Friday, December 26, 2014
The book is mostly told from Elwes viewpoint, with sidebar comments from the others involved in the making of the movie. It was interesting to hear some of the stories, and it was especially interesting to see the pictures from the making of the movie. There wasn't anything heavy or earth shattering about the stories. Instead, it was a pleasant walk through the memories of an assorted band of creative people brought together through the luck of fate. I can't imagine the movie without the actors in it. I loved the movie so much that i read the book by William Goldman several years ago.
If you love the movie, Elwes' book will be a pleasant jaunt down memory lane.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
I did have time to skim a couple of books. The first was 41: a Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush. I liked George W. Bush as a president, and in his post president years, he has come across as a much more amiable, fun person than I imagined. In 41, George W. gives us a personal picture of his father through his son's eyes. Of course, 41 represents George Bush (the father) who was the 41st president. George W. said that he wrote the book because David McCullogh's daughter had talked to George W. about how McCullogh was disappointed that John Quincy never wrote anything about his father. George W. does not give a political view of his gather, but he does provide a personal view of the man. We learn about the type of man that George Bush is (and was). Of course, the picture is painted through the jaundiced eyes of the son, but it is touching to see the great love that George W. has for his father. My impression of George Bush changed after reading the book. I gained respect for George Bush because he seems to have lived his life with honor and respect for others.
The other book that I skimmed through was Zoobiquity: the Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health by Barbara Watterson-Horowitz, M.D. and Kathryn Bowers. I got the book because I saw the TED Talk that Watterson-Horowitz gave on the connections she has made between animals and humans. It in that past, animals and humans were treated by the same doctor. However, as we moved away from a farming society, dependent on horses for transportation, the separation between doctors and vets began. Watterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist, was called in to help treat primates at the Los Angeles zoo with potential heart problems. She found that health problems seemed to cross species. As an example, the recent discovery that the human heart can suffer from emotional distress. Well, vets have known for years that animals can die from fright at capture. As Watterson-Horowitz continued to research the connections between animal and human health, she discovered that doctors could learn a lot from vets. Vets routinely read human research journals, while doctors wouldn't even consider looking at veterinary medicine research. That elitist attitude is ridiculous because it's harder to get into vet school than it is to get into medical school. Zoobiquity has plenty of stories to show the connections between humans and animals. You can enjoy the stories Watterson-Horowitz tells of her animal encounters without having a medical degree. Zoobiquity is a fun, thought-provoking book.
Monday, November 24, 2014
I loved The Sense of Style because Pinker says many of the things that I tell my students. Audience is key, and it's important to understand why certain stylistic concepts are prized. For example, passive voice is a big no-no. I used it in the previous sentence. When someone says to use active voice, it's usually because active voice can be more clear and concise than passive voice. The subject is performing the action of the verb. However, there are times when the subject is more important, even if he/she is not performing the action. "Mr. Jones was taken to the emergency room." It's not important to know who took Mr. Jones there; it's important that he went. To blindly follow rules without understanding why is just plain dumb.
Pinker gives examples of good and bad writing. When it's good, he explains why. When it's bad, he gives examples on how to make it better. As I said, I got the book from the library. I was curious about how good it was. I found myself stopping to read aloud sections to my husband. That's when I knew I had to add it to my collection. If you want to know more about writing and style, and you think those skills are vanishing in the 21st century, you should get Pinker's The Sense of Style. You will find that our concerns about the loss of writing skill is overblown.
Friday, October 17, 2014
If you are interested in starting your own business, Barbara has good advice. If you don't want to start a business, you will still enjoy the warm, family stories. I have no interest in business, but I really enjoyed getting a glimpse at the woman behind the shark.
Saturday, October 4, 2014
- if being born on a certain date has any affect on your life (which it might with seasonal effects)
- if your name can say something about the person you will become
- if you can tell if someone if lying by looking at them (no, but talking to them might expose a lie)
- if ghosts exist (nope, but there might be other things that cause the eerie feelings)
- if you pick your president or decide guilt based on looks (and it seems that we do)
- what we find funny and why we find it funny
- how honesty are we
I really enjoyed reading the book. As I was reading, I found myself stopping to re-read sections to my husband. I thought that he would find the section on beards interesting since he has one. It seems that in a study Wiseman did, people thought men without hair on their faces were more honest. Face hair might mean maturity, but it also meant that others might think the man with the beard was sinister. As Wiseman noted, there has not been a US president with face hair since 1910.
If you are interested in the why people do the things they do, and what it means when they do them, Quirkology is for you.
