08 May 2014

March and April Book Report

OK, this will bring me current with  my book reports.  Hopefully, I will remember to do it regularly like I used to, so I don't get behind and aggravate myself!  :-)

A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch.  Charles Lenox is a society gentleman and sometime explorer in 19th century London, who investigates crimes.  In this installment, he is investigating two murders: the first, a servant girl in a prominent home who is found dead in her room.  At first her death is ruled suicide, but Charles finds evidence indicating she was poisoned, including a bottle with traces of blue indigo ("beautiful blue") a poison from a rare plant, grown only in a few places.  The second death is an important gentleman in financial circles, who is murdered at a society ball, in the same household where the servant died.

I expected to like this book much better than I did.  It was entertaining enough, but did not want to make me go out of my way to read later books in the series.  Charles and his friends are somewhat interesting, and the story was intriguing, but none of it really grabbed me.

Howards End Is On the Landing : A Year of Reading From Home, by Susan Hill.  This was such a fun, interesting read!  

When Susan Hill is looking for a book that she KNOWS she owns, but cIf annot find, she realizes just how many books she owns that she has never read. So she devises a plan to read only books in her home for the next year.  The resulting book leads her to musings on books, literature, poetry, authors, life, and brings back memories related to people she has met, known, and worked with during her life.

There is discussion about how to organize books, which was something I enjoyed, since everyone I know who is a book lover seems to organize their books differently.  And as a library cataloger - a professional book organizer - I can understand every aspect that comes into consideration.  

Hill has had an interesting life, being surrounded by books and literature - as well as meeting many well-known literary figures - and it is fun to read her thoughts and vicariously enjoy her experiences.  

She gives books personalities, ponders what they "think" while sitting on a shelf, read or unread.  

Gallows Lane, by Brian McGilloway.  This is the second book in a series featuring Benedict Devlin, a detective in the Garda who is stationed in a town in the Republic of Ireland that borders Northern Ireland.  In this installment, Devlin is facing a wife who wants him to pull back on his work, feeling they are in danger, as well as facing a promotion interview.

He is also trying to keep track of James Kerr, who has been released from prison in the North.  Kerr has "found God," and has returned to the Republic "on a mission," which he assures Devlin is not related to criminal activity.

Add in attacks on two local girls (on separate occasions), where one was killed and one survived, having been taking from the same popular club.  The attacks seem to be very similar, and it's assumed that the same person was responsible.  In another story line, a hidden cache of drugs and weapons are found on a local farm, and the investigation leads to surprising behavior and information about various local residents and businessmen.  

As the story progresses, Devlin becomes more involved in all of it, as well as worried about what has become of Kerr.  

There is a lot of suspense, and very surprising developments as things continue.  I also found the relationship between Devlin and his counterparts in Northern Ireland interesting.  

I am already looking forward to the next title in this series.

The House Girl, by Tara Conklin.  It took me a while to get into this book, but it was worth keeping on with it.  

The story intertwines the lives of Josephine Bell, a "house girl" slave in Virginia in the 1800s, and Carolina "Lina" Sparrow, an attorney and daughter of a well-known artist in present-day New York City.  Josephine Bell is rumored to be the true artist behind a series of works by the acclaimed artist LuAnne Bell, and when a show opens in New York, Lina happens to meet someone who claims to be her descendant at the show's opening.  Which is exciting for Lina, who has just been assigned a reparations case at her law firm, which needs a descendant from a slave to be the face of the case.

The book goes back and forth, providing details on Josephine's life, and then also details about the modern-day life of Lina.  Lina is also dealing with her father's sudden interest in a show devoted to his wife, and Lina's mother, who was killed in a car crash when Lina was small.

The story is told in a way that weaves together the themes of family, truth, work, values and makes the reader anxious to see it all resolved.  
My biggest complaint with this book was that, like many other newer books, the ending seemed rushed.  You go through a very long, detailed story, and then it seems that all of a sudden, in the last 20 pages, everything is rushed along and the book is over.  I keep feeling that the author tired of the story, or the editor did major chopping.  But I find it frustrating.

Having said that, this is a good read.

Murder Past Due, by Miranda James.  Charlie Harris is a cataloger and part-time archivist at a small Mississippi college library, and living in a house inherited from his late aunt.  He shares his life with Diesel, a very companionable Maine Coon Cat, and Justin, a student at the college who is a boarder and the son of a former classmate.

