Thursday, April 29, 2010

Eight Books

I've read eight books since I last told you about my reading. I can't seem to quit (not that I want to).

Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber is a heartwarming story. I picked up Macomber's Cedar Cove Christmas in December because it was during the time at work after the end of fall semester and before the holidays. I was bored and the library was practically deserted. I enjoyed her storytelling in that book, so I was drawn to Summer on Blossom Street, hoping it would be as pleasant a read. It was. The story revolved around a "knit to quit" class where participants take up knitting to take their minds off some not-good-for-you habit. Each person in the class has a story and Macomber tells them with warmth and compassion. I enjoyed the two books so much that I think I'll read more. They're not heavyweight literature, but she does deal with some serious issues, and I love happy endings.

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White is a sequel to The House on Tradd Street. Our main character is a workaholic real estate agent whose family home is a house on Legare Street in Charleston, SC. Melanie and her mother are both able to sense ghosts and there is a particularly evil one haunting the family home. Melanie and her mother, Ginnette, are also estranged from each other because her mother left Charleston when Melanie was seven with no explanation. Melanie has hated her mother ever since. When Ginnette comes back to town and buys the house on Legare Street, from the no-class people who owned it and who also cared nothing about preserving the historic decor of the house, Melanie is livid. Ginnette, however, senses that the evil ghost is getting stronger and comes back to town to protect Melanie. The two women come to terms in order to fight the ghost and in the process they iron out their differences. I'm hoping White will continue this series, but I also plan to read some of her other novels, the latest of which is On Folly Beach.

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson is a book I won in a giveaway offered by Bridget of The Ravell'd Sleave. Bridget wrote a very good review of the book and if you click here, you'll find that review. This is the story of three young women who leave England in 1928 to sail to India and find new lives. The women go their separate ways but keep in touch, providing us with a view of their lives and their interactions. I enjoyed this novel much more than I expected to, although I DID actually expect to enjoy it. (Thanks, Bridget!)

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear is the second in her Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is a psychologist and private investigator who used to be a combat nurse in World War I. Birds of a Feather takes place in 1930. Maisie is hired to find the missing daughter of a wealthy businessman, but the more she investigates, the more complicated things get. While they are looking into the problem, Maisie's assistant Billy is having problems of his own. I found the novel hard to put down. Winspear's writing is very compelling and I enjoyed the story immensely. I need to get into the next novel in the series and catch up. I'm a little behind in my Maisie Dobbs reading.

I'm really going to miss Robert B. Parker. I have just read his latest two novels (others are scheduled to be published later this year), Split Image, a Jesse Stone story; and The Professional, a Spenser novel. Split Image ends as if Parker knew it was his last Jesse Stone novel, although his obituary in the NY Times said he died of a heart attack at his desk while writing. A couple of unresolved issues got resolved and that was satisfying for me. I won't tell you what these issues are because they don't get fully resolved until the last chapter, so go read the book! Jesse, as usual, doesn't just solve one problem, and he gets some help from Sunny Randall. A body is found in an abandoned car and that leads to a pair of twins married to rich but unsavory bad guys. Jesse's investigation leads him to some very dark corners of organized crime and other badness. Parker's writing is, as usual, very lean with very little description, but you never miss out on any details. Parker is good. Keep your eye on the twins.

The Professional is pure Spenser. An attorney brings him together with four women who want him to stop a man who is blackmailing all of them. It seems this man has a habit of seducing young women married to wealthy older men. Then he gets the bright idea of blackmailing them by threatening to ruin their marriages if they don't pay him off. The women don't have enough personal cash to keep up with demands, so they hire Spenser. Like in any good mystery, the more Spenser digs into the problem the more complex it becomes. Things are going along relatively smoothly until the dead bodies start turning up. The ending is a little sad, but loose ends are tied up as well as they can be.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake was one of those impulse reads, but I ended up very glad I read it. I first heard about this book in a review by Lene of The Seated View. You can read her review here. Lene listened to an audio version and her review at first made me want to skip the book because it sounded too intense. But the book was on the new book display at the library and it kept calling my name. I finally picked it up and started it and I'm glad I did. It was very worthwhile reading. Parts of it were very intense, particularly the scenes in Europe when the Jews were trying to get away from the Nazis. This story takes place right before America entered World War II and Blake's description of the Blitz in London reads as if she had actually experienced it. The other part of the story takes place in the small (fictitious) village of Franklin, MA, on the very tip of Cape Cod. Two women living in Franklin and another woman reporting on the war from Europe are the main characters in the novel. Blake's storytelling kept this from being just another mainstream novel.

