Monday, September 21, 2020

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other WritingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray.  Oscar Wilde.  Bantam Books (1982) (First published 1890). Genre:  Classic.

First Line: "The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the most delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."

Summary: Lord Henry Wotton is visiting his friend, Basil Hallward.  Basil has been work on a portrait.  Lord Henry thinks it is the best work he has done and that he should sent it to Grosvenor to be put on exhibition.  Basil says he is going to do no such thing and won't tell Lord Henry why.  Lord Henry is rather wily and charming and is able to get out of Basil that he feels there is too much of himself in that painting.  He feels as though he would be putting his soul on display.  Basil says that when he first met Dorian Gray, 

"A curious sensation of terror came over me.  I knew I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself."

Now Lord Henry is intrigued and insists on meeting Dorian Gray.  When he does, he finds him fascinating as well.  Dorian Gray loses his interest in friendship with Basil and thinks Lord Henry is the one who is more interesting and becomes strongly influenced by him.  Unfortunately, Lord Henry is rather careless when it comes to morality.  He says things like;

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.  Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful."

and

"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."

and

"Beauty is the wonder of wonders.  It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.  The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible... Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you.  But what the gods give they quickly take away.  You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully.  When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats.  Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful."

When Basil finishes the portrait of Dorian and allows him to see it he is at first delighted.  But as he remembers what Lord Henry said about his youth going away, he becomes sad and afraid.  He declares, "If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old!  For that - for that I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!"

Lord Henry brushes it off as a silly thing to say, while Basil is shocked and insists that Dorian should not talk that way.  But Dorian has now become obsessed by the desire to remain young and beautiful.  As the story progresses we see how this worship of youth and beauty completely consumes his  soul.  

My thoughts:  I didn't know much about this story before starting it and I think that was a good thing.  However, I almost gave up on it after about 50 pages.  It seemed strange and I wasn't sure where it was going.  But around 60 or 70 pages in, the story picks up and I could see where it was headed and wanted to know how it turned out.

Oscar Wilde writes great dialogue that is quite humorous at times.  This story does contain some humor in the character of Lord Henry, but there is not much humor as the story progresses.  It is a dark story in many ways.  The destruction of a soul is not pretty.  Oscar Wilde seemed to have some good insight into what a journey down this path might look like.  He keeps the story moving along and you never feel you are stuck under the heavy weight of darkness.

Throughout the story Wilde references so many other writers and works of literature, which was fun.  Oscar Wilde's writing is a delight to read.  Even though this is heavy subject matter, I am glad I persisted and finished the book.

Quotes:

"I am too fond of reading books to care to write them, Mr. Erskine."

"Some large blue china jars and parrot tulips were ranged on the mantelshelf, and through the small leaded panes of the window streamed the apricot-coloured light of a summer day in London."

"What is marriage? An irrevocable vow.  You mock at it for that. Ah! don't mock. It is an irrevocable vow that I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good."

"But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret of his life, and told his story.  It had taught him to love his own beauty.  Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look at it again?"

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or LessThe Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less. Terry Ryan. Simon & Schuster (2001). 351 pages. Genre:  Biography.

First Lines:  "The ordinarily sleepy town of Defiance, Ohio, emitted an industrious hum on hot days, a subtle pulse of activity - like the buzzing of distant bees.  It was late Indian summer, a little too warm for an October day, in 1953."

Summary:  Evelyn Ryan was the mother of 10 children.  Money was tight so she began using her love of language to enter jingle contests.  At that time almost every brand had a jingle and in order to keep them fresh, they would hold contests requiring entrants to provide a line or two of a jingle.  The winners would receive prizes.  Sometimes the prizes were small.  But other times there were several prizes awarded to one winner.  

Evelyn was constantly working on jingles for whatever the current contest was.  She kept a notebook nearby as she worked around the house.  She loved to iron because that is where she could do her best thinking.  She would keep her notebook on the end of the ironing board to jot down her ideas.  She won many prizes, from a couple of dollars to cars, appliances and thousands of dollars.  She kept the smaller prizes in her closet and would use them as needed to replace items around the house or as gifts.  

My thoughts:  The book is written by one of the daughters of Evelyn Ryan and so is told from her perspective.  Evelyn was a woman who never gave up.  She would enter many contests and not win anything, but she never let that dampen her spirit.  Mr. Ryan worked in a machine shop where he made, "...$90 a week, barely enough to pay for food and rent."  Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic and spent too much on his nightly consumption of liquor.  Evelyn didn't let this defeat her either.  She just continued to take care of her family and do the best she could to make ends meet.

