Sunday, October 22, 2017

Emma: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel, Emma, is a book about a rich, beautiful, and somewhat spoiled young woman who spends most of her time trying to manipulate the lives of others. Yet she does not do this maliciously or uncaringly. Everything she does is to help others, at least from her point of view. Emma, the protagonist, can be very annoying, yet I liked and sympathized with her throughout, while at the same time wanting her to wake up and grow up.

This is my third Jane Austen book in three months, and I am enjoying them all very much, more than I expected to. Some books I like more after I have finished them and considered them for a few days, and that is the case with Emma.

In general, what I like about Austen's novels is that she gives us a picture of life (at least from her point of view) at the time the books were written, and also that she is pointing out the foibles of society at that time. (Not that society at this time is any piece of cake to deal with.)


Emma's story is told primarily from her point of view, though not in first person.
“She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.”
Miss Taylor is the governess who had been Emma's friend, almost as close as a sister, until she left the household to marry Mr. Weston. So as the book begins she is Mrs. Weston, and the loss of her constant companionship is what leads Emma to find a new friend who becomes her protege, Harriet Smith. Harriet is clearly not at Emma's social level, and not as clever, but is well-mannered and genial. Emma determines that she will find a husband for Harriet that meets Emma's criteria as worthy.

In addition to Emma, the Westons, and Harriet, the important characters in this novel are

Mr. Woodhouse
"He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of everybody that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the agent of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying..."
I love the character of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma's father. He wants everything to remain the same forever. He sees the marriages of his eldest daughter and Emma's governess as misfortunes because they left him to pursue their own lives and needs and he cannot see them everyday, any time he wants. Many readers see Emma as self-centered and narcissistic, but Mr. Woodhouse more truly fits that description. He is focused on his own needs, and wants the universe to continue to revolve around him and cater to his needs. Emma is a loving daughter, treats him respectfully, and tries to get him out and about at times.

Mr. Knightley, a close family friend and the brother of the husband of Emma's older sister, is another important character. He is seventeen years older than Emma, and he is the only person who points out her flaws to her when she makes mistakes. Emma and Mr. Knightly  are valued friends but often at odds with each other.

Frank Churchill is the son of Mr. Weston by a previous wife, who was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, the Churchills. It is obvious that the Weston's would like Frank Churchill and Emma to get together (to the reader, but not to Emma, who is not interested in marriage and happy to live with her father).

Jane Fairfax comes to live with her aunt and grandmother, Miss Bates and Mrs. Bates, her only living relatives. Emma and Jane are about the same age, and although Jane is not socially Emma's equal, Emma feels threatened by her talents (singing and playing the piano).

What I like about this novel specifically is the portrayal of Emma. She may be irritating, at times infuriating, but she sees herself as independent and is not focused on her own marriage plans, which is refreshing. I found it funny that Emma is extremely aware of distinctions between the classes and whether or not she should mix with certain groups of people, but she ignores all of this when she schemes to make a match between Harriet and various men, all not of Harriet's class.

As the book progresses we see Emma's gradual (very gradual) realization that she should not be so judgmental and should stop messing with other people's lives. She learns to be more careful and considerate in her behavior and opens up to a relationship she did not realize was important to her.

My biggest complaint about this book (and so far about Austen's novels in general) is the length. She spends so much time on details and building up portraits of people and situations and, at times, loses the reader along the way. This isn't enough to deter me from reading Austen, however. The pros far outweigh the cons.

I read Emma this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. The readalong started with Sense and Sensibility in July and continues through Persuasion in December. I read Pride and Prejudice in August and Mansfield Park in September. I will be reading Northanger Abbey in November and Persuasion in December. 





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Publisher:   Book of the Month Club, 1996 (orig. pub. 1816)
Length:      437 pages, including about 35 full page illustrations
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Nightrunners: Michael Collins

I love the beginning paragraphs of this book... They set the story up so well.
It was the kind of house that made my father feel small–a nobody, nothing. Three stories, nearly thirty rooms, and half hidden by its own tall trees on some ten acres of Connecticut woods. A rolled lawn still green in November before the first snow, and a triple garage, with rooms above, that had been a coach house when the country was young. Not the Rockefeller mansion, no, but you knew that the people who lived here were someone.
My father had looked at houses like this one and talked about being no one. Not when I was small, but later, just before he disappeared. When I was small he'd been proud of being a New York City cop,  but later he watched important men in big cars driving out of big houses and talked about not even existing.
In this ninth book in the series, Dan Fortune has been summoned by Wallace Kern, President of Kern Laboratories, to find Kern's brother, William, a gambler who has disappeared. Fortune succeeds in this mission, but soon realizes that there is more to the story, and continues investigating. This story has twists and turns I did not anticipate, and not only in the mystery plot. Primarily set in New York, there are also side trips to Southern California and Mexico.

