause him to howl all night; Dipsy Daxie’s precocity in servicing a neighbor’s Shih Tzu doesn’t help. A series of nasty pranks--a trip wire across a step at the top of the stairs causing a fall, a large rock balanced to fall on whoever opens the garden gate, an electric razor rigged to short out when used, a doctored drink at his barbeque--indicates that someone’s out to get McMurrough. Falconer and Carmichael investigate the pranks, since Superintendent Chivers is frightened of adverse publicity. But who has it in for McMurrough? Both his and Radcliffe’s ex-partners live in the village, as do two homophobic couples; Rufus Fairchild, son of one of the couples, was eliminated from The Glass House competition and feels cheated. All the neighbors have suffered from the noise and McMurrough’s cavalier attitude about it; Radcliffe ran over and killed a neighbor’s cat; McMurrough had bullied Dean Westbrook unmercifully for years in school and didn’t even remember doing it. But it’s Radcliffe who’s murdered first, then Radcliffe’s former partner Darren Worsley and gay solicitor Robin Eastwood are also killed. Is someone intent on wiping out the gay population of Fairmile Green?

    Frazer departs from her usual structure in GLASS HOUSE. Usually she uses perhaps the first third of the book to set up both the setting and the characters in detail, showing the personalities and tensions within her village before bringing the crime into place. While sometimes making for slow initial reading, this gives a chance to develop a relationship with the characters ahead of the crime. In GLASS HOUSE, Frazer develops the physical Fairmile Green, but the only characters who are introduced are McMurrough and Radcliffe. Later introduction of the assorted characters leaves most of them little more than names, and Frazer includes many more characters than needed to carry the plot. For instance, she has five major people from McMurrough’s show Chatterers attend his barbeque, but they serve no purpose, not even as suspects. [​IMG]

    The plot itself in GLASS HOUSE is well-crafted, though a careful reader may well pick up on both murderer and motive. Only one character is presented as sufficiently self-absorbed to be guilty. The thing that disappoints me most about GLASS HOUSE is the lack of the sense of place and the humor that have been so outstanding n the previous books of the series. They’re not even attempted. Hinky formatting makes for odd spacing and omission of the first letters of Carmichael’s name through much of the book, which is annoying.

    Don’t get me wrong--GLASS HOUSE is worth reading. It’s just far short of the quality of the earliest books in the series. (C+)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MOON SIGNS is the first in Helen Haught Fanick’s Moon Mystery series. It is available as a free or inexpensive Kindle download published in 2011. It features first person narrator Kathleen Williamson and her retired mathematics teacher sister Andrea Flynn. The story is set in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, where their niece Maggie Flynn works at the Alpenhof Hotel. The hotel had been owned around the turn of the twentieth century by the sisters’ grandparents Samuel and Abigail Flynn. Maggie has found two trunks of their possessions in the attic, including a list of purchases made on a trip to Paris in 1905 that show “two water lily paintings $30 each.” Kathleen immediately assumes they are Monets, and the sisters come to the Alpenhof to try to find what became of the pictures. Maggie and owner Stefan are in love, but co-owner Olga, his sister, hates Maggie. The sisters find Olga murdered under the registration desk the first night of their stay. They are involved in a second murder, when ski lift operator Franklin Stuart is killed to set up an attack on Stefan. But who is Stefan, and who wants him dead? Andrea Flynn teams up with Tucker County Sheriff Ward Sterling to nab an international killer.

    The plot in MOON SIGNS is over the top for the setting. How likely is it that a pair of Germans on the run would buy and operate a rundown hotel in West Virginia, and this without locals knowing anything about them? The plot doesn’t refer to 9/11, but certainly its events are after. Fanick gives little indication of police activities until Andrea tells all, revealing that Sheriff Sterling had overseas information all along. How likely is it that Sheriff Sterling would invite Andrea into the case to begin with? How likely is it that a deputy like Willard Hill would retain his job as he runs around gossiping about the case every time he sees the sisters?

    About the only characterization is Kathleen’s statements about Andrea and how her attitudes and abilities contrast with her own stay-at-home tendencies. Too many characters are only names; Stefan’s family name is never given, even though he and Maggie are planning their wedding as the story ends. Two of the most interesting characters are Asbury and Ivy Hawkins McGee, a mountain couple who work for Stefan at the Alpenhof, though they are not much developed. I would prefer fewer, more fully realized characters.

