Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mystic Owls in Mystery

By Philip Hart

The Mystic Owls is an informal boys' club. The boys, most of whom have just graduated from high school, are off on summer vacation together. One of the boys, Dorsey, has invited the others to spend a few weeks at a house his father recently purchased. The house dates back to pilgim days and has been sitting empty for many years and has a reputation for being haunted. Of course, the boys dismiss the ghost stories.
The house is situated on a large, wooded estate on the coast of Maine. On the road leading into the place, the boys had a strange encounter. A man, hidden in the brush, started shooting at them. Fortunately, the boys had brought their guns along and shot in the air back at him, at which point the man claimed to be a game warden.
The house wasn't in great condition, but some of the rooms were sound and dry and so the boys settled into them instead of camping outside as planned. But their slumber was disturbed by strange noises and crashing sounds, just as predicted by the ghost stories they had heard about the place. So they decided the next night they would stay up and try to get a glimpse of the ghosts, but to no avail. They heard the ghostly noises but never caught sight of any apparitions.
As the days passed, with more disturbed nights, their frustration grew and led to a thorough investigation of the house, attic to cellar. It soon became clear that the ghost noises were not of supernatural origin at all, but of mechanical origin. At watch was set up outside and a man was observed climbing by ingenious means up to the attic with the nighttime ghostly sounds soon commencing.
The Mystic Owls are not easily spooked and now they know that someone is using the old house for some nefarious purpose. It may be time to take what they know to the authorities and let them deal with the nighttime ghost makers.

The Mystic Owls was apparently a series of adventure stories for boys, written in the 1920s and 1930s and maybe even further back than that. I wasn't able to find out much about the series. This particular book that I read was published in 1939 and it makes brief reference to a previous adventure out West where the boys got themselves Western get-up that they sometimes like to wear on occasion.
Even though the boys travel with their guns, they also like to observe and track birds and to fish, swim, boat, hunt for berries and camp out. This group of boys is a pretty peaceable lot and they befriend a wounded collie that was shot, they think, by the outlaws hanging around the old house. They are a bunch of really nice boys, not destructive, not rambunctious, if anything, they are a little too calm and rational for boys in their late teens. Maybe the author was more interested in being uplifting than true-to-life.
Their adventures in the old house are also pretty tame. There are no confrontations with the criminals using the house, no confrontations with dangerous wildlife and the boys are kept completely out of the way when the police finally move in. Boys today would find this story very tame, I think. The ending certainly was. The author doesn't even describe the capture of the criminals beyond a few sentences: "...without a shot being fired. 'It was as easy as that,' said Dorsey in telling the other boys, after they were summoned to the house. 'There was some struggling when they got the main ghost, of course, on his way down the ladder, or at the foot of it, but that was all. Mr. Connor [a detective] came in to tell me that they got them all, including two or three men in town.'" And that is all the author has to say about the capture of the criminals.
So even though I enjoyed reading about the boys' gentle adventures, the rather flat ending was quite a disappointment. And this book would have been a lot more fun if there had been at least one real ghostly happening.

Friday, June 19, 2015

City Girl, Country Vet

By Cathy Woodman

Maz in a veterinarian working in London. She has become involved with her boss. But he has decided to go back to his wife and now Maz has not only lost her lover, but she has also lost her job.
Emma, an old friend and fellow vet, wants to take an extended vacation and has asked Maz to fill in for her at her practice in rural England. Maz has her doubts, but eventually decides to do it.
Maz takes over the practice. But problems ensue, including money problems that Emma failed to mention. The locals are a bit judgmental and a rival vet has lots of nasty things to say about Emma and Maz. The only bright spot in Maz's life is Alex, also a vet, who seems interested in Maz. Trouble is, the angry rival vet is his father. Can Maz really trust anything this man says or is he just a spy for the oppostion?

I was disappointed in this story. Maz seems to be, at times, almost incompetent at her job. She makes too many mistakes, doesn't seem to know how to deal with people and goes from bad to worse. It was all rather depressing. Even the concluding events were depressing, with an old woman choosing to commit suicide due to Maz's charging into the woman's home and threatening to take all her cats and dogs away and with Alex ending up in the hospital in a coma.

