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review 2020-03-11 22:19
Three Men in a Boat / Jerome K. Jerome
Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a 'T'. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks - not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.'s small fox-terrier Montmorency. Three Men in a Boat was an instant success when it appeared in 1889, and, with its benign escapism, authorial discursions and wonderful evocation of the late-Victorian 'clerking classes', it hilariously captured the spirit of its age.

 

This book reminded me of some not-so-successful camping trips that I took in my early twenties! Back in the day when I was willing to sleep in a tent and on inadequate padding on the ground. These are learning experiences, as you cope with rain that prevents comfortable hiking, mosquitoes & blackflies that prevent comfortable cooking, and forgotten items that could have made the trip better.

Who hasn’t brought canned food and forgotten the can opener? I read the pineapple tin scene with amusement! And I think even casual picnickers have had food disasters! As youngsters, we overestimate our abilities, learning that our cooking or navigating skills are not as advanced as we thought. Inedible food and getting lost are all part of learning to make our way in life.

Most of all, Jerome reminds us that we shouldn’t waste too much time trying to be “good.”

In the church is a memorial to Mrs Sarah Hill, who bequested £1 annually, to be divided at Easter, between two boys and two girls who “have never been undutiful to their parents; who have never been know to swear or to tell untruths, to steal, or to break windows.” Fancy giving up all that for five shillings a year! It is not worth it.


I find myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly. We must fling ourselves into life!

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review 2020-03-02 23:24
The House at Sea's End / Elly Griffiths
The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths

Forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is back, this time investigating a gruesome World War II war crime.  Now the beloved forensic archeologist returns, called in to investigate when human bones surface on a remote Norfolk beach.  

 

Just back from maternity leave, Ruth is finding it hard to juggle motherhood and work. The presence of DCI Harry Nelson—the married father of her daughter, Kate—does not help. The bones turn out to be about seventy years old, which leads Nelson and Ruth to the war years, a desperate time on this stretch of coastland. Home Guard veteran Archie Whitcliffe reveals the existence of a secret that the old soldiers have vowed to protect with their lives. But then Archie is killed and a German journalist arrives, asking questions about Operation Lucifer, a plan to stop a German invasion, and a possible British war crime. What was Operation Lucifer? And who is prepared to kill to keep its secret?

 

This is an example of what I truly enjoy in a mystery series--the combination of the mystery in each book and the relationships between the main characters that carry on between the books. Griffiths is developing a number of the secondary characters too. I am particularly fond of the Cathbad, the druid, with his penchant for showing up unexpectedly but at just the right moment.

The main character, Ruth, is juggling an academic career and a baby and is finding the balancing act difficult. As an older mother and a woman who really didn’t ever spend any time in her life dreaming of weddings or babies, she feels out of step with the other mothers around her. And there are always people willing to judge without knowing the circumstances--just ask any mommy blogger! This is the reality that even married women with careers must face, that they will be judged for going back to work instead of devoting themselves to full-time motherhood. Frankly, I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than get relegated to domesticity, so I’m pretty sympathetic to Ruth’s situation.

Harry isn’t the guy that I would choose. He kind of isn’t the guy that Ruth would choose either, it just happened. But you know, I like him a lot better when I see him trying to bond with this baby! Maybe he’s not the complete jerk that I have been imagining for the first two books.

If you enjoy the setting for this series, I would also recommend A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows. It also takes place in the Norfolk area, with the same darkly looming environment. It’s protagonist, Domenic Jejune is also a specialist, just in birds not archaeology. If it’s the relationships that entice you, try In the Bleak Midwinter, the first book in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s The Rev. Claire Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne mystery series. Like this series, Spencer-Fleming’s series keeps me reading to find out where Claire and Russ are headed.

I like all three series, so if we have similar reading tastes, I would encourage you to sample them all.

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review 2020-01-31 20:32
The Prestige / Christopher Priest
The Prestige - Christopher Priest

In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in the dark during the course of a fraudulent séance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and revelation as they vie to outwit and expose one another.

Their rivalry will take them to the peaks of their careers, but with terrible consequences. In the course of pursuing each other's ruin, they will deploy all the deception their magicians' craft can command--the highest misdirection and the darkest science.