Most interesting to me was the peek into life in the 1950's in Ohio.  

"In the days before credit cards, few people in Defiance had a checking account.  Bills were paid in cash and in person."

"She was always trying to replace the dilapidated family Chevy with something a bit more dependable.  Just to start the car most mornings required a ten-person push so Dad could pop the clutch and rumble off to work in a cloud of blue smoke."

"Back in Defiance, the rest of the Ryan family, gathered around the TV to watch Bruce on national television, saw nothing of the show.  The blizzard ruined the reception, and 'snow' was all we were able to pick up.  We sat inches in front of the TV for the entire hour anyway, unable to hear or see a thing."

I felt sad for the family as they lived with alcoholism.  Mr. Ryan missed out on so much.  But I was encouraged by Evelyn's resilience and ability to keep going even when everything seemed to be against her.  

I would recommend this book if you enjoy memoirs, history of America in the 1950's or stories about overcoming obstacles.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: The Pomeranian Always Barks Twice (Furever Pets Mystery #1) by Alex Erickson

The Pomeranian Always Barks TwiceThe Pomeranian Always Barks Twice (Furever Pets Mystery #1). Alex Erickson. Kensington (2019). 297 pages. Genre:  Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "The hum of two small wheels on hardwood brought a smile to my face as I hefted a bag of dog food from the floor."

Summary:  Liz Denton runs a pet rescue company with the help of her son, Ben.  They are on their way to pick up an elderly Pomeranian from a man who will be moving into an assisted care facility.  When they arrive at Timothy Fuller's home, they are surprised to see the other pet rescue service in town.  Pets Luv Us usually prefers puppies and kittens, so it is strange that they would be here.  They also find Mr. Fuller's son and his wife there.  Courtney Shaw, owner of Pets Luv Us, insists that she is there to pick up the Pomeranian.  Liz explains that Mr. Fuller called her to pick him up.  As they argue, Mr. Fuller becomes more and more angry.  Finally, he asks them all to leave - without the dog. 

Courtney and Liz agree to discuss the situation and come to an agreement.  On the way out, Ben notices an attractive woman at the house next door to Mr. Fuller and asks his mom to pick him up when she comes back.  She agrees and heads to Courtney's house.  When she arrives, Courtney seems pleased to see her and quickly agrees that Liz can have the dog.  Liz wonders what all the fuss was about.  

When she returns to Mr. Fuller's house, she finds the driveway filled with an ambulance and police car.  What happened?  Mr. Fuller has been murdered and her son is the prime suspect.  

My thoughts:  It was the title and cover of this book that caused me to want to read it.  We had a Pomeranian that looked very similar to the one on the cover.  The artist did a great job in capturing the personality of Poms.  

It took me a while to get into the story.  It felt a little unrealistic at first and I didn't feel like I knew the characters well enough to really care about them.  But, eventually I was hooked and had to know how things came out.

The Denton family consists of Liz, who runs the pet rescue company; her husband Manny, who is a veterinarian; their son Ben, a twenty-something young man who wants to become a veterinarian and Amelia, their daughter, who is attending college and lives at home.  Liz cares deeply about her family and about pets who others may not want.  The family has a disabled cat named Wheels.  She was born with useless back legs and now has a set of wheels attached to a harness that help her get around.  They also care for other pets temporarily while they are waiting to be placed.

The mystery was good with lots of suspects.  Mr. Fuller was not well liked and was mean to those closest to him.  This gives several people motives.  He is also rumored to have hidden some money in his home and several people know about this.  Liz does a lot of talking with people to try to figure out what happened and clear her son.  She does contact the detective on the case quite often as well.  

The mystery is solved in the end, but there were a few questions left unanswered.  

Even with the slow start and the unanswered questions, this was an enjoyable read and I will give the next book in the series a try.

Our Pomeranian, Daisy - 2/6/07 - 1/28/20



Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review: Missing Pages (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #8) by Vera Dodge

Missing Pages (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop, #8)Missing Pages (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #8). Vera Dodge.  Guideposts (2013). 264 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Lines:  "'Mommy, look!'  A little girl with wide dark eyes and a mop of dark curls stood in the gutter on the side of Main Street, pointing up at a giant paste and paper elephant."

Summary:  It's the fourth of July and Ivy Bay is holding its annual parade followed by fireworks over the bay.  The whole town turns out for the festivities as well as many visitors.  Among the visitors are Mary's son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.  Mary's sister, Betty, had a hand in  most of the floats in the parade.  One of the floats is carrying the July Queen.  This year, rising high school senior Amanda Branson was chosen as queen.  Mary had the pleasure of getting to know Amanda when she worked an internship at her bookstore.  The July Queen float is quite unique.  It is meant to look like a fairy forest with several sparkly trees surrounding one large tree in the middle.  The trunk of the tree is big enough for the chair that Amanda sits on to pass through.  As the float moves down the street Amanda's chair moves through and around the tree as if she is on a lazy-Susan.

