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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Best. State. Ever. - A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

To paraphrase one of Dave Barry's favorite sayings about his latest opus Best. State. Ever. - A Florida Man Defends His Homeland (#637); he is not making this up.  If you live in Florida you basically have two choices: you can be indignant about all the news stories, or you can laugh along with the rest of the country. Frankly, I'm disappointed when a weird Florida story doesn't make it into The Week or onto NPR's news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

Dave Barry actually made some field trips to check out some of the unique places, people and events which abound here from Key West to Cassadaga.  Some of the stuff he came across even I have never heard of, like the Skunk Ape.  Yes, I have been to Ochopee, but somehow I missed the Skunk Ape Research Center.  Apparently it falls into the same class as the Yeti, Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster. I'll have to keep an eye out next time I drive through the Everglades.  (There is however a lovely church which features the Loch Ness Monster in its stained glass windows - next time you're in the Keys, check out St. Columba's in Marathon, or better yet, attend the Celtic Festival it puts on every January!)

And now that Lebron James has left the state, the high point in South Florida is officially Hobe Mountain.  We pass by it frequently, always checking to see if any intrepid climbers have actually made the arduous trek to the top with the aid of their Sherpa guides.  It's tough to climb in flip flops! Of course Hobe Mountain is a sand dune with an observation platform built on top, and not nearly the same challenge as a hike up one of the towering landfills which dot the landscape here would present.  In its favor, the smells are much more pleasant!

I just hope that my husband never has the urge to check out Lock and Load Miami. In a scary sort of way it does seem like a logical business for Florida...

This is a fun, fast read.  I'm just not sure if it's good or bad for our tourist economy!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Posing in Paradise

Somehow I never pictured Northampton, Massachusetts as Paradise, but apparently back in the day Jenny Lind the Swedish Nightingale did.  Harry Reese also seems to be immune to its charms in Posing in Paradise (#636), Robert Bruce Stewart's latest addition to an amusing turn-of-the-century Harry Reese Mystery series.  Of course, it is his wife Emmie's home town, but even she is resisting the frantic barrage of letters from her mother, begging Emmie to come home and help her!

It isn't until Emmie catches wind of author Henry James' pending speaking engagement in Northampton that Emmie abruptly changes her mind and determines to rush to her mother's aid. Harry is suspicious of the sudden change of heart, but since he has been promised a visit from a "gentleman" with a cauliflower ear to collect on a rather large debt Harry owes, he gallantly escorts his wife on her errand of mercy.

Emmie's orphaned cousins are proving to be more than Mrs. McGinness can handle.  Teen-aged twins Hal and Gloria's romantic entanglements keep her in a turmoil, and as for twelve year old Pluribus, well, he's a child right out of a teacher's worst nightmare...  Unfortunately for her mother's hopes, Emmie is too busy planning how best to get her unpublished manuscript into Henry James's hands to spend much time dealing with domestic angst.

Harry does his best to try to stay out of the way, as well, but then there's that body he discovered shortly after arriving in town that keeps appearing and disappearing, an escaped patient from the local asylum and the unexpected presence in town of one of the Reese's bĂȘte noirs with just a touch of blackmail thrown in to liven things up. Visiting the in-laws is just a little too exciting for Harry's taste!

I can always feel a smile on my face as I read these Street Car Mysteries.  There are many references to both Harry and Emmie's previous adventures in Posing in Paradise, so I would definitely recommend reading both the Harry Reese and Emmie Reese books from the beginning for maximum enjoyment.  I don't think there's anything else out there quite like this couple; the closest comparison I can come up with is Nick and Nora Charles.  If you like the rather absurd situations that silver screen couple finds themselves in, you're likely to become a fan of  the adventures in - as Harry puts it - Emmie Land.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament - Their Enduring Lessons

I spotted a copy of T.J. Wray's non-fiction work Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament - Their Enduring Lessons (#633) at the library the other day.  It proved to be an interesting read.

Ms. Wray  has divided the book into twelve sections, each highlighting a woman named in the New Testament.  She cites where in scripture mention of these women takes place, includes quotations from those stories and places them in context of the time and culture.  It's amazing how much we think we know about some of these women - Mary Magdalene or Mary, the Mother of Jesus - which actually come from other sources, sometimes written centuries after these women or anyone who could have known them have died.  Needless to say, myths and legends abound.  Sorting out what can reasonably be deduced from the Biblical text or contemporaneous historical writings is equally fascinating.  Scandal traveled far and wide even in ancient times!

Ms. Wray teaches religious studies at Salve Regina College and much of the material covered in this book comes from her years of study, research and class interaction.  One of her purposes is to make you want to read more for yourself by presenting things in a new light.  I think she succeeds on many levels.  My only quibble about this book is that it is somewhat repetitious; she knows that many readers may not read the chapters sequentially, so background material covered elsewhere is often presented again several times.  However, if you are curious to know more about some of the female figures who appear briefly in the story of Jesus and the early Christian Church, this book is a good starting place.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Rescue for a Queen

Fiona Buckley has added another chapter to the mystery series featuing  Ursula Blanchard in A Rescue for a Queen (#632).  Even at the funeral of Ursula Blanchard's beloved husband Hugh Stannard, Queen Elizabeth's shadow is felt.  Cecil has come to represent the Queen, but he has a mission in mind for Ursula all the same. Margaret Emory, her ward, receives a proposal of marriage from a Dutch business associate of her father.  When the Emorys arrive in person to plead with Margaret to accept this proposal, Cecil is present during the conversation.  In fact, he is the one who suggests that Ursula would be the perfect person to travel with Margaret to the Netherlands and represent the family at the wedding.  The Emorys gratefully accept the offer, and Ursula is hard pressed to refuse.