Blood will be spilled, but it will not be enough. In the end, their legacy will pass on for generations...to descendants who must, for their sanity's sake, untangle the puzzle left to them.
 

 

3.5 stars--better that “I liked it” but less than “I really liked it.” I was engaged while I was reading, but every time I set it down, I had a struggle to pick it back up again. Totally on me, it’s not the book.

If you enjoyed Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy (Fifth BusinessThe ManticoreWorld of Wonders), you will probably enjoy this book too. Unlike Davies, the ending felt rather Frankenstein-like to me. And I have to wonder if Erin Morgenstern read this before she wrote The Night Circus. I also keep thinking about Faust for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

I’ve run into Nikola Tesla as a character in fiction on a number of occasions now, and here he is again! I can see the appeal--an extremely intelligent and talented man, but eccentric and (at least in younger years) darkly handsome.

If you’re not a fan of the epistolary format, you may want to give this book a miss. But if you love the idea of dueling magicians, this is the book for you.

Book number 350 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2019-10-28 20:59
A Kestrel for a Knave / Barry Hines
A Kestrel for a Knave (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Barry Hines,Mark Hodkinson

Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her silent strength and she inspires in him the trust and love that nothing else can, discovering through her the passion missing from his life. 

 

I must confess that this was a somewhat depressing book to read. It’s the December selection for my real-life book club and it reminded me of an earlier selection we read this year, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. At first glance, the circumstances of a poor Puerto Rican family in an American ghetto (RF) and a poor family in the North of England (KfaK) might seem to be entirely different. But many of their problems overlap.

Lack of opportunities, poor education, inadequate nutrition, and no role models of successful people for the younger people to emulate. Billy, in Kestrel, has a neglectful mother, an abusive brother, a job before school that is precarious, plus teachers that don’t care about their students, not to mention abusive teachers. He has to share not only a bedroom, but a bed with his drunken, irritable older brother Jud, then get up super early to deliver papers. There’s no money for extras like gym clothes and no energy for non-necessities. Billy doesn’t want to end up working in the mines, but he doesn’t have either the energy or a plan to change his destiny.

But our true interests will shine through--Billy claims a young kestrel from a nest, steals a book on falconry, and proceeds to train himself and the bird. Obviously, in multiple intelligence theory, Billy would have a Naturalistic intelligence. Being stuck in a classroom or forced to participate in sport is never going to be right for him. He had all of my sympathy, as I share his love of nature and particularly birds.

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review 2019-10-28 20:19
Penguins and Moral Peril / Ruby Loren
Penguins and Mortal Peril - Ruby Loren

When the penguin keeper is found dead at the bottom of the penguin pool, zookeeper Madigan Amos is determined to find out what happened to him… even if it means apprehending armed intruders, getting caught in the middle of a terrorist attack, and sparring with a machete wielding murderer.

The police struggle to conclude whether or not the death was accidental, but it’s not the only recent, unexplained happening at Avery Zoo. Since the tragic, avoidable death of a serval, animal rights activists have plagued the zoo. Activists with a reputation for extremism. Do they have something to do with the penguin keeper’s demise?

Madi also has her suspicions about two new zoo employees, but what exactly do they have to do with the goings on? Are they activist spies, or do they have their own scores to settle?

 

 

I read this book to fill the Amateur Sleuth square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I couldn’t resist buying this book--it had too many things that were irresistible. Penguins, my favourite birds. A zoo setting, when I volunteered in the education department of my local zoo for 17 years. A mystery, and me a fan of that genre. I wasn’t expecting wondrous things, which is good, because this was a serviceable little cozy mystery, but nothing exceptional.

I lent it to a zoo friend, for whom it was a “meh” experience. He is a retired penguin keeper, so maybe he didn’t appreciate that this book’s penguin keeper ended up at the bottom of the pool during the first few pages of the novel. I thought that the author did a pretty fair job of showing the kind of politics and personal interactions that complicate the zoo workplace. She was probably a little kind though. It’s the people who are the vicious ones in the zoo world (but don’t go in with the bears or big cats anyway). The things she was realistic about? The people who put their children right into harm’s way, seemingly not realizing the dangers.

One thing I give full marks for is the beautiful cover. I love it.

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