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review 2017-12-11 23:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 9 Reads (Winter Solstice / Yaldā Night and Yuletide)
The Poetry - David Shaw-Parker,Christina Rossetti,Ghizela Rowe
Goblin Market - Christina Rossetti
A Christmas Visitor - Anne Perry
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh,Ric Jerrom

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book of poetry.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter.

 

Holiday Book Joker as Bonus Joker: A book set on Winter Solstice (or Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere)

 

  

 

Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night Read: Christina Rossetti: The Poetry

A wonderful reading of some of Christina Rossetti's best-known poems by David Shaw-Parker and Ghizela Rowe, including her long narrative The Goblin Market, which I also own (and reread, for the occasion) in a delightful hardcopy edition illustrated with images by Christina's elder brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Not holiday reading per se (and The Goblin Market is decidedly dark), but still very fitting poetic complementary material for the holiday season.  Highly recommended!

 

  

 

Yuletide Read: Anne Perry: A Christmas Visitor

Anne Perry's Christmas novellas are spin-offs of her major Victorian series (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt, and William Monk, respectively), featuring supporting characters from those series as their protagonists.  A Christmas Visitor is the second of those novellas, and its protagonist is Henry Stanhope, a mathematician friend of William Monk's.  Stanhope travels to the snow-laden Lake District to spend Christmas with the family of his longstanding friend Judah Dreghorn; only to discover that just prior to his arrival Judah has apparently slipped on a set of ice-sheeted stones crossing a brook on his estate.  What initially looked like an accident, at closer inspection is revealed to be murder, and while everybody's favorite and allegedly most likely suspect is soon found, it falls to Henry to find out what really happened.

 

Perry's writing is very atmospheric and captures the Lake District, 19th century rural society, and the Christmas spirit to perfection -- I loved this story right up until its very end, which (even for a Christmas book) struck me as overly moralizing and sentimental on the one hand, and just that decisive bit too neat on the other hand.  (Readers not enamored of mysteries hingeing on certain points of law might be turned off on those grounds)  Still, for a quick read to get into the spirit of the season (and be served up a nicely-plotted mystery into the bargain), I could hardly have done better -- and the stellar reading by Terrence Hardiman contributed greatly to my enjoyment.

 

  

 

Winter Solstice Book Joker Bonus Read: Ngaio Marsh: Colour Scheme

One of my favorite mysteries from Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, here served up in an unabridged reading by Ric Jerrom.  The story is set in Marsh's native New Zealand and begins on Summer Solstice, which is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and thus makes the book eligible for this particular holiday's book joker.

 

The mystery is set at a spa hotel near a hot springs / mud pot / small version of Yellowstone National Park type of area, where a gentleman who has made one enemy too many (i.e., your classic Golden Age murder victim) one day is found to have fallen into a boiling hot mud pot.  (He may or may not also have been a German spy -- the story is set in the 1940s -- but this is one of the rare exceptions of a Golden Age mystery with that kind of angle that is blessedly devoid of "5th column" shenanigans, and where the war background is actually used skillfully to demonstrate how WWII affected daily life even in seemingly remote New Zealand.)  Also present at the spa is, inter alia, a star of the British stage and screen (unabashedly based on Sir Laurence Olivier) -- secretary in tow -- as well as, arriving on the day after the "accidental" death that very probably wasn't an accident, a Mr. Septimus Small, whom none of the other denizens of the spa manage to figure out, and who soon inspires the wildest conjectures as to his identity and occupation.

 

Upon revisiting the mystery -- thanks in no small part to Ric Jerrom's excellent narration and portrayal of the characters -- I found the story's inner logic (and the path to the solution) decidedly more obvious than when I first read it a few years ago, but then again, this time I knew where the whole thing was headed and, consequently, I was not as distracted by minutiae as the first time around.

 

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review 2017-10-30 01:11
The Bishop's Pawn by Don Gutteridge
The Bishop's Pawn (A Marc Edwards Mystery Book 7) - Don Gutteridge

This is set primarily in Toronto in 1839, although some of the characters take a brief trip to New York City later on. At the start of the book we meet Dick Dougherty, a massively overweight man who was once a lawyer in New York City but who, after some vague and mysterious trouble, was able to relocate to Toronto. Since then, he’s been taking care of his two wards, Brodie and Celia, and slowly taking control of his life again. A recent courtroom success has inspired him to apply for admission to the Bar (he wasn’t disbarred back in New York), and with Brodie and Celia’s help and encouragement he’s slowly regaining his mobility. He now takes daily walks that are so regular and predictable people can practically set their watches by him.

