Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is It Real, or Just a Trick of the Light?

One of the innumerable joys a book can give is the ability to travel around the world without TSA pat downs.  That's not to say I don't love to experience new places, I DO, but not having unlimited time or finances forces one to pick and choose.  For instance, I would love to visit Quebec, but I would probably choose to go to Hawaii. I'm just saying. Fortunately, Louise Penny can take me on a French Canadian tour every time she writes a new Chief Inspector Gamache novel, and I was not disappointed by the scenery in A Trick of the Light.

Chief Inspector Gamache is the head of homicide at the Surete du Quebec, but he seems to spend much of his time investigating crimes in the tiny village of Three Pines, where murder could be a special on the menu at the local bistro. Despite its surfeit of dead bodies, (this is the 7th Inspector Gamache novel), Three Pines is a lovely, hidden village full of lovely people, but most of them do have something to hide. And when Clara the artist has a life changing show, all of the hidden jealousies and resentments appear at the museum, but only one ends up with a broken neck in her garden.  It is up to Inspector Gamache to separate the real from the imagined, to see beyond mere tricks of the light.

I loved Louis Penny's A Trick of the Light.  If you'd like to investigate her books yourself, I'd start at the beginning. Here is the list:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
A Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Parnasssus on Wheels

Have you ever heard of Christopher Morley?  I certainly had not, until my niece gave me this book to read.  (Well, it's really more of a short story than a book, but sometimes you don't need to write very much to get your point across.)  So, what in the world is a Parnassus?  According to Wikipedia, it refers to a "home of poetry, literature and learning".  Fine, but then what is it doing on wheels?

Parnassus on Wheels is about a horse-drawn book store in 1917.   Kind of like a gypsy caravan, only filled with books instead of crystal balls.  However, the owner of Parnassus could be considered a bit of a seer, one who can predict which books his customers will like best.  So, Parnassus travels the country roads of New York selling books to people who have few if any.  YES! THIS IS PRE-AMAZON AND BARNES AND NOBLE!!! Can you imagine life before the click of a mouse got you anything you wanted???  Oh, wait, I remember those days well.  But back to the subject at hand. Read Parnassus on Wheels and get to know Chistopher Morley. I'm glad I did.

(The previous post/quote was Christopher Morley's last message to his friends. I think he was a pretty smart cookie!)

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. Christopher Morley

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watch Over Thy Child by Cathy Worthington

It is 1957 in Athens, Missouri, and eight year old Ruth Ann Carver has lots of rules to follow. Finish all the food on your plate. Don't interrupt when adults are talking. Do what adults tell you to do. Don't talk about nasty things. Don't tell lies. Don't be a tattle tale. But what happens when Ruth sees something she shouldn't, something she knows her parents don't want to hear?

Cathy Worthington pulled me right into the secret world of 1950's children, a world that doesn't really exist today.  Ruth Ann had many rules, but she also had a lot of freedom.  I grew up much the same way in the 60's.  We stayed out all day and rode our bikes everywhere (sans helmets), and it was OK as long as we were home by dark. I walked home from school alone as early as 3rd grade, and it was considered normal!  There were no cell phones, GPS devices, or even answering machines, there was just a network of neighbors who kept an eye on everyone.  There was a lot of trust, but trust can be broken.

Watch Over Thy Child  is much more than the story of a murder, it is the story of a brave little girl and a town that loses its innocence.  So, read this book, and I promise I won't make you eat all your brussel sprouts.

Cathy Worthington is a San Diego native and my friend!  You can get her books through her website

Monday, September 19, 2011

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather was quite an unusual woman for her time.  She was born in Virginia in 1873, but her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine. Instead of marrying a farmer, she went to the University of Nebraska to be a doctor.  It was there that she discovered her writing talent and graduated with a BA in English in 1894.  Still NOT married to a farmer, she moved to Pittsburgh to write for a ladies magazine.  Ten years later she moved to New York City where she started writing for McClure's Magazine.  Her first novel was published in 1912. She never did marry a farmer. She was what you might call an "emancipated woman".

