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Thursday, March 24, 2016

All's Fair, Mrs. Biddle: A Byblos Foretold Trilogy

Prepare to be amused!  All's Fair, Mrs. Biddle: A Byblos Foretold Trilogy (#556) by M.E.Meegs combines three independently published novellas between two covers.  Since the three books, Babes at Sea, Peddlers All and Dames Engaged are intertwined stories (as are many of its characters!)  this is certainly a convenient way to read them without the bother of having to go find the next volume. They're like peanuts - you can't possibly read just one!

It's hard to know where to start to describe the characters and events that fill these pages.  With Mrs. Biddle herself?  Tall, blonde, statuesque; elegant and eloquent, Mrs. Biddle commands attention wherever she goes - a woman of mystery with as many names to match whichever ball she is currently juggling.  Is there a Mr. Biddle?  Yes, you may be certain there is, dear reader, and he is every bit a fit match for his consort.  But what game could the two of them be playing at here? 

Bed hopping, babies, a sea voyage, fake aristocrats (and a possible real one!), mistaken identities, corrupt politicians, wealthy marks, con after con, and a (somewhat) happy ending for some tumble across the pages in this deliciously risqué romp.  I certainly hope there's more where this came from!

We Are Theologians: Strengthening the People of God

We Are Theologians: Strengthening the People of God (#555) by Fredrica Harris Thompsett is the second interlude reading for my EfM course this year.  The point Ms. Thompsett is making in her slim volume is that the laity, rather than being the center of a living, dynamic church at work in today's world' is instead marginalized on the fringes of the mainstream churches.  Oh, the laity's presence and money is required, but that seems to be the limit of hierarchical toleration.  Studying in community with others, thoughtful inquiry and new interpretations of scriptural material are only encouraged within narrow constraints. 

Needless to say, I mostly found this fascinating.  I don't know what your experiences may have been in this regard, but being raised Roman Catholic, much of what Ms. Thompsett said struck a chord with me.  I must admit, she did lose me a bit in the chapter on liberation theology which was much more in vogue, I expect, when the book was originally published more than ten years ago.  Nonetheless, I found her chapter on Anglican theology both enlightening and encouraging.  It convinced me that as an Episcopalian I am now in the right place for me.

K-9 Blues: A Three Dog Mystery (Paws & Claws #3)

I don't often have access to my husband's Kindle, so I took advantage when he traveled recently to read Ralph E. Vaughan's K-9 Blues: A Three Dog Mystery (Paws & Claws #3) (#554).  How ironic that my husband chose that same trip to read K-9 Blues on his tablet!  We were in total agreement about what a good story this is when we compared notes.

Levi, Sunny and Yoda have worked with police dogs Anthony and Arnold before in solving cases for the Three Dog Detective Agency.  They know the officers to be dogs of integrity and staunch upholders of the law, even if they don't always get along well with their civilian counterparts.  When they come to the Chula Vista office seeking a whippet who has taken shelter with the Agency, Levi wants a chance to hear Slim Shady's side of the story before they turn him over to the police. 

When Officers Anthony and Arnold return later that day, they are the ones needing help.  Someone on the force has set them up and planted evidence of a horrific crime in their kennels.  Drummed out of the police force in disgrace, Anthony and Arnold are more determined than ever to find out who is responsible, and what role Slim Shady played in the events.  Meanwhile, the Three Dog Detective Agency is pursuing its own investigation into Slim Shady's story of being attacked by a vicious gang of dogs with a mysterious leader.  When the trails they are following intersect, what else can the K-9 officers and Levi's band of investigators do but join forces?

It's a well-told tale with a strong moral and ethical grounding.  These dogs do, indeed, act on principles, so it's more than just an ordinary adventure story.  I will admit to reaching for a Kleenex at the end.  What could be more real than a shaggy dog tale that pulls at your heart strings?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Full Life

I read with interest A Full Life - Reflections At Ninety (#553) by former president Jimmy Carter.  I've always felt that President Carter was a man done in by his honest intentions and integrity, and after reading this memoir, I'm more convinced of that than ever.

What an enormous number of hats Jimmy Carter has worn over the course of his well-lived life!  I've seen his home in Plains, Georgia from beyond the Secret Service gate, and been invited to attend one of his Bible Classes at his Baptist Church, but I had no idea about the journey that led him away from Plains to the Naval Academy and beyond, and then back again.  

To be honest, what interested me most were the years prior to the White House - his boyhood memories, his naval career, and his decision to return to Plains to take over the family business after his father's death.

I can remember a number of the incidents he describes during his campaign for the Presidency and his time in office and beyond; I was old enough to vote for him when he ran, so it was easy to recall the personalities of the people involved in many of the events he includes in this small volume.  The hardest thing about it is wrapping my mind around the idea that it all took place so long ago!