As the parade is winding down, the onlookers move toward the beach in preparation for the fireworks.  Mary heads toward the docks looking for her friend Henry.  On her way, she spots a young woman coming toward her on the other side of the street.  She seems familiar, but something isn't quite right.  She realizes the woman's gait is definitely Amanda's, but her hair is all wrong.  Instead of Amanda's brown hair, this woman has blonde hair.  Mary calls out to her, but the woman ignores her and disappears into an alley.  Mary finds this strange, but continues on her way to the docks.  

When she finally meets up with her sister to help tear down the floats, she learns that Amanda has gone missing.  It seems that near the end of the parade route, the truck pulling the float that Amanda was on had a mechanical problem.  Amanda went into the tree trunk and never came out.  Everyone assumed that it was jammed.  But when the float finally came to a stop, Amanda had vanished.  Where could she have gone?  Did someone take her?  

When no one, including her mother or her boyfriend, know where she has gone, the police get involved and so does Mary.  When Mary tells the police chief about the woman she saw who she thought could have been Amanda, he doesn't take her seriously because the woman had the wrong color hair.  Mary is not sure how to explain this, but she persists.  Will they be able to find Amanda before it is too late?

My thoughts:  I love the cover of this book!  I wish I could visit the shops in that quaint town.  This particular story has a slightly different feel than some of the others.  It feels slightly darker as it deals with someone who has gone missing.  The mystery is introduced very early on in the story, so there is less about Mary's personal life and more about the mystery.  This was fine, just different than some of the other books.  Because Mary's family is visiting, she is not working at her bookshop and only stops in once or twice.  Most of her time is spent following leads, not spending time with her guests.  This bothered me a little, but she was good about contacting them and keeping them updated on when she would meet them.  

The mystery was good with lots of clues and surprises along the way that kept me guessing.  Mary's  granddaughter even gets involved when she learns of something that one of Amanda's friends has not shared with the police.  Everything becomes clear by the end.

The descriptions of the area near the docks with the alleys and buildings was very vivid.  I have never been to Cape Cod, but I could picture what it was like.  When reading an interview with the author at the end of the book I learned that she spends time at the Cape as often as she can and has been visiting since she was a child.  Well, that explains the vivid descriptions!

This was an enjoyable read in a quaint setting with an interesting mystery. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Book Review: Always Look Twice (Uncommon Justice #2) by Elizabeth Goddard

Always Look Twice (Uncommon Justice, #2) Always Look Twice (Uncommon Justice #2). Elizabeth Goddard. Revell (2019). 367 pages. Genre:  Romantic Suspense

First Lines:  "Monday, 7:35 P.M.  Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming.  Harper Reynolds inched forward, hoping she hadn't made a mistake in coming there."

Summary:  Harper has taken some time off from her job as a crime scene photographer.  She has been traveling and camping with her sister.  Rather than photographing crime scenes, she has been taking photos of the landscape.  She has been waiting for this opportunity to possibly photograph a grizzly bear.  Her tripod and telephoto lens are set up in Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Finally, she catches sight of a grizzly across the river and begins focusing and taking pictures.  While she is doing this, she notices something glinting in the sun.  When she points her lens in that direction, she realizes there is a woman down there who is in trouble.  While Harper watches the woman through her lens, she sees a  man come out of the forest behind the woman with a gun pointed at her.  Her instincts kick in and she begins snapping pictures.  Harper watches the woman fall and then hears a shot.  She keeps snapping away until she realizes the shooter has his scope pointed right at her.  She quickly grabs her camera and tries to flee.  But she slips and falls and hits her head on a rock.  She screams and tries to get up, but she is a little dazed.  

Soon, rancher Heath McKade arrives on the scene.  He heard Harper's scream from where he was camping with a group from his ranch.  He set out on a horse to see if he could locate the source of the scream.  When he finds Harper she is frantic because when she fell, her camera went over the side of the cliff.  Heath gives Harper a ride back to the camp and helps her get warm.  Harper grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming which is not far from the National Forest.  As Heath is tending her wound, she suddenly recognizes him as her best friend from childhood. He recognizes Harper, but is not sure how to act towards her.  On the one hand he is glad to see her, but on the other it has been many years since he last spoke to her.  Harper, her mother and her sister left the area suddenly after her father was murdered.  She really didn't have a chance for a proper good-bye and this has left Heath a little unsure of where he stands with her.  

