By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Fri, August 24 2007 - 7:59 pm
October 16, 2007
Lately I have been playing a game called "Bookworm." It sure is one, or maybe it should be called a "Timeworm," eating up time I could be spending reading, chewing up minutes as well as words.
My imagination has kind of gone riot with this game. It acknowledges all kinds of words I don't even recognize as words. It doesn't recognize words I think perfectly acceptable as part of our English language.
Sometimes I think it rewards "good" and "positive" responses over "bad" ones - especially four-letter words, which evidently do not exist at all!
It definitely does define the "best" word (at the end of each level) as the one which earns the most points. Period. It acknowledges which word was the longest.
The last several levels I have reached are not "rewarded" with a new graphic, just a higher number. I know it is possible to reach a higher level with fewer points, but this may well be a game that is endless - if you can avoid bombing out!
Well, of course, I don't think it could possibly be endless, but a friend thinks otherwise.
Today I am sick, I better quit this before I am tempted to play booworm (ha ha! Unconscious Halloween! Good idea for a costume!)and set back my recovery!
October 15, 2007
A Perfect End by William Marshall is the perfect read for a gloomy/rainy Sunday. At least, so far! I was introduced to Marshall's Yellowthread Street Mysteries in the eighties by a chance meeting (with the book, not the man!) at the Santa Fe Public Library. At the time I read everything I could get my hands on free, (Sorry, William, if it is any consolation I am evening out my karma (unwillingly) by doing a lot of unpaid writing myself! There is probably no hope that I can afford my readers as many hours of entertainment and education as I have received, but it appears I am trying!)
Anyway, Marshall's characters are wonderful! They reflect the diversity of Hong Kong, where they are set and you should not have trouble keeping them separate in your mind. I warn you now, though, Marshall writes very densely. Reading his books is kind of like a fun-house and a roller-coaster at the same time! He uses a technique I have seen in a book or two of Tony Hillerman's (The Dark Wind comes to mind - one of my favorites by Hillerman!) which is a special way of building the plot and the tension. I'm almost tempted to think one author was inspired by the other, but great minds and all that....
I was delighted to stumble across this William Marshall book at a library book sale, but disturbed that his work is so neglected that the library got rid of it. Novel lovers, beware! If you love someone's work, collect it! It may not be there the next time you go to the library!
Sorry, I've got to get back to this book. Just now, a policeman tried to throw (accurately, when it took off) a stone through a second-story window and it was blown ten feet high and three feet wide by a typhoon! You gotta read William Marshall!
(In case you guys were put off by that (maybe in your eyes wimpy) little detail, there is lots of boy stuff in this book! Read it!
October 11, 2007
The Watchers of Time by Charles Todd set in Norfolk in 1919 is neither a cosy mystery nor a hard-boiled one. It is a much more internal mystery than most, starring a detective who is being "haunted" by a fellow-soldier he was forced to kill while participating in World War I.
The setting reinforces the internal nature of this work, I think. The marshes, though beautiful in their own way, seem to depress those who live among them, although the economic situation described would depress anyone!
Better than many, not as good as some, this read seems more worthwhile when you get into it than it does at the beginning. The only way I really notice the date is when the Inspector cranks the car - which seems to happen a lot, and loses its value as a detail meant to bring the scene to life.
An okay book, kind of quietly appealing. Maybe this author will grow on me if I give him a chance.
October 10, 2007
The Valparaiso Public Library had its discussion of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson yesterday. There were newcomers than usual, one of whom had read the book five times! It seems that The Chicago Architecture Foundation has tens of Chicago tours, including one with the same title as the book.
These visitors to our book club were full of wonderful information about the architecture of Chicago.
As I expected, the group did spend more time talking about the exposition than the murders (well, at least by a little!)
This book is very clever. The fascination with the horrible draws us to it, but then its historical offerings put it above and beyond your average nonfiction murder book, which in my opinion is a very worn-out genre and dreary in the extreme. (You understand, I haven't read many. Maybe I am being unfair.)
For instance, did you know that even the biggest Ferris wheel you have ever been on is a bicycle wheel compared to the original operating at the Columbian Exposition? It is mind-boggling!
High praise for The Devil in the White City is completely fair!
October 7, 2007
Our latest book club book here in Valpo is The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This is a book I may not have picked up, although the subjects rather fascinated me. If it had just been about a genuine killer I would not have picked it up. I might not have if it had just been about the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, being in the same state of ignorance as many citizens of the time of all it had to offer.
