Fong Art by Gently Mad

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley


Here is one of my favorite pianists, Glenn Gould playing J.S. Bach, the Well-Tempered Clavier.




This was such a fun read, I raced through it.

Sir Eustace is sent a sample box of chocolates to his club. He is disgusted anyone would send him something so trite, especially since he doesn't like chocolates. Next to him is Mr. Bendix. Mr. Bendix has lost a bet with his wife and owes her a box of chocolates. Might he nab the box and give it to her? Why not save a few pounds, he figures.

Sir Eustace gladly gives him the chocolates and Mr. Bendix takes them home and gives them to his wife who proceeds to help herself, insisting that her husband eat a couple, which he does out of politeness. He does not care for chocolates.

On his way back to work, Mr. Bendix becomes violently ill and ends up in the hospital. When he finally is released, he discovers his wife is dead.

The chocolates were laced with poison and the immediate conclusion is, who was trying to kill Sir Eustace? After all, they were sent to him.

The police investigate but come to a dead end.

Enter a criminologists club. This is a group of men and women who solve murders as a hobby. One member is a lawyer, but the rest are mystery writers.

What ensues is a couple of chapters devoted to each member as they solved the crime. Not only do they solve it to their satisfaction, but they also demolish each other's theories to their own satisfaction.

However, one of them turns out to be right and the ending is satisfyingly unexpected.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Washington Square by Henry James

 

 Here is Sephardic Spanish music from the Middle Ages.


Below is an acrylic painting.  I call it "Birds Flying Over Flowers."


Well, I finally set up my Etsy shop.  I'm selling my paintings there.  It's called FongArtStore.  Yes this is a shameless plug.

 

 


I had forgotten why Henry James is one of my favorite authors because it's been a few years since I've read him. This novel reminded me.

As the blurb says, a successful Doctor becomes the unwilling widower of his brilliant wife, whom he adored. His infant son, upon which he lavished so much love and hope, also dies. All that is left is a daughter who is destined to disappoint him.

Catherine turns out to be everything the Doctor expects of her. She is unattractive and simple minded. He shows her no affection and plenty of contempt. Therefore is it any wonder that the first man who comes along and showers her with attention is met with Catherine's immediate amazement, then devotion?

But is this young man, Morris Townsend, as good a person as his looks are handsome? We don't know at first. Catherine's father thinks he does and makes it clear that if Catherine is so stupid as to marry an obvious gold digger, it won't be his money the man will be digging.

Hence begins a battle of the wills of three people. Four actually, because the Doctor's sister, Mrs. Penniman inserts herself into the drama with all the thrill of an aging widow who yearns to be part of a romance. Another way of putting it is to say that Lavinia Penniman is a tiresome busybody that further muddies the waters with all of her vague insinuations and half said implications and assertions.

It eventually becomes evident to everyone that the future is going to become bleak for everyone involved. I am not going to say more in case people haven't read the book.

What I love most about James' writing is is masterful use of language and perspicacious psychological studies. We see inside everyone's heart. We see the thoughts behind the words and actions and understand them to be dead on.

And he's suspenseful in his own way, because I read this short novel in two days because I couldn't put the book down for wondering how it was all going to turn out. 
 

 Puddle up my sleeve.  He likes to do this while I'm on the computer.


 

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Battle for Home by Marwa Al Abaquni and a few light reads I've been amusing myself with.

 

 Listening to Schubert's last three String Quartets.

 It was my birthday and hubby cubby brought me flowers!!  I love birthdays, they make me feel loved.


 

 I've once again been reading books faster than I can write in depth reviews, so here are blurbs on the last couple of books I've read:




The author poses an interesting theory that architecture can bring a community together in harmony or create strife and division.

She asserts that before the government decided to tear down traditional, historical buildings and demolish neighborhoods, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace and with respect. After different government leaders decided to glorify themselves by destroying these buildings, and create horrible, lifeless, soul-less structures, it divided people and ushered in the war that has now ravished Syria.

She does not make it that simplistic, but that is the gist. Our living space matters in affecting how we think and live our lives.

I get that, but I also think that Isis and the government have other reasons for fighting each other. I think the destruction of the architecture was a symptom of a corrupt government that maintains power through terror. Isis are religious radicals who believe they have a God-given right to oust the leaders of Syria. The problem is their motives aren't to provide the people with liberty and opportunity, but to impose radical Islam on the country.

The people of Syria are caught in the cross fire. I wonder how it will conclude? After all of Syria is lying in ashes?

 

 


 

This is my second in Schweizer's liturgical mystery series. His mysteries are well constructed and he's as funny as all get out. Kind of a Mark Twain, if Twain were a mystery writer.

I just read the author died last year. A pity, because he's only written about twelve of these mysteries.

To complain: he hurls too many cheap shots at other denominations, but he does not spare the Episcopalian church and he lets his opinions be known about Nazi Feminists who become priests.

Synopsis:

Willy, the curator is found dead in the choir loft. At first it looks like a heart attack, but then poison from the Oleander plant is found in his blood stream. Oleander is the plant that one of the choir members has been using to kill her neighbor's pet hedge hogs because they keep escaping into her yard. Then she cooks them into a stew to serve at pot lucks. Yuck.

But, the cook did not do it and it takes quite a bit of circling before we find out who did. 
 
 
The following stories are on Hoopla and I listen to them on my phone while in my car or while I'm cleaning.
 
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Agatha Raisin's new detective agency is just starting out. She's invested in an office, hired junior detectives and a secretary. So far their only client is a woman who wants them to find her lost cat.

However, things slowly pick up (a man wants to find his son, but only because he wants his car back) another woman wants evidence her husband is cheating on her and a young woman about to be married has received a death threat.

The last case is when things really start to escalate. Agatha and her secretary, Emma Comfrey, arrive at the engagement party and help the lady narrowly avoid getting shot at by a sniper.

Why would anyone want to kill this girl? Agatha is determined to find out. Meanwhile her friends, Ron and Sir Charles arrive to help.

The secretary Emma, starts out as a good ally, but she begins to show signs of instability as the story progresses.

In this book, the relationships Agatha has begun to cultivate in her Cotswold village are beginning to ripen and blossom.

Another fun read.

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I enjoyed this story for the same reasons I enjoy all of Beaton's Agatha Raisin series. Agatha is so human. The dialogue is hilarious. And also I very much enjoy the narration by Penelope Keith. I have been listening to these novels while painting and cleaning my house, getting it ready to sell. It makes the time go so much faster.

After listening to Keith's wonderful voicing of all the characters, I don't think I want to read them anymore. 
 
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 Poor Agatha. She's a middle aged over weight woman who has the same notions of romance as a teenager who devours pulp novels.

She's recently married, but her husband disappears. Not only that but the last woman he was seen with has been murdered. Did he do it? And where did he go?

Another great psychological study of psychopaths, but with the warmth and humor that makes me enjoy Beaton's novels.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came by M.C. Beaton

Here is some Harp music for a change.



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This is my third or fourth Agatha Raisin and she's beginning to grow on me. Agatha starts out on an island where she is drowning her sorrow over her marriage to James Lacy who has left her for a monastery.

She returns to England and new adventure. She goes to her pilates class, determined to get in shape, quit smoking and all round start fresh. In her class she overhears a pretty young woman talk about getting her legs waxed in preparation for her marriage. Nothing to remember.

Except that the next day there are torrential rains that flood the local village river and Agatha sees the woman from the pilates class floating down it in a wedding dress, holding a bouquet. She is frozen stiff.

What the heck happened? That is what Agatha Raisin is determined to find out.

In this book I see a very human side to Agatha. She is middle-aged, overweight and smokes too much. Her self-esteem is garbage because of her recent divorce. Then a famous author moves in next door. Hmmm....

He is a mystery writer and he is willing to help Agatha investigate this mystery of a frozen bride. He's her age....might he be interested in Agatha?

We learn a lot about Agatha, her vanities and her vulnerabilities as well as John the mystery writer. I enjoyed the interplay between the characters as much as the mystery. 
 
Fall doesn't arrive here until November.  In the meantime I can at least paint and imagine.



Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham



Beautiful music by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

 



Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual AddressLife at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Life at the Dakota provides a good history of the apartment building the Dakota that stands in Gothic glory across the street from West side Central Park on 72nd street.

I love reading the histories of these famous buildings and this book did not disappoint.

We see how the builder Edward C. Clark had vision when everyone else saw the area north of 53rd Street as a barren wilderness (hence the name Dakota, after the Dakota Territories) because there was nothing up there but country.

Clark met up with a poor Jewish immigrant who fixed sewing machines and developed a better one, but no one took seriously. Except Clark. As a Lawyer, Clark patented it and made a serious advertisement campaign, changing the image of sewing machines as a poor immigrant laborers work tool, to a machine every lady must have in her home.

Thus the inventor Isaac Singer and Edward Clark made millions off of the Singer Sewing machine.

This happened when Clark was a younger man. He didn't begin to imagine the Dakota until he was in his seventies. However, the money he made off of Singer's sewing machine gave him the money to embark what what everyone else considered a crazy scheme to make an apartment building in no man's land.

This was during the 1880s. At that time New York was clearly divided between the American Aristocracy, the Waldorfs, the Astors, etc...and everyone else. They all lived below 53rd Street on the East Side. No one worth knowing lived anywhere else. Clark decided he was going to provide living space for the middle rich and the up and coming rich. Rich people who had not inherited their wealth but actually earned it. Shocking!

Stephen Birmingham gives lively descriptions of many of the better known occupants of the building, from the Steinways (of grand piano fame) to various actors and actresses such as Lauren Bacall, Music conductor Leonard Bernstein, all the way to the sixties and seventies when the first black woman moved in (Roberta Flack) and also the rebellious, peace activist turned hauteur-bourgeoisie ex-Beatle, John Lennon with Yoko Ono.

This book was published in 1979, shortly before Lennon's death so it doesn't include his murder right outside the Dakota Building, which sadly, is why most people not from New York City know about the building. It provides a unique insight as to how John Lennon had largely disappeared from sight in the 1970's and Birmingham clearly saw him as a has-been musician who could be heard from the other floors "playing lonely little melodies on his guitar in his living room on the seventh floor."

While this tells me the author belonged to an earlier generation who did not have much use for rock musicians, it also shows his lack of foresight. Around the time the book was published John Lennon had released a magnificent album with some of his most mature music to date. The songs revealed a man who had matured and mellowed and who knows what he had in store for us if his life had not been dreadfully cut short.

I suppose I'm showing my own bias there. Nevertheless, I recommend this book as a great addition to anyone's library of historical buildings.



View all my reviews




Sunday, September 20, 2020

I'd Rather Be The Devil: Skip James and the Blues by Stephen Calt; Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death; Death of a Greedy Woman, a Hamish MacBeth mystery by M.C. Beaton; Josephine Tey: a Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson


 I was listening to meditative music as I wrote this review, because it doesn't draw my attention away from the task at hand.


Here is another group of short reviews.  I read or listened to all of them on Hoopla, except the last, so I don't have any photos of the books.  So instead, here is a lovely, yet random  photo of a postcard I sent.  I'd like to paint it in acrylic.




 


I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues | Stephen Calt | First  Edition

Fascinating, if unflattering narrative on the life of Skip James, but also other blues performers of the early part of the century, their comeback in the 60s as white audiences discovered their love for the blues and their impact on the history and culture of American and also global music.

The author met with and befriended Skip James and was intimately involved with the Blues revival of the sixties. He reveals that many of these musicians led extremely rough, even lawless lives. Their relationships with white people throughout the South was far more complex than how it is often portrayed in today's media.

The author also showed how the Blues Revival of the sixties wasn't necessarily profitable for these blues musicians. Many of the managers and record companies took advantage of them, making money for themselves, but not the blues musicians themselves.

I'd Rather be the Devil, not only provides a historical chronology, but delves into the rich, old culture of the South and Southern black people, combining their religious beliefs, intertwined with superstitions that preceded the introduction to Christianity and the hard determined grit the was necessary for survival in those pre-civil rights days.


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I have really grown to like Agatha Raisin. She's so human, yet so likable. I have not read these books in order, but this is the first mystery. Agatha Raisin moves from London, her job in advertising, to the Cotswolds for a peaceful life.

It does not turn out as she expects. The people of the village are politely cordial, but nothing else. No one befriends her and soon Agatha is homesick and lonely. She decides to take the bull by the horns and get involved in village society. She begins to attend church, largely because the vicar's wife, Mrs. Bloxby has been the only person to show genuine friendship to her. She then becomes involved in several church functions.

This brings her to the Quiche competition. Agatha can't boil water, so she decides to cheat. She goes out and buys a quiche and presents it to the judges. It doesn't win, but the judge and his wife offer to take it home and finish it off. Agatha, disappointed and depressed, shruggingly lets them.