When they get back to Heath's ranch the police are notified that there has been a murder.  They take Harper's statement, but since she lost her camera and the memory card containing all the pictures, they only have her word to go on.  Night has fallen and the search for a body and Harper's camera will have to wait for daylight.  The police search the area and find nothing.  No body, no trace of a murder and no camera.  Harper begins to realize the police think that maybe she imagined it all.  But Harper knows what she saw and that the killer saw her.  When an attempt is made on her life, the sheriff begins to realize this is serious.  Can Heath keep Harper safe?  Can they locate the killer before he kills again?

My thoughts:  This was a great story line with many twists and turns that kept me eagerly reading.  I had a suspicion who the killer was, but then I was thrown off by a red herring.  I didn't know for sure until Harper knew for sure.  

Harper's line of work is interesting.   Her love for photography and her need to see the world through her camera was familiar to me.  I have a son who is the same way.  I enjoyed getting to know Harper as she worked through things from her past even as she tried to solve this mystery.  

Unfortunately, I didn't really connect with Heath.  He seemed like a flat character to me.  I didn't feel like I knew him well.  The romance part of the story was very minor which is okay with me.  

Overall, this was an intriguing story with plenty of suspense.  

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Book Review: Wishes by Jude Deveraux

Wishes (Montgomery Saga, #11)Wishes. Jude Deveraux. Pocket Books (1989). 278 pages. Genre:  Romance.

First Lines:  "Later, it was said that Berni was the best dressed corpse any of her set had seen in decades.  Not that many of them admitted to having lived for much more than a couple of decades, and, what with the wonders of plastic surgery, none of them needed to admit to the exact number of years."

Summary:  The story opens at Berni's funeral.  In life the most important thing to Berni had been Berni.  She did everything possible to remain young, to be the best dressed and to have the wealthiest husband.  Plenty of people attended her funeral, but not many were sorry she was gone.  Soon Berni wakes up with a jolt, thinking she has overslept.  She realizes she is not at home in her bed and begins to look around.  She soon learns that she is in a place called THE KITCHEN, not quite heaven and not quite hell.

"The Kitchen is a ... I believe in your time you would call it a halfway house.  It's between heaven and hell.  It's for women only - not for bad women, not for good women - it's for women who don't quite deserve heaven or hell."

Berni is told that she will be given an assignment to help someone on earth.  If she fails, she will stay in the Kitchen, if she succeeds, she will eventually go to heaven.

The assignment she is given is to help Nellie Grayson.  Nellie lives with her younger sister and her father in Colorado in the year 1896.  Ever since Nellie's mother died, Nellie has taken care of her father and sister.  In fact, that is how she has spent all of her time.  She picks up after them, washes and irons their clothes, makes meals, bakes bread, scrubs floors, changes sheets and hauls wood until she collapses into bed each night.  Even with all of this work she has managed to gain quite a bit of weight.  She does the best she can every day, but she can never seem to please her father or sister.  When she senses their disappointment in her she becomes very hungry.  

Nellie's younger sister, Terel, has her dance card full.  There isn't a man in town who wouldn't think she was a catch.  Terel is expert at making Nellie think she cares about her, while giving her a back-handed compliment that makes Nellie very hungry.  And when she gets hungry, she is apt to eat an entire cake or a batch of cupcakes.  Terel secretly cheers when this happens, because she thinks that the fatter Nellie gets, the less desirable she will be to men.

Mr. Grayson has invited a man he met on the train to dinner.  Nellie and Terel are expecting an old man.  When he arrives early for dinner, Nellie is sent to entertain him.  But, Jace Montgomery is tall, slim, muscular and young!  Nellie is very kind to him and recognizes that he is lonely.  Jace is smitten.  Terel assumes that he is attracted to her and will be asking her to the upcoming dance.  But when Terel finds out that he has asked Nellie to the dance, she is shocked.  

Berni is not given much direction on her assignment to help Nellie.  She is told that she must supply the wisdom.  Will Berni be able to overcome her selfishness in time to really help Nellie?

My thoughts:  This was a completely different kind of read for me.  I have to admit that I enjoyed it.  This was a Cinderella story with a twist.  The story line was unique and enjoyable.  I kept reading because I had to know if Berni ever became less selfish and if Nellie would find love. 

Terel was so evil and could not think of anyone but herself.  And Nellie was so trusting of her sister, that it was almost ridiculous.  It was helpful to remember that the extremes were shown for comedic effect.  In the end a satisfying conclusion is reached. 