I could be cynical and think the author combined the two subjects to be of interest to either type of reader, but I would like to think that he is a neurolinguistic programmer and is trying to get rid of the negative anchor that is the murders (hopefully getting rid of the appeal of such behavior to the reader!) by the really much more interesting story of how the Columbian Exposition came about.
Believe me, I'm serious! That really means something!
It is easy to marvel at a spectacle like the fair, and still have no clue as to the vast amount of onerous work that went into it!
These comments sound trite. How about this - it is a fascinating glimpse into some of the people famous at the time. It is incredible the number of familiar names the book evokes, and the people that were possibly inspired by the Exposition, even though they were not alive at the time. Aren't you curious to know the connection to Walt Disney? Frank Lloyd Wright? Frederick Law Olmsted?
I had no trouble reading this four hundred page book in three days. Fascinating!
October 5, 2007
My latest mystery read, The Maze Murderer by Charles Pero, is definitely not a cosy. According to this book, the term "serial" killer" is no longer in use. Now it is "special circumstances" killer.
Reading about even the first victim leading her normal life made me sad. I almost put down the book then. But I kept going, and there were things to keep me going.
Not a "great" book. Not bad, but not good enough by my lights to recommend it.
Maybe I'm just going soft. Maybe I just don't have what it takes to be a mystery reader anymore. We'll see!
October 3, 2007
Haven't been reading much lately, obviously. I wanted to reread Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart so I could tell you more about it. I haven't, but that is only because I've been relatively busy (read library book sale, relatives visiting, and (true confession) the bookworm computer game!)
This is a fascinating book. It has cool new-to-me words like "linalool". It has more information about flowers and their mechanisms related to fertilization (like the uses of scent!) than was available when I was a young'un, and it is very interestingly written.
Especially those who plan to hybridize flowers, read it!
I must also give credit (if you can call it that!) to Amy Stewart for quoting the Ecuadorian grower about rose petal baths. I used this warning in one of my little Murders (and would-be possible maybe-murders!) of a Flower Child.
I could go on and on about this book. And probably will!
September 27, 2007
My latest rave is Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart. I have worked in nurseries (as in "garden center") for two seasons and then some and I looove flowers, but I had no clue about the business, as it turns out.
Her first subject, after her intro, is about the breeding of flowers. She highlights the story of Leslie Woodriff, the man who hybridized the Stargazer Lily.
Now I have always loved most flowers. But the Stargazer Lily is the first I remember getting a name all its own. Not that lilies weren't named. Of course they were. But Stargazer was such a spectacular, showy lily that I never forgot its name.
The story of Stargazer, its hybridizer and its first large-scale grower is a fascinating story, and Amy Stewart tells it. If you are a flower-lover, you will definitely want to read this book.
September 25, 2007
The other day when I ended up talking about no particular book at all, I had meant to write about Gillian Roberts' Claire and Present Danger: an Amanda Pepper Mystery. This is a cosy but not a smothery (see below.)
Although I might not check it out again, having resolved not to check out any more books because of a pun in the title or a pretence of a subject that might interest me, I finished this book fairly quickly. (That is, it had a lot going for it and didn't put me to sleep every night for weeks! (Again, see below.))
Having said that, I think I have read an Amanda Pepper mystery in the past and did not develop the habit of looking for more at the library. Go into more detail? Well, okay, Amanda is a school teacher interested in teaching The Lord of the Flies to her students to help wake them up to potential societal ills and abuses - timely ones, too.
Like I said, the book was okay. The last line was a splash of cold water in the face, though. It was funny, but I got the feeling the whole book was written so she could use that cute last line.
Like I said, the book's a cosy.
September 23, 2007
I just spent half an hour googling, yahooing, and dogpiling in an attempt to get a better idea of what people consider "cosy" and "hard-boiled" in a mystery. I saw the title of an article called something on the order of "cosy vs. hardboiled: a pointless controversy" listed which I couldn't read instantly because it is in some realzine that I don't want to subscribe to and I admit, probably won't get around to following up.
Someone I googled talked about one feature of cosies being that the murder victim deserves to be killed. I was intending to read the site today to find out what other attributes make a "cosy". Unfortunately I did not access that site (being in a hurry) and cannot find it today to give proper credit or pursue it further.
