Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers; The Case of the Horrified Heirs: a Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner; Ancestral Shadows by Russell Kirk

 I've made a recent discovery in piano music, the compositions of Arthur Farwell.  He wrote some reflective tone poems that I like to listen to when I write.  Here is Roses and Lillies  from his collection called Tone Poems After Pastels in Prose.

 It's Advent and I did not have candles so I went to Walmart.  They did not have Advent candles but they did have this Starbucks mug for five dollars so the trip wasn't a waste.  To me at least.  According to my husband it was.

We're nearing the end of the year and I am scrambling to make my Goodreads goal of 200 books this year.  I thought such an ambitious target would get me to read through more of my TBR pile but all it's made me do is cheat and read a bunch of picture books to make the quota. 

Today I am going to combine three book reviews.  They are not long nor are they very profound but I hope you enjoy reading them, or better, are inspired to read the books.  If you have already read them, tell me whether you liked or hated them and why.

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey, #3)Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another good mystery by Sayers.

An elderly woman dies. She was terminally ill with cancer, so no one is surprised that she dies of heart failure. Except the doctor doesn't think she should have died so soon. Peter Wimsey picks up the scent and begins to investigate. It turns out the lady's niece, who happens to be a nurse and who was caring for her, also is going to inherit all of her aunt's money. (The aunt was very rich). No one suspects foul play and an autopsy does not reveal anything but heart failure. Yet Wimsey is not persuaded.

When Wimsey begins to interview other people who worked in the house before the old woman died and they begin to die as well, his suspicions are confirmed.

This was a very interesting story with many different clues and incidents that do not seem to be connected but all the threads are tied together at the end.

Sayer's always does thorough research when writing a story. In this case we get the low down about wills and the different laws that arbitrate them. She weaves this information into her story to make crucial plot developments.

And, of course, what makes Sayer's mysteries especially enjoyable are the lively characters and Wimsey's sharp and, at times, scathing wit.

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The Case of the Horrified Heirs (Perry Mason Mystery)The Case of the Horrified Heirs by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Virginia Baxter is framed for possession of drugs but why? Who did it? Someone is intent on getting her out of the way, not by murder but by having her thrown in prison. What is the motive? Who did she offend or does she know something that could obstruct someone's goal. But what is that goal? What does someone want and how is Virginia in the way?

Lauretta Trent is a wealthy woman in her sixties. She is financially supporting her two sisters and their husbands. She has left a will that was signed by her lawyer and his secretary, who happens to be Virginia Baxter.

For the past few months Lauretta has been hospitalized for digestive upsets. Is it the spicy Mexican food she can't resist or is something else going on? It turns out that her hair and fingernails test positive for arsenic. Who is trying to kill her?

Is it the siblings? They are not given anything in the will. They're better off if she lives. Or is it the chauffeur who stands to gain the most? He also prepares her food.

Nothing is as it seems and what I enjoyed about the story was all the different threads that seemed unrelated and how they come together in the end.

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Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly TalesAncestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales by Russell Kirk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russell Kirk is best known for starting the Modern Conservative movement. A devout Catholic, his beliefs permeate each and every story. Therefore, the stories are not simply ghost tales but stories with a higher, other worldly message.

"...the tale of the preternatural- as written by George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other masters- can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order." -Kirk

All of the stories are surreal, whether they are talking about demon possession, haunted houses, or Native America spiritism. In one story, a man stumbles into a place where dead friends dwell. At first he thinks he is dead, but it turns out that he made a "wrong turn" somewhere. If it was supposed to be heaven, it was a little bleak.

They are not traditional or run of the mill but they are extremely suspenseful and I found them to be rather frightening. Some people will enjoy these stories and some probably won't understand what he's getting at.

You'll have to read them for yourself and decide.

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For Advent devotions I'm reading Thomas A Kempkis' The Imitation of Christ every night.  I'll be reviewing that book at the end of the month.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A History of Chess by H.J. R. Murray the original 1913 edition

Please listen to the beautiful Mozart Requiem as you read today's post.

History Of ChessHistory Of Chess by Harold J.R. Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This incredibly long book is worth reading but only if you enjoy reading encyclopedias. Murray leaves no stone unturned in this giant epitome on the history of chess. He takes us all the way back to India and describes several of the games there that could very well have developed into European chess.

He takes us from country to country, Persia, China, Japan, Malaysia, everywhere some 1500 years ago where they played any sort of game that resembled today's chess game.

If one is a chess expert or afficionado then he will enjoy the very detailed accounts of chess players and moves and rules with all the comparisons and contrasts in existance.