This is not a clean romance, however, the intimate scenes were brief and not overly graphic.  There is also some language. 

Overall, I found this to be a light-hearted, fun read.



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Book Review: Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson

Murder on St. Mark's PlaceMurder on St. Mark's Place (Gaslight Mystery #2). Victoria Thompson. Tantor Audio (2015). Genre: Mystery.

First Line:  "Sarah heard the wailing when she was still halfway down the street."

Summary:  Sarah Brandt has been summoned to the home of one of her patients.  She assumes the pregnant woman is in labor, even though it is a little early.  When she arrives, she finds Agnes Otto hysterical after learning her young sister has been brutally murdered. She begs Sarah to find her killer.  

It turns out that Mrs. Otto's sister, Gerda, had been spending a lot of time going to dances at the nightclubs in the city.  She worked in a factory during the day for very little money and then would go out with some friends to dances.  The girls, often quite poor, would trade "favors" for gifts.  They would never take money, they weren't prostitutes after all.  The girls would dance with a different man every night.  Mrs. Otto recognizes that the police will spend no time investigating this case.  As far as the police are concerned, they have no time to spend looking for the killer of a poor, cheap girl who got herself killed.  Unless, of course, the family had money and could bribe the police department.  Mr. and Mrs. Otto are very poor, so there is no chance of that.  Sarah is the only hope.  

Sarah approaches her friend, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  Well, maybe calling him her friend is a little strong.  Sarah helped him solve a murder involving another one of her patients and hopes that he will be willing to help her with this case.  She stops by his home, but finds only his mother and his young son at home.  Frank's mother is sure Sarah is trying to win over Frank by visiting his son.  While this is not true, Sarah does take a liking to the boy.  

Sarah asked Mrs. Otto for the names of Gerda's friends and decides to visit them.  She convinces them to let her go with them to one of the clubs.  Sarah learns that there have been other girls killed the same way Gerda was.  It is this piece of information that convinces Sergeant Malloy to help Sarah.  He was assigned to the murder of one of the girls and never found the killer. Discovering the killer will be no easy task.  Can Sarah and Frank catch him before he kills again?

My thoughts: This series takes place in New York during the time Teddy Roosevelt was head of the police force.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of corruption in the force during this time.  Frank Malloy stands out as an honest man who refuses to take bribes.  Frank is a hard working man, who also cares deeply for his son.  After his wife died in childbirth, Frank's mother has cared for Brian while Frank works.  Brian is thought to be mentally challenged.  He is three years old and has never spoken a word.  This is a secondary story line that is interesting.

Sarah Brandt is a midwife and lives in the heart of the city.  Her patients are generally poor families.  She didn't always live in this part of town however.  She was raised in a wealthy home and trained in the rules of society.  She never had much tolerance for those rules and was bored by dinner parties and other functions.  When she married her husband, who was beneath her social standing, her father disapproved.  Even worse, after her husband was killed, Sarah became a midwife and began supporting herself.  Her father is appalled and thinks she should have moved back home.  That is what a proper lady would do.  Sarah disagrees.  Sarah is tough, no-nonsense, brave and tenderhearted.  Sarah and Frank deny to themselves that they have any interest in the other, but as the story progresses, they have both admitted to themselves that maybe they do have some feelings for the other.  

The time period and setting are so interesting and lend a lot of atmosphere to the story.  We learn about the seedy nightclubs and what they were like.  Also, part of the story takes place on Coney Island.  It was funny how neither Frank nor Sarah had been there and were embarrassed to be spending time there.  It was thought to be a waste of time and money and only a certain type of person went there.  Some of the other rules of society that were interesting were; strangers never talk to one another in public, a man would never tip his hat or greet a respectable woman he doesn't know, and only foolish women wear things like fancy hats, beads, lipstick and rouge.  These adornments were associated with prostitutes.

Another fun character that has been a regular is Sarah's nosy neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth.  She is constantly sweeping her front steps.  This is her way of watching what is going on in the neighborhood.  She is always aware of Sarah's comings and goings and comments on them and asks questions.  She is also highly superstitious.  Sarah tolerates her with grace even when she is not in the mood.  She recognizes that she is just lonely and tries to make an effort to invite her in for tea.

The mystery was complicated and dangerous.  The murder that was committed was quite brutal, the girl had been beaten to death.  The lifestyle lived by these young women and the men they cavorted with is not for the faint of heart.  It was all handled well with enough description to help you understand, but not more than was needed.  I love the word choices made that were absolutely appropriate to the time.  I was on the edge of my seat towards the end as things started to add up.  I really enjoy this series and look forward to the next book.