I myself have noticed this aspect of cosies: they want to reassure the reader that God is in heaven and all is right with the world. (But even Agatha Christie, seemingly universally acknowledged as a "cosy" writer, doesn't always do this!)
One thing that Google offered up was a chagrined article by a self-defined hard-boiled mystery writer Brian D. Rubendall entitled "The Cosy Conspiracy" on www.crimescenescotland.com in which he deplores the fact that cosy conferences are shutting the likes of him out. The three no-nos of this conference are stated to be sex, violence, and profanity.
Well, by this definition I probably have read little besides cosies (although I used to secretly read paperbacks from my parents' bedroom featuring a platinum-blond detective named Shell Scott who routinely had fist-fights and sex with strange women as part of his normal work-day! Come to think of it, that sex wasn't graphic. More of the "one-half hour later, I was zipping up my pants while heading down the stairs on my way to..." suggestive variety. Drats! A cosy hiding in a wolf's clothing!)
Rubendall deplores the trend towards more and more cutesy, more and more suburban (I may be putting words into his mouth here) mysteries.
Although I prefer to have the violence behind me when the book starts, (in spite of the fact that I have read and love Chandler and Hammett and Francis and Parker and Paretsky and Winston and in fact some violence does make the book more interesting...hmm. I guess I'll have to rephrase that - I prefer that the consequences of that violence not be too graphically described!) I agree that many mysteries are getting just too cute.
Only I even have to qualify that. I don't really mind cute if it has redeeming features like interest and information on subjects that interest me, or humor, or some kind of ethical or intellectual depth. Social commentary. Stuff like that.
Alas, all too many of the cosies I have read are not ultimately cosy at all - or altogether too cosy! They are too morally bereft or too long for their relevant (to the crime) content or too guaranteed to put me to sleep every night for a month reading and rereading the first half of the same damn paragraph!
I propose a new category - "smotheries" - cosies without any redeeming reader value. I think that the libraries and book stores are committing an accessory crime by aiding and abetting these "smotheries" authors in their attempts to mass murder all their readers - by boring us to death!
September 19, 2007
I finally finished A Passion for Egypt by Julie Hankey, her biography of her grandfather, Arthur Weigall. (No scholar I, I did not read Appendix (included in both French and English texts!) or the "Notes and References." Actually, I would like to put forward a scholarly idea here. Why not use literal footnotes for references that help illuminate the text, and leave bare bibliographical references in the back of the book?)
Anyway, in his later years Arthur Wiegall was above everything else a writer and wrote up a storm of biographies (Antony, Alexander the Great and Sappho), history, and novels, two at least of which got high literary acclaim for humor! I am moved to read them and hope that they are still available! Want to know what an Egyptologist would find funny?
I guess you'll have to read this biography! Have fun!
Later - I found nothing in the local library by Weigall! Next stop - the internet! (Some of those novels sound a little familiar, though. Wonder if I read one or two as a teen?)
September 16, 2007
I'm still reading A Passion for Egypt by Julie Hankey and it is still enthralling. The thing is, right now it is competing with sightseeing and the Oregon Coast!
Weigall writes home about his lecture tour in America, and describes Urbana University in Illinois. In this way I learned what I have never known before - that in his time (about 100 years ago) the state schools were open to students tuition-free! I guess that is still true in California, but where else? What has happened to this country? I never knew that a free state school education was available!
Don't try to tell me we had more resources then! I don't believe it!
Otherwise, the book is still hugely engaging and involving. This guy had an interesting life and had to deal with all kinds of social, economic and moral issues that many of us are spared.
I get the feeling that his granddaughter has written this book partly to defend him against other biographers. She has access to letters and papers not available to other writers, so to the extent you believe Wiegall himself to be sincere, he really comes off as quite a sympathetic character!
September 10, 2007
A Passion for Egypt by Julie Hankey is still my main book-squeeze these days. Poor Arthur has fallen upon some hard times, psychologically and career-wise (although a more thankless career could hardly be imagined - that of Inspector working for the Dept. of Antiquities in Egypt! Except for the fact that he accomplished a great deal!)
At any rate, he underwent an amazing career change and now he is celebrated but starving back in England! Well, I would tell you more about it all but I want you to read this book! It is fascinating.
See how dead that sentence is without excamation points? Once you start using them, you kind of have to keep on using them!