    Canaan Valley, West Virginia, is a ski resort area, beautiful country, but sense of place and especially atmosphere are lacking. The title comes from Kathleen’s belief that the phase of the moon affects human events, taught to her by her grandmother Flynn; she makes occasional references but there’s little actual moon lore.

    MOON SIGNS is like many cozy mysteries--at first glance, it seems all right, but when it’s examined logically, it’s full of holes. [​IMG] Not recommended. (D)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Brian Kavanagh’s CAPABLE OF MURDER was released in e-format in 2013 but originally published in 2001. The plot of CAPABLE OF MURDER has been written dozens of times--it’s classic Gothic romance from the early days of the genre as created by Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, and the like. Attractive young heroine alone in the world inherits spooky old house and property from distant and/or previously unknown relative. A recluse, the relative has been isolated from his/her neighbors, who are extremely interested in the house, several of them trying to buy the house and/or drive the heroine away. There’s some secret or treasure of great value hidden in the house, of which she knows nothing. Whom can she trust? Deaths ensue, and the villain often turns out to be someone in a position she’d trusted. One of the male she’d suspected turns out to be a good guy after all, so there’s an actual or eventual love interest.

    Elements of the novel well-handled can transcend this generic plot, the most important of which is characterization. Unfortunately, Belinda Lawrence is not adequately enough developed to carry the story. An ex-patriate Australian working in an undislosed job in London, dependent as far as indicated on her salary, when she inherits her Great-Aunt Jane Lawrence’s cottage in Milford, near Bath, its surrounding acreage, and £80,000 cash, she immediately decides to restore the house and gardens and to live there. What she’s to live on isn’t indicated, since modernization of the house, including electrical wiring, replumbing, clearing and restoring the gardens would talk all her cash. She works at cleaning houses for two clients. She pulls TSTL moments in failing to report a break-in and vandalism in the house before she moves in; she enters and searches others’ houses; she doesn’t tell the police about the pressure on her to sell the house or, when she finds the desired object, about it. Instead of putting the discovery in a safe deposit box, she hides it in the cottage where it’s accessible to potential thieves. She has neither land line nor cell telephone and no car despite living alone at some distance from Milford with only one neighbor. She’s not perceptivet about people’s motives. Identity of the killers is telegraphed to a careful reader, but Belinda doesn’t perceive it until she’s almost killed, twice. Standard genre heroine with little common sense.

    Landscape, especially gardening, is essential to CAPABLE OF MURDER, but there’s little sense of place. Attempts at atmosphere are simplistic. Formatting makes reading difficult because each paragraph is indented only one space. The reader faces a solid screen of text.

    I wanted to like CAPABLE OF MURDER, I really did. But it’s not even a good example of its genre. Not recommended. (D-)
    [​IMG]
     
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  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG] DEATH OF THE LAST VILLISTA is the penultimate book in Allana Martin’s excellent series featuring Texana Jones, trading post owner in the Big Bend Country of Texas. It was published in 2002. Texana’s a fronterizo, an inhabitant of the border country along the Rio Grande, with customers from both sides of the river. The outstanding feature of this series is Martin’s creation of a viable community of people in nearby Polvo and the surrounding ranches. Place and people are authentic. “Polvo is tucked in behind the outcrop of a mesa, so that you don’t see it until you’re there. A travel writer who had chanced the fifty-mile drive down the washboard road from Presidio had taken one look and turned around, later giving our community one sentence in his book on the Trans-Pecos: ‘A hot, dreary little place full of barking cur dogs’ It’s true that the adobes are the color of the dust in that mounds in the road, the trailers have a tired look, and the dogs are scruffy mutts that scratch a lot and bark more, but on a clear day the sky above is pale turquoise, the dust motes turn the harsh sunlight golden, and the shadows of mesquite leaves dance in the wind and make patterns against the walls of the houses.....” (53)