Voices by Arnaldur Indridason is the third of his Reykjavik thriller novels. In it a former child star is found stabbed to death in his room in the basement of a large hotel in Reykjavik. Gulli, the victim, is a recently fired (downsized) hotel doorman who also dressed as Santa Claus for the hotel's Christmas party. Our detective, Erlendur, a man with problems of his own (including his drug-addicted daughter), finds suspects everywhere in Reykjavik, and just as you think he's found the killer, another twist in the plot is introduced. If I could read Icelandic, I'd get the original books and read to see if the translator did a good job, which I think he did because I've enjoyed reading each of the Arnaldur books (including Jar City and Silence of the Grave). I'm looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

Well, I'm exhausted. I need to go home and curl up with a good book.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day!!

We spent our tax refund on our nice, new, flat-screen TV. I love that TV.

To change the subject...

Pardon my whining, but I want to tell you about some of the adventures of my youth. I've hit that time of life where cashiers in chain restaurants give you the senior discount without even asking your age. Damn brats! I don't feel as if my youth was misspent, but I have had a few accidents that have left me with arthritis in most of my joints. Some of them were even funny. After one of them a friend kept asking me, "Well, have you seen the humor in it yet?"

When I was around 19 or 20 I was taking horseback riding lessons. We learned to saddle and bridle our mounts (even how to make a horse open its mouth to receive the bridle); how to clean out hooves, which included making a half-ton horse raise its foot (you lean against its leg); how to groom them; even how to catch a horse in the field (you use a bucket of oats); and we learned how to jump. The horses were adorable. I just wanted to hug every one of them. The owners of the stable had set up jumps in the large field and that's where I was riding Tantivvy that day. Tantivvy, bless his heart, was a very unpredictable horse, and he showed it right after we had gone over a jump. About a stride or two after we cleared the jump, Tantivvy decided to make a sharp left. He turned and I didn't. I went flying off the saddle and landed flat on my back a few feet away. The fall knocked me out briefly and I woke with my instructor's dog, Jobyna, licking my face. I petted Jobyna and lay there for a few moments and then I got up and got back on the horse, which is what you're supposed to do when you fall off. I didn't think much of it. Falls happen. And I was young and indestructible. The next morning I tried to get out of bed and I couldn't do it. Every muscle in my body was stiff, almost rigid, even those muscles that allow you to wiggle your ears. I called in sick and stayed home and hobbled around the house when I wasn't flat on my back in the bed. As I told Richard a little while back, I am now at that age where the adventures of my youth are coming back to bite me in the ass.

