Friday, September 26, 2014

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

A Beautiful Blue Death is the first book in a mystery series set in Victorian London. Charles Lenox is a gentleman with an interest in solving crimes. Lady Jane Grey is his good friend from childhood, now a widow.

This book reminded me of Anne Perry's mysteries and of the stereotypical perception of Sherlock Holmes. However, I never felt I got to know Lenox or Lady Jane very well. There are extremely subtle hints of a possible romance, but nothing of note happens in this book.

The book is very readable, but I found it a bit slow, and the mystery convoluted but not clever.  In particular, the last chapters after the climax felt – well, anti-climactic. The historical details seem well researched. I had a hard time believing Lenox's familiar relationship with his butler. Lenox's good friend Thomas McConnell is somewhat of a cardboard cut-out of a doctor who drinks. We are told that McConnell’s marriage to his wife Toto is pretty much over, but that's not how it comes across the rest of the book. The police inspector of course is not clever enough to solve anything without Lenox's help. The book feels like a cookie-cutter Victorian mystery. 

My favorite character was Sir Edmund, Lenox's brother and a baronet, but also an eager partner in investigating with Charles.

This series is now up to eight books, so it must be popular and fairly well received. The Beautiful Blue Death is a fine beginning. I'm not sure whether I will give the second book a shot or not but I might, for Edmund’s sake. If you are a fan of Anne Perry's series, you may want to give Charles Finch a try. His books can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the adult fiction and large print sections under his last name.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Absolutely delightful, the best Georgette Heyer I've read. There is a romance reminiscent of Colonel Brandon and Marianne's, and the main couple is patterned after Darcy and Elizabeth. And the main character has a penchant for meddling like Emma. The historical elements feel accurate, and the exchanges are witty and endearing. The language throughout is a treat.

Sir Horace is a large, loud widower who is travelling more than he is at home. He has one daughter, Sophy. When he becomes engaged to a woman who does not wish to be seen as Sophy's stepmother, Sir Horace arranges to leave Sophy at the home of his sister, Lady Ombersley, in hopes that she can get Sophy married off.

All is not well at Lady Ombersley's home. Her husband is a gambler who has endangered their home and lifestyle. Her son Charles has come into enough money of his own to take control from his father, but this role has turned him into a stodgy and humorless fellow. His many younger brothers and sisters don't feel they can confide their troubles to him. His oldest sister is determined to marry a dull and clueless poet instead of the fine gentleman who is in love with her, and Charles hasn't the sense to let the romance run its course, instead taking steps that make her all the more determined. Charles is engaged to an intolerable and dreary young woman his family cannot abide.

Sophy arrives at the Ombersley home in all her glory - in a chaise drawn by four horses, with a greyhound, a parrot, and a monkey - and turns the lives of the family upside down. She interferes right and left until all are engaged to the right people and she has found love as well. The action gets pretty ridiculous, but it's enjoyable all the same.

If you are a fan of Jane Austen style romances and haven't read The Grand Sophy, I recommend putting it at the top of your To Read list.

One note: there is an offensive racial stereotype of a money lender that somewhat mars this otherwise delightful novel

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary together with Sellic Spell by J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, and I always said I would read his translation of Beowulf if it was ever published in a book. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary together with Sellic Spell, edited by Christopher Tolkien, was published in May 2014.

I give this book five stars because (1) it’s Beowulf, (2) it’s Tolkien, and (3) it has a lovely cover. I confess to being thoroughly lost much of the time, both while reading the poem and while reading the commentary. But how fabulous it would have been to attend a Tolkien lecture! At least I got some sense of that. I most enjoyed finding little items in the commentary that resonated with my knowledge of The Lord of the Rings.

The most readable part of the book for me was Sellic Spell. Tolkien wrote:

This version is a story, not the story. It is only to a limited extent an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk-tale element in Beowulf .... Its principal object is to exhibit the difference of style, tone and atmosphere if the particular heroic or historical is cut out. ... And by making it timeless I have followed a common habit of folk-tales as received.” (p. 355)

Whatever its principal object, Sellic Spell was very readable and understandable compared to Beowulf itself.

