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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 2020-03-11 02:48
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall / Suzette Mayr
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall - Suzette Mayr

Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and she's on track for tenure, if only she can fill out her AAO properly. She's a little anxious, but a new floral blouse and her therapist's repeated assurance that she is the architect of her own life should fix that. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean—and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.


The University of Inivea, huh? Well the author works at the same University that I retired from and they have a lot of parallels. There’s a hall designed in the brutalist style of Crawley Hall and I do remember a sink hole in the parking lot one year. I’ve had coffee in the Jungle (and I remember the coffee in the odd cardboard cups). I’ve dealt with the online ‘portal’ that employees use and filled out the horrible adminospeak forms required. Nineteen of my former coworkers were “refreshed” just last month.

Edith Vane (or is that Vain?) is exactly what conservative provincial politicians think of as an instructor in higher education. She’s a liberal, frumpy, lumpy lesbian who writes inexplicable articles for arcane academic journals and books that no regular person will ever pick up. It turns out that her barista girlfriend can mark essays just as effectively as Edith can. Edith is a frantic neurotic who is desperate to hang onto her university position (or as conservative politicians like to phrase it, “suck from the public teat.”)

Dr. Vane is chronically unprepared and is an uninspiring instructor. Mayr shows us how time crunched academics are, with teaching, researching, writing and dealing with students. In my own experience, the vast majority of my instructors were interesting and organized, so I’m assuming that Edith is a caricature in order to make a point of that.

Very interesting to read a book set in a world that I’m very familiar with.

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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 2020-03-02 22:54
February / Lisa Moore
February - Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine's Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O'Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the "February" that persists in Helen's mind and heart.

Writing at the peak of her form, her steadfast refusal to sentimentalize coupled with an almost shocking ability to render the precise details of her characters' physical and emotional worlds, Lisa Moore gives us her strongest work yet. Here is a novel about complex love and cauterizing grief, about past and present and how memory knits them together, about a fiercely close community and its universal struggles, and finally about our need to imagine a future, no matter how fragile, before we truly come home.


Lisa Moore must have lost a significant someone in her life, she writes so eloquently of grief and the process of putting one’s life back together again after a tremendous loss. In addition to that, she writes like a dream! The combination makes this an excellent book.

”Helen unlocks her front door holding an armful of groceries, and there are three empty floors and silence. It is a relief. Solitude, she thinks, is a time-release drug, it enters the system slowly and you become addicted. It’s not an addiction; it’s a craft. You open the closet doors very carefully so loneliness doesn’t pounce out.”

Moore leads the reader through jumps in time, from when Helen O’Mara had first met her husband, the births of their three children, his death in the Ocean Ranger oil rig disaster, and the hard work that the family does to overcome this tragic loss. If you’ve read about the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance), you’ll recognize them all. Also their recurring nature, repeating on you when you least expect it.

There’s no such thing as closure, but there is such a thing as building a new life. Some days, you have to retreat to your bedroom and hide from the world and some days, like Helen in her yoga class, you can say, “I am ready for the warrior poses.”

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review 2020-02-19 22:43
The Sanctuary Sparrow / Ellis Peters
The Sanctuary Sparrow - Ellis Peters

In the gentle Shrewsbury spring of 1140, the midnight matins at the Benedictine abbey suddenly reverberate with an unholy sound—a hunt in full cry. Persued by a drunken mob, the quarry is running for its life. When the frantic creature bursts into the nave to claim sanctuary, Brother Cadfael finds himself fighting off armed townsmen to save a terrified young man. Accused of robbery and murder is Liliwin, a wandering minstrel who performed at the wedding of a local goldsmith's son. The cold light of morning, however, will show his supposed victim, the miserly craftsman, still lives, although a strongbox lies empty. Brother Cadfael believes Liliwin is innocent, but finding the truth and the treasure before Liliwin's respite in sanctuary runs out may uncover a deadlier sin than thievery—a desperate love that nothing, not even the threat of hanging, can stop.


It’s been quite a while since I visited Brother Cadfael and perhaps because of that time lapse, I really enjoyed this novel. There truly aren’t too many options for murder in the 12th century, so one story is very like the last. I would classify these books as “cozy mysteries,” and it surprises me how much I like them, not usually being a fan of the cozy. I think it’s the historical nature of the tales that grabs me. It’s like learning history by osmosis while enjoying a good story.

Probably it also helped that I felt like I was getting away with something! I have a stack of previously signed out library books and theoretically this one should have waited until I made some progress on them. Instead, I plunged into this one right away and finished it in only an evening.

Peters does such a wonderful job of populating the abbey with the full spectrum of human frailties! The arrogant, the snob, the teacher, the compassionate, the seeker of justice, everybody is present and we get to observe their interactions. Her grasp of human behaviour is so accurate!

The result may not be tremendously surprising, but the journey is always enjoyable.

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