Despite her cosmopolitan lifestyle, she was deeply affected by her time on the Great Plains of Nebraska, and wrote with obvious love for the people of that harsh land.  I read O Pioneers years ago, but you may have read My Antonia or The Song of the Lark, all three books set on the prairie.  I am NOT writing about any of those today.

Death Comes for the Archbishop begins in 1851 right after the US won control of New Mexico, and the Catholic Church has sent Father Jean Marie Latour into the territory to take charge of the missions.  The problem was, no one asked the Mexicans and Native Americans if they wanted someone to take charge. It is a difficult assignment in a vast and dangerous land, but Father Latour is a Jesuit, and if a Jesuit can't do it, nobody can! (Just ask my Jesuit-educated husband.) This is the story of Father Jean's 40 year journey, but his co-star is the land itself, and just as she wrote about Nebraska, Cather weaves a tale that cannot exist without its landscape.  I really knew very little about New Mexico before reading this I want to know more.  And go to Santa Fe.  Read Death Comes to the Archbishop, and don't worry, there's really only a little bit of death in it.

PS:  Thanks for the recommendation, Karen!

Catching Fire and Mockingjay

I just finished the 2nd and 3rd books of the Hunger Games Trilogy.   LOVED the first one.  Thought the second was just as good.  And I'm glad I didn't have to wait for the 3rd one to come out! Suzanne Collins does a great job balancing the violent themes with a sense of normalcy, so I am very curious to see the Hunger Games movie.  I hope it isn't too gory.  That is all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

God and Mr. Gomez

If you grew up in Los Angeles, Orange County or any of the surrounding areas between 1958 and 1995, you most likely remember Jack Smith.  He was a writer for the LA Times, producing a column 5 days a week for most of that long career. He wrote about life from his home on Mt. Washington in LA, his family and his neighbors, or just about anything that he happened to be thinking about that day.  He was one of the great voices of Los Angeles, but he was never afraid to put tongue to cheek when talking about his city. The first thing my family did when we opened the paper was check out the latest from Jack Smith.  He was an LA institution.

One of the main reasons I loved Jack's column SO much was I could catch up on his latest exploits with Mr. Gomez.  Romulo Gomez was the "owner" on the land on which Denny and Jack Smith built their vacation home in Baja, California.  I say "owner" because they never actually saw the title to the land.  Most of their transactions with Mr. Gomez over the 20 years they spent in Baja were done on blind faith.  This sounds crazy now, but you have to know Romulo Gomez.  He did things his own way, with the help of God, of course!  I think this quote from the book, a year and a half since they started the adventure of building their Baja dream home, says it all:

   I told him about the refrigerator. "It's freezing everything," I said.  "Look."  I opened the door and took out a dish of olives that had a crust of ice.
   Gomez got down on his knees to check the thermostat.  "It is on 'Least Cold,'"he said.
   "Yes.  That's the warmest setting."
   He turned the dial carefully and stood up.  "Now it will be all right," he said.  "I have put it on 'Medium'"
   "But Romulo,"  I said,  "that will make it even worse.  'Medium' is colder than 'Least Cold.'"
   "Not in Baja," said Gomez.

God and Mr. Gomez was first published in 1974 and went out of print sometime later.  The good news is you can get it again!  (I just checked Amazon and it said there were only 9 left in stock, but maybe you have it on a family book shelf somewhere.)  So, go find God and Mr. Gomez, crack open a cerveza, and enjoy! Adios amigos!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Most Americans Don't Know About World War I Is A Lot

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller is sold as a mystery, but it is so much more.  True, there are questions to be answered and problems to be solved, but the characters in the story are the biggest mystery.  Not because they are not developed, but because they are so complex, like the era in which the story is set.

