Category Archives: Fiction

Books Read, September & October 2011

NON-FICTION

World War II

A Summer Interrupted – 1939, The Remarkable Story of An Evacuee/G. Michael Burns, 2011

FICTION

Mysteries
Death of a Chimney Sweep/M.C. Beaton, 2011. Latest in the series about the village constable, Hamish McBeth.

Death of a Dreamer/M.C. Beaton, 2006. Twists and turns as Scottish constable Hamish McBeth solves the murder of Effie Garrand, an Englishwoman very proud of her art and her daydreams.

Murder in Three Acts/Agatha Christie (1935) – also published as Three Act Tragedy. Who killed the kindly vicar and why? Noted actor, Sir Charles Cartwright and his two friends endeavor to solve the mystery.

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Books Read in August, 2010


Until We Reach Home/ Lynn Austin (2008). Historical Fiction.

This Christian novel is the story of 3 young Swedish women who immigrate to the United States in 1897. Although it took about 2 chapters for me to get into the story, after that I could hardly put it down.

Highly Recommended.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession/Allison Hoover Bartlett (2010). Non-Fiction.

Apparently Bartlett expanded her magazine article on book thief, John Gilkey, into a book.

Rarely do I buy books that I know nothing about. Too many times in the past I’ve been burned and ended up with something fit only for paper projects.

However, the title grabbed me. I stood in Sam’s and flipped through it. The subject matter was very intriguing to a book-lover so I bought it.

It’s a partial account of a contemporary man who very boldly steals books. And not just the run-of-the-mill books. Rare ones. Very valuable ones.

Did the author intentionally leave the readers wanting more; or was it that she just didn’t know how to end it (because the saga continues) or maybe she just didn’t know how to flesh out the story?

Gilkey is relentless and unrepentant. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a fascinating read, but it would’ve been helpful had Bartlett spared us her political and world views. Personally, I don’t care what she thinks.

I just wanted to know more about John Gilkey.

Recommended.

The Body in the Library/Agatha Christie (1942). Mystery.

Mrs. Bantry of Gossington Hall is awakened by her hysterical maid who has just discovered the body of a stranger on the rug downstairs. How satisfying for the Bantry’s to have Miss Marple as a close friend at such a time and so the fluffy spinster is called in to speed up the investigation.

So typically Agatha Christie and a very satisfying read.

Highly Recommended if you like cozy mysteries.

D.E. Stevenson

Celia’s House/D.E. Stevenson (1943). Fiction.

Publishers must think that book buyers judge a book by it’s cover. Nothing else explains the swill they print on them.

Celia’s House is a lovely, cozy read. The back cover of the edition I read had some utter nonsense about the younger generation trying to carry on and being at odds with their elders. There’s absolutely nothing like that in the book – at all.

It’s just a nice story set in the early part of the 20th century, about a Scottish family and their ancestral home. Of course, everyone isn’t nice. There are a couple of ne’er-do-well characters who give it a little literary tension.

I have several D.E. Stevenson paperbacks that were reprinted in the mid-70s and they have the most atrocious cover art. Here is an example of one edition of Celia’s House (not the one I read but I want to post it just as an example).

Please don't judge this book by the cover.


It was just last week that I read this book, and my memory is fresh and I don’t think a goat was ever mentioned.

Goodness.

So, ignore the cover and if you like cozy reads, this one is Highly Recommended.

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Annotated Jane Austen

In years past, I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey. Her other books (Emma, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility) I’m familiar with only through films.

But this summer, I’m in kind of a Jane Austen mood, and so am attempting to read the volumes I’ve neglected and possibly re-read the others. I decided to begin with Persuasion.
Grapevine Public Library has several different copies, and I was pleased to find that one is annotated and illustrated.

Front of the bookmark


One of the drawbacks of reading on my own (not in a bookclub) is the inability to share and explore with others the joys and frustrations of a story or an author or a subject. The annotations relieve this somewhat.

Oh, how I’d love to be in a Cozy Bookclub.

In person.

With nice cups of tea and biscuits.

Back of the bookmark


For now I will have to content myself with my hand-made Jane Austen bookmark and lots of sidenotes.

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Books Read, March – July, 2011

To catch up my reading list, the books below are listed by type, rather than by the month in which they were read.