Of course, there is more to the journey than meets the eye, as Ursula discovers that her mortal enemy, the Countess of Northunberland, is now living in Bruges, not more than seventy miles from Brussels where the wedding will take place.  Ridolfi, the Italian banker caught up in plotting to place Mary Stuart on the English throne, is a cousin of the groom, and is planning to hold the reception for the newlyweds.  Although Ursula will be glad to see his wife Donna again, she seeks assurance from Cecil that Ridolfi has no knowledge of her role in revealing the plot two years prior.  Venturing into a Catholic country ruled by Spain is a daunting prospect, but for Margaret's sake, Ursula agrees to the task, accompanied by her faithful servants, Roger Brockley and his wife, Fran Dale.

Things never seem to go smoothly, and each time Ursula tries to return home, Cecil puts another task on her shouldrs.  When her party meets a most unexpected acquaintance in the Netherlands, it becomes even more difficult to keep up the pretense of being Catholics.  Surely their luck is running out?

This is a very interesting Tudor mystery series.  Ursula is the half sister of Elizabeth I, and her resemblance to her sibling has proven useful in the past for the security of England.  Ursula, despite her loyalty to her sister and her country, is a most reluctant spy, craving a quiet life at home.  Will she ever get her wish?  I hope for the sake of this series that she does not!


If you've been missing Downton Abbey on TV, Julian Fellowes has provided an equally addictive novel in Belgravia (#631).

The story begins as Miss Sophia Trenchard prepares to attend the Duchess of Richmond's ball in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.  It is an unexpected invitation arranged by her beau, but much to the delight of Mr. Trenchard, who hopes to climb the heady heights of society,  From his humble beginnings as a market stall holder in Covent Gardens, he has already risen to be one of Wellington's right hand men in supplying the army waiting on Napoleon in Brussels.  Although history is being made on the battlefield, the events of these days will leave a mark on all those attend the ball as well.

Twenty six years have passed when we next meet the Trenchards.  Chance meetings lead to the unraveling of secrets that have lain hidden for a quarter of a century.  There are those who wish to continue to keep the secrets, but there are those who will work equally hard to reveal them.  Reputations and fortunes are at stake!

I found it hard to put this book down.  The reader is let into the secret partway through the book, and it becomes all the more delicious to watch the maneuvering as one after another, the principals involved learn the truth.  If you enjoyed the twists and turns in Downton Abbey. you'll certainly enjoy Belgravia!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Seventh Plague - A Sigma Force Novel

When he was a boy, one of my fellow EfM colleagues was taken to see The Ten Commandments.  He still remembers how terrified he was that night that the green slime of one of the Plagues of Egypt was gong to creep down the wall of his bedroom.  His dad had to come in to calm him down.  Imagine if one of those plagues should strike the modern world.  How frightening would that be?  James Rollins shows us in his latest Sigma Force novel, The Seventh Plague (#630).

An archaeologist stumbles out of the desert after going missing for two years, but dies before he can reveal where he's been or what he has discovered.  His partly mummified body is the source of a strange and deadly disease which claims its victims within hours.  Sigma Force is called in when an old friend of Painter Crowe asks for their help while studying the body.  She is abducted on camera while the two are skyping.  Meanwhile, an attempt is made to snatch the professor's daughter at their cottage in a medieval English town.  Sigma operative Seichan recognizes one of the team as a member of the former Guild.  Nothing good can possibly come from their involvement, but who has hired them, and for what purpose?  Before Sigma Force can rest, they will have ventured from deepest, darkest Africa to the forbidding Arctic Canadian Island of Ellesmere on the trail of discoveries by Dr. Livingston, Mr. Stanley, Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain.

As always, the scariest part of these novels is the science behind the story which makes the nightmare scenarios so very plausible.  Could a microbe have been the source of the Nile turning blood red and spawning the plagues of frogs and locusts?  And could the Exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt have happened much earlier?  These are some of the intriguing crumbs Rollins throws out to his readers.  Entertaining and thought provoking!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Whole Town's Talking

In Fannie Flagg's latest novel The Whole Town's Talking (#629) she includes everyone - even the folks in the Still Meadows Cemetery!  From the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri by Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstrom through its heyday when even Hollywood stars include the town on tours, and its eventual decline after the interstate sucks the life out of downtown, we meet its citizens with all their foibles and faults and rock solid virtues.

There are good people and bad; everyday joys and sorrows, romances and unrequited love. successful businesses and criminal behavior.  It's all here, told with humor and compassion.  Ms. Flagg is such a skilled storyteller that she makes it seem not only plausible, but natural that when the citizens of Elmwood Springs die and are buried in Still Meadows Cemetery overlooking town, that they wake up to discover that their friends and relatives are there to meet them, and are anxious for news of those left behind.  But even at Still Meadows, there will come a day when some one's voice will no longer be there.  No one knows where they go, or when it will happen...

It's a delightful, touching, often funny set of insights into the life of a close-knit community.  Ms. Flagg has even included a nod to her previous novel, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion which shone a long-overdue spotlight on the heroic work of the women who served during World War II in the WASPS.  (If you haven't read that story, you ought to!  See my post of 5/22/14.).  One of the ladies of Elmwood Springs finally gets her due here.

Put The Whole Town's Talking on your Must Read List.  You'll be glad you did!