I admired him then, and I still admire him now as a shining example of how to spend your retirement years as a productive (senior) citizen.  A Full Life is a brief and fascinating encounter with Jimmy Carter.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Pursuit of Pearls

I won Jane Thynne's novel The Pursuit of Pearls (#552) in a GoodReads First Reads giveaway.  I thought the premise was intriguing; an English woman working in the German film industry in Hitler's Germany decides to work undercover for British Intelligence as she mingles with German High Society.  When one of the Faith and Beauty Girls who has been working as an intern with Clara Vine's film company is found murdered in the woods Clara finds herself making a foolish promise to her parents to try to discover who killed Lotte.  There are plenty of candidates, since Lotte was enrolled in the program to turn out suitable wives for officers of Hitler's High Command. 

I thought that this would be a murder mystery with the additional twist of Nazi Germany for the background, but it turned out to be surprisingly boring, and despite having picked it up and put it down on at least four occasions, I finally came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth any more of my time.  I have plenty of books I really want to read, so I'm dropping this one in the trash.  (Besides, it had a nasty, decadent feel to it that I did not care for.  Ugh.)

The Promise

Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie cross paths in Robert Crais' latest novel, The Promise (#551).  I would have read this entire book in one sitting if it had been at all possible for me.  I hated having to put it down and get on with the rest of my life.  I can't recommend a book more highly than that.

Readers will remember Scott and Maggie from the terrific thriller Suspect.  Here, he meets Elvis Cole at the site of a raid, pulling a gun on Elvis as he pursues someone fleeing from the house.  The problem is, only Scott and Elvis have actually seen the guy, and the rest of the police aren't buying Elvis' story that he was only there in the first place chasing down a lead for a new client.  Elvis might find himself in jail, and now Scott has a target painted on his back because he's seen the mystery man's face at the house where a body is discovered.

In his usual fashion, Mr. Crais unwraps layer after layer of lies and deceit as Scott James and Maggie and Elvis and Joe Pike follow separate paths to the truth at the heart of this maze.  Nothing is as it appears to be for either the prey or the predators.  The question is, will any of them survive?

Coconut Cowboy

Serge A. Storms is back with his sidekick Coleman in Coconut Cowboy (#550).  It's the 19th adventure for this pair by author Tim Dorsey. 

Inspired by countless viewings of the movie classic Easy Rider, Serge decides to set out on his own motorcycle odyssey to explore the back roads of  Central Florida.  Along the way, with Coleman in the sidecar, the pair will encounter sinkholes and speed traps as they wander through the roads less traveled by.  That's not to say they're dull; Florida seen through Serge's eyes could never be that! The odd, the eccentric and the newsworthy are all featured here. 

Not that Serge is looking for trouble on his trip.  It just naturally seems to find him, and when it does, Serge is bound to find a way to fix the problem at hand so that the good are vindicated and the bad guys get what they so richly deserve.  It's always so satisfying when Serge manages to deal out justice to the perpetrators with the perfect punishments.  And will Coleman's creativity in using found objects as bongs never cease?

This is one ride-along you won't want to miss.

The Bone Labyrinth

It's the science that makes James Rollins' Sigma Series thrillers so plausible and so frightening.  In The Bone Labyrinth (#549) it's about the discovery and theft of bones at a remote cave that drives the plot.

When an international crew of scientists comes under attack in a mountainous region of Europe, Sigma Force is dispatched to rescue the survivors of the mission at the request of the French Special Forces who were guarding them.  The assailants are masked and unidentified, but their intent is deadly.  When a primate compound is attacked outside Atlanta, and another scientist and the subject of her research are kidnapped, it becomes personal for Sigma.  One of their members has been abducted as well.  What secret can these bones contain that is worth killing and kidnapping to unravel their truths?  In the end, it proves to be something with the power to change the world as we know it, and a nightmare to contemplate.

Since today is Pi Day, I'll tell you that Pi itself plays an intriguing role in telling this story.  Like Rollins' other books, I found The Bone Labyrinth impossible to put down, and difficult to forget.

The Road to Little Dribbling

Is there anything better than visiting a place you love with an old friend who shares your enthusiasm?  That's the feeling I got while I was reading Bill Bryson's rambles around England entitled The Road to Little Dribbling (#548).

In this book of essays Mr. Bryson is asked by his publisher to revisit the England of his youth.  Well, that doesn't exactly happen, but his musings on his adopted country as an older and slightly crankier man touched a chord in me.  I found myself thinking "That's just how I would have reacted!"

He does have a vague plan in mind for his series of journeys around Great Britain: to go from the furthest spot south (excluding the Channel Islands) to the very northernmost point of the mainland of Britain with many a detour, all of them entertaining.  I've added several more places to my "Must Visit" list when next I go myself.  .

I particularly enjoyed his chapter about a "Guys Outing" to a soccer match in company with his son-in-law and his two grandsons.  My husband and I have started watching English Premier League play on television, so we could appreciate some of the points Bryson was making.  It capped off reading this book nicely when the team playing that Saturday was Everton, the team he and his family had gone to see.

If you're a Bill Bryson fan, you will relish this book.  If not, this might not be the best place for you to meet him for the first time.  Try one of his earlier classics, like A Walk In The Woods.