Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Sole Survivor and The Kynsard Affair by Roy Vickers

Here is my Keetie Clan. L-R:  Lt. Foyle, Lt. Columbo, Miss Lemon, and Mrs. Oliver.

And here is some music for reading, or so the video claims.

And here is my new little monster.  He's a tiny T-Rex disguised as an adorable Quaker parrot.

The Sole SurvivorThe Sole Survivor by Roy Vickers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was excited to stumble across another Roy Vickers while visiting a marvelous old Opera House that has been converted into an independent bookstore in a town just north of Dallas. I eagerly devoured this book in a couple of sittings, which is sad because now I'm done. Kind of when you have only so many chocolate covered espresso beans and you know you should savor them but you can't stop yourself from gorging on them.

The plot very simply is this: A man, Mr. Clovering, is the sole survivor of a group that floated away from a ship wreck and landed on a desert island. In the beginning there were seven of them, including Clovering, but by the time rescue came Mr. Clovering is the only one left alive.

What happened to the rest of them? Thus begins a tale, as told by Clovering's diary where he recorded each day he was on the island, filled with mystery and suspense. I know that is vague and can be applied to any story, but I do not want to ruin any surprises for any potential readers out there.

Therefore you will have to settle for my subjective descriptive phrases. Clovering's diary gives us an account of how the group got to the island, learned to survive on the island and how each man, barring Clovering, died. It kept me guessing until the very end, which was about one of the most unexpected endings I've read for a long time.

When one reaches the conclusion, he or she is going to want to start over again in order to understand what was actually going on.

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The Kynsard AffairThe Kynsard Affair by Roy Vickers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply superb plot and mystery. I had no idea who did it until the author finally chose to reveal the murderer at the very end.

This story, like The Sole Survivor, are not like Vickers' short stories where the reader knows immediately who did it. This ran along like the normal murder mystery.

A man is hanged for murdering his wife, after witnessing the execution, a constable leaves the building to find a car parked just outside. While unusual, this is not disturbing, until the constable peers inside of the car to see the battered remains of a naked woman.

Who is she? Why has she been murdered, and does it signify that she is not wearing clothes?

All the questions are answered one at a time.

First the woman must be identified. The car is traced and found to belong to Betsy Trotwood. Can that be her real name? Did her parents really name her after a Dickens' character?

However, her description fits another woman: Barbara Kynsard. In fact, an attorney, Arthur Kynsard has reported his wife missing and she fits the description of the murdered woman. Kynsard goes to forensics and identifies the dead woman as his wife, and, even though all he sees is her battered face, he tells the doctor and the inspector that his wife also has a scar on her chest. This seems to re-enforce the fact that the woman is Kynsard's wife. They had seen the scar on the body.

So now we know who the murdered woman is (it is obvious she was murdered, one does not accidentally get their face bashed in with something that was obviously a mallet or such).

Or do we?

Another man, a Mr. Flanch, arrives at the department to identify the woman. His girlfriend has been missing and she fits the description in the paper. He also identifies the woman and also mentions the scar, even though he only sees the face as did Mr. Kynsard.

What's going on here? Are there two women, a Betsy and a Barbara? Or is it possible that Mrs. Kynsard was leading a double life?

Inspector Turley does not know which is the case so he decides to conduct the investigations as if both possibilities were true. He sends one detective off to gather information as if Barbara Kynsard was murdered and Betsy Trotwood, or whatever her real name is, is missing and he sends another detective off to investigate as if they were the same woman.

I really had no idea what the truth was until Vickers chose to reveal it in the end, and, unlike some mystery writers (which annoys me no end), he builds up to a logical conclusion.

I had no idea who the murderer was either. While reading we find out the more than one person had a motive to murder Barbara, or Betsy, depending on who that person is.

An excellent story told well. I read it in two sittings and was sorry it was done.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King

Here is the Cello Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major performed by
Morten Zeuthen on the Violoncello.

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented ArchitectureBrunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating account of the construction of the dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiori in Florence, Italy centering around it's main architect, Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi was the first man in the renaissance to re-invent the major dome like structures that covered many ancient Roman edifices, such as the Pantheon in Rome. This information was lost over the 1500 years since the Roman Empire but Brunelleschi figured out how to use physics and engineering to create a massive dome structure that could support itself and not come crashing down.