Fortune has only one arm, and he feels this makes him depend on his common sense and intelligence. Not much is said here about how he lost his arm. I enjoyed getting to know Dan Fortune and I liked the author's writing style. In this book, there is less action and gun play, and more emphasis on brains and persistence. Dan doesn't like to give up on a case. I will be going back to the beginning of the series to see the character's development, but also because the first novel in the series, Act of Fear, was very highly acclaimed.

Michael Collins was a pseudonym for Dennis Lynds. Lynds was from New York like his protagonist, but he moved to Santa Barbara when he was 41 and several of the books in the Dan Fortune series are set there. In Santa Barbara, Lynds became friends with Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar),  who "wrote a letter of introduction on Collins’ behalf to his old editor Ray Bond at Dodd, Mead paving the way for Act of Fear’s publication.  Macdonald also hooked Collins up with literary agent Dorothy Olding." (See this interesting article and interview at Mystery*File).

See Barry Ergang's review at Kevin Tipple's blog, Kevin's Corner.

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Publisher:  Robert Hale, London, 1979 (orig. pub. 1978)
Length:      216 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Dan Fortune, #9
Setting:     New York
Genre:      Mystery, Private Investigator
Source:     I purchased my copy

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deep Water: Christine Poulson

Description from Christine Poulson's web site:
When patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont agrees to act for Calliope Biotech, he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. The first lawyer on the case is dead, and a vital lab book is missing. Daniel and his wife Rachel are hoping biotechnology will also provide a cure for their daughter Chloe, who suffers from a devastating genetic disorder. Then the unimaginable happens, and they face a moral dilemma that threatens everything.
Meanwhile young researcher Katie Flanagan suspects something is very wrong in the lab. But knowledge is dangerous when someone is playing a perilous game . . .
I had never thought about the many aspects of pharmaceutical research and development. There are those who need the drugs, to improve their lives or maybe even save them. There are the researchers, who are fighting for time and money to complete their research. And the companies who fund the research with the hope of high return on the investment. I liked how this novel showed that all of these wants and needs can lead to misunderstandings, battles for power, and greed... and possibly murder.

There are a lot of characters, but the novel centers around Daniel Marchant's family and Katie Flanagan's research mishaps, and I had no trouble keeping the other characters straight. Daniel's involvement is complicated because the lawyer that he replaces on the case against Calliope Biotech was his ex-wife. Katie ends up living on Rachel Marchant's boat when she loses her flat. The  main characters all have their problems and the personal issues add to the story rather than detract.

There is a good level of tension throughout and the pacing is terrific. The setting is very nice too. The biotech industries are located in Silicon Fen in the area around Cambridge, England.

Poulson's next book, Cold Cold Heart, a sequel to Deep Water, is due out in the UK in November and in the USA in January 2018.  I am excited about the setting: an Antarctic station and I will be getting my copy as soon as it is available.

See also Moira's review at Clothes in Books and a review and interview at Promoting Crime Fiction.


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Publisher:  Lion Hudson, 2016
Length:      250 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Katie Flanagan, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bodies Are Where You Find Them: Brett Halliday

This novel is the fifth book in a series of over 70 novels about Mike Shayne, the tough and determined private investigator. The first thirty novels in the series were written by Davis Dresser, using the pseudonym Brett Halliday. The remaining novels were written by other authors, still using the same pseudonym.

There were two reasons that I read this as my first Mike Shayne novel. It was the earliest novel I had in the series, and I wanted to start close to the beginning. Also, this novel was inspiration for the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I wanted to see how much they resembled each other.


Mike Shayne is a hard-boiled, unsentimental private detective in Miami, Florida. The only thing he is sentimental about is his new wife, and she is not around for very much of this story. She is sent off to New York on a vacation that they were supposed to take together, but Mike must remain behind to work on a case related to a prominent politician who is running for Mayor.

While Shayne is getting ready to go on the trip with his wife, a young woman comes to his office with some information on the Mayoral candidate, Burt Stallings. She is very inebriated and passes out before she can tell Shayne her secret. He leaves her alone and when he returns she is dead, strangled with one of her stockings. Afraid that he will be arrested for her murder before he can prove his innocence, he sends his friend,  reporter Timothy Rourke, to get a car to move her. When they both return, the body has disappeared.

While all of this is going on, Stallings comes to Shayne and demands that he find his stepdaughter, who has been kidnapped. It seems obvious that the dead body in his bedroom must be the kidnapped stepdaughter, and Shayne has to figure out what is really going on.

After finishing the book, I moved on to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which we had viewed several times before. I hadn't expected there to be so many similarities between the book and the film. The main differences I noted were the setting (Miami vs Hollywood) and the time (1941 vs 2005).