Monday, September 22, 2014
The Circular Staircase was one of Rinehart's first books, written in 1908. Rachel, a spinster, raised her nephew and niece, making sure to safeguard the siblings money. As they got older, they started to live lives away from Rachel, so as one of the last flings for the family, Rachel rented a house from the Armstrongs in the country for the summer while her house in the city was being renovated. That's when things take a turn for the eerie. Rachel starts to hear knocking noises, and she thinks that she sees people hanging out, maybe trying to get into the house. When Rachel's charges, Halsey and Gertrude show up, things take a turn for the worse. The son of the man who owns the house gets shot entering the house. Halsey and his friend, who left earlier in the evening, are suspects, and the friend, Jack Bailey, gets arrested when the bank that the Bailey worked at had funds stolen from it. Bailey is suspected, but so is Paul Armstrong, who owned the house that Rachel rented. Armstrong is now in California, but he turns up dead. The incursions into the house seem to be ongoing, and the mystery around the Armstrongs, the house, and the missing money deepens.
I really enjoyed reading The Circular Staircase. Humor abounded. My favorite interactions were being Rachel and her life-long maid, Liddy, were constantly bickering with Liddy threatening to quit while Rachel threatens to fire her. The mystery is a puzzle, and I have to admit that there were several times I wanted to shake Rachel and say "don't keep quiet about what you just learned." all in all, the book was very enjoyable, and I look forward to reading more Rinehart.
Friday, September 19, 2014
The Heist is different from some of the other Allons is that there isn't a terror attack behind the action in the book. Instead, Allon is pulled into an investigation of a former diplomat's death because Allon's friend, Julian Isherwood finds the body. The diplomat turned out to be a former spy, turned rogue, who was now in the business of selling stolen masterpieces. Allon's role is to find the Caravaggio that was rumored to be in the possession of the dead man. What Allon finds is that the man was onto the Syrian president hiding away funds for his future use. Allon is determined to track down the funds and remove them. Also, he wants to find the Caravaggio. In order to gain access to the money, Allon recruits a girl who works for the investment officer who is hiding the fund for the Syrian president. The girl is a Syrian whose family was massacred in Hama as threats to the president of Syria.
As I mentioned, this book is different from the others because Allon isn't being tortured to near death. At times though, the story just seemed to drag along. The overall plot was interesting, but I think there could have been more action and less repetition. I think Silva needs to take a break from Allon, especially since Allon is moving into more of a managerial role in the Israeli secret services. Perhaps, he can revisit the Michael Osbourne character.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Gideon Crew is a master thief, who is also a physicist. He also has a medical condition, tangled blood vessels in his brain, that leaves him with only ten months to live. Preston and Child love to have characters appear in multiple series, and it's no different here. Eli Glinn, who is the person behind EES, Effective Engineering Solutions, appears in The Lost Island. Glinn's EES was the group behind the meteorite recovery in The Ice Limit.
Glinn asks Gideon Crew to steal a page from the Book of Kells while it is on tour in New York City. The task appears to be an impossible one because the security is so high, but we are talking about Gideon Crew, and he manages to come up with a way to steal the page. Imagine Gideon's shock when Glinn takes the beautiful illuminated page and removes the paint! But there is a reason. Hidden under the illumination is an ancient map. This map shows the route to the lotus, which can cure bodily ills and injuries, and give the consumer of it longer life. Glinn has a mysterious client who wants the plant because it would be an amazing discovery that could cure so many illnesses. Why, it might even cure Gideon's problem! The map appears to led to the Caribbean, where the ancient Irish monks were the first to reach the Americas. Glinn partners Gideon with Amy, who is an expert in classical languages and boating. Of course, the voyage is more difficult that Gideon imagines, and what they find is beyond his wildest imagination.
The Lost Island is a thrilling adventure story. Preston and Child throw in some Greek history, and the Odyssey. Is it believable? Well, of course it is. Preston and Child do such a great job of weaving high adventure into a fast moving plot that you find yourself caught up in the action. I really enjoyed this book so much that I have to get the two earlier Gideon Crews!
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Grave Sight is the first book in the series, and Harper is called in to find a missing teenage girl, named Teenie, in Sarne, Arkansas. It seems that everyone in power in the town is related to everyone else, and after Harper finds the body, and discovers that not only was the girl murdered, but her boyfriend, who was found dead in the general area of supposed suicide, was also murdered. This doesn't go down well with the townsfolk, who make Harper's life miserable. Then Harper discovers that the Teenie's sister was murdered earlier. Then after Teenie's mom talks to Harper, she winds up dead. Obviously something is going on, and Harper and Tolliver are stuck in the town. Harper decides that while she is stuck there, she might as well figure out why everyone in Teenie's family was murdered. However, someone in the town is determined to stop Harper at any cost.