Not only do we learn on a layman's level how Brunelleschi accomplished this, we learn about the man himself, his rivals, such as Lorenzo Ghiberti of "Doors of Paradise" fame and others. We learn about Brunelleschi's successes and his failures and also about Florence and Italian Renaissance history and politics.

Anyone interested in Italian Renaissance Art, Architecture, and history will thoroughly enjoy this book.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh

I can't remember if I introduced you to our latest addition.  This is Columbo.  Hercule was being less than friendly to Lt. Foyle so I got him a little friend his own size.

And here is Liszt's lovely Liebestraum.  I alliterated that without even trying.

Men At ArmsMen At Arms by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book I have read by Waugh. The first was Brideshead Revisited and while it was interesting, it was a bit morose.

"That little tick wants his bottom kicked, " said Major Erskine. "I think I shall kick it. Good for him and pleasant for me."

That is my favorite line and I like repeating it to myself. That is also a good sample of the wit Waugh exercises on every page of Men at Arms.

Consequently I liked Men at Arms much better than Brideshead Revisited. Our hero Guy Crouchback is too old to enlist for WWII but wants to and finally is accepted into the Halbediers Unit. He is one of two older men, the other being Apthorpe. Both of them go through preliminary training with young men who call them "Uncle". Finally they are sent off to war and we learn how they fair there.

Most of the book takes place during their training time and we meet quite a bundle of interesting characters. Waugh is able to make his characters comical without being cartoony, which I appreciate. This book is really funny, even though it deals with a serious subject matter.

The story is from Guy's point of view, but with third person narration. One could almost feel sorry for Guy as we see the younger men try to take advantage of him and Apthorpe himself seems to manipulate Guy in ways that Guy can only appreciate later as a less than fortunate thing.

But Guy has strains of tenacity and learns to fend for himself, while he circulates with men, some of who are not altogether sane.

I won't give away the story, there isn't much of one. This is a character-driven book and the characters are interesting. Not a dull one anywhere and if you enjoy reading about the funny and sometimes zany antics of a bunch of grown men trying to prepare themselves to fight in a war, you will like this book.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yankee Doodle Went to Church: The Righteous Revolution of 1776 by James L. Adams

Here is the incomparable Martha Argerich playing Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit no. 1 Ondine

Hercule flew away and was gone for two days.  I was heart broken.  We had a friend over for dinner Thursday night and neither Josh nor I was good company because we kept looking out the window, hoping to see if our little Hercaloo had come back.  

Friday afternoon, I heard a familiar "squawk".  Up in the tree in my front yard was my little Hercy.  He was trying to fly down, but like a little kid on the high dive, was frightened.

Without worrying what passersby or the neighbors thought, I stood below the tree with my arms spread out.  He finally took the plunge, flying over me and into my picture window.  When he bounced onto the ground I grabbed him and brought him inside.  I am so grateful to God.  I was praying hard.

In the meantime, Josh was looking in the papers to see if someone had found little Herc and instead found someone trying to re-home their burbie.

We'd like you to meet the newest addition of our family, Cosmo the Quaker parrot.  He is just a cuddle bug. He loves my keeties (Hercule hates them) and is learning to get along with my little green monster.

Hercule, like the older sibling is a little jealous, but he is also intrigued.  They've been warming up to each other little by little.

               I love my Hercy Poo.  I'm so glad he's safely back.


Yankee Doodle Went to Church/the Righteous Revolution of 1776 
Yankee Doodle Went to Church/the Righteous Revolution of 1776 by James Lewis Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting analysis as to how the colonialists were inspired to break away from the English crown and govern themselves.

Because the focus is on the role religious leaders played in the revolution, I found Adams' argument a little simplistic, but I have no doubt that what he says is true, if limited in its scope.

In a nutshell, Adams places the responsibility of revolt squarely on the shoulders of Puritan preachers and specifically one Unitarian preacher who used the Bible to justify breaking the yoke of the "oppressors", thus justifying a war against the governing authorities.

Other preachers, loyalists, argued that it was not scriptural to revolt but rather to respect the government that God had appointed. (Romans 13:1-7)

We learn a good deal of the various religious leaders of the time, the good, the bad and the ugly and the same could be said for the congregants.