The next day, the judge is found dead. Poisoned by cowbane that was found in the quiche. Now what is Agatha to do? Admit she cheated, or be suspected of murder?

The mystery is fun, but so are all the characters as Agatha gets to know her neighbors and they get to know her. Many of the characters travel from book to book with Agatha, so they become like old friends to the reader.


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It's funny, but with Beaton's Hamish MacBeth mysteries, one knows who is going to be topped off almost from the get go. It's the most odious, disgusting individual who acts in a way that makes everyone want to kill them.

From this foundation, one then has to get to know all the suspects and find out who ultimately did it and what their reasons were for doing so. As in previous MacBeth mysteries I've read, even though the murder victim may be obvious, the murderer is not, nor are their reasons.

In Death of a Greedy Woman, a group of tourists come up from England to take a holiday at the local hotel. They are not just any group of tourists, but clients of Checkmate, a match up site. An equal number of men and women are going to spend the week together and hopefully pair off.

The monkey wrench is that one of the partners, Peta, of Checkmate is an ogre. Or at least her eating habits are ogre-ish. The other partner, Maria, actually was hoping to pull the gathering off without Peta's knowledge. Peta finds out however, and joins the group at Priscilla Halburton-Smythe's father's hotel and restaurant. The group, which was already disliking each other, find themselve in solidarity in their disgust of Peta.

In addition to the murder we see the ongoing relationship between Hamish MacBeth and Priscilla. There are bumps along the road as they continue to misunderstand each other, but I suppose that is what keeps the reader coming back. Will Hamish and Priscilla ever meet each other half way?


There is very little known about Josephine Tey, but Henderson does a good job gathering what facts are available and intertwining them with an analysis of her work, both as a playwright, historian and mystery writer.






 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In the Dark, Soft Earth; poetry of love, nature, spirituality and dreams by Frank Watson

 These Bach Baroque Suites for guitar go perfectly with these sublime poems.

 

I would like to ask everyone to pray for all the people in the northwest who are experiencing the fires.  This includes personal family members and blogging friends and their families.

 

 

And while we're at it pray for the people on the Gulf Coast.  

Hopefully Hurricane Sally will become depressed, lose her will to survive and give up, like Marco did.

 

 

 


This is an embarrassingly late review.  I was given this collection of poetry months ago and time got away and then I flat out forgot.   I am actually not a fan of poetry, I don't know why.  Takes too much discipline to read. 

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 Poetry isn't meant to be gulped, but savored.  I feel so overwhelmed with Mount TBR that I find myself reading non fiction and mysteries just because they're easy to devour.


However.


I really enjoyed this book of poetry.  Maybe it is the minimalism.  One thing that does appeal to me in poetry is the painting of visual imagery through power of expressive words.  Frank Watson's words wash over me in rich, deep yet cool colors.  I am going to post a couple of the poems because they can speak well enough for themselves.

 

 origins 

 to the poet there

is a love for beauty

 in all its terrifying forms  

 

in the quiet 

 stirrings before 

 the world wakes

 when even the night  

creatures cease to speak  

 

with distant sands 

 turned white as flecks

 on wild black hair I follow the Northern Winds 

 to where the world begins

 

  before Creation

 cast in stone 

 we built this world 

 on what was sown 

 

 since all eternity is rest

 why not use this

 time to do our best? 

 

 adrift

pallid and hollow
we’ve drifted
through this town
for centuries
and no one’s home


her words
strung up
on stranded hair—
blown away
in the winter wind


smoke gun
thoughts in the air—
these words sit silent there


the naked despair
of a people
without courage
who wander
another’s land


walking
in breathless prayer
for centuries
without imagination


where flames drive me deep
into the song of sleep
and the narrow road
that carries me off somewhere

 

 

And finally, one short one:

 

spoken word
 
fit into a cube
and packed, as is,
into another dimension
where the spoken word
shall never leave
 
I had a hard time formatting this.  Google decided to become more sophisticated and I'm struggling to catch up.
 
The collection has ten section, each on a different theme, introduced with a famous poem and beautiful paintings from Europe and Asia, from the Middle Ages to modern.
 
Finally, this is my honest review in exchange for an Arc copy.  I think I am legally obligated to say that.
 
I wish Frank Watson all the best and that many, many people enjoy his beautiful word painting. 
 
Gulf Coast at a more peaceful time.