When another former classmate, Godfrey Priest, comes to town to promote his upcoming book, things get complicated.  Though Priest was not overly popular with his classmates, everyone is surprised to find him dead in his hotel room.  And Justin is a prime suspect, as Priest revealed that he was the boy's biological father.  Every step of the investigation turns up more questions and complications, and Charlie and Diesel get involved as part of an effort to prove Justin's innocence.

This was an enjoyable read and a good introduction to a new series, particularly following a rather intense book I'd finished right before this one.  

Astor Place Vintage, by Stephanie Lehmann.  This is another book that started out kind of slow, but then grabbed me at a certain point, and I ended up enjoying it.  

Olive Westcott is a young woman who has just moved to New York City with her father, who is in charge of a new Woolworth's in the early part of the twentieth century.  She has had certain advantages growing up, and is used to a certain lifestyle.  When her father dies unexpectedly, it turns out that his money was gone, due to bad investments.  She suddenly has the choice of moving back to her hometown of Cold Spring, and probably getting married, having a family, etc., or trying to make her way in New York.  She makes the decision to stay there, hoping to someday be an assistant buyer in one of the major department stores.  The trouble is, with no money, no work experience, and no family support, she is unable to do much of anything.  She moves to a boarding house, and her life continues from there.

In the present day, a young woman named Amanda finds Olive's journal sewn inside the lining of a muff that is part of a lot of clothing she buys from an old woman near death.  Amanda has a fairly successful vintage shop, Astor Place Vintage, and the woman has contacted her to look through her things.  When Amanda begins reading Olive's journal, she becomes involved in the story of Olive's life.  

Amanda, meanwhile, has to deal with breaking it off with her married boyfriend of six years, who has been helping to finance her shop, as well as having to deal with a huge rent increase.  

Olive's journal and Amanda's life intersect at an interesting point, making the story one of the past and the present intertwined. 

I ended up enjoying the book, and really enjoyed the old photos of New York City.

The Diva Paints the Town, by Krista Davis.  Another enjoyable read in this series.

Sophie Winston learns that her recently deceased, reclusive neighbor has stipulated in his will that she host a Bequest Party, where certain people who have been invited will receive a final gift from him.  He has left the estate to his dog too - if they can find her.

The local design guild decides to use the deceased's house as a Designer Showcase house, which will also renovate the place so it can be sold.  Things seem to be underway somewhat smoothly until Sophie finds the body of one of the designers who was also receiving a bequest dead in the house.  When the police arrive to investigate, the body has disappeared!

It was fun seeing how it would all be resolved.

Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster.  So, I read this book, and found it interesting. But I wasn't sure I really "got" it, so I read some of the reviews here.  I had figured out some of it, but apparently since I haven't read other Auster books, didn't really understand it.

Mr. Blank is in a room, in some kind of institution.  He doesn't exactly remember who he is, but he does have an overwhelming sense of guilt.  People come in and out of the room, to feed him, give him medications, and occasionally to talk to him.  Some seem very familiar, others he can't quite place.  He begins to read a report found on the desk in his room, and certain things make him feel that he was somehow involved.

It's all very mysterious, and if you are an Auster fan, you immediately know what is going on.  I've never read any of his work, but am glad to know that I had an inkling about the overall theme. 

Weird, but OK.

And that's that.  I do plan a post soon, with some books that I would like to give away, so stay tuned.


Kym said...

Oooo! Those sound like interesting reads! Thanks for the reviews. THIS reader really appreciates them. :-)

Mereknits said...

Thank you for all the reading info, I think I need to download some books!

Marie said...

I ordered the Susan Hill book before I even finished reading your post. That really sounds like my kind of book. Maybe she'll give me some ideas about arranging my own books.

kathy b said...

Im sending the HOUSE GIRL title to Al . She's in Virginia now and will love it.
I need to finish GULP and start B. Kings book on how animals Grieve.
I love your reviews. Keep them coming

elns said...

Love the book reports. I like the Charles Lennox series, but like many series, some books better than others. I felt he was a new writer in that first one. I might have to give House Girl a go one day, though I admit, I haven't been reading at all. I also admit I'm crap for organizing my books. I'm pleased when I just cull the ones that will not be read again.