Like a drug, you say? I'm addicted to exclamation marks!? I should just write better?!!? AAAaaaaaahhh....... (I just jumped off a literary cliff! What do you want for nothing? If you want me to write better, start paying me! (What do you mean, that is not the way it works in the publishing world? But this is virtual publishing! Yay! If whats-his-name can get "paid" for "being" Jesus why can't I get paid for "publishing"?) What did you say, I have gone into Rumilluminations mode? You're right. Kind of.....
September 6, 2007
A Passion for Egypt by Julie Hankey, the biography of Arthur Weigall I started reading recently, is living up to its early promise! He is an amazing character who learned an incredible amount on his own, took on what I consider to be amazing challenges of responsibility at an early age, and had a zest for life that is an inspiration.
One of his purposes in his study and writings about ancient Egypt was to enlarge the present with knowledge and consciousness of the past. What a romantic idea! How appealing! And yet, not at all unreasonable, I think. If only more Americans would enlarge their perspective with a study of our past. Words I will take to heart myself!
Weigall wrote a biography of the Pharoah Akhnaten who became Pharoah in about 1353 B.C. and tried to replace the polytheistic religion prevalent with a monotheistic religion. Weigall broke ground with this work, as it was unheard-of to write a biography of someone who lived so long ago. Weigall wrote other popular works about Egypt, which brought Egypt (and himself) into the limelight! And he is (at my present point of reading) still an inspector of antiquities and only about thirty-one years old!
What energy! Great reading!
(Oh, shut up! Exclamation points are fun!)
September 3, 2007
Staying with a friend, I have stumbled upon a couple of pamphlets. They are called How to Read People Like a Book: 50 Uncommon Tips You Need to Know and The How to Easily handle Difficult People Handbook: Everything Problem-People Don't Want You to Know by Murray Oxman.
Now, I admit I saw the "read people like a book" pamphlet first here at the home of my host, and looked at it in self-defense. Really, isn't such a title a little suspect? Doesn't it appeal to one's desire not to be read like a book? Or, now that I think about it, maybe I thought it was a body-language kind of thing. "If someone leans back on Ihe couch and closes his eyes, that means he wants you to stop talking!" That kind of content. (Which is also self-defense, when you think about it - against being a problem person.) But it wasn't that at all.
Now, I am sixty years old, and some of these tips I have discovered for myself. Some of them may be a little off. (For instance, the thing about eye contact - some people avoid eye contact because they are afraid to make eye contact, not because of what they want to conceal but because of what they might see! Or because they have a family member who has a secret that they had a habit of concealing when they were a little kid! Or...) well, you get my point. There are definitely some oversimplifications here. But it's only a little book! Easy to read, and I think, very helpful!
The second pamphlet, about difficult people, is also helpful. And if you feel exposed as a difficult person, maybe it will make you feel better to hear I was too. (But really, one person's difficult person is another person's entertainment - it is up to each of us to adjust our own behavior and defend ourselves against the behavior of others.)
Still, having said that, I think it is an enlightening and well, no, I don't want to ruin it for you! Just wait 'til you find out who #13, "the most difficult person of all" is! It will make you - no, you'll have to read it yourself! And no fair skipping to the end!
So, I wondered. "Who is this Murray Oxman? Why haven't I heard of him?" looked at the pamphlet, and what do you know, he is a resident of Corvallis, OR, where I am currently visiting! How apropos in a website called Corvalliswalkingtours! Hi, Murray! I bet you already know how I am difficult!
September 2, 2007
Last week I started a biography of a man whose name I would not have previously recognized, Arthur Weigall. I'm sure I have seen his name before, probably in relation to "curse of the mummy" types of comments.
A Passion for Egypt by a granddaughter of his, Julie Hankey almost instantly dispels the common rumor that ... well, no, read the book!
As the book jacket promises, this book reads almost like a novel (and actually makes me want to reread and read more of Elizabeth Peters' highly amusing Amelia Peabody books to see better what relation they have to reality! Some of these historical characters sound very familiar! Alot of the background politics also. In fact, when I picked up this book it was probably because her novels aroused my curiosity. That and the descriptions of Egypt in the bike-riding duo's Miles From Nowhere. Trying to integrate the various views of Egypt I have read could be a prime motivator!)
Ha! Ending this commentary at a point where there are more words within the parentheses than outside them is kind of appealing! More on this book later - I'm not even halfway through it.