The plot was interesting. I mean who would think of a person being struck by lightning then being able to discover dead bodies. Harris does come up with some interesting ideas, but she really does need to work on her mechanics. First, her grammar is atrocious. This is an example of one of her poorly written sentences from page 10: "The waitress filled my coffee cup and taken my first swallow before the sheriff spoke." Wow! So the waitress took the sip for Harper. With the number of grammar errors, it's obvious that Harris isn't an English major, and it's also obvious that her editor sucks. Then there's the matter of common sense and research. On page 46, Harris talks about an approaching thunderstorm: "A boom of thunder was followed by a brilliant bolt of lightning." Anyone who has any common sense, or lived, knows that light travels faster than sound, and that you see the lightning and then hear the thunder. The errors in the book really detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
The book was okay. Harper is a stupid and sloppy detective. Harper finds out from Hollis, cop and former husband of Sally, Teenie's murdered sister, that right before her death, Sally had been cleaning the house of Dick Teaque, father of Teenie's boyfriend, after Dick died. She then came home in a bemused mood and looked through one of her high school textbooks. Well, Harper lumbers in, grabs the biology textbook, and shakes a paper out. Duh! Idiot! She should have flipped through so she could see where the paper was placed because that would have been a clue. However, Harper ain't known for her smarts. She can just find dead people. I may give the second book a chance just to see if Grave Sight was an aberration. It it's not better, I would suggest skipping the series because the first book is not that good.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I learned some things about Krauthammer that I didn't know before I read the book are that Krauthammer was paralyzed in swimming accident when he started medical student, that he was a practicing psychiatrist, and that he used to be a Democrat and a speech writer for then vice president Walter Mondale! I have to admit that I was struck because Krauthammer is the voice of conservatism. I know that I've often thought that liberalism is for the young and naive, because they have such a rose-colored vision of what the world could be. As you age, at least, as I aged, I found that my views became much more conservative. I think that with age comes wisdom and a greater understanding of how the world works. Basically, as I started to make money, I wanted to keep my money. Also, I learned that issues may not always be as black and white as I originally thought.
Krauthammer's essays are very well written and thought provoking. He broke the books into sections:
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
The reason this book series caught my eye is because of the bright, colorful covers. What is really cool about the books is that they contain instructions on how to build the gadgets used in the books. In Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab, the reader can learn how to make:
- a low-tech bottle rocket and launcher
- a mints-and-soda fueled robocat dog distractor
- a semi-invisible nighttime van tracker
- a Christmas-is-over intruder alert system
- a Do-it-yourself electromagnet and picker-upper
Other titles in the series are:
- Book 2: Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage
- Book 3: Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle
- Book 4: Nick and Tesla's Super Cyborg Gadget Glove--available October 7, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
This was an enjoyable book. The story was somewhat similar to the series depiction. There were some added characters in the book, and two of the later deaths in the book were different in the show. Gavin Troy is extremely different between book and television series. As I mentioned, he's married in the book, and in this one, he is a new father to a baby girl. Also, Troy is definitely not PC in the book. Graham has Troy express rather negative and outdated views about women, homosexuals, and people with mental disabilities. I can understand why the TV Troy is so different. The character's view in the book would never be okay with the viewing public. Even though I knew whodunit and why, I still enjoyed the book. Graham does a great job with giving the reader insight into how her characters think and feel, and she throws in some unexpected humor by making fun of the characters. All in all, Death in Disguise is an entertaining mystery.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
I enjoyed reading Arrow Pointing Nowhere, and i thought the mystery was much stronger than Evidence of Things Seen. Arrow Pointing Nowhere was published in 1944, and there are references to WWII and the shortages in gas and other items. I did not figure out the mystery, and I was surprised at the twist at the end. Unfortunately, I might not get much opportunity to read more Elizabeth Daly, but I will keep my eyes open for her books.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Evidence of Things Seen,written in 1943, had an interesting supernatural plot, so I started with it. Henry Gamadge is off working for his country during World War II. His wife, Clara, goes off to spend the summer in a rented cottage with some family friends. Gamadge is to join them when he is done with his work. Well, the friends are delayed, and Clara is alone in the cottage with her help, Maggie. They both start to see a mysterious figure who approaches the house, but never quite comes close enough to talk to. Clara and Maggie start to think that it's the ghost of a woman who died in the cottage a year earlier. What adds to the ghostly feeling is that the woman renting the cottage is the sister of the dead woman, and she appears to be unwilling to enter the house. On the Fourth of July, as the Clara hosts some local neighbors, The sister, Alvira Radford, winds up getting hurt in a carriage accident, when her horse is spooked by what appears to be the ghostly appearance of Alvira's sister. Clara helps get Alvira into the cottage, and calls the doctor. Meanwhile the neighbors, the Hunters, come for dinner. Alvira's ankle is broken, and she can't be taken back home. While Alvira is sleeping due to a morphine shot, Clara and the Hunters take up a watch over her. Fanny Hunter goes first, and Clara replaces her. While Clara is sitting beside Alvira, a previously blocked outside door opens, and the spooky sister seems to appear. Clara keeps her eye on the image and calls for help. When Phin Hunter answers Clara's cries, he says that Alvira is dead! Strangled! Did the ghostly sister somehow kill Alvira, possibly in revenge for Alvira murdering her. The finger of blame seems to point at Clara, and fortunately for her, Gamadge, finishes his job and comes to her aid.