    In 1961 Texana’s parents operated the trading post when Jon French and his stars Dane Anthony and Rosalinda Pray made a film about a cross-border raid by Pancho Villa and his men. His consultant Jacinto Trejo, widely touted as “the last Villista,” was killed shortly before the end of the shooting; since his body was found on an unclaimed island in the midst of the Rio Grande, no real investigation of his death occurred. Now to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Panchito, independent film maker Scot Regan is back at the trading post to film a documentary for PBS on the making of the film. Dane Anthony, Rosalinda Pray, and the locals who appeared as extras in the film, who include Texana and local rancher Hugh Wesleco will be interviewed. Texana is curious about Trejo’s death and its lack of resolution, but things seem to be going well until Dane Anthony’s RV catches fire and explodes; there’s no evidence of cause. The film crew even gets involved in filming the rescue of abused horses, one of Clay Jones’s cases. But then local youngster Jimmy Ramos goes missing and Dane Anthony is found dead. Autopsy doesn’t show cause of death, but it’s ruled natural causes until, watching the rough cut of the documentary of the horse rescue, Texana and Clay realize who killed Dane, how, and why.

    Characterization is strong, with a large cast of continuing characters whose lives and concerns add verisimilitude to the story. Texana physically resembles her father, who copes with his depression by isolating himself. “The solitude of the [ranch[ had somehow saved him [Justice Ricicottio] when medicine and doctors could not. His peace of mind was hard-won and precarious, but real. He spent his days mending fence, tending cattle, and maintaining the well and the pipeline that fed the house and the water troughs in the five pastures. For company he had half a dozen longhorn cows so old they were almost toothless, a dog named Woo Woo, a cat named Willie, and, temporarily, our bobcat.” (129-30) But he’s at the hospital with a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich when Texana needs him.

    Martin is skillful in her interweaving of the events of 1961, as Texana gradually uncovers more about Trejo’s murder and its possible cause, with those during the filming of the documentary. An experienced reader may pick up on the motive for both murders because Martin plays fair in providing information as Texana learns it.

    The Texana Jones seres has been a comfort read for me, since I know that Martin will present me with believable, sympathetic characters, a logical plot, and outstanding sense of place. DEATH OF THE LAST VILLISTA is no exception. I’m only sorry there’s only one more book in the series. Highly recommended. (A)
     
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  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Gladys Mitchell’s LAURELS CAN POISON is one of her Mrs. Bradley mysteries, originally published in 1942 and released as an inexpensive e-book in 2013. Mitchell is one of the popular mystery writers from what’s often described as the Golden Age, contemporary with Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh, and others.

    In LAURELS CAN POISON Mrs. Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley spends an academic year at Carteret Training College (teachers’ college) ostensibly as guest lecturer and Warden of Athelstan Hall. Her mission is to discover what became of Miss Murchan, her predecessor who’d disappeared the previous June from the end of term dance and not been heard from again. Miss Murchan had quit her previous job at a secondary school in Cuddy Bay two years before when a student had been killed in a gym accident; her half-sister Miss Painter-Tree, the gyms mistress had also left Cuddy Bay. Suspicions about the child’s death had been unsupported. Mrs. Bradley hires Deborah Cloud as English lecturer and Sub-Warden for Athelstan and enlists three first-year students as her aides de camp: Kitty Trevelyan, Laura Menzies, and Alice Boorman. Various student rags and no-so-innocent incidents enliven the academic year, including the murder of Athelstan’s discharged cook, before a re-enactment at the end of term dance draws out the murderer.

    Elements of LAURELS CAN POISON dealing with women academics are reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers’s GAUDY NIGHT, but neither Deborah Cloud nor Mrs. Bradley is a Harriet Vane. Mrs. Bradley has multiple degrees including medicine and psychology; she’s a renowned criminologist. She’s more caricature than a believable person, however, and so is Deborah Cloud. The students are somewhat individualized but, as is typical of the Golden Age mysteries, characterization is secondary to plot.

    Mitchell plays fair in the plot, revealing information as Mrs. Bradley receives it, mostly, enough that an experienced mystery reader is apt to discern the conclusion ahead of time. [​IMG]

    I’ve not been a fan of Gladys Mitchell’s books (though I thoroughly enjoyed Dame Diana Rigg’s portrayal in the BBC miniseries), but LAURELS CAN POISON is a solid read. I will try more of the Mrs. Bradley series. (B+)
     

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