30 April 2012

Books Finished Since April 1

book icon  Dead in the Water, Carola Dunn
In this sixth Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Daisy is staying with her aunt and cousin at their home near Henley-on-Thames, having been assigned to do an article on the Henley Royal Regatta. She's looking forward to the weekend when she will mix business with pleasure; fiance Inspector Alec Fletcher will be joining her for a relaxing weekend. Daisy enjoys among her relatives and the rowers staying at their home, except for the rude comments of snooty Basil DeLancey against the team's coxswain, a blunt tradesman's son. Things come to a head when young DeLancey dies after coming home looking as if he was drunk. However, the doctor who examines him says he suffered a head injury that probably killed him. Could Bott, the coxswain, be the culprit?

This is a pleasant entry in the Daisy mysteries, if a bit plodding. Many characters are tossed at you pell-mell in the first couple of chapters, and some of the supporting actors are so briefly sketched that they blend into one another. Even some of the more prominent characters seem two-dimensional. In addition, most of the sinister situations in the book are recounted later instead of shown. However, there are some nice bits with Daisy and Alec, and the pleasures of a country-house weekend are shown. And thankfully, there are some of Daisy's relatives who actually like Alec!

book icon  Walt Disney's Story Land
All right, it was slightly Goofy of me to have bought this, but I remember how I wanted it as a child, when it was always out of reach financially for my folks. It's a collection of short stories taken from Disney short subjects (Silly Symphonies, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons etc.), animated features, and even a few live action entries, like Davy Crockett and Darby O'Gill. This wouldn't be the version around when I was a kid, as there are modern stories like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast adapted (probably having ousted earlier post-Disney cartoons, as I didn't see hide nor hair of Jungle Book or Aristocats inspired tales).

Still, it was fun to read after all these years. I was very amused to discover that all the Donald Duck stories, which usually end with el Donald squawking in impotent fury, were turned into life lessons about driving well and not losing your temper and being nice. The longest story is that about Dumbo, which was lengthy enough to be an independent storybook. I was a bit perturbed at their adaptation of Lady and the Tramp, though, which has only Jim Dear going away, presumably leaving Darling so besotted over the new baby that she doesn't notice how Aunt Sarah is abusing Lady! It makes Darling look really stupid, too. Sill, glad to have had the chance to read it after all these years.

book icon  The Hidden Gold, Sarah Masters Buckey
In the first of three new "American Girl mysteries" for 2012, Marie-Grace and her father are traveling north by steamboat to visit family when a little girl comes onboard, returning to her home after her father died. Young Wilhemina's father had discovered gold in the gold rush, but died before he could tell her the location. If it isn't found by the time she gets home, her family will have to separate. When she shares Marie-Grace's room, the two girls try to solve the mystery.

It's a pity the limited page format of these mysteries don't allow for further elaboration of setting and perhaps a subplot, as this is an exotic nearly-forgotten mode of transportation and many tales beside the basic mystery could have been told. This may be the first AG mystery where the setting is just as important as the mystery. A subplot concerning one of the steamboat workers or one of the deck passengers would have been cool had space been available.

book icon  Town in a Blueberry Jam, B.B. Haywood
Once Candy Holliday was a high-dollar executive with an executive husband and city dweller. But due to debt and divorce, she's now back home with her dad "Doc" Holliday, raising blueberries for local consumption and a small flock of chickens. As our story opens, the whole town is preparing for the local blueberry festival and whispering over the recent death of town playboy Jock Larson. But that isn't a patch on the gossip that occurs when local newspaper columnist Sapphire Vine wins the Blueberry Queen title—and then is found dead in her home!

Your enjoyment of this series will reflect your tolerance for cozy settings and detectives. For my part, I liked the characters and the setting, a small Maine town filled with the usual town characters, although save for the blueberries and the lobster, the setting seems pretty generic "small town" rather than specifically "Maine." The one thing that irritated me is that in the course of investigating the crimes Candy and her pal break so many laws you're wondering if the next book is going to take place with Candy investigating a crime in the hoosegow! Of course she is forgiven in the end, but the lawbreaking is pretty blatant. The mystery itself was pretty puzzling as cozy mysteries go, but it's the personalities who take first place here. Would love to see a mystery revolving around Candy's dad. Perhaps in a future story!

book icon  Dorchester Terrace, Anne Perry
While Thomas Pitt eases into his new position at special Branch, a report comes in of suspicious activities on the railway. Could anarchists be after an obscure Habsburg royal visiting England soon?