(I’ll update it as I remember other titles – or find my list).

Mystery
Death of a Maid – M.C. Beaton, 2007
Death of a Dentist – M.C. Beaton 1997
Small Town Secrets – Sharon Mignerey, 2006


World War II

Non-Fiction
Entertaining Eric – Maureen Wells, published 2008; written 1940s
Notes to My Daughter – A Father’s Blitz Diary – Alexander Pierce, published 2010; written 1934+

Fiction
While We’re Far Apart – Lynn Austin, 2010
Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys,
The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen, 1990


Early 20th Century Memoirs

A Vicarage Family – Noel Streatfeild, 1963
A Lucky Number – Vera Henry, 1957
Half-Broke Horses – Jeanette Walls, 2009

Cozy Fiction
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment – D.E. Stevenson, 1932
Kate Hardy – D.E. Stevenson, 1947
Summerhills – D.E. Stevenson, 1956
The Young Clementina (alternate titles: Divorced from Reality/Miss Dean’s Dilemma) – D.E. Stevenson, 1935

General Fiction
Joshua ~ a Parable for Today – Joseph F. Girzone, 1983
The Wetherbys – G. Clifton Wisler, 1992
Made in the U.S.A. – Billie Letts, 2008
One Second After – William Forstchen, 2009
A Promise for Ellie – Lauraine Snelling, 2006

General Non-Fiction
In the President’s Secret Service – Ronald Kessler, 2010
The World According to Beaver – Irwyn Applebaum, 1984
Among Schoolchildren – Tracey Kidder, 1990
Venus~the Dark Side- Roy Sheppard Mary T. Cleary, 2008

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Books Read in March, 2011

Heaven Is For Real/Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (2010). A slim volume and an easy read, Heave Is For Real was a pleasure. Even though I’ve been a Christian almost all of my life and I know I’ll go to be with Jesus when I die, I’ve never pondered much about what heaven will be like. Four-year-old Colton Burpo relates his experiences and what he saw in heaven over a period of time, rather than immediately upon his recovery from his illness. Here is their website .

This book was a huge encouragement to me.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles,Angels and Life Beyond this World/Kevin Malarkey and Alex Malarkey(2010). Another book about a young boy who has experienced heaven and came back to tell. It’s a little more painful to read because of the father’s guilt (his distraction and unfamiliarity with a dangerous intersection led to the car accident which severely injured his son). Go here to their website.

God bless this courageous boy and his family!

RECOMMENDED

The House at World’s End,/Monica Dickens (1970). Miss Dickens is the great-grandaughter of that other Dickens we all know, Charles. It’s not fair to compare the descendants of a genius (and I do believe that C.D. was truly a genius), so I won’t. Maybe her other books are better, and I will give them a try, but this one was just a story to frame the message about not being cruel to animals. And that is a worthy cause and one that I support, but somehow it just comes across more as a sermon than a good story.

This is the tale of a family of children who are pretty much left on their own after their house burns, their mother has a long hospitalization from burns she received, an uncle who only nominally looks after them and a father who would rather sail around the world than take care of his family.

My family and I have adopted many homeless animals over the years, so I understand Miss Dickens’ dedication to alleviate suffering; I just wish she’d written a better book for the cause.

Incidentally, The House At World’s End is juvenile fiction, but I wouldn’t recommend it to sensitive children. There were a few descriptive passages that I had to skip. Maybe tougher kids won’t have a problem with those scenes, but I would never have been able to handle them as a child.

It isn’t boring and it’s not a terrible book; I just think it could’ve been better.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS

How Starbucks Saved My Life/Michael Gill (2007). The title grabbed me, so I read it. And it is interesting but … it’s just a little creepy because Mr. Gill worships Starbucks (and I’m not kidding). He was a down and out Madison Avenue (advertising business) executive who lost his job, and then his family (due to unfaithfulness) and got a job making coffee. It’s true, in his earlier years he led an interesting life and perhaps he used this framework to tell it. He’s met a lot of famous people, from Frank Sinatra to Frank Lloyd Wright to Queen Elizabeth. But his obsequious fawning just came across as sad to me; Starbucks is not a fit religion. Maybe Starbucks did save his life, but it won’t save his soul.

NOT RECOMMENDED

(This is not the complete account of what I read during March, but I had to rely on my memory. That may not be such a good thing because my memory has failed to tell me where I left the list of books. When I find it, I’ll do an update.)

Partially Read and intend to finish:
The Last Mrs. Astor

The Friendly Dickens

The Book of Awesome

Witness, Whitaker Chambers.

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Books Read, February 2011

Non-Fiction
*Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (2009). This is the story of Deogratias, a Burundi refugee to the United States. Geography is not one of my strong suits, and I began reading this book not even knowing what continent Burundi was on. Rawanda and Burundi were both part of the Belgian Congo and have had similar … what? Struggles doesn’t even begin to describe the horror of the genocide.

Deo arrived at JFK with $200 and no contacts and no support system in 1994. He didn’t even speak English. A few years later he had graduated from Columbia University and enrolled in medical school at Dartmouth. By 2008, his lifelong dream of a medical clinic in his African village was realized.

Kidder won a Pulitzer Prize for Strength in What Remains, and deservedly so. It was hard to put down, but that’s exactly what I should’ve done hours before bedtime, because I couldn’t get to sleep until 4:00 a.m. Descriptions of the violence are graphic. If this sort of thing bothers you (it does me), you can skip over those passages when you see them coming.

Even so, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it.

Fiction – Mystery

*Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936). Vastly superior to the film version with David Suchet, this is the story of a crime committed in the presence of 3 other people, but who saw nothing. Or did they?
RECOMMENDED

*Death of a Macho Man by M.C. Beaton (1996). A mysterious swarthy newcomer to Lochdubh has been done in and Highland police constable Hamish MacBeth solves the crime.
ENTERTAINING

*Death of a Scriptwriter by M.C. Beaton (1998). Narcissism in television personalities, supporting staff and mystery writers are featured in this Hamish MacBeth volume. Miss Beaton writes with clarity and humorous insight about people who think a lot of themselves.
ENTERTAINING

Fiction – Juvenile

*When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild (1974). While this book shares a common theme with the Shoe books (children who are separated from their parents), it’s a bit harder hitting and tells the story of World War II from a child’s viewpoint, i.e. the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside, the Blitz and the blackout. One of the things that surprises me about this book is it’s classification as juvenile fiction. It sits on the library shelf with lighter tomes such as the American Girl series. The American Girl series are lovely, interesting books, but geared to a younger audience. Many adult books are not as well-written as When the Sirens Wailed.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1944). Also published as Party Frock. Streatfeild’s love of theater comes through in this story of a large family of children and their cousin during World War II. The cousin has been sent a party dress and shoes by an American godmother but under the bleak social conditions caused by the war, she won’t have an opportunity to wear it. So they brainstorm a suitable event and plan a historical festival with each child focusing on a different era. It reminds me of the Andy Hardy idea of “let’s put on a show!” and just reading it made me want to put one on, too. The problems of production are very true-to-life, including the director’s arrogance, prima donas, costuming, blocking and lots more. If you love theater, this is a fun book, even for adults.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*Clues in the Shadows: a Molly Mystery by Kathleen Ernst (2009). War weariness on the homefront during World War II is the focus in this later edition in the American Girl series. Molly and her friends participate in a scrap drive and learn about combat fatigue and how the absence of fathers caused reduced circumstances in many of families. Some tough issues are focused on and give an opportunity to discuss what our military families experience, even now.

Go here for historical background information and some good photos.
RECOMMENDED

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Books Read, January 2011,

*Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton. First published in 1994, this is Beaton’s 10th Hamish Macbeth mystery. The story centers around the effect of English newcomer, Peter Hynd on the small village of Drim in northern Scotland. Peter has a malicious streak and it becomes his downfall. Lochdubh police sergeant Macbeth warns Hynd to tread easily around the local Highlanders, but of course, he’s heedless.

The Hamish Macbeth series are cozy mysteries, though not quite as cozy as Agatha Christie’s books. Whose are? Grotesque descriptions are rare, along with bad language and sexual content. That being said, there was one section with a very un-cozy word.

Possibly it’s my imagination, but it seems that Beaton gets a little bored with the romantic relationship between Hamish and Priscilla Halburton-Smythe. Priscilla is not a sympathetic character; actually she’s fairly off-putting. Am I supposed to like her?