World War I was a particularly horrible conflict. The War started in Europe in 1914, but the US didn't really join the battle until October 1917. When the Armistice was signed at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, our soldiers had been in Europe for a little over a year; the British and their allies had been fighting for over 4 years. The men fought in mud trenches, or went "over the top" directly into enemy fire, all for capturing or losing a few miserable feet at a time. The US suffered approximately 116,000 casualties and 205,000 wounded out of a population of 92 million. Great Britain had approximately 887,000 killed and 1,663,000 wounded out of their population of 45 million. Almost a whole generation of British men disappeared either from death, terrible injury or what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Again, it was a tragic war, but except for learning that the end of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles led to WWII, I didn't really learn much about it in school.  I think this was because WWII was so much more a part of us here in the States and affected all of us so much more.  (Hopefully it was for THAT reason and NOT that I wasn't paying attention!) But back to England in 1920...

Laurence Bartram fought in the Great War for England. Although he wasn't physically injured, he has definitely come back a changed and reclusive man.  It takes a letter from a school friend's sister, asking him to look into the suicide of her brother, Captain John Emmett, to draw him out of his self-imposed exile.  At first the quest seems fairly straight forward, but the twists and turns and dead bodies soon get in his way. I really enjoyed this book.  It is a time and place that fascinates because I DON'T know very much about it. But you need to pay attention when you're reading it!  So take it on vacation, or lock yourself into a closet, but be sure to read The Return of Captain John Emmett.

Note:  All of my statistics were taken from Wikipedia.  I am sure you will find different numbers in different places, but you get the idea!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beauty Queens

Libba Bray has written a series of books that my daughter loves: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.  She keeps telling me that I MUST read them, but I just haven't gotten to them yet.  However, we were at Barnes and Noble and saw Beauty Queens, also by Libba Bray, and I just had to give it a try.  I confess, "Toddlers and Tiaras" is one of my guilty pleasures!

The story begins with the 50 contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crash landing on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere.  Unlike Ginger on "Gilligan's Island", their evening gowns and makeup cases do not survive intact.  So what are the surviving plucked and spray tanned Miss Teen Dreamers to do??? Some want to keep practicing their routines for the upcoming pageant, others want to focus on survival.  And Miss New Mexico has an airplane food tray stuck in her forehead.  A menacing volcano, strange totems, mutant snakes and a wayward pirate ship make for not your run-of-the-mill castaway story.

Part spy thriller, part political commentary, part Disney Channel comedy and part cautionary tale, the book was lots of what I expected, and a lot of what I didn't. We found it in the young adult section, but some of the themes a quite mature.  I probably wouldn't let a young teenager read it.  But that's just me.  You read it and decide!

To Become an Expert in Murder, Cannot Be So Difficult

My list of favorite authors is growing daily,  the latest addition being Nicola Upson, who has written An Expert in Murder, A Josephine Tey Mystery.  (Thanks, Sarah, for the recommendation, and yes, it's another mystery, but I love them!!!)

It is 1934, and Josephine Tey is a mystery writer and play write with a smash hit on the London stage.  Long running Richard of Bordeaux is in it's final week of production and emotions are running high.  The actors are worrying about their next jobs, disgruntled stage hands are nurturing their resentments, and the fans are lining up in hope of seeing the show one more time.  Josephine is taking the train from Scotland to London for this last week when she meets Elspeth Simmons, a huge fan and admirer of both the play and Josephine.  Josephine is enchanted by Elspeth, but this being a British puzzle mystery we need a dead body to get things going, and Elspeth gets the part.  Enter stage right a handsome Scotland Yard detective, murders with props carefully arranged, secret passageways, hidden identities and an atmosphere of danger around every backdrop and set.  (This would make a great script for Mystery! on PBS.)  All is revealed before the final curtain, of course, but the most revealing bits are in the author's note at the end of the book.  Josephine Tey was a real person!  At least Elizabeth Mackintosh was, and Elizabeth Tey was one of her pseudonyms.  She really did write Richard of Bordeaux, which ran for 463 performances in London before closing on March 24, 1934.  And get this:  the part of Richard was played by John Gielgud!  It made him a star overnight.

So, this is a work of fiction, but it is based on real people and real events.  And the truth always makes for a great and strange story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!