The First Bad Man

By Miranda July

Cheryl Glickman is a middle-aged woman who lives in a fantasy world of her own creating. She thinks she understands what is going on in other people's lives and minds by merely looking at them. But, mostly, she is wrong.
When she was a girl, she got to hold a baby and she formed a bond of her own imagining with the baby, who she decided was named Kubelko Bondy. From that time forward, she checked every baby she saw to see if it was Kubelko Bondy. And even though they were not the original baby, she still felt that many of them were Kubelko Bondy. And she had internal dialogues with these babies, all the conversation supplied by herself, of course.
Then Clee enters her life. Clee is the daughter of her bosses and comes to stay with Cheryl for a time. Clee is a  handsome, young, hostile woman. After a few weeks together, she begins attacking Cheryl and beating on her.
Cheryl has a condition that causes her throat to tighten up and makes it difficult to swallow. She has been told that her condition is psychosomatic. But her struggles with Clee have relieved her condition and helped her feel more relaxed and comfortable. Soon, she and Clee are enacting out scenarios from self-defense courses where Clee is the attacker and Cheryl has to fight her off.
But this all changes when Clee becomes pregnant. Instead of returning home to her parents, Clee stays with Cheryl and Cheryl takes care of her. The combat scenarios stop. Clee decides she is in love with Cheryl. And Cheryl, who has been having sexual fantasizes about Cheryl for weeks, is glad to reciprocate.
The baby, Jack, is born and things between Cheryl and Clee cool down. Cheryl falls hard for the baby, deciding that Jack is Kubelko Bondy come back in her life at last. But now Clee is becoming distant and depressed and Cheryl fears she will take Jack and disappear forever.

For most of the story,  I disliked both of the main characters, the delusional Cheryl and the hostile Clee. Cheryl's fantasizes just made me tired and exasperated and Clee was a spoiled, sullen child.
Fortunately, Cheryl finally begins to realize that she has been mistaken in her thinking. It was when she reached this point that I began to like her. Until then I thought she was a rather pathetic fool. It was when newborn Jack was in the hospital and one of his nurses, while talking to Cheryl and Clee, winked several times. Cheryl, in fantasy mode, decides that, "It wasn't a kindly wink, it was a wink that said all the other nurses and all the employees at Open Palm [where Cheryl worked part-time] have told me about you, and now -- wink -- we get our revenge." Then Cheryl realizes, "The wink was a tic. It wasn't cruel or conspiring. It was just a thing she did."
It was a relief when Cheryl started giving up her fantasies for reality. It was only then that she became a sympathetic character, someone I wanted to have a happy ending.
I almost stopped reading this book when Clee started beating on Cheryl. That is not something that appeals to me and I probably would have stopped if Cheryl hadn't gotten relief from her psychosomatic condition from her combats with Clee. I enjoyed seeing Cheryl take her head out of the clouds and start to plant her feet on the ground and dwell in the real world and not in her fantasy world. So, even though this was, at times, an unpleasant read, in the end, I liked it and I think Cheryl and Clee are unforgettable.
For another review, see

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Rosie Effect

By Graeme Simsion

Follow up to the first book, The Rosie Project, this book finds newlyweds Rosie and Don living in New York City. Rosie is attending college and Don is a visiting professor. Things seem to be going smoothly, although Don is indulging in alcohol every night, even to the point of waking up with headaches. Then Rosie announces she is pregnant.
Don immediately begins worrying about how this new factor will effect the structure of their lives. Don is extremely intelligent but extremely socially inept, which leads Rosie to doubt his ability to be a caring parent.  But the hyper-logical Don approaches the impending arrival with his usual logic and precision and, of course, nearly ruins their marriage.
Don manages to get himself into the strangest situations, including being arrested as a suspected child molester. On the plus side, though, his expertise gets him and Rosie a lovely, spacious apartment rent-free. