Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Road to Paradise Island by Victoria Holt

The Road to Paradise Island is a really entertaining, engrossing Victoria Holt
I've read a good number of Victoria Holt books, but when I saw the description of The Road to Paradise Island, I could not recall ever reading the book. So of course, I requested the book from the library. I just finished reading it, and I was very impressed with the story and the characters. The story's first female protagonist is Annalice Mallory. She comes from a long line of map makers, and she and her brother Philip are raised by their grandmother after Annalice's mother died when Annalice was born. Annalice's father left the country and the business to marry again in Denmark. That's the back story, but the story that influences the whole book is when Annalice finds first a grave site for an Ann Alice and then a journal and map in a walled off room. No one realized the room was there until a bad thunderstorm damages the building to show that a room is there. Ann Alice, whose name is so close to Annalice died a hundred years earlier, and Annalice's grandmother had never heard of her. When Annalice finds the journal, she reads it, and the journal takes up almost 100 pages of the book. Ann Alice tells the story of her father and her new stepmother. She also details the eeriness of Desmond Featherstone, a "friend" of her stepmother, who may be the illicit sexual partner of the stepmother. Ann Alice meets a Magnus Perrensen, whom she falls in love with. Magnus had been shipwrecked, and he had a map that showed the location of the island, which was very rich in gold. Ann Alice appears to be murdered by her stepmother and Desmond when Ann Alice finds out about their affair after Ann Alice's father dies.

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

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth
I haven't been reading on my Kindle much lately. Usually, I read it while I'm teaching. So it took me a while to finish The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth. This book was published in 1943, and the War is present in the book. Blackout curtains are drawn at night, and Casey Desborough, one of the leading characters in the book was a pilot in the war. Laura Fane has just come of age, twenty-one, and she goes to London to talk to her solicitor. She has had an offer from an Aunt Agnes to buy the Priory, which Laura has inherited from her father. It seems that Agnes was once supposed to marry Laura's father, but he dumps Agnes and runs off to marry Laura's mother. Unfortunately, they are both killed in an accident. Agnes had been leasing the Priory for a long time, and now she wants to buy it. While in London, Laura meets her cousin, and Agnes' ward, Tanis Lyle, who is one of those woman who draw men to her like metal to a magnet. One of the men is Casey Desborough, but when Casey meets Laura, it is love at first sight for both of them. Laura is invited to spend the weekend at the Priory with a slew of others, including Casey. Agnes still thinks Casey is Tanis' fiancee, and of course, that puts Laura in a bad light. Is she stealing Casey from Tanis just as her mother stole her father away from Agnes? Of course, Tanis is playing fast and loose with other of the male guests and a married man who lives near the Priory. Then Tanis' ex-husband shows up and threatens her with a gun. When Tanis is murdered, the finger of suspicion points in many directions, especially at Laura and Casey. However, Miss Silver is also a house guest. She used to be a governess, but is now a private detective. Miss Silver and Randal March, her former charge and now Chief Constable, work together to figure out who murdered Tanis Lyle.

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 by Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Chrisite
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is an Hercule Poirot book from 1940. Originally, it was called The Patriotic Murders when it was released in the US, and the title was later changed to An Overdose of Death. That's the tricky thing about Christie's novels. You may think you are getting a new book, when you are actually getting one that you already read. IN One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Poirot has his regularly scheduled dental appointment with his dentist, Mr. Morley. Later that day, Morley is found dead in his office with a gun shot to the head. It looks like suicide, but Poirot cannot believe it because Morley seemed the same as usual. There was no depression or sadness in the dentist's demeanor. Instead, Poirot wonders if it was murder, but then why was the dentist murdered? When a patient, Mr. Amberiotis, who saw the dentist just a few hours later than Poirot, turns up dead from an overdose of anesthetic, Inspector Japp thinks that Morley committed suicide because of the accidental overdoes. However, Poirot isn't satisfied. Could the target have been financier, Alistair Blunt, who is so very important to Britain in the early days of World War II? Could Mabelle Sainsbury Seale have seen something? She had originally caught Poirot's eye when a buckle fell off of her new shoe as she could out of the car in front of the dentist. Could it be Howard Raikes, boyfriend of Mr. Blunt's niece, Jane Olivera? Or could it be the disreputable boyfriend, Frank Cater, of Gladys, Morley's dental assistant? When Mr. Barnes, another patient of Morley and a former member of the Home Office, meets with Poirot, and he mentions that he thinks there is a plot afoot. Something seems wrong to Barnes, and Poirot agrees that something is just not right about the whole situation. When Mabelle Sainsbury Seale turns up missing and then is found dead with her face smashed in, even Japp starts to get suspicious. However, it isn't until two attempts are made on Blunt's life, and the gun in the one of the attempts turns out to be a twin on the gun that killed Morley that Japp agrees that Morley did not commit suicide. Can Poirot connect all the disjointed pieces of this puzzle?

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

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku
I love science, and although it seems that I read a ton of fiction, I also sprinkle in some science. Earlier this year, Michio Kaku came out with his latest popular science book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. Although Kaku is a physicist, he takes an interesting look at the mind and recent research and development on the mind. Some of the topics that Kaku discusses that I found most interesting:
  • 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
Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read. I like the way Kaku tells the story in the various chapters. He has a varied life experience, and he's talked to a large number of experts in the field of the mind. As a technical writing instructor, I give Kaku kudos. He knows his audience. That means he knows what sorts of thing someone reading a popular science book on the brain/mind would want to know. The language that he uses is accessible to a less scientifically trained audience. Kaku gives the reader enough information to inform and entertain. I found myself wanting to read some more books on the specific topics that intrigued me. Michio Kaku is greatly entertaining science writer! You should read this book so you can learn more about how your brain works.