I have to admit that like Gamadge, who admits he knew who the murderer was when he first heard the story, the murderer was quite obvious. Don't get me wrong; the story was entertaining. However, the mystery wasn't very complex. Clara comes across as a weak person who needs her husband to help her. She even seems to be mindless to a degree. When Gamadge suggests going back to the cottage, she says that she will do it if he wants to go there. I'm going to start on the second books Arrow Pointing Nowhere to see if the solution to the mystery is as obvious as it was in Evidence of Things Seen.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
The story was interesting, but I found myself wanting to grab Byrony and shake her. She puts herself into dangerous situations because she trusts her relatives too much, even when it seems that they may have criminal intent. Touch Not the Cat is not one of my favorite Stewart novels. It's a decent romantic suspense, but it's not as satisfying as the early Stewart novels.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
I found myself really enjoying the book. Graham did a very nice job with the personalities in the story. I felt that I was really getting a picture in my mind of each of them. The solution to the mystery was not very obvious. The only reason I knew whodunit was because I had watched the episode. I'm not sure if all the clues were there. As I mentioned, I knew who the murderer was so I was looking for the clues to identify the person.
One thing that absolutely shocked me was Gavin Troy. In the book, he's a married redhead! What the heck! That is not Daniel Casey (the actor) by a long shot! However, the personality was similar. I think that Troy in the TV series is more likable than the one in the book. However, it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book. I had such a fun time reading it that I requested some of the others from the library. Caroline Graham did not write many books, and the ones she did seem to have been turned into episodes on the series. If you love Midsomer Murders, you should definitely give the books a try.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Annalice is very much moved by the story, and she feels that she is connected to Ann Alice because of the similarity of their names and ages. Philip goes off to Australia in search of the island and disappears. Annalice is obsessed with her brother. In the hopes of getting their minds off of Philip, the grandmother suggests she and Annalice go to a map conference in London, where Annalice meets Raymond. She is shocked when she discovers that his grandfather was Freddie, the son of Ann Alice's stepmother and Desmond. Although Annalice has feelings for Raymond, and he asks her to marry him, she remains under certain. Raymond arranges for Annalice to accompany a family friend, Felicity, to Australia, where Felcity is to marry. Annalice jumps at the chance to find her brother. On the ship to Australia, Annalice meets Milton Harrington, the typical strong, arrogant, male protagonist in a Holt book. Of course, sparks fly between Annalice and Milton. When Felcity's new husband proves to be a brute, Annalice can't leave Felcity to her fate. When Felcity's husband is killed, Annalice and Felcity go to Cariba, the island where Philip was last seen, and where Milton Harrington has his sugar plantation. I've left some of the action out as Annalice goes to Cariba because I think that would spoil the reader's enjoyment of the story.
I know that it seems that I always give the Victoria Holt books a good rating, but this one was particularly enjoyable. I loved all of the characters strewn throughout the book, and I absolutely loved the plot. If you don't enjoy this Holt, you won't enjoy any romantic suspense books!
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Although it took me a while to finish this book, it was not because I didn't enjoy the book. I thought this was one of the better Miss Silver books that I've read. Miss Silver is like a more active Miss Marple. They both knit, and they both have a keen sense of observation. One of the things that I like about the Miss Silver mysteries is the romantic overtones to the story. You know that there will be at least one couple in love, who has to fight through the stigma of accusation. The puzzle in The Chinese Shawl is a good one. I started to figure out the twist around the middle of the book, but that didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story. I have a few other Miss Silver mysteries on my Kindle that I hope to read soon. If you haven't read any of the Miss Silver books, you should definitely remedy the situation!
