Friday, November 26, 2010

Queen of the Night by J. A. Jance

I got this Jance mystery from the library even though it's part of her Walker series rather than my favorite Brady or Beaumont series. Maybe because I don't follow the series, I had trouble sorting everyone out for the first quarter or so of the book. Lots of things happening in various places and being introduced to so many new people was quite a trip.

Then I finally got into the story and although it took me until almost the end to be absolutely certain who everyone was and how they fit into the big picture, I did enjoy the book. Since I dislike going back to try to find out who's who, I just bumbled along until the story line got me straightened out.

The book, set mostly in Arizona, centers on a desert plant that flowers only once a year and just as quickly the blossom fades. It's a time for celebration, to admire the sight and smell of this flower. Most of the story happens during the weekend that the flower blooms and you follow the various people, some Anglo, some Indian, as the hours go by. There are also several different story lines; is one of the characters getting senile, will a little girl find someone to love her, and so on?

I finished the book Thanksgiving morning and thanked heaven I have such an uneventful life. There are times when "boring" is good and this is one of them. We ate alone yesterday so we settled on a turkey breast (God bless Butterball) and an afternoon of football, with a nap of course. Today we have leftovers and more football - NO SHOPPING!

If you have left the hectic life behind, this is a good book to capture your interest and also make you grateful for your life. If you like the Walker series and already know the characters especially, you will love this one. (I am an Amazon Associate.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sorry I'm Late for Halloween with a Ghost Story

I wish I had received this book in time for a Halloween posting since it's a perfect English-moors-in-the-mist ghost story. Only 138 pages, it's - well, the only word I can think of is - charming, scary but nonetheless charming. It is made even more so by the little drawings throughout the book which illustrate the adventures of the young lawyer from London who is victimized by the lady in black.

In the beginning our lawyer is an elderly man whose family has arrived at the country home he shares with his second wife, and the young people have gathered in front of the fire to tell ghost stories. They beg him to tell one, after all a man his age should have at least one ghost story to tell. He refuses and goes outside to walk. He has been upset recently and his wife has been concerned about him. That day he decides he must write the story that has haunted his life.

When he was just beginning his career in law, anxious to better his position and willing to take on more responsibility to do so, his boss sent him on a difficult assignment to a village far from London to attend an old woman's funeral and then go through the papers in her house in preparation for settling her estate. He sets off cheerfully but along the way is warned about the village and the house. Something has frightened everyone in the area, but they won't tell him what it is. We aren't told what year this is but from the illustrations and language I assume it is the 1920s.

After the funeral he sees a lady dressed in black old-fashioned clothing in the cemetery and also a line of children along the fence watching. This is the beginning of a strange and unsettling story which will change his life completely before it is played out. Even if you don't believe in ghosts or unexplained spooky happenings, you'll be caught up in this tale.

I really enjoyed The Woman in Black and recommend it heartily. Maybe you shouldn't read it on a rainy, chilly evening though. I read it when the weather was dreary and that was suggestive enough, thank you very much. The book is available from of course and I am an Amazon Associate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hard Row by Margaret Maron

A rainy day, no pressing engagements, and a Margaret Maron mystery - what could be more perfect? Judge Deborah Knott, star of a Maron series, is one of my favorite fictional characters. I worried when she married Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant that her life might get a little dull. Well, not to worry, her life is just as hectic as ever and she and Dwight are a great crime-solving team.

Add to the mix the fact that Dwight's son Cal is living with them full time since his mother died. The poor kid is grieving for his mom, getting used to a new school, new friends, and a new stepmom with an enormous family nearby all at the same time. Trust Deborah to work it out though. She grew up with all those brothers; she knows boys.

This mystery is unusually gruesome in that body parts are found all over the area near a huge farm which belongs to Judson "Buck" Harris who is divorcing his wife Suzanne, better known as Suzu. They employ many migrant workers. Suzu sees to it that they are supplied with decent shelter and items like refrigerators that work, etc. Buck could care less whether he works them to death or what.

