Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood (2006)

I think I've found another mystery series I want to pursue. Phryne Fisher is an interesting character that I would not mind spending some more time with. She grew up poor in Australia, but through the English bloodlines system, her father inherited great wealth that has left her more than comfortable, elegantly dressed (I did like the descriptions of her 20's clothing) and bored. When asked to check out why a daughter was looking so ill whenever she visited England, Phyryne takes on investigating this mystery and runs across a cocaine ring in Melbourne, Australia. I liked how she picked up Dot, recently unemployed maid, as her personal maid. I get the sense they will keep working together. Then she involves two cab drivers - Bert and Cec to help her out. Liked the Russian dancer Sasha and Dr. Elizabeth MacMillan, who work in a women's hospital, as she is not allowed to practice in the regular one. Phryne can dress up to fit into the most elegant society, and dress down to fit in among low-lives. Very enjoyable, plus a glimpse into the 1920's, and the current reoccurring theme of British expats worldwide.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (2013)

What fun with the second of the Lunar Chronicles. We have Scarlet - our Red Riding Hood with her red hoodie, who works on a farm (woods?) with her grandmother, who is missing. She delivers their fresh produce to a restaurant in the town and who does she come across - a street fighter Wolf. I think there was a Hunter in the story too, but not a good guy. After that I can't find too many connections with the original story, but we are in Cinder's post WW4 world with Queen Levana from the Moon threatening to take over the world. I was glad that we continued to follow Cinder too, as we left her in jail, but with some tools that can help her break out. She lands in the cell of Captain/Cadet Thorne (not sure if he has any symbolic importance), but he has a ship that Cinder needs to escape. He's not the brightest, but he gives Cinder an amusing side-kick. Young Emporer Kai is still in the mix, as is Iko, Cinder's android friend/personality. We see Cinder start to learn to use her lunar abilities. Got to remember this is a young adult book, but lots of interesting concepts.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Liar by Nora Roberts (2015)

This is one of the mystery stories by Roberts. Shelby has lost her husband Richard in a boating accident and finds out that the wealth he surrounded her with was all a lie - everything bought on credit with payments overdue. She is left with an enormous debt. The only good thing out of that relationship is Callie, their three year old daughter. Unlike some of Roberts' books, where the woman meets the man within the first chapter if not first page, the author takes her time and we spend time watching Shelby fighting despair and debtors, getting organized and selling off things, before heading back to Tennessee and her family. There she is doted on by parents, brothers and grandparents and we see she comes from a line of strong women. My biggest discomfort was the huge focus on the beauty salon/spa that is owned by her grandmother, where her mother works, and where Shelby ends up working too. I know it is an important part of many women's lives, it just isn't for me, and the constant focus on the outward appearance troubles me. I'm all for enjoying a new dress, or getting your hair done for a special occasion, but that you can't walk out of the house without putting on your lipstick just bums me out. Plus there was inordinate fuss over an engagement party that also was unpleasant.

I have mentioned in the past that sometimes the characters in Roberts' books seem to disconnected from family and friends made over the years. This one was rich with family, and included an old high school rival and the best friend, who was mad at her for being so distant while married to Richard and not coming back for important events. Of course Shelby makes up with her friend, and through her meets Griff,  a construction business. As in many of her male characters, he is too good to be true, but I did enjoy the fact that he connected so well with Shelby's daughter Callie. I also liked that he was restoring an old country house.

The mystery was based on a plot twist that was quite obvious from the beginning, but it still caused enough excitement and gave Griff an opportunity to worry and support Shelby. The debt angle was quite implausible - that she could sell so much off for such substantial sums, and that she could keep paying off the huge debt with income from her salon job. But I liked that we see Shelby regaining her confidence in herself, that she lost through the mentally abusive relationship with Richard.

World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason (1957)

I picked this up at a rummage sale, as it looked like vintage pulp fiction. I never did finish it, but it was interesting to a point, as it was compared to Somerset Maugham's writing and it turns out that there have been plays, films and even a ballet based on this story.