August 29, 2007
My most recent escape reading mystery is The Deadly Garden Tour by Kathleen Gregory Klein and I am embarrassed to admit I have read it before, and hardly even recognized it. (Especially embarrassed because it was published in 2004!) Or is it be the author who should be embarrassed?
I have read Nero Wolfe novels (the Rex Stout ones) for years and all I have to do is read the first page to know if I've already read it. Obviously this work is not like that. (Although I have to admit the first page has some stuff that ought to grab a gardener's attention!)
If hospital operations and stays are the the new "in" thing for literature (that is, replacing sex scenes) please count me out! I can't accuse Klein of being a "cosy" mystery writer, but all her little emotional hurts and nuances leave me cold.
Too busy licking my own wounds, I guess! But for those who want a real hard-bitten murder, don't bother! Oh, and we don't get to take the garden tour, either!
August 28, 2007
I finished Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation by Glenn Tucker yesterday. A really interesting page-turner (for non-fiction) that wakes the reader up to the fact that the territorial wars were far from over when the Revolutionary War waged by the original thirteen colonies was over!
If not for Anthony Wayne, all of us living north of the Ohio River might be Canadians! (Hmm... cool, maybe....)
August 27, 2007
I wish I had read Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation by Glenn Tucker back when it was written thirty-four years ago. Not only have I learned much about the Revolutionary War, but also about Anthony Wayne himself. It is unfortunate that his nickname makes one inclined to think he was crazy with blood-lust, which is simply not so. In fact, the nickname was given him by a will'o'the'wisp kind of guy who was not very responsible himself, it seems. Maybe the "mad" stuck because people thought it highly inappropriate and repeated it as a kind of joke! (My speculation!)
At any rate, Anthony Wayne was known for many good qualities and few bad ones, although a case of gout in his later years made him irritable and even irascible at times. After the revolution, when he thought he was done fighting, he wrote his wife saying he was sick unto death of blood and slaughter.
When he was in the Philadelphia Legislature he "pushed through" a bill that made theatrical performances legal in the State of Pennsylvania. (Before, there had been an ordinance against the theatre in Quaker Philadelphia, but the state law over-rode it!)
Between that and his fondness for fancy attire, no wonder my Quaker forefathers disapproved of him!
August 25, 2007
Wow! Did I take American History in high school? I did take American history in high school! I don't think they taught us the stuff I am learning in Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation by Glenn Tucker! I am shocked and amazed. If I was ever taught that there was a big old mutiny of the Pennsylvania line troops on Anthony Wayne's birthday - wow what a birthday present! - by the troops under his command, I don't remember it. I bet we weren't taught that!
It seems that before the Revolution was even won, the legislative bodies cared for the people under their care (i.e. the soldiers, who were not properly clothed, fed, given decent shelter or paid (for at least a year!) about as much as they do now! So the soldiers mutinied. It is an incredible story, one well worth reading - how Washington handled it, how Anthony Wayne followed after the mutineers, determined that they did not intend to join the British army, and - I cannot tell you more! I haven't reached the resolution of the problem yet!
When I was young, I had trouble reading nonfiction. When I was taking history (obviously not American!) in college, we had to read whole books of nonfiction, and I discovered that I was not bad at all at sticking through a whole book of nonfiction if it was interestingly written.
Well, either nonfiction writers are doing a way better job than they used to, or my life experience has made me able to relate to many more subjects, because sometimes the nonfiction seems like escape from my escape reading! (If you know what I mean!) This is a really interesting book. Pick it up and learn more about our country!
When I was in NYC in 1965, we (the Lutheran Church) took a bunch of Bedford Stuyvesant kids to Bear Mountain, which is now a state park. It is eerie to know that the revolutionary armies and the British forces were marching around there, doing their military thing on the banks of the Hudson and its environs, in the same place where I was not managing to keep track of nine kids!
August 24, 2007
The biography I am tackling now is Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation by Glenn Tucker. To tell the truth, I checked it out out of curiosity (and a little shame) because according to family legend, we are in some way related to him. (Shame involved because we were Quakers and he was a soldier who fought the Indians. The "Mad" we understood, was because he was so bloodthirsty.) At any rate, I thought it would be interesting to get a picture of what he was really like as a person. All I knew was the one sentence I read in a grade school history book.
We shall see! So far, he just seems like an avid eager soldier. That does seem a little crazy! to a peace-loving female like me. ( Hey, that doesn't mean I can't verbally joust! I'm talking physical warfare, here!)
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