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe reminds me very much of the espionage stories that Christie writes. However, at times, Christie seems to loose her path in those books, and in this novel in particular, the plot did not seem as tight as it could be. At times, things seemed to drag, and I was hoping that something would happen to help me make sense of the mystery. However, when Poirot unravels the mystery at the end, I had to admit that it was very ingenious. I'm not a huge fan of Poirot's, and this is one of my least favorite of his mysteries. Of course, with that said, I would prefer even the weakest of the Christies over other books!
As with a few other of her stories, Christie uses a nursery rhyme to title the chapters and tie into the plot. I marvel at the creativity of Christie in coming up with ways to present her mysteries. I think my favorites of the nursery rhyme mysteries are A Pocket Full of Rye and Ten Little Indians.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
- Consciousness: what is in and how do we understand it
- Telepathy: is is possible to read the mind
- Telekinesis: can the mind move objects (in this case, Kaku looks at cases where people are paralyzed and can use the mind to move the body with technology)
- Memories: what are the problems of memory lose and retention (looking at amnesia, Alzheimer's, and photographic memory)
- Intelligence: how it can be defined, tested, and possibly increased
- Dreams: how they work and what they mean
- Artificial intelligence: can we really build computers with intelligence, and what is the future for robots
- Alien minds: what would alien life be like, how would they think, and why would they want to have anything to do with us
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Now the above description may sound confusing, but Holt tells the story well, and I found myself captivated with the story and unable to put the book down. The one huge complaint is one that any woman would have reading the book. The Baron rapes Kate, and although he did it for reprehensible reasons, to ruin Bertrand's relationship, he late couches the event in terms of love. Even Kate, who at first is horrified, starts to have feelings of lust as she recounts the story later. She admits that she may want to go back to being a willing captive of the Baron's. Throughout, even when Kate abhors the Baron and his act, Nicole tries to say that the Baron isn't such a bad person. That really irks me, and I think it really left a bad taste in my mouth at the end of the book when Kate started to change her tune about the Baron. So I am really conflicted about this one. I really was captivated by the story, and It was one of the better Victoria Holt books that I read. I think that's the negative rap on some of the romance books. Rape and consensual sex are confused in these books and it's not a positive image for women.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
This book is shorter than the others and a very quick read. Johnny Dixon really doesn't feature in the book, other than as a possessed body lying in the hospital at the brink of death. Fergie, after all the evil and magical things that have happened to him, is a skeptic, and just thinks that there is nothing mysterious or evil going on. Both Johnny's grandparents and Fergie's parents seem cool with their children hanging out with a nutty old professor, and Fergie's parents let him go on an weekend excursion up the Hudson River with the Professor. Of course, there are lots of chills, and the evil spirit of Warren Windrow is exorcised. As with the other books, Edward Gorey did the cover art, which you can see here. Gorey's art does a great job of capturing the spirit of the story. So far, although this book has some weak spots, I found it the most enjoyable of the Johnny Dixons that I have read.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
As I mentioned, the Johnny Dixon books are very similar in plot. Johnny finds himself in danger of losing his life to evil forces. The professor has to battle to free Johnny from the evil. In The Eyes of the Killer Robot, Johnny is physically kidnapped instead of being spiritually hijacked, and this time the threat is much more dangerous. Not only is the plot good, but the cover art by Edward Gorey is amazing. It really captures the thrill of the moments when Johnny, Fergie, and the professor find the pitching robot, and the moment when the evil Evaristus Sloane tries to steal Johnny's eyes for a new robot. The Johnny Dixon books are good summer vacation reading for the kids and for the adults with a child's enthusiasm.
Friday, May 16, 2014
I was sad to hear that Mary Stewart died earlier this week on May 9. She was 97 years old, and she was one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. If you haven't read her books, you should give them a try. Some of my favorites were The Moon Spinners, The Ivy Tree, Wildfire at Midnight, and My Brother, Michael. I first started reading Mary Stewart after watching Hayley Mills in The Moon Spinners. The movie is not like the book, but it got me reading and enjoying Mary Stewart and the romantic suspense genre, in general. Mary Stewart also wrote the Merlin trilogy: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I haven't read those books, but I will have to try to wedge them in. I found a video Interview with Mary Stewart on YouTube that gave some nice insight into Stewart. I must admit I was surprised at how Mary Stewart looked in the video because the only picture I ever saw was the one on her books from the 1950s. She looks just like someone's lovable grandmother. RIP, Mary Stewart!