The book is also full of amusing anecdotes about Moguls and Warriors and their chess games. He also notes that chess was taken up over games of chance since chess required strategy and it felt more propitious to engage in games one had control over believing there was a connection between the game and real life war strategies.

He also traces the development of the various pieces, ones starting out as elephants and servants, eventually turning into knights, bishops and also the queen. The Queen had its own evolution from an innocuous player to the most powerful piece on the board.

Murray describes the development of chess in Europe and how it might have arrived there. The church at first was against the game, regarding it as sinful but later embracing it and was also instrumental in changing some of the pieces.

He records every instance of chess being mentioned in Medieval literature and also how the church and Aristocrats created analogies between the game and religious life and courtly behavior.

In the end he records some of the most famous games up to that time (the book was published in 1913) and also some of the more famous sets such as the Isle of Lewis chess set.

While it was a slog, I'm glad I read it and feel I have a better understanding of a game that possesses a rich and diverse history.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Cottage for Sale: a woman moves a house to make a home by Kate Whouley

Mozart's Piano Quartet no. 1 KV 478 is being performed here.

Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved: A Woman Moves a House to Make a HomeCottage for Sale, Must Be Moved: A Woman Moves a House to Make a Home by Kate Whouley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not exactly what I was expecting but it still had its merit.

As you've probably read in the blurb. A woman who lives in a Cape Cod house on, where else? Cape Cod sees an advertisement for a colony of vacation cottage homes for sale. For a mere three thousand dollars she could own one of them. She visits the colony, falls in love with one particular cottage, and buys it.

The next several hundred pages contain her adventure in the world of conquering bureaucrats, getting permission to travel with a cottage, getting it to her property, but promising not to disturb the wetlands, which her property borders, arguing that she will not have more than three bedrooms because the cottage is going to serve as her office and what difference does it make anyway?

She also has trying adventures with the various contracters to move, build, paint, pour cement and what not.

In the end it all comes together, a rougher ride than she expected but who can predict these things?

Whouley's writing style is engaging and she makes what must have been a tedious process sound interesting.

My only complaints are that she could have developed the characters more. I realize this was non-fiction and one can only know so much about men who work on your house, but she never really lets us know her friends and family, either. One particular person, Barbara, whose family owned the property, had a lot of potential and I would very much have liked to have gotten to know her better but we only get a glimpse of her in the beginning and at the end when she is bedridden. It seems an entire story took place while we were attaching the cottage, but we never get to learn of it.

The other complaint I have is that the author writes everything in present tense. I cannot emphasize enough how much I hate reading a story in present tense. If you are not writing in second person you have no business writing in the present tense. It drains any color or rhythm her writing might otherwise have had. All the sentences limp along: subject verb. subject verb. subject verb. It's like listening to someone with one of those ugly monotone voices. A voice with no lilt, no lift, no melodic line. As a musician, I cannot tolerate voices of people who refuse to listen to themselves. As a reader, I feel the same way about tone deaf sentences.

On a positive note, I found her yearning for male relationships entertaining, but only because, being single after an ugly divorce, I was that person. With so many males crawling all over your house, surely one of them is The One. I won't tell you in case you like to be surprised.

I could comment on the unrealistic expectations of a forty-something woman who has never married and perhaps that is why she has never married, but you may want to draw your own conclusions.

Is the book worth reading? It's not War and Peace, but it was a fun, if small, rollick.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Greek Myths Volume One and Two by Robert Graves

It's been a sad week.  My little dog Breeya had to be put down.  Unlike Odie, she was not completely incapacitated, but she was so anxious and unhappy.  All night long she would run in and out of her doggy door and howl.  It wasn't typical howling.  It was a hoarse rasping.  She could not see or hear and was confused.  I finally had to decide if this ghost of the beautiful dog I once knew was worth preserving.

Derek, Breeya, Odie and me.  When we were young.

A couple of days later, I went to feed my guinea pigs to find Little Bear dead.  No sign of trauma, nothing.  He was only two years old.  I don't know why he died.

I have actually been more shocked over Little Bear than Breeya who had been sliding down the hill for the past year.  Little Bear was fine that morning when I was holding and cuddling him. When I went out to his pen in the afternoon he was lying very still in the tall grass.  We looked him over thoroughly.  There is nothing to indicate why he died.

Josh with Little Bear and Percy

Death, even with pets, is filled with sorrow.  I have been checking up on my little fatso, Percy, throughout the day, to see if he is OK.  So far, just as fat and sassy as ever.

Sorry to turn this into a lamentation for my pets.  It's been a rough year on that front.  At least there's still Percy and Hercaloo.

Hercaloo looking down at the piggies.  Trying to decide which one to nip, no doubt.

I find Paul Hindemith's Harp Sonata reflective and peaceful.  You can listen here.

The Greek MythsThe Greek Myths by Robert Graves

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robert Graves is quite thorough in writing about the myths and at the end of each story, he provides foot notes that can be as long as the story itself.

Some of the footnotes are speculative. "This god replaced an earlier pagan god etc.". It is difficult to know these things or the origins of any of these stories. But Graves gives his educated guesses and they are worth pondering.

In Graves' version the myths are not child friendly and a lot more graphic than I remember Edith Hamilton's version. I have not read Hamilton's version in many years, so I suppose I could be wrong. She also includes stories that Graves leaves out.

Graves seems to lean heavily on saga, which I appreciated since I recently read the Iliad and the Odyssey. He also fills in the gaps those two poems leave, letting us know how the Trojan War began and what happened to some of the key players such as Achilles, who is alive in the Iliad, but already dead in the Odyssey.

Another asset to Graves' collection is that he provides a cohesive chronology which seamlessly ties the gods and their origins, and also the heroes and their adventures together.  This allows the reader to gain a greater understanding of how all the stories fit inside of each other's story.  For example Heracles and his labors overlap Jason and the Argonauts.  In Graves' version we can see each myth separately, but also how they are a part of each other's story line.
I do not know if Robert Graves has a certain predilection towards the salacious (his books, I, Claudius and Claudius the God were pretty lewd) or if he is simply preserving a faithful translation of the stories. He has been criticized for relying too heavily on Suetonius' histories, who is also known for creating scandals that are not as historically reliable as they should be.

Simply put, The Greek Myths Volume One and Two , are filled with violence and perversion. Every single story contains murder and rape. No Greek hero is exempt from practicing treachery, adultery, and, in one instance, necrophilia. Leaving children out for exposure was common. Many of the heroes were spared from an early death by compassionate shepherds, or even female animals who nursed them.

Women are treated savagely by men, and especially Zeus who ravaged the countryside without mercy.

These women were not only the victims of this heinous crime but they also got to be punished for it by the ever jealous Hera.

The female goddesses were not much better than the gods. Both male and female gods' sense of justice was based largely on caprice and selfish ambition. There seemed to be very little reason other than a cruel nature behind any of their actions.

Ancient Greece is known for being the intellectual epicenter of the B.C. epoch, but I have to conclude that these myths, as Robert Graves tells them, were formed during a much earlier time when the Greeks were no more than tribal barbarians steeped in pagan practice that by today's standards of morality seem demonic.

It certainly gives me a greater appreciation for our concepts of justice, mercy and humanity that we take can take for granted in our country.  These values did not always exist and sadly, do not exist in many parts of the world.

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Hand feeding Little Bear grated carrot.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Penny Dreadfuls: Sensation Tales of Terror compiled by Stefan Dziemianowicz

I think it would appropriate to listen to J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor while reading my latest post.

Penny Dreadfuls: Sensational Tales of TerrorPenny Dreadfuls: Sensational Tales of Terror by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

" Penny Dreadfuls were cheaply printed, inexpensive publications written to titillate the masses with shocking thrills and lurid horrors. Over time, "penny dreadful" became a catch-phrase for any story steeped in gothic horror that pushed the limits of what was acceptable in popular fiction." From the Dust Jacket

This is a collection of twenty short stories, some novellas, of gruesome and horrific stories of varying quality. Some, such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and Pendulum deserve their place as timeless horror classics. Others probably needed to be left in the nineteenth century.

They are all Victorian in style which is to say they possess a certain melodramatic flair with damsels in distress and genteel men determined to save them. Many would have been considered quite horrible in their day but can be taken in stride in our jaded era.

The worst in my opinion was written by Bram Stoker, of all people. He wrote a disgusting little short of two psychopathic young boys who torment and murder babies and get away with it. Not sure what he was going for in that. It did not scare me, just filled me with revulsion towards the writer as much as the characters. Why write a story like that?

Some writers not much known today, wrote some good, scary tales and wrote them well. One was by James Hogg, a lamentably little known writer, who wrote a wonderful short called George Dobson's Expedition to Hell. A carriage driver has a horrible, hellish vision and when he awakes he discovers no peace (I don't want to give anything away so I leave out the details).

Another was by John Galt (who is John Galt? chuckle...if you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, forget it) where he describes a young man's nightmarish experience as a coma victim taken for dead and what happens thereafter.

Of course the Piece de Resistance and the last story in the collection is The String of Pearls better known as Sweeney Todd. I had never seen the movie or musical and do not know what attracted anyone to converting this story into a form of visual entertainment, but it kept me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails for the entire book, which is a couple hundred pages.

