3.5 stars. After several similar books in a row, I can find it in me to wish that Thirkell wouldn't write quite so many scatterbrained characters, or3.5 stars. After several similar books in a row, I can find it in me to wish that Thirkell wouldn't write quite so many scatterbrained characters, or re-use the same plot device so often (i.e. the naïve young man with a hopeless crush on an elegant, oblivious older woman). But sometimes a bit of cheerful frivolity is just what you need for a lazy weekend afternoon, and Thirkell fits that bill perfectly....more
"Once move a body and you never can recapture that first, fine, careless rapture, don't you know."
Lord Peter and Co. are irresistible. It took me a
"Once move a body and you never can recapture that first, fine, careless rapture, don't you know."
Lord Peter and Co. are irresistible. It took me a little while to warm up to this series (the first two books were admittedly uneven), but now I'm a firm fan. Have His Carcase is just what the last few have been: complex, ingeniously detailed plots unraveled with a good deal of sharp wit on the part of author and characters. Though I wouldn't precisely recommend it to anyone touchy about the sight (or description) of blood—as a matter of fact, blood is pretty much front and center in this outing, especially at the inquest (it would certainly have pleased Agatha Christie's brother-in-law who requested "a good violent mystery with lots of blood"). I was also a little ambivalent about Harriet's rather feministic cynicism in the opening chapters, but happily this seemed to fall by the wayside as the book went on....more
1.5 stars. I picked up this free e-novella because I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned mystery, and the concept looked promising—Edwardian-era1.5 stars. I picked up this free e-novella because I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned mystery, and the concept looked promising—Edwardian-era young lady detectives? Yes, please! Unfortunately, I didn't find A Singular and Whimsical Problem the least bit convincing. A pair of young women running around wearing men's clothes and false moustaches, getting their pictures in the paper for their detective exploits, and apparently taking the question of how this affects their own respectability very lightly...it just didn't ring true to the period for me. Nor did most of the characters' mannerisms or dialogue. (It probably didn't help that I'd just finished re-reading a few favorite novels actually written in the Edwardian era.)
For a short story/novella, three or four threads of story seemed like an awful lot to try and cram in as well, and there were some holes left that I never figured out. Why did Mabel just disappear from the story? Was Jenny really her sister, or not? (and in consequence of that question, I never figured out how much of the story Jenny told was actually true.)
I really hate to give negative ratings/reviews, and I'd have loved to find a good new mystery series to follow, but this one didn't quite cut it for me....more
Has some classic "Montgomery moments," such as the chaotic Christmas Day and the visit of the Countess of Medchester, and Judy Plum is just as great aHas some classic "Montgomery moments," such as the chaotic Christmas Day and the visit of the Countess of Medchester, and Judy Plum is just as great a character as she was in the first book. But why in heaven's name did it take Pat so many years to realize who she really loved?
(And really, why couldn't Pat's father put his foot down about his daughter-in-law's tribe of relations overrunning the house?)...more
This has got to be the most adorable ghost story ever. From the epigraph to the drollery of the narration to the protagonist's relationship with EliseThis has got to be the most adorable ghost story ever. From the epigraph to the drollery of the narration to the protagonist's relationship with Elise, it hits all of its notes just right (and I loved the theme about the place of joy and happy endings in fiction). A delightful short read!...more
This is my favorite of Rowntree's fairytale retellings yet. As with The Prince of Fishes, she has taken a lesser-known fairytale and made magic by croThis is my favorite of Rowntree's fairytale retellings yet. As with The Prince of Fishes, she has taken a lesser-known fairytale and made magic by crossing it with a lush historical-fantasy setting. In this case the setting is Tudor England and the magical realm of Faerie, inspired by Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene. After his spirited betrothed, Janet, is whisked away by an evil enchantment, blacksmith John must venture into the dangerous realm of Faerie, determined to free her in spite of the spells and perils that crowd his path.
I was captivated by this novella every moment of reading it. John is both a refreshingly ordinary man and a true hero, his loyalty and honesty as well as his fears and doubts made very real all throughout his quest. I loved the relationship between John and Janet, the cast of supporting characters, and especially the beautifully-described atmosphere of pastoral Middleton Dale and eerie, enchanted Faerie. The story is crafted so well that it's hard to believe the original fairytale was not meant for this setting—laced with a thread of lovely allegory that adds a deeper layer to the quite simple original plot. It wraps up with a delightful surprise and a final scene that actually brought a lump into my throat. Trust me, if you love fairytales, you won't want to miss this one!...more
2.5 stars. The story at the core of this book is one that appealed to both my love of dogs and my interest in WWII history—the story of an abandoned G2.5 stars. The story at the core of this book is one that appealed to both my love of dogs and my interest in WWII history—the story of an abandoned German Shepherd puppy rescued by downed Czech airman Robert Bozdech, who became Bozdech's loyal sidekick and mascot of the RAF squadron his master joined, even flying with him on bombing raids over Germany. I have a German Shepherd myself, whose intelligence and devotion to her human family continue to amaze me, and many things about Antis' personality rang true to me. For instance, his habit of doing a "headcount" every night on the close-knit group of Czech airman who bivouacked together, pushing an affectionate wet nose into their faces as they were falling asleep—my dog does that with our family every morning and sometimes at night. Antis' devotion to his master led him through an escape from occupied France, air raids, and more; and when left behind while Bozdech flew missions, he would lie by the airstrip and refuse all food and shelter until his master returned, suffering cold and exposure almost to the point of death on several occasions.