The story is told by Robert Lomax, an artist, who settles down in a cheap hotel in Hong Kong to paint. The hotel is used by prostitutes and he is most fascinated by Suzie, an energetic prostitute that he befriends. Interesting depiction of Hong Kong, that part of the world, and prostitution in that era. Again, it is Brits owning companies, estates around the world. Robert leaves England to work as an assistant in British Malaya for a rubber company, learns to draw in his spare time, decides to devote a year to art, and moves to Hong Kong. I am fascinated by the expatriates from Europe in Asia and Africa. Why does it seem that they still managed to be separate in those continents, but took over North America, Australia, and maybe to a lesser degree South America?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015)

Wonderful, wonderful book about Beryl Markham by the same author who wrote Paris Wife about Hemingway's wife Hadley. I read Markham's autobiography West with the Night many years ago and remembered really enjoying it. Now McLain has taken her story and fictionally revealed even more of the life of this amazing woman. Kenya is portrayed beautifully, and I ran up against my old complaint of the British - who the hell did they think they were claiming the rest of the world as theirs. Markham was partially raised by the native Kikuyu people, but I was still left with the feeling, what happened to them? I think I need to read up on Kenyan history.

Markham was the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane east to west and the book starts and ends with this event. Beryl was born in England, but soon her family moved to Kenya, where her father started a farm and raised horses, but her mother soon returned to England, leaving young Beryl behind. The Kikuyu stepped in and raised her. Her best friend in childhood was the chief's son, with which she learned the ways of the Kenyan woods and grasslands, including hunting. Her father taught her to work with horses, and she at one point became one of the first women trainers. When drought and debts overwhelmed the farm, Beryl felt she was forced to marry to stay in Kenya, but she was unprepared and the marriage soon fell apart. Her big love was Denys Finch Hatten, but he was more Karen Blixen's than anyone else's. I recognized the name immediately, but took a while to remember she is the author of Out of Africa - a book I read before the movie came out. After her second marriage to Markham dissolves, she turns to flying. As an independent woman, she kept running up against society's expectations in many ways. Amazing woman, who's story was very well told. I'd like to reread West with the Night again.

Lavender Morning by Jude Deveraux (2009)

Second Deveraux book this year, rummage sale choice. I like the stories where a younger person (usually woman) befriends an older person and ends up unearthing past family secrets, and this seems to be a Deveraux way of telling a story. Jocelyn (Joce) lost her elegant mother, and her father remarried and returned to a more basic lifestyle. She is saved by an elderly neighbor Miss Edi, who shows her culture, helps her get an education. When Edi dies, she leaves Jocelyn all her positions, including a large old house in a small town in Virginia. The house comes with a couple of interesting women as renters. There are also a couple of interesting men waiting for her - Ramsey, a lawyer, the other, and Luke, a gardner. As she unravels the story of Miss Edi, she finds herself and the right guy for her - of course.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz (2015)

I know I wasn't the only one that was disappointed that we were not going to see anymore Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist books, as author Stieg Larsson had died. So I was thrilled when another Swedish author had gotten the rights to continue their adventures in this book and that the new author is also a journalist, a crime reporter, so he could continue making the fictional journalist realistic. I rarely pick up a new book in hardcover, but I did this one, and read it in a weekend. The story is complex, with many characters and locations around the globe. I appreciated the author giving the main characters from the previous books, just as a reminder, as they play roles in this story or at least get mentioned.

Blomkvist's magazine Millenium is in danger, as I can imagine many a magazine is struggling in these days of everything being on the Web. So how does journalism keep surviving, who can pay investigative journalists? But that has little to do with this book, just came up as a question. Blomkvist is restless, some are calling him washed up. He gets a call from Frans Balder in the middle of the night, and goes to see what he wants, and from then it is non stop.

Frans Balder is a genius mathematician, with autistic son August, fading actress ex-wife Hanna, her no good current live-in Lasse Westman. He has done some amazing work with AI that others want. He has returned to Sweden to take his son under his own wing and realized the kid is also brilliant with numbers and can draw amazingly - a savant. The kid becomes a key figure in this thriller.

Lisbeth Salander is working on finding the remnants of her late father's band of evil-doers, which have been called Spiders. I liked the way the comic characters were brought into the story. Brilliant techies, but social misfits often turn to comic books (as in Big Bang Theory) - and understanding these was a clue to those thrying to figure things out. Salander does stir up a wasp's (not hornet's) nest in America, so we have a complex story that includes Swedish police, Swedish Security Police, American National Security Agency, an investigative magazine, bad guys, some with a bit of a conscience, and more.

And now I know there can be more Blomkvist Salander books. Yeah!!