All in all, a great diversion for the month of October.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard

Feruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was an Italian pianist who lived during a time when he met many of the famous composers whose works he performed.  Here you can hear him playing Franz Liszt's La Campanella (Bells) Etude.

It's been quite a week.  Last Sunday, I received a call from one of my sisters that my father had fallen and knocked himself unconscious.  It was serious and he ended up in ICU for the weekend.  My mother has macular degeneration and can no longer drive.  Therefore, I packed up myself and my bird and began the ten hour drive to my parents house on the Gulf Coast in Florida.

I was pulling out of the driveway when my other sister called to let me know that while my dad was back home, my mother was now in ICU for a racing heart.

My mother has had stage four lung cancer for five years now.  She has been on three different chemo drugs, all taken orally, but this last has been hard on her heart.  The doctors shipped her off to Pensacola for a cardio ablation.

This is a procedure where they insert a needle through the thigh and work their way up to the heart and burn two holes in it.  The next three months, as the heart heals, the holes scar over and these scars prevent the heart from fibrillating.

Who discovered that is what I want to know?  Who came up with the idea of burning holes in the heart and figured out it would keep the heart stable?

Both parents are home and I and my one sister who flew down had a lovely visit with both parents as they recuperated.  I hated to leave and I'm certainly going to miss those sunsets on the water, which is how we ended every day.

Grandma loves her grand bird and Hercaloo was quite put out with me when we returned to Texas.

But enough about my adventures.  Here is my latest book review.  I found this book in the library in Golden, Colorado when I was visiting one of my sisters.  Naturally I wasn't satisified with only reading it, I had to own it.  I don't understand my pyschology but I must own the books I hold dear.

You may or may not be a Christian, but I think the writers of this book had some interesting insight into the history of art and what place does religious belief have in the expression of it.

Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of GodIt Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God by Ned Bustard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was Good is a collection of essays by various international artists who have reknown in their field. These fields vary from oils, to sculpture to mult-media. The book includes several photographs of their work, something I find to be one of the valuable attributes of this book.

Besides art, all of these artists have one other thing in common: they are believers in Christ. Though their particular denominations and creeds vary (some are reformed, some are Baptist, some non-denominational and at least one is Roman Catholic) they each offer something as to what sort of philosophy a Christian should have when expressing themselves through the visual arts.

They are all in agreement that Christians were once the powerhouses of art as is evidenced by the Cathedrals and millions of paintings housed in museums all over the world. In fact if one took away religiously inspired art from Europe there would be a significantly smaller amount of art and architecture to see, largely limiting the tourist trade to good restaurants and nude bathing. And we are not even including classical music.

Somewhere along the line, Christians not only lost their standing in the artistic community but seem content to embrace a limited vision of how art should be expressed by believers. This is obvious if one visits any number of churches where the theologically rich tradition of singing hymns, some of them hundreds of years old, sacred music played on the organ and other classical instruments have been tossed in favor or a more "contemporary" sound which has more in common with pop songs on the radio then deep, meditative worship.

Each artist in this book contributes an essay providing their own opinion, insight and philosophy of what art means to Christianity. What purpose does it serve and how should it be expressed.

Some write about the definition of beauty and offers a time line of how that concept has changed over the decades and centuries, including the twentieth where it was deemed undesirable to make works of art that were beautiful.

Another gives a historical account of what art meant to religious figures in the past two thousand years.

Still others contemplate how art should be expressed by believers. Should Christians only create art with an overt Christian message or is their world view implicitly expressed simply because as Christians, they cannot escape expressing this view through their chosen mediums. Is one a Christian artist, or an artist who happens to be Christian?

Should Christians only give happy, sentimental views of life or should they make art that exposes the grime as well?

These and many other ideas are explored throughout these essays.

While I found much of what they said to be valuable, although I did not agree with everything and found one or two of the philosophies esoteric, I think that many would benefit from hearing what they have to say whether you are a Christian or not.

I found that all the writers were people who may have their eyes toward God, were firmly grounded in the realities on earth.

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Herc and me back home.  Tired but glad to be back in Texas.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Platitudes Undone" a Facsimile Edition of Platitudes in the Making by Holbrook Jackson with the original Handwritten Responses of G.K. Chesterton

 Symphony No. 60 by Franz Joseph Haydn is playing.  Some people think Haydn is a thicker, slightly more sluggish Mozart, but I think Papa Haydn's symphonies are filled with good cheer and if maybe they don't soar quite as high as Mozart's they are still worthy of a good listening to while enjoying a cup of tea while watching squirrels chase each other outside or while reading this post.