However, the way the book was written bugged me almost from the first page. Author Damien Lewis chose to write it in a style that's more like quasi-fiction than history, heavily dramatizing every scene with loads of reconstructed dialogue that doesn't feel at all authentic. Though Lewis' main source material was an unpublished manuscript by Robert Bozdech himself, this even goes for scenes where Bozdech himself was not present to witness conversations. (Take for a small example the dialogue with the chaplain on page 173, which smacks of all the cloying cliches ever given a fictional chaplain.) Furthermore, on many occasions Lewis tries to write from the perspective of the dog himself, attributing human-like thought processes and emotions to him and imagining the details of incidents where he was separated from his human companions. ("Antis was mortified...If there was one moment more than any other when the dog wished that he could speak to his master and explain things, this was it" [p. 241]) For me this had the effect of pulling me out of the story and automatically stretching the credibility of some of Antis' adventures, whether the facts are true or not (and a few, mostly his interactions with people in England rather than his war exploits, already seem a bit exaggerated). And it does seem that more pages are given to Antis' escapes from angry policemen and farmers and RAF red tape than to his actual combat exploits.
(Additionally, the dog owner in me bent a skeptical eyebrow at the multiple occasions Antis was fed chocolate, which can be poisonous to dogs.)
It was an interesting story, but I felt I had to slog my way through a number of awkwardly and even poorly-written pages to get the meat of it....more
If you want to know what life on a WWII destroyer escort was like, then absolutely pick up this book. It's crammed with detail on everything from weapIf you want to know what life on a WWII destroyer escort was like, then absolutely pick up this book. It's crammed with detail on everything from weaponry to plumbing—and yet in spite of all this detail it never loses the forward motion of a story, moving with the USS Abercrombie (DE-343) and her crew from building and commissioning through shakedown and training cruises, and on to operations in the Pacific. Beyond detail and accuracy, Stafford can really write—he provides the personal viewpoint of a young officer, but also manages to capture the character and mood of the whole ship and her crew. Descriptions of convoying tankers and screening escort carriers, fueling at sea, supporting shore invasions, the boredom of lying at anchor in an island harbor, occasional shenanigans among the crew, and the terror and exhaustion of being under kamikaze attack off Okinawa, are all vividly rendered. It's also a nice touch that the story is filled out a little by relating the experiences of a few of Abercrombie's sister ships who were often just over the horizon during an operation, such as those in Taffy 3 in the Battle off Samar, or some who were not as fortunate as the Abercrombie on the harrowing radar picket line around Okinawa—but they're woven in smoothly, without disrupting the flow of the narrative. Though I read this for research (and found a ton of useful information), my interest was held the entire time, and I even found myself getting a little choked up at the poignancy of the final pages of homecoming.
Only one caveat: scattered strong profanity (kind of to be expected with sailors, I guess). The hardcover edition I read had one recurring typo through later chapters, putting 1944 where it should read 1945, but anybody who has a basic familiarity with WWII history should be able to spot that (a previous library patron had obligingly corrected it in my copy)....more
2.5 stars. I think Shepherds of the Sea would be better treated as a collection of reminiscences than a serious historical text. There are many bite-s2.5 stars. I think Shepherds of the Sea would be better treated as a collection of reminiscences than a serious historical text. There are many bite-sized quotes from destroyer escort (DE) veterans relating to their own personal experiences—what it was like arriving at boot camp or being blown in the air by an explosion; what they were doing at the moment their ship was hit by a torpedo or what they witnessed while attacking a submarine. A lot of individual views of the moment of impact in a battle, or memorable incidents on board ship. But there is no clear explanation of the chain of command on board a DE, for instance; what officers and men were responsible for which duties, and how the ship was operated as a whole. There isn't really even a listing of what weapons they carried, beyond a basic explanation of depth charges and "hedgehogs"—the different guns are simply mentioned in passing. Anything useful I gleaned for research was merely by chance.