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
That's when things heat up at the professor's house. A mysterious Jack-O-Lantern appears in an upper window, and then the professor disappears. Johnny sees an image of the professor in a mirror asking for help, but of course, the image vanishes. Johnny tries to get his best pal, Fergie, to believe him, but Fergie wants proof, which Johnny can't provide. Johnny finds an unexpected ally in local priest, Father Higgins, who was also a great friend of the professor. Johnny spilled his guts to Father Higgins, except for the vision of the great-uncle's death and Johnny keeping the small skull. Father Higgins suggests a ritual request to Saint Anthony, saint of lost things, to find out where the professor is. Surprises of surprises, when three days after the ceremony, Father Higgins and Johnny receive an answer that sends them to an island in Maine. The interesting thing is that when Father Higgins checked on the clock, he found out that it was sold to someone on the island. Father Higgins travels to Maine with Johnny and Fergie to find and rescue the professor.
Even though Johnny doesn't seem to learn from past mistakes, I have to admit that I found The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull to be a very enjoyable and thrilling read. It has just enough spookiness to keep the reader on the edge of the seat. An interesting commentary on the time. The book is set in 1952. When Father Higgins goes to the Gramma and Granpa to ask if Johnny can go away with him for the weekend, they are agreeable and honored that the Father would take Johnny. Now in the light of all the Catholic priest abuse scandals, I don't think parents would be willing to allow a child to go away for the weekend with a priest.
Edward Gorey did the frontispiece for the book. It's a drawing of the Childermass clock. He seems to have had a good working relationship with Bellairs. I would have liked to have seen more illustrations throughout the book. Drawings of the skull and other eerie events would have added to the tension in my opinion. The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull is an good entry in the Johnny Dixon mysteries. What are you waiting for? Give one of them a try.
Monday, May 12, 2014
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt was a very enjoyable read. The magic elements were well-done: scary and not overdone. The puzzle of the will was thorny, and obvious, once it was explained. I still like Johnny. As Bellairs says in the book, "Johnny was a pretty strong boy, in spite of his timidity." Johnny has determination, and although he is not the best athlete, he never comes across as wimpy as Lewis Barnavelt. I love the addition of Fergie. He's smart just like Johnny, and they get into a trivia dual when they first meet. Fergie is also athletic and brave. I can't wait for the further adventures of Johnny, Fergie, and Professor Childermass.
Edward Gorey did a frontispiece and maps for the book. The Johnny Dixon series doesn't have many illustrations, but Gorey did a great job of conveying mood and plot through the few illustrations.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Johnny goes off to live with his grandparents, and he unfortunately displays some of the characteristics of Lewis. He is new to the town and school (a Catholic school), and therefore, he has no friends. Johnny also becomes a target for the local bully, Eddie Tompke. Johnny does make friends with his grandparents friend and across the street neighbor, Professor Roderick Childermass. The professor is a learned man, and he befriends Johnny, playing chess with him and plying him with chocolate cake. The professor also tells the tale of Father Baart, local parson who supposedly was given a magic talisman in the late 1800s. Father Baart was rumored to have done some sort of magic to result in the deaths of two local villagers that he hated. Then Father Baart disappeared, never to be seen again. Every now and again, someone sees Father Baart's ghost, but there's no real clue as to what happened to Father Baart. One day, when Johnny was trying to avoid Eddie, he ran into the church attached to Johnny's school. While inside, Johnny explores the basement and finds a hollowed out book with a blue ushabti, an Egyptian statue included in the tombs of the wealthy. The ushabti would perform work for the deceased in the underworld. A note warning that the figure must not be removed from the church is also included. Johnny, of course, takes the book and the ushabti home, and that's when the adventure starts to begin. Johnny asks the professor if the ushabti is real, and if it might be magical. The professor sees that it is just an old souvenir from Cairo, Illinois. However, one evening while Johnny is hanging out in the church because he felt something pulling him there, Johnny meets Mr. Beard. Mr. Beard gives Johnny a ring to wear and tells Johnny to say a daily prayer over the ushabti. The next thing you know, Johnny is being controlled by the ring and scares off Eddie with a gust of strong wind. When Johnny finally realizes that Mr. Beard is really the evil Father Baart in disguise, and that Johnny's soul is at stake, Johnny feels helpless. The professor tries to help, but Johnny won't say anything until he is taken to a psychiatrist who uses Sodium Pentothal to get the truth from Johnny. There is a terrifying showdown between Johnny, the professor, and Father Baard, and I won't ruin the story by saying how that turns out.
Maybe because I so recently finished The Figure in the Shadows, I recognized all the similarities. Both Lewis and Johnny have problems with bullies. Both wind up wearing something (Lewis wears a necklace, and Johnny wear a ring) that negatively controls their behavior and that fights removal. Both of the evil characters are nebulous, hovering, dark forms. Even with all the similarities, I found myself liking Johnny. Also, the professor is a much more realistic and interesting character than Uncle Jonathan. The Figure in the Shadows came first in 1975, while The Curse of the Blue Figurine was published in 1983. The other books in the Johnny Dixon series sound fun, so I'll continue reading them.