The second most spectacular accident I had was a fall down a flight of stairs. The night before this one I had been thoroughly enjoying myself at a cast party. I was working on a play at the historic Dock Street Theater in Charleston (SC). The play, if I remember correctly, was Chapter Two. My job was stage manager. I got to tell all the backstage people what to do and when to do it. We held the cast party the night before the closing matinee. I got home late, of course, and possibly a little tipsy. I didn't crawl out of bed until about 11:00 am the next day. For some reason I didn't own a pair of slippers and I had put on a pair of tennis socks before I made my way downstairs. About three steps down the recently-refinished oak stairs, my feet went out from under me and I bounced the rest of the way down on my butt. Somehow, perhaps by divine intervention, I made myself turn a little to the right so that I wasn't bouncing off each step on my spine. I landed at the bottom, shuddering with pain (I didn't cry until later). My housemate helped me up and I walked around a bit, then had breakfast and went to the theater for the matinee. Before the curtain went up we were all in the habit of sitting in the greenroom and chatting. I didn't feel like joining them that day, so the union tech came looking for me. Pete was one of my good friends and he asked why I was sitting backstage in the dark. It was then that I started to cry. Pete sat in my lap and put his arms around me and I told him all about the fall. He was very comforting. He went back to the greenroom and explained my absence and throughout the afternoon actors and techs were coming to me and saying nice and sympathetic things. After the performance we had to strike the set; I didn't feel like helping, but I did want to stick around for the usual celebration. Pete sent me off to rest, so I went out to the lobby (the theater was closed by then) and lay on one of the carpeted landings of the staircase. When I got home I was curious to see if I had a bruise, so I took a hand mirror into the bathroom and got a look at my butt. Holy cow! there was a bruise the same size, shape, and color of a large ripe eggplant. There must have been a pint of blood under that patch of skin. I felt my stomach turn over. I went to the doctor the next day and when he saw the bruise it shocked him too. I got X-rayed and sent home to do as little as possible for the rest of the week. I spent the week on my nice cushy sofa with my legs propped up on the arm to take pressure off my back. I read a lot and watched a lot of TV. This was the accident that my friend later asked if I'd seen the humor. I did eventually.

My most embarrassing accident took place in a Market Street bar in Charleston. (This is already getting good, isn't it?) My usual drink is gin and tonic, but a friend of mine talked me into having tequila and tonic. It was tasty and went down smoothly, so I had a couple more. This "friend" had the bartender mix them almost half and half, so soon I was pretty well snockered. It started getting late and I was getting sleepy, so I got up to leave. I had to take one step down to cross the dance floor and just as I did, I fell directly onto my knees. I went straight from standing to kneeling in a split second. I hauled myself up, got in my car, and drove myself home to my apartment. Yes, I was still drunk. I was aware of this, so I drove as carefully as I could and at the speed limit and made it home safely. (I never drove drunk again.) I don't remember much about the hangover, but I'm sure there was one. A week or so later my knees were still hurting so I went to the doctor and when I told him how I had come to hurt them, he had a good hearty laugh, prescribed some steroids and gave me some exercises to do.

I've only been that drunk one time since and I had a designated driver. It was one night in January of 1986 after I had been accepted at the University of Washington for library school. My friends decided to hold an extended happy hour for me at our favorite Friday-afternoon-after-work bar on Folly Beach. I downed gin and tonics like they were ice water on a hot summer night. David drove me home afterward and I didn't get out of bed the next day until about 2:00 pm. The hangover was so bad I swore I'd never have another one and I haven't. I didn't give up alcohol altogether, but I cut way back and now hangovers are a thing of my past. They just weren't worth it. Oh, yeah, no accidents happened to me that weekend.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief look into my past. Tell me your stories in the comments.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Old Friends Gone

Three of my favorite mystery authors have died recently.

Ralph McInerny was the author of the Father Dowling and Andrew Broome mysteries. He was also a renowned scholar and professor at Notre Dame. I met Ralph at one of the Harriette Austin Writers conferences in Athens, GA. I was thrilled that he remembered me from year to year (he came often to the Conference). He was a good speaker and an excellent mystery writer. His presence at the conferences will be greatly missed.

Robert B. Parker was one of my all-time favorite writers. His Jesse Stone novels are wonderful and the TV movies produced by CBS and starring Tom Selleck were spot on as far as I'm concerned. Selleck was an excellent choice to play Jesse Stone. I started reading his Spenser novels after seeing Robert Urich play Spenser on TV. His earlier novels are dated, mostly because he described what people were wearing and Lord knows the 1970s was one of the worst decades for fashion. I will truly miss his novels.

Dick Francis wrote the very first mystery I ever read. I believe it was Whip Hand (one of his Sid Halley novels). That was back in the 70s when I still lived in Charleston. I have read every one of his novels and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Selfish me, I'm hoping that his son Felix, with whom he collaborated on his most recent novels, will continue writing these racing mysteries.

It's interesting how you can develop a good relationship with a long-time writer without ever having met him.