In addition, the book suffers from overall poor grammar and a hard-to-follow, scrambled timeline within chapters and even on the same page. After one sailor's recollections of a ship being hit and a description of the sinking, the narrative will suddenly jump back to another man who was in the radio shack or engine room before the impact. The account of the most famous battle involving DEs, the Battle off Samar, is composed of a lot of these personal moments but gives absolutely no real idea what the scope of the entire battle involved. Fortunately, I'd already read a clear account in The Two-Ocean War by Samuel Eliot Morison previously to reading Shepherds of the Sea. (I noticed Cross actually repeats the Japanese commander's erroneous statement that the American escort carriers in the Battle off Samar were making 30 knots, where Morison points out that their maximum speed was only 17.5.)
The other aspect of DE history dealt with, Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign to get the DE shipbuilding program launched, suffers from the same disorganized approach: the timeline jumps confusingly from 1940 to 1942, then all the way back to World War I and the 1920s, on to 1943 and then back to 1942 again, and so on. There are frequent cringe-worthy misuses of language such as "coral" for "corral" or "stationery" for a "stationary" ship, and some factual errors as well, such as the ship Melvin R. Nawman being referred to as the Melvin H. Nawman both in the book and the index. Undoubtedly the weirdest error is an excerpt from a magazine article being attributed to two different sources—on p. 69, to Proceedings magazine in 1943, and on p. 68 to the New York Times.
(On a minor note, the author and any editors apparently had little to no grasp of 1940s cinema. Peter Lorre is referred to as "Peter Lory," and there is also a mention of "movie actor Clark Gable, his wife, and Carole Lombard" as guests at a 1940 FDR radio broadcast—when in 1940, Lombard was Gable's wife.)
For in-the-moment recollections by WWII sailors, and a general idea of what kinds of tasks destroyers escorts performed in the war, it's okay; but as serious historical nonfiction, I didn't find Shepherds of the Sea very well written or organized, and was still left with plenty of practical questions about DEs after reading it....more
A Circle of Quiet is a rambling quasi-memoir on various aspects of life in general, but with a significant amount of musings on writing and artistic lA Circle of Quiet is a rambling quasi-memoir on various aspects of life in general, but with a significant amount of musings on writing and artistic life. The latter was the element that I enjoyed the most. The broader philosophies that L'Engle wades into I didn't find quite as satisfying, probably because the brand of "faith" that she describes doesn't seem solid enough to base a clear worldview on. L'Engle identifies as both Anglican and agnostic, but while she affirms belief in a loving God as creator of the world, I didn't get any sense of true orthodox Christian theology in her beliefs. While she makes often perceptive, pithy observations about life, culture and relationships, as well as a few clear-eyed comments about the failings of the modern Christian church, in the philosophical sense I always felt there was a bit of a missing piece somewhere.
The real highlights, though, are L'Engle's reflections and reminiscences of the writing life. Here I was able to instantly identify with many of the experiences and feelings she describes, and to draw a good deal of amusement and encouragement from them. (The anecdote about her reaction to learning she had won the Newberry Medal is hilarious.) I also appreciate the way she identifies herself as writer, wife and mother all in one, and expresses equal dedication to all those aspects of her life. I'm copying a few of my favorite passages on writing here, as much for my own benefit as anyone else's:
I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their validity, no matter what.
...I am often, in my writing, great leaps ahead of where I am in my thinking, and my thinking has to work its way slowly up to what the "superconscious" has already shown me in a story or poem. Facing this does help to eradicate do-it-yourself hubris from an artist's attitude towards his painting or music or writing. My characters pull me, push me, take me further than I want to go, fling open doors to rooms I don't want to enter, throw me out into interstellar space, and all this long before my mind is ready for it.
...A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn't diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe. This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent. When I hear a superb pianist, I can't wait to get to my own piano, and I play about as well now as I did when I was ten. A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write. This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else.
This book was such a pleasant surprise! I stumbled across it in the Kindle store, liked the sample, and ended up very much enjoying it. Glass Roses clThis book was such a pleasant surprise! I stumbled across it in the Kindle store, liked the sample, and ended up very much enjoying it. Glass Roses cleverly combines two fairytales, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, retold in a Victorian setting—told through the letters exchanged by the two heroines, cousins Eleanor and Isabella. I love epistolary fiction, and the format works perfectly for this story. With Isabella and her father in Scotland as guests at the castle of a surly Duke who gradually improves on acquaintance, and Eleanor forming an acquaintance with a charming relative of the Austrian imperial family in music-filled Vienna, the girls exchange long letters relating their adventures (perhaps a little more descriptively detailed than real letters would be, but we don't mind that, do we!). Both stories stay close to the original classic fairytales, so there are no huge surprises...but the writing and the historical flavor of the Victorian era are quite excellent, and it's a sweet, entertaining light read....more