Monday, May 5, 2014
At the farm, there is no magic ring, but there are signs that the house was broken into and searched. Mrs. Zimmermann and Rose Rita continue on their road trip, but things start going horribly wrong. Mrs. Zimmermann lost her magical wand in The Figure in the Shadows, and now she seems to be a victim of black magic. Mrs. Zimmermann almost dies of mysterious stomach pains, and Rose Rita crashed the car, Bessie, while trying to drive Mrs. Zimmermann to a doctor. Mrs. Zimmermann and Rose Rita return to the farm after Mrs. Zimmermann starts to realize that someone is trying to use black magic against her. Back at the farm, Mrs. Zimmermann mysteriously vanishes, and it's up to Rose Rita to solve the mystery of Mrs. Zimmermann's disappearance. Will Rose Rita save Mrs. Zimmermann?
I could feel a strong connection to Rose Rita. Growing up is a hard thing to do, especially when you realize that the growing up might involve some major changes on your part. It's even harder when those changes are really not wanted, such as Rose Rita wanting to continue to be a tomboy instead of a girly girl. The situation became quite tense, and there were some especially harrowing moments towards the end of the book. Will Rose Rita change, and will she be happy with the change? Who knows? As Mrs. Zimmermann says Rose Rita will just have to wait and see how her life turns out. That's all any of us can do.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The Figure in the Shadows is an enjoyable book. The tension builds nicely and draws the reader into the action. The only thing that annoyed me is Lewis' extreme crybaby routine. I found myself wishing that Uncle Jonathan would tell Lewis to stop being such a wuss and stand up for himself. Rose Rita does effectively stand up for herself, and the contrast between her and wussy Lewis is striking. On to The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring. That book will feature Rose Rita, and I am looking forward to it.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Lewis Barnavelt is a 10-year-old orphan who goes to live with his Uncle Jonathan after the death of Lewis' parents. Uncle Jonathan lives in a interesting old house in New Zebedee, Michigan, and he's a wizard. Uncle Jonathan's next door name is Mrs. Zimmermann, who seems to barge into the house at any time. Oh, Mrs. Zimmermann is a witch. Uncle Jonathan acts weird at times, wandering around the house, and listening at the walls. Lewis spies on his uncle, and finally, he learns that it's because there is the sound a ticking clock in the house that is worrying Uncle Jonathan. Yep, it's the clock in the title of the first book The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Uncle Jonathan fears that it might be some evil magic from the former owner, Isaac Izard. Uncle Jonathan bought the house after Izard's death.
Lewis makes attempts to fit into his new home and with the new school kids. However Lewis is on the tubby side, and he's not very good at sports. The kids all make fun of him, but Lewis thinks he made a friend in Tarby, a popular, athletic boy. But Tarby starts to join in on the mocking. Lewis decides to wow Tarby with stories about Uncle Jonathan's wizard abilities by eclipsing the moon. Tarby seems impressed, but then Tarby says that Uncle Jonathan must have hypnotized him. Lewis then says he can bring a dead person back to life. Well, Tarby calls Lewis on it, and the pair meet up in the cemetery. Unfortunately, Lewis performs some magic from his uncle's books, and he appears to raise Isaac Izard's wife, Selenna. Everything heats up then. An evil presence (could it be the dead Mrs. Izard) moves into the house across the street, Tarby is more mean than ever to Lewis, and Uncle Jonathan is getting more antsy about the ticking clock in the walls. is it a Dooms Day machine? Can Lewis, Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmermann return Mrs. Izard to the dead and stop the ticking clock?
The story was a quick read, and I found myself rooting for Lewis. The action moved fast and furious at the end, and I just know that there will be more exciting adventures for Lewis and company. The most interesting thing is that Edward Gorey illustrated the book, and his illustrations really add to the eerie atmosphere. Because I am such a read-aholic, I got several John Bellairs books from the library. Now, I'm hoping for a nice, good thunderstorm tonight!