Some may be surprised to know that fewer American citizens were church members in the 18th century than today. The reason is due to the difficulty in joining a church back then. Puritan leaders wanted to ensure that anyone joining the church had undergone a genuine conversion experience. This is rather different than the "inclusive" environment many churches today wish to exude. One wonders who had the most authentic believers. Today's churches or the colonial ones.

People today may also be surprised to learn that a major reason for the Puritans' revolutionary attitude is because they did not want the Church of England, the church that was hand in hand with the government in England, the church they left England to escape, to re-establish itself in the New World. It was not just Jefferson who did not want the government interfering with the free practice of religion.

Ironically Jefferson's words today have been re-interpreted to mean that the government does have a right to interfere with the free practice of religion, if it conflicts with secular philosophies.

The final chapters end with an enlightening description of a couple of Loyalists and their side of the story. I found this side to be little told but very interesting. I would like to get more information on the people who sided with England.

I think today they are called Canadians.

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 Cosmo is a daddy's bird.  He'll fly to Josh, but not to me (yet).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sands of Mars and The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke

It was my birthday last Saturday.  I always love my birthdays.  First of all, I am thankful to be alive another year.  I have friends who have not been so blessed.  As usual I got exactly what I wanted.  My husband gave me the modernist tea set.  I love this kind of art.

Here is Mozart's Symphonies nos. 40 and 41 to make the next hour of your life joyful.

Here's two reviews on a couple of Science Fiction books I read, both by Arthur C. Clarke:

The Sands of MarsThe Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am attracted to Science Fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. I like the cover art from the paperbacks; I like the retro feel from the stories too.

If you like books based primarily on world building, then you will enjoy this book. If you depend more on a story-line with an arc and characters that are well-developed, this story may disappoint.

Martin Gibson is a writer and he has been selected to fly on a spaceship to Mars and send back news to Earth. Earth wants to know if the efforts and financial expense to colonize the planet is worth continuing. Mars hopes that his reports will encourage their home planet to continue their support.

The first half of the book takes place on the ship where Gibson learns his way around and gets to know the astronauts. Each astronaut has a strong distinctive character and I am sorry that they did not play a larger role in the story. As soon as the ship lands on Mars, they all but disappear and the story shifts to Gibson's observations of the land he sees and the work the colonists have done to make it inhabitable for humans.

Maybe this would have been interesting if it was non fiction, but just reading one person's idea of what living on another planet would be like is not my cup of tea, but other readers might like it. For me it felt like reading a text book on ecology.

There are moments of tension, but they are brief. Mostly it's comparable to a mechanical Disney ride where one sits and observes the scenery while your cart takes you around the different "lands".

If you're a Six Flags type of person, you might go for something with a little more suspense.

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The Deep RangeThe Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like the last Clarke I reviewed, this book relies heavily on world building. A plot is practically non-existent. Clarke simply wants to share a possible vision for the future.

Walter Franklin was an astronaut, with a wife and children on Mars. A traumatic experience on his spaceship left him mentally and emotionally disturbed. He cannot return to space and is therefore stuck on Earth for the rest of his life. His family can never join them because since they were born and raised on Mars, their bodies are too light for Earth where the heavier gravity would kill them. A convenient caveat Clarke arranged in order to justify his story line, which is to give Franklin a new love on Earth, even though it is peripheral to his main idea.

Franklin now works at a Marine Center where he has learned to drive underwater subs to monitor sea life and maintain herds of whales which are used as sources of food, the way cows are now.

With his new co-worker, Don Burley, we see a future world underwater and how it functions to support human life.

As I have said, there are few bumps in Clarke's story. He just wants us to envision what life would be like a hundred years from 1957 and how life would operate. I found a lot of his descriptions about as interesting as reading a "how-to" manual because much of what he writes is, well, how to operate a sub, how the sub operates in the water, herds whales, fends off killer whales and sharks etc...

I would have liked a little more development between Franklin and Burley, there was a lot of potential there that he only touched upon as they start their relationship cynical and distrustful of each other, eventually allowing a grudging mutual respect to finally admiration and friendship.

The woman he marries on Earth is interesting-she's a marine biologist who studies vitamin levels in shark livers- until they marry, then she is relegated to the background as someone he kisses good bye as he leaves for work and the mother of his children.

Again, people who like world-building and don't care about character or plot development will enjoy the book.

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