Hamish on the other hand, is someone I’d love to have as my local constable, despite his failings (mooching, laziness and all too often, a lack of loyalty).

Are there really policemen like him somewhere?

*Death in the Downs by Simon Brett
What’s the deal with so many current books? No happy marriages, affairs galore, no traditional religion, endorsements of New Age silliness.

Technically, this one is well written. The story moves along, clues are injected along with red herrings, it’s interesting and it ties up most of the loose ends.

On the other hand, it’s full of excessive drinking, mysticism and bad men. There is only one good/sympathetic man in the whole book.

I suppose Simon Brett really is a man, but he writes like a world-weary, jilted feminist who never met an alternative religion that he/she didn’t like.

It’s been a few years since I last read a Simon Brett mystery. The cynicism surprised me.

There are virtually no happy marriages in this book. Carole’s husband left her, one woman with an overbearing husband uses tranquilizers, another wife drinks, one couple is uncommunicative and then they part, and the “doctor” is a serial philanderer. Jude is not married but has an unpleasant relationship with her paramour, which we are thankfully spared the details. Parent/child relationships don’t fare much better.

And speaking of drinking … that’s practically all these characters do, besides intimidate, murder and commit mayhem and masochism. They are constantly drinking, not just at the pub but opening the second bottle of wine, etc.

New Age therapies are repeatedly defended- no matter how bizarre. At the end, we are treated to a discourse on the emptiness of traditional religion by the killer.

The writing is adept, the content leaves something to be desired. Come to think of it, Simon Brett seems more jaded than cynical. Perhaps he thinks he’s post-modern. Maybe he writes because his New Age healer prescribes it.

*Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie. Years ago, Joe and I saw the movie with Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power, an excellent production. Since I’m always on the lookout for copies of Agatha Christie books, I bought a paperback copy and read it last week.

The first chapter told the whole story of the movie, so I thought there had been some Hollywood interference with the original and that there must be a lot more that had been pared down. The second chapter had a whole new cast of characters, but many books do that – using the first several chapters to introduce new settings, etc… By the beginning of the 3rd chapter, I realized that it was a book of short stories! I looked at the front and back covers and the flyleaf and nowhere did it say it was a book of short stories, so I felt a little less foolish.

The second odd thing about the book, was that the day I finished it, I watched a movie on Hulu titled “Love From a Stranger”. As it went on, I thought that it seemed very familiar. When the wife read the notation in her husband’s diary “9:00 p.m.”, I knew! It was the same story as “Philomel Cottage”, chapter 8 in Witness for the Prosecution. I checked the imdb page for the movie to see if they acknowledged Christie’s original story and indeed they did.

Now, it may seem that I was pretty stupid not to connect it before but lots of details had been changed. Christie wrote the book in 1924 and I think the tales are contemporary to that time; the movie is set in 1901. In the book the husband claims to be a photographer; in the movie he’s a scientist. Her sudden influx of money is explained by an inheritance in the book, and the film has her winning the pools (lottery). And there are many other things expanding the original story – so it wasn’t a clearcut case of simply not paying attention on my part.

I thought all that it was kind of a quirky co-incidence and it has absolutely no significance. Just an interesting interlude.

*Possessed: the Life of Joan Crawford, by Donald Spoto I can’t look or think of Joan Crawford without thinking Mommy Dearest, so when I saw this on the New Books shelf at the library I hesitated. But I was willing to consider that maybe that was a distorted view of her when I saw that Spoto claimed that she was misunderstood and had new archival information. Perhaps Christina was merely bitter after having been left out of the will.

But I will never know because I can’t get past the alternative lifestyle agenda of the author. He takes every opportunity to campaign for it and it’s tiring.

Hollywood history has long fascinated me, but I’ll have to satisfy my curiosity elsewhere.

Unfinished and NOT RECOMMENDED

The Blue Sapphire by D.E. Stevenson This was a re-read for me. Back in the mid-197s, Wal-Mart carried a lot of D.E. Stevenson reprints with new artwork on the covers and I bought several of them. The Blue Sapphire was originally published in 1963 but the cover on my book is straight out of the 1970s: her ruffled, loose dress, wedge sandals and long, flowing curls; his open necked shirt with the big collar and styled hair. When I read a book, I really like to picture the time setting in my mind – and the early 60s were not like the 70s, in any fashion.