In the meantime, Lady Vespasia visits an old friend who is descending into senility. Once a freedom fighter, the woman is afraid that something she has said or will say about secrets she had hidden will bring about her death. When she is indeed found dead, a stunned Vespasia, along with Victor Narraway, tried to discover who was behind it. Gradually both cases mesh.

This book gives a better chance for Charlotte to help her husband with his cases, and both plots are absorbing enough, but I still miss the days when Pitt solved society crimes. I also miss the characters who once surrounded the Pitts like Tellman and Gracie. One would not expect Minnie Maude to be like Gracie, but her staunch support of her employers is missed. And Perry seems to have done for Charlotte's sister Emily what she did with Margaret in her Monk mysteries: turned her into someone who turns against someone close to her. Emily's protectiveness of her husband seems misplaced when it causes her to distrust and quarrel with her sister Charlotte. For those reasons I did not totally enjoy the book, but it was still a good read.

book icon  The Cameo Necklace, Evelyn Coleman
Cecile has borrowed her aunt's necklace to wear to a circus show being held at a showboat. But as she exits the boat with her friends, the cameo necklace is lost. Is it lost forever or did someone possibly pick it up—or indeed perhaps steal it? Could it be one of her own friends? the mysterious fortuneteller with all the rings? two children that she noted in the crowd?

This is a lively mystery showcasing not only the excitement of a showboat stopping in New Orleans, but examining the story of the maroons, former slaves who live deep in the bayou where slave hunters cannot find them. Along the way she encounters people at all levels of society and learns the price some people must pay for their freedom, and we learn a little painless history in the process.

book icon  The Crystal Ball, Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Yet another mystery involving a fortuneteller, and whether the future—and bad luck—are in our stars or in ourselves. Rebecca and her family, gathering for a public appearance of Harry Houdini, where they also watch a performance by a fortuneteller. When the Rubins' neighbor Mr. Rossi suffers a run of bad luck, he consults the same fortuneteller. But is she really seeing into his past and his future? Even worse, some objects have gone missing from the Rubins' tenement building. Could Cousin Josef be the thief?

The "bad guy" of the piece is fairly obvious here, but otherwise this is an interesting portrait of an era when there was a great deal of interest in magic and spiritualism. There is a cameo by Harry Houdini doing a trick which was actually done free to the public as portrayed in the story, as well as the description of the fortuneteller and her routine. In addition, there is some friendly rivalry between Rebecca and her older sister Sadie which, in the end, proves to be useful in solving the mystery.

book icon  The New England Year, Haydn S. Pearson
This is a lovely book of remembrances of farm life in northern New England, told in a seasonal narrative, by Pearson, who grew up on a family farm at the turn of the 20th century. If you have read any Gladys Taber, Barbara Webster, or Eric Sloane, the story of the plain joys of hard work, the turn of the seasons, the everyday cycles of farm crops and animals, and home cooking will be familiar. Pearson isn't quite as poetic as Taber, but he still brings the old-fashioned slow farm life to vivid life, whether it be the cold of a winter night, the scent of fields and animals, the lure of the mail-order catalog, country harvests, family gatherings or animal life both wild and domesticated. A sure bet if you are a Stillmeadow fan!

book icon  Maphead, Ken Jennings
When I was younger, one of my future daydreams was of cartography; I loved to draw maps and pore over atlases. Despite GPS, I still keep road maps in my car and would not give them up. Perhaps I wasn't as assiduous as memorizing country and state and province capitals as Ken Jennings was, but it was still a sweet dream.

Which is why I was totally delighted by this book, subtitled Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. Jennings first tells us of his own youthful fascination with geography and maps, then goes on to examine the history of maps, the truth or perhaps myth of the lack of geographical knowledge taught in schools (me, I blame it on the switch from lively geography to dull-as-ditchwater social studies), people who collect ancient maps and others who delight in vintage road maps, map errors, geography bees, highpointers, geocaching, GPS mapping, and more.

If you've ever created islands and towns just so you could draw the map of the place and name all the physical features, cities and places of interest, this book is for you. It's funny and informative and just a plain joy to read. Geography wonks unite!

book icon  Inside Narnia, Devin Brown
A super book I found at a used book shop while away for the weekend: Brown covers each chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while examining how story events in the novel relate to the other six books in the Narnia series.He also examines how elements from Lewis' past and beliefs found their way into the story, elements of mythology and other fantasies as well as Biblical references in the stories, and how Aslan stands for, but does not totally represent Jesus. There is also a nice examination of Edmund's role in the story and how the voyage to Narnia changes him. Even with the distraction of the e-book I had with me, Brown's narrative totally captured my attention. Any fan of the Narnia books should enjoy this one.