While Dwight is trying to find out who the body parts belong to (the head is inconveniently missing) an Alzheimer's patient disappears and they find his hand too. Now they have two right hands and other parts and the mystery deepens. Meanwhile, there are also other story lines going on, including Deborah's best friend Portland having a baby. The many happy returns are all yours though when you read Hard Row.

I borrowed this one from the library.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Work Song by Ivan Doig

Another blogger read Work Song and enjoyed it so I put it on my list to find at the library. I was encouraged to see they had several titles by Ivan Doig on the shelf. But it turns out this just isn't my cup of tea.

I must say Doig is excellent at characterization. The story is set in Butte, Montana in 1919, where Anaconda owns the copper mines and most of the jobs and therefore the town. There is union unrest, many accidents in the mines, and the threat of the IWW troublemakers (Wobblies if you remember your political history) coming to town to stir things up even more. Along comes Morris Morgan to settle in at a local boarding house and meet the oddest bunch of characters you ever saw. He takes a job as a cryer at Irish wakes but that means he stumbles home drunk every night, so he finds a job at the library, a much more sober and satisfying way to earn a living.

You will learn along the way that Morgan maybe isn't his real name and many other characters also have a "past." Meanwhile the dialogue carries you along quickly. It's a light, funny read, a good way to pass a dreary day without getting down about the weather.

Unfortunately, I like a story I can really sink my teeth into rather than a book I could easily read while I watched a football game too. You may like it as much as my friend Margot did though, so don't let my grumpiness turn you off of this book.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman

I was looking for a more recent title by Carol Goodman at the library but settled for this book from 2004 instead. Sure am glad I didn't miss this one. It's a haunting story that had me looking up myths and Ovid and art history, and enjoying my memories of how the Hudson River above the Tappan Zee Bridge looks in different light and weather. The Hudson is beautiful in any circumstances though, and Goodman describes it so well you can envision it even if you've never seen it in person.

I loved the main character, Juno McKay, who with her father is bringing a famous glass factory back to life. They repair and restore stained glass windows, about which process I learned many interesting things. I'll look at stained glass windows more closely and with more background to appreciate the art and workmanship now. Juno lives above the factory with her 15 year old daughter, Beatrice, and their two greyhounds, Paolo and Francesca.

One day Juno goes to nearby Penrose College, her alma mater, to hear her best friend since college give a lecture on a huge stained glass window McKay's company has contracted to restore. Juno's ex-husband was confined to a mental institution, also nearby, where her friend Christine's family has worked for generations. Everything is intertwined in fascinating relationships. On that day Juno and Christine have some time together and then walk to the train station where Juno sees her friend off. Later she learns that her friend never made it to NYC where she lives and teaches. Christine is never seen again - alive.

This is an intriguing story with great characters and settings. Old relationships and new figure into the tale and although I figured out that one character was up to no good, I didn't suspect the murderer until near the end.

I recommend this mystery novel for people who want a little more to chew on in a mystery. I am an Amazon Associate if you elect to buy it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stray Cats, Basketball, and Stone Walls

On what was supposed to be a lovely, warm, sunny day, it is cold and dreary but our stone wall builder is hard at work this morning. I dearly hope he will finish that wall soon before snow flies - again. The wall is just what this house needed, so beautiful and fitting for the setting. He's an amazing artist. Pictures coming when it's done.

We have had a little snow already. While it was pretty to watch, I'm thankful it melted quickly. I'm so not ready for winter yet. Autumn is my favorite season in Pennsylvania, even when the foliage fails to astonish with its bright colors. This year was gradual colorization which never achieved greatness, but nice anyway.

The saga of our stray cat continues. As of this writing, her name is Scaredy Cat because I still can't approach any closer than 4 feet, and that has only happened a couple times. Mostly she runs away when we even look at her, although she does come to our patio to eat her food most days. She is terrified of the neighbor's dog (who isn't really that interested in her) and this week she's having a traumatic time of it because the stone wall builder brings his black lab with him every day. Toby is still a pup and loves to romp. He's tied up most of the time but the cat is making herself scarce anyway.