Unfortunately, although the common folk of Toronto love Dougherty, the same can’t be said for some of the area’s political leaders. There are rumors that Dougherty’s relationship with Celia isn’t entirely proper, and Dougherty’s refusal to give any details on the events that got him run out of New York City inspires even more whispers. Things come to a head when Archdeacon John Strachan delivers a fiery sermon that accuses Dougherty of “vile and abominable” behavior. Not long after the sermon, Dougherty is discovered dead, with one of his eyes removed and a note with “Sodomite” written on it pinned to his chest.

Marc Edwards and others suspect that one of Strachan’s parishioners was influenced by his sermon and killed the man. They even find a likely suspect, drunk and covered in blood. However, some of the details don’t add up. Marc suspects there’s something else going on, but the tense political situation makes it difficult to discover the truth.

I’ll start off by saying that this is book 7 in Gutteridge’s Marc Edwards series, and I haven’t read the previous six. The only reason I had this one, and five other ones after it, is because they were all free during some past Smashwords sale and their descriptions made me think of the Murdoch Mysteries TV series. I had noticed the series numbering but thought it might be a mistake, because no books with earlier series numbering were even listed. The earlier books appear to have been put out by a different publisher, one that doesn't sell through Smashwords (not a deal breaker for me, as long as it's available through Kobo) and that has chosen to add DRM to all their e-books (still one of my deal breakers when it comes to e-book purchasing).

I had hoped that jumping into the series at such a late point wouldn’t be too difficult. The story itself was fairly self-contained. Unfortunately, character relationships weren’t, and I could tell there were references to at least three previous books: one in which I’m guessing Dougherty was first introduced, one in which Marc’s wife’s first husband was killed, and one in which Marc was reunited with his mother. I had difficulty connecting to and caring about most of the characters, and I wasn’t sure whether that was due to the writing or my own lack of familiarity with them.

My other hurdle was my lack of familiarity with Canadian history. I basically know nothing. I probably should have sat down and read a few Wikipedia pages on historical figures and events mentioned in the book’s first 50 or so pages, but instead I powered through my confusion. Thankfully, the situation became a lot easier for me to follow once Dougherty was murdered. The basics: politicians afraid of a scandal, and a power struggle brewing over the position Strachan would vacate once he was elevated to bishop as everyone expected he would be.

Marc was given a pretty tight deadline, and I wasn’t sure I could buy the extension he was given in order to go to New York City and ask a few more questions. Still, the results of his investigation were interesting and more shocking and horrible than I expected. I was glad that Marc

didn’t see pedophilia and homosexuality as being essentially the same thing, even though other characters seemed to.

(spoiler show)


This was a decent book, but it didn’t work nearly as well for me as I had hoped it would. Marc and his wife both seemed like okay characters but didn’t really grab me, whereas Cobb and his habit of mispronouncing words actively annoyed me. I’m still debating what I’m going to do with my freebie books 8 through 12. Eh, they’re free and not taking up any physical space, so I’ll probably keep them around for now. I just checked, and it looks like I should be able to read at least a few of the previous books via interlibrary loan, if I wanted to give one of the earlier books a shot before moving on to book 8.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-10-20 22:14
A new perspective
The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation - Randall Fuller

Most would agree that Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species created a stir among the scientific and religious communities when it was first published (some could argue it's still wreaking havoc to this day). However, in America the hubbub was less about where God fit into the picture and more how Darwin's theory solidified the stance against slavery. The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller explores how this one book helped abolitionists build arguments based on scientific fact while at the same time forcing long-held rigid beliefs to be questioned. (I'm looking at you Bronson Alcott.) Until reading this book, I had never thought about its reception in America in terms of its historical context/proximity to the Civil War. These two events seemed to be separate while in reality they were very much interwoven. Leading authors of the day including Henry David Thoreau were well-known and vocal about ending slavery so they not only endorsed Darwin's theories but went on publicity tours to promote it (and give their own opinions). On the Origin of Species showed that all humans had a common ancestor and thus there was no reason why they should not be treated as equals. (The relevance of this book during this time of sociopolitical upheaval in America right now was not lost on me. It just goes to show that we haven't evolved that much since this book hit the shelves.) I was continually surprised by what I learned by reading this book considering that I studied Darwin while I was working on my Bachelor's degree in Anthropology. Instead of solely focusing on the religious impact (which was still significant) it would have been informative to have learned this as well. I suppose that's why Randall Fuller wrote the book! hahaha If you're like me and eager to learn more (especially in light of the insanity that is 2017) then this book is the one for you. 9/10