Some people use the words "Nerd" and "Geek" interchangeably but do you know that actually refer to two different kinds of people?

"Nerd" is an afficionado of classical literature, fiction and non fiction. They read.  A lot.

 They will get upset if a three hour movie of Pride and Prejudice is not faithful to the text in storyline and dialogue, if the actors do not properly embody the characters. In fact, Nerds become outraged and offended that anyone thought they could squish a literary masterpiece into a mere three hours!  Uh, not that I know anyone personally like that...

A Geek on the other hand will often own an entire collection of Star Wars miniatures proudly displayed around the house.  My husband's boss, who I hope is not reading my blog, has such a collection as well as movie posters of Star Wars on the wall.  His living room has three sofas tiered to three different levels so he and his friends can better watch movies on his wall-sized movie screen.  He and his wife, also a geek, enjoy this. And so do all their friends who come to watch movies with them.  This sometimes includes Josh and me, since we don't watch quite so many movies, but more power to them that do.

A Geek friend of mine was unable to enjoy the Hobbit movie because Smaug the dragon did not look like a dragon, but a Wyvern.  I did not know what a Wyvern was. 

"Wyvern's do not have fore legs.  Dragons have fore legs," my friend informed me.  Good to know.  I feel smarter.

I, a Nerd, was also unable to enjoy the Hobbit movie but that was for the petty reason that the Hobbit movie was not the Hobbit.  Period.  Nice fantasy adventure and all that, just not the book.

I was invited to a Baby shower to a friend who loved Science Fiction and Fantasy.  We were asked to come wearing something, a costume or what not, from those genres.  There were Princess Leias, A Green Lady, and of course a few Harry Potters.

I wore my husband's T-Shirt that had the words, "Miskatonic University" on it.   I was a Nerd among Geeks.

Now to be fair, there are rarely pure bloods of either side.  I am probably only 80% Nerd and 20% Geek.  My husband is 60% Geek and 40% Nerd. 

In fact, as I was telling someone in a previous post I am a huge Classic Star Trek fan, although I see definite improvements in the latest movies.  For one their costumes are more realistic.

I was at Books a Million with my son when they were having a promotional event for the latest Star Trek movie.  One of the workers there was giving out head shots of Spock.  She looked at us and I eagerly waved her over. 

She came and handed the photo to Derek.  Derek handed the photo to me.  He knew which one of us was the Spock Fan.  It now rests on a shelve next to my Harvard Classics.

Josh also knows my Geek side.  I got into my car one day to see a couple of decorations on my dashboard.  He's so sweet.

What has any of this to do with my book review?  Not much.  I just felt compelled to set the record straight between Geeks and Nerds.  Language is important to Nerds.

Platitudes Undone: A Facsimile Edition of Holbrook Jackson's Platitudes Undone: A Facsimile Edition of Holbrook Jackson's "Platitudes in the Making" with Original Handwritten Responses by G.K. Chesterton. by Holbrook Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"In 1955, in a used bookstore in San Francisco, Dr. Alfred Kessler, an avid collector of the works of G.K. Chesterton, uncovered a rare treasure-Chesterton's personal copy of a privately published edition of Holbrook Jackson's Platitudes in the Making (1911) with original responses by Chesterton written in green pencil between the lines of Jackson's book." -From the inside cover.

Those of us who know and love Chesterton for his Father Brown mysteries will enjoy his clever repartee to Jackson's assertions.

This brief book is filled with, in my opinion, extremely arrogant platitudes by Holbrook Jackson, a man I had never heard of before and probably with good reason. People like him deserve to be obsolete. Most of his "pearls" are unproveable nonsense that show a contempt for mankind while trying to appear clever.

Why read this book? Because G.K. Chesterton has written his personal responses to Jackson's platitudes which show Jackson's wisdom to be farcical while demonstrating Chesterton's authentic humor and insight.

Here are a couple of examples:

Jackson: As soon as an idea is accepted it is time to reject it.
Chesterton: No: it is time to build another idea on it. You are always rejecting: and you build nothing.

J: A lie is that which you do not believe.
C: This is a lie: so perhaps you don't believe it.

J: Familiarity breeds not contempt, but indifference.
C: But U (sic.) can breed surprise. Try saying "boots' ninety times

J: The god of theology: a power that creates to destroy.
C: No: that is obviously the god of modern science.

I found this quick read to be a lot of fun.  For those of us who cannot come up with sharp and witty replies to the Holbrook Jacksons of the world, Chesterton is like your big brother who will defend you against the bully threatening to beat you up.  I found this book in a library book fair.  I hope you Chesterton fans out there can find your own copy.

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