My absolute most favorite part of the book is this line from Christopher Tolkien about including the Old English version of Sellic Spell:  “[T]he interest of this text lies chiefly, in my view, in its demonstration of my father’s fluency in the ancient tongue.” [p. 407] 

It’s touching that Christopher Tolkien is so fiercely proud of his father’s accomplishments. I'm glad I made my way through this book, and will probably purchase a copy at some point to add to my personal library.

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary together with Sellic Spell can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the Fiction section under Tolkien and in the Nonfiction section at 823.912 TOL.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

Oh Agatha, Agatha - will you never learn? Apparently not, and perhaps that's why we love her, but it would be nice to see some emotional growth in our beloved Agatha Raisin.

The Blood of an Englishman is the 25th book in the Agatha Raisin series, and it is for the die-hard Agatha fan only, not someone new to the series.

This is a typical Agatha Raisin novel - mildly amusing narrative, outrageous plot, Agatha on the prowl for a husband and jealous of her young assistant Toni. This book requires no effort to read.

If you like cozy mysteries set somewhere in the United Kingdom - this series is set in the Cotswolds - I do recommend the Agatha Raisin series. Agatha is a middle-aged detective who is ferocious in her pursuit of a crime's resolution. She is insecure, and her gruff exterior hides a good heart. She is an unashamed smoker who adores her cats. Her surprising best friend is the vicar's wife. The first book is Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Beaton is a prolific author, and the Galesburg Public Library has copies of her books in Fiction, Large Print, mystery paperback, and audiobook, all under her last name.

I read a Netgalley advance copy of The Blood of an Englishman. It is scheduled to come out on September 16.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

Posted for reader Kaye:

Five Days Left is the first book for the author, and I hope it won’t be her last. She very quickly involves you in the lives of her characters.

The main character, Mara, has Huntington’s disease and the author had definitely researched this dreadful disease.

It is a story of Mara’s love for her husband, daughter, parents and friends. An unselfish love that does not want to put them through the pain of seeing the devastating pain the disease will have on her. It tells of her friendship on an internet online community of non-traditional families for five years, a chat site for adoptive, step foster, gay and other parenting arrangements. Mara was an adopted child, and so is her daughter Lakshmi. This support group has helped to answer the many questions in raising a child.

I loved reading about the families in the support group, and their friendship and support, all done anonymously!

I could hardly put this book down once I had started it, and I quickly finished it the second day. I read it at railroad crossings, at my granddaughter’s soccer practice, and every spare minute.

I look forward to reading other books from this author. I loved it!

-Submitted by Georgette Kaye Carroll / August 28, 2014 

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly

Posted for reader Kaye: 

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly is a murder mystery set in a small British coastal town. Very quickly you are engrossed in the lives of the inhabitants and feel they are your family and friends.

The lead detective is new to the small town, and has been sent there after bungling a murder case in his old city. The detective working with him is a woman from the area, returning from a three week family vacation, who thought she was going to be promoted to the job he now has.

I couldn’t put this book down, and did not know or even suspect who the killer was until the last four chapters.

This book is based on a British TV series that aired in 2013. It is coming to the United States TV this fall season. The series is called Gracepoint and I am looking forward to viewing it.

I look forward to more books from this author!

-Submitted by Georgette Kaye Carroll / September 4, 2014

Note: Broadchurch is due to be published September 16, 2014.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Calico Joe is a lovely and lyrical short novel, a bit sentimental at times but very nicely done. I am a Cubs fan and particularly enjoyed that one of the main characters is a Cubs player in the early 1970s. I remember so many of the real players who are mixed in with the fictional ones.

This is my first John Grisham novel, so far as I remember, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio version. The voice of the narrator rang true. Definitely recommended for baseball fans, and also those who like a good story about family issues and resolutions.