 


What's Up Next: Comics Squad #3: Detention by Jennifer L. Holm (and others)

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-10-06 12:39
Unseemly Pursuits by K.B. Owen
Unseemly Pursuits: A Concordia Wells Mystery - K.B. Owen

Concordia Wells is back for another year of teaching and trying to keep mischievous students’ pranks to a minimum. Hartford Women’s College has a new lady principal, Olivia Grant, who already has a reputation for being overly strict and who seems to hate Concordia in particular. Then there’s Madame Durand, a spirit medium who has started a “Spirit Club” on campus and who Concordia worries is taking advantage of her mother’s grief over the death of Concordia’s sister.

Everything takes a turn for the worse when an Egyptian amulet donated to the college is stolen and the man who donated it, Colonel Adams, is murdered. His daughter and Concordia’s best friend, Sophia Adams, confesses to the murder, but Concordia is convinced she didn’t do it. Finding the real killer will involve finding the amulet and learning more about her own father’s unexpected past as an Egyptologist.

I read the first book in this series almost 3 years ago. Although I didn’t love it and generally thought its mysteries were too obvious, it was a smooth and appealing read that made me want to continue on with the series. I feel much the same about this second book. Concordia was still an enjoyable character, and I liked the historical details, although I wondered whether Lady Principal Grant would really have had the power to confine Concordia, an adult and professor, to the campus the way she did. The women’s college setting continued to be fun and interesting, even though I found myself wishing that it went beyond the occasional mention of student pranks and grading papers. It would have been nice if Concordia had had more on-page conversations with individual students.

After finishing the first book, I was interested in seeing how Concordia’s familial and romantic relationships turned out. This book gave me a lot of the former and not much of the latter. A large portion of Unseemly Pursuits was focused on Concordia’s rocky relationship with her mother, who didn’t approve of her decision to become a professor, and her relationship with her late father. I loved Concordia’s gradual realization that she’d possibly put her father too much on a pedestal. I was less thrilled with the easy way Concordia’s years worth of issues with her mother seemed to resolve themselves in the end. Hopefully the next book makes it clear that it isn’t quite as simple as Concordia and her mother having a few heart-to-hearts.

I’m somewhat wary of Concordia’s romantic subplot, due to my worry that any sort of more serious relationship might lead to Concordia having to quit her job. However, even I was taken aback by the complete lack of mention of David, Concordia’s most likely love interest, for much of the beginning of the book. Him not being around campus was one thing, but she didn’t even idly think about him from time to time. His appearances in this book were few and mostly unmemorable, although there were a couple developments that make me think the romantic subplot might become more prominent (and awkward?) in the next book.

One character who was around more than David: Lieutenant Capshaw. I honestly can’t remember what he was like in the first book, but I really liked him in this one, and David’s general absence made me wonder if the author was planning on shifting Concordia to a new love interest. David seemed like a nice enough guy, but Capshaw could spend the series scowling at Concordia’s amateur sleuthing, doing his best to keep her out of harm’s way, and falling in love with her over the course of several books’ worth of encounters. Sadly, his interest lay elsewhere.

As in the first book, Unseemly Pursuits’ mysteries were a bit too obvious at times. Thankfully, Concordia seemed to catch onto things a little more quickly this time around - I usually only had to wait a page or two for her to realize things I’d already figured out myself. The biggest exception involved a character whose sudden change in behavior somehow didn't clue Concordia into that character's likely involvement in the overall mystery.

While I did enjoy seeing how all of the book’s seemingly unrelated mysteries fit together, there was so much going on that the story tended to feel a bit cluttered. That said, I liked it overall and will probably be continuing on with the series.

Additional Comments:

I noticed one or two continuity errors. The one I’m most sure about involved Dean Pierce. At one point he brushed his hair out of his eyes. However, earlier on he was described as being bald. I don’t think there was enough time between those two parts for him to grow hair long enough to get into his eyes.

The one I’m less sure about: Madame Durand was initially described by one character as having an odd accent, somewhat like that of a Romance language speaker but with occasional Slavic language speaker aspects. Concordia thought of her accent as “exotic.” However, later on Madame Durand’s dialogue was peppered with French words and seemed more specifically French. I thought it might be a sign Madame Durand was slipping up, but Concordia never noted a shift in her accent.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-10-01 01:00
500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights
500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights - Nicholas Patrick Miller

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history.  500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

 

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to.  The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.  However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr.  The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

 

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

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