In the book, the woman's body pops up when least expected. The subject is serious but the tone of the novel is light. Eventually some of the clues lead Shayne and Rourke to a sanitarium, and in the end the motive for the murder is money. These elements all exist in the movie also, just rearranged and updated to fit current times.

In the book, Mike Shayne is the detective and his sidekick is a reporter and friend. In the movie, Gay Perry (played by Val Kilmer) is the detective and Harry Lockhart (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) is his sidekick, pulled into the story first because he is getting experience for a role in a movie as a private detective, and then later because his childhood friend, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), now an aspiring actress, is involved. The events in both the book and the movie are chaotic, confusing, and seemingly random but as with most private detective stories, the pieces all come together in the end.

I enjoyed both the book and the film. The actors in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are wonderful, and the story is a lot of fun. There are thrills combined with comedy and romance, and allusions to Raymond Chandler's books. The chapter titles in the movie are all taken from Raymond Chandler novels or stories: "Trouble is My Business", "The Lady in the Lake", "The Little Sister", "The Simple Art of Murder", and the epilogue, "Farewell, My Lovely". And to top it off, it is set at Christmas.

The poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from enigmabadger via Flickr.

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Publisher:  Dell, 1959. Orig. pub. 1941.
Length:     183 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Mike Shayne, #5
Setting:     Miami, Florida
Genre:      Mystery, private detective
Source:     I purchased my copy.





Saturday, October 7, 2017

Malicious Intent: Kathryn Fox

Summary from the author's website:
Dr Anya Crichton, a pathologist and forensic physician, finds work is sparse for the only female freelancer in the field. Between paying child support, a mortgage and struggling to get her business off the ground, Anya can’t yet afford to fight her ex-husband for custody of their three-year-old son, Ben. 
After her expert evidence helps win a high-profile court case, Anya is asked by lawyer Dan Brody to look into the drug overdose of a young Lebanese girl. While investigating, Anya notices startling coincidences in a number of unrelated suicides she’s been asked to examine by friend and colleague, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer. 
This is the first novel in the Dr. Anya Crichton series, set in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. A big plus is the strong female protagonist, balancing family responsibilities with dedication to her work. I like this author's writing style; after building the story up to the main investigation, the pacing and tension kept me reading.  The main character's personal circumstances and backstory make the story more realistic and credible, although usually I prefer less of that in a mystery.

My main problem with this book is that I don't like the descriptions of forensic examinations. For some reason I can handle some violence and grit in books, but the realities of autopsies are unappealing. I did appreciate the detailed description of Crichton's considerate handling of the examination of a rape victim. I had forgotten that forensic physicians perform evaluations on victims of crimes involving physical abuse to record the evidence. So, overall, a book covering very interesting topics that sometimes were a challenge for me to read about.

The author is a  physician with a special interest in forensic medicine. This novel won the 2005 Davitt Award for Best Adult Novel. The series consists of seven novels so far, and Fox has also written a book with James Patterson, titled Private Sydney.

Some other resources:


This is my second book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017.

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Publisher:  HarperCollins, 2006 (orig. publ. 2004)
Length:      345 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Dr. Anya Crichton, #1
Setting:     Sydney, Australia
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Emperor's Snuff Box: John Dickson Carr


As far as I know, I have never read any mysteries by John Dickson Carr (or any under his other pseudonym, Carter Dickson). Many bloggers have spoken highly of his books and encourage me to try one and finally I did. I think this one was a very good choice. It is a standalone novel, not one of the series novels featuring the well-known detectives Dr. Gideon Fell or Sir Henry Merrivale.

As I started reading the novel, it seemed like a romance. Eve Neill is living in France, divorced from her first husband, Ned. She lives across the street from her fiancé, Toby, and his family. One night her ex-husband sneaks into her house to beg her to return to him, and they see someone attacking her fiancé's father, Sir Maurice Lawes. Ned falls on the stairs as he leaves the house, but seems fine and returns to his lodgings. Because Eve does not want to reveal that her ex-husband was in her house, she does not share information she has about the crime, until it is too late, and incriminates herself.

The detective in this story was a "specialist in criminal psychology," Dr  Dermot Kinross. I liked that character a lot. The Lawes' family is full of very aggravating people. I was out of patience with Toby's family for not trusting Eve, and with her for caring what they thought under the circumstances, but the story is told so well that none of my nitpicks deterred my enjoyment. The mystery plot is very clever and also fun to read. I have acquired several other books by Carr and I will be trying more of them out.

Here are some reviews from other bloggers: At Tipping My Fedora, Clothes in Books, and In so many WORDS... 

This book is submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Brunette" category.

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Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1946, orig. pub. 1942.
Length:   198 pages
Format:   paperback
Setting:   France
Genre:    Mystery
Source:   I bought my copies.