We had to do some shopping yesterday, our least favorite way to spend our day so it only happens when absolutely unavoidable. My mother used to wonder if I was really a girl. When I was born, she looked forward to mother-daughter shopping excursions. Too bad, Mom. I hate shopping.

Despite the gloom, today is a happy day. Tonight is the first night of home basketball games for Binghamton University. I love basketball as much as I hate shopping. I can hardly wait to see how the women's team is shaping up tonight; tomorrow night we'll see the men's team and I'm hopeful as I am every year at this time. BU has had some problems with its basketball program in recent years, but tonight is a fresh start with old issues settled. Good times!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Perhaps I shouldn't write about this book while I'm still under its spell, but I can't resist. This is my first Kingsolver book. She is one of the authors I had promised myself I would read when I retired. I was reminded of her again when we watched a documentary series about the Appalachians that she appeared in a few months ago, and then I saw this book at a book sale.

Poisonwood is an African plant that gives a person an itchy rash like poison ivy. The Price family from Georgia discovers its power shortly after arriving in Congo where Rev. Price has accepted a post in a small village. Price is a hellfire and damnation preacher who thinks he will save everyone in the village and turn their lives around but his brand of Christianity simply doesn't make any sense to the villagers who are happy the way they are thank you very much. For instance, he intends to baptise each one of them in the river, a la John the Baptist, but no way are they going into the river where crocodiles live. He thinks God will protect them; they know people who have been eaten.

Price is accompanied by his wife and four daughters and they tell the story. You get the point of view of each one according to her position in the family, her personality, and her intelligence. It's a wonderful way to really know what goes on. The wife has committed herself to her husband's mission in life and believes in it - until Africa. The daughters are Rachel, a self-absorbed teenager who speaks like Mrs. Malaprop, Leah, the family tomboy who most wants to please her father but never can, her twin Adah, the one who was born crippled and with half a brain because Leah took the nutrition she needed to fully develop but she's the smartest one, and finally little Ruth May who wants to be a big green snake in a tree overlooking everyone.

The best thing about the book is that these become like flesh and blood people, never just characters on paper. Each goes her own way despite natural disasters, war, Congo getting its freedom from Belgium, drought, a plague of driver ants, and tragedy. I learned a lot of the history of the Congo (which is now Zaire) while following the family on their path, and about the land itself, crops, natural forces, and the native people. This is a long book but that's because it needs to be to tell the whole story. I've been engrossed in it for several days, at first reading slowly to enjoy Kingsolver's prose, and then faster and faster as I got totally involved in what was happening.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. I am an Amazon Associate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day at Last

Thank heaven this is election day. I sincerely hope this is the end of negative political commercials for a while, but probably someone will begin campaigning for 2012 soon, attacking any and all probable opposition. I've never in my life seen so much negativity. How is the average person supposed to know what anyone really believes or wants to accomplish in office when they all spend their money and time bashing everyone else?

I hate it that we've become so hateful toward anyone who belongs to a different party. Isn't one of the best things about the U.S. the fact that we can disagree and even criticize our government without fear of punishment? Well, no more. Now we need to keep our mouths shut unless we're in the current majority.

Well, it's a beautiful day here in northeast PA. The sun is shining, it feels warm - the cold wind of yesterday is gone - and hopefully everyone is going to the polls.

I've been trying to make friends with a stray cat who had been hanging around here since sometime last summer but I'm not having much luck. It is black and white, long, and has a tail that looks like a transplant from a raccoon. I can't get close enough to tell if it's male or female even though I've been feeding it for almost six weeks now. All I've accomplished is to get it to come to the patio for its food. When I left the food near the shed, the crows ate it. I'm watching for crows who say "Meow" instead of "Caw." Those are the culprits. Meanwhile my girlfriend is warning me about fleas, and I see that big tail is getting full of burrs.

That reminds me, I saw my first pileated woodpecker the other day. As long as we've lived in the country and I had never seen one, but it was a sight to behold. Beautiful red head.

I'm reading The Poisonwood Bible which is long but engrossing so it'll be a while before I have a book review to post. Meanwhile, wish me luck with the cat. Any suggestions how to subdue a very frightened cat?