Therefore, I see this as an opportunity to do an altered bookjacket.

The Blue Sapphire is a cozy romance and a quick read. It’s pleasant with likable characters, although I must say that I found Julie ( the female protagonist) a bit stuffy at times. Perhaps that makes it more believable.

(Dorothy Emily Peploe’s father was Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin; she used her maiden name when she wrote, but the copyright is in her married name.)

RECOMMENDED

*Tides by V.M. Caldwell (Juvenile Fiction) The sequel to The Ocean Within targets 5th – 9th grade readers. It’s the continuing story of 12 year old Elizabeth who was adopted into the Sheridan family one year previously. All the Sheridan grandchildren spend each summer at their grandmother’s house on the ocean. Which ocean? We don’t know, but the clues are: the kids spot Vermont license tags on the journey there; it’s not Maine and there are pine trees right up to the beach. That’s a minor issue. However, the author doesn’t tell us why Elizabeth is afraid of the water, which is the main issue in the book. At the end, we are left to kind of …well… guess.

The writing is well crafted and held my interest. The subject matter is enjoyable – a house full of cousins, summertime, the beach, a town with a movie theater that shows W.C. Fields films. This is fun stuff to me. But the dark cloud is the intrusion of social issues – Elizabeth aids an environmentalist who’s trying to catch polluters.

Tides is a publication of Milkweed Editions, which is a non-profit publisher who “publishes with the intention of making a humane impact on society, in the belief that literature is a transformative art uniquely able to convey the essential experiences of the human heart and spirit”, according their note at the back of the book. At least they are upfront and bold in stating their goal.

My beef is that 10 year olds don’t need the weight of the world on their shoulders and how dare authors and publishers try to rob them of their childhood.

What they didn’t mind was inserting some gaia earth worship and a brief little ceremony for “mother ocean”. Perhaps they think they’re being ecumenical because they also devote very short passages to Judaism, Catholicism, as well as mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism and agnosticism. Talk about all-inclusive.

One very surprising element was the subject of spanking. Grandmother spanks. Everyone agrees that she’s fair about it, and there’s the agnostic mother’s disapproval of it, but I thought it was unusual aspect of a modern novel.

NOT RECOMMENDED for children.

The beach/family vacation storyline was much better done in The Secret of Cross Bone Hill by Wilson Gage.


*Theater Shoes
by Noel Streatfield (Juvenile Fiction) It was in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” that I first heard of the Shoe books. I didn’t know if they were real books, or just something fictionalized for that story. When I did an internet search (remember this was about 1998) the cupboard was bare.

Then when I looking over the Books for a Donation area at the library – there it was – Theater Shoes! I added it to my stack of purchases, brought it home and read it right away.

It’s a delightful episode in the continuing story of a Dancing/Theater school in London. This go-round was written in 1945 and concerns 3 children whose guardian grandfather dies. Since their mother is deceased and their father is missing in action with the British army, they have nowhere else to go but to a grandmother they’ve never met. Unbeknownst to them, their maternal relatives are all theater people and they are enrolled in Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which to them is like falling down the rabbit hole.

This passage from`Chapter 14 describes how the war had changed the appearance of a first night theater audience: “The audience was exactly as Miriam had said it would be, and not a bit as Alice had described it. The women were in uniform or dark overcoats, and most of them had big boots with fur linings. The men were in uniform or exactly as they had come on from work. Nobody was dressed up. Aunt Lindsey was looking very nice in a black frock and fur coat, but only nice in the way that anybody might look in the afternoon.”

Even though it’s written for older children, Theater Shoes is a charming book which held my interest.

RECOMMENDED

*Night by Elie Wiesel This is a tough book to read, which I knew going in. It is the story of Wiesel and his Jewish family in the early days of World War II, their deportation to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald. At first there is his father, mother and sister. The mother and sister are separated from them, then his father is gone.

It’s the story of the price of survival.

It is a horrible and cruel book. One that we need to read every time we’re told that Israel is expendable.

The Gentile world turned it’s collective back on the Jews. They have no other place to go but Israel.

God bless his chosen people and the land He gave them.

RECOMMENDED for the strong

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