Thursday, April 24, 2014
The heroine of The Judas Kiss is Philippa, aka Pippa, Ewell, the younger sister of Francine, who is a gorgeous and charming young woman. Unfortunately, the Ewell sisters lose both parents within a short time of each other. The father had run away to the island of Calypse to be an artist and marry the woman he loved, leaving behind a repressive live on his father's country estate. With their parents dead, Francine and Pippa's grandfather brings them back to England to raise them. The grandfather is an malicious person, hiding mean spiritness behind religious zeal. He makes the girls' life miserable, and the only good thing is that they have each other and their kindly grandmother. When foreigners from the Bavarian Alps visit the next-door estate, Francine and Pippa sneak in with the aid of their maid and the foreigner's houseboy. When Francine catches the eye of Baron Rudolph, heir to the kingdom of Bruxenstein, who is visiting, it seems like an answer to a prayer. The grandfather wants Francine to marry Cousin Arthur, who is just like the grandfather. Well, Francine runs off with the Baron, and they marry. Francine keeps Pippa updated with a few letters, and then Pippa finds out that her sister has been murdered in a hunting lodge with Rudolph. The newspapers refer to Francine as Rudolph's mistress, and they don't mention the little boy that Francine told Pippa she had. Well, Pippa is shocked. As she goes every day to the empty house where the foreigners lived, she meets a handsome man that she thinks is an equerry to Count who owns the house. They go to look at the church registry that Pippa had seen with Francine's wedding signature, but it no longer exists. Thinking that Conrad, the equerry will marry her, Pippa sleeps with him. She can't believe it when he says that he can't marry her, but he can make Pippa his mistress. Pippa couldn't bring herself to leave with him.Then when the grandfather tries to get Pippa to marry Cousin Arthur, Pippa rebels. The grandfather dies in a fire, and some think that Pippa killed him because he was going to throw Pippa out of the house. However, the fire is deemed an accident, and Pippa, with inheritance money from her grandmother's estate, travels to the Bavarian Alps to find out what happened to Francine. There she finds that Conrad is really Baron Signmund, next in line to rule the kingdom of Bruxenstein. Pippa is in Bruxenstein under an assumed name, and acting as a companion to Countess Freya, who is supposed to marry Sigmund/Conrad.
As you can tell, there is a lot of intrigue going on and a rather complex plot. Does Pippa figure out who killed Francine and Rudolph? Can she prove the pair was married and had a child? If she can, she might be able to free Sigmund/Conrad from his marital obligation to Freya. Of course, all is resolved in the end. I grew to like Pippa. She gave in to human emotion and lust, and she had a relationship with Conrad, even though she knew it wasn't really right, and that Freya, whom she grew to love, would be hurt.
All in all, The Judas Kiss was another satisfying read. I found myself engrossed in the mystery, and I have to admit that I didn't figure out who the evil person was in the plot until the very end. I do have to recommend The Judas Kiss, and I will be adding it to my favorite Victoria Holt books.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
This time, I saw The Devil on Horseback on the local library shelf, and I decided that read it again. The heroine of the story is Minella Maddox, an English girl who helps her mother run a girls' school in England. The local lord of the Derringham Manor sends his daughters to the school, and he encourages his friends to do the same. When the Comte Fontaine Delibes comes with his wife and daughter to the Derringham estate, he sends his daughter, Margot, to the school. Minella, or Minelle as Margot calls her, and Margot become friends. When Minella goes to the manor house to take tea with the Derringham girls and Margot, Minella wanders into the Comte's bedroom as she secretly wanders during a game of hide and seek. The Comte is instantly fascinated. Also fascinated by Minella is the only Derringham son, Joel. Minella's mother dies, Joel is sent to Europe before he could commit to a relationship with Minella, and Margot runs off with a stable boy. Margot is brought back, but is found to be pregnant. The Comte has an idea of how to solve the problem of Margot and how to get closer to Minella. Minella will act as a cousin to Margot. The pair would go off to a distant town in France for Margot to have her baby, and then Minella would go with Margot as a companion and cousin, back to the Comte's estate in France. Of course, Minella has been raised to behave properly, and she does not succumb to the Comte's overtures. Intrigue follows Minella as the Comte's past peccadillos are revealed to her. He has an invalid wife, an illegitimate son (Etienne), Etienne's mother (the former mistress), and the surviving twin of a child that the Comte killed in a riding accident (Leon). The Comte's wife dies from an overdose; was it suicide or murder? Margot is blackmailed over her illegitimate child. Minella is a target of murder attempts, and the whole of France is an an uproar with the approach of the French Revolution.
The story is well-written, and I found myself on the edge of my seat for the last quarter or so of the book. There were a variety of twists to the plot, and it looked like things would end poorly for the Comte. He's the Devil on Horseback of the title. The book has the perfect blend of romance and suspense. I found myself becoming very attached to the characters, and I was anxious that all would turn out well for them. The Devil on Horseback lived up to my fond memories, and I would have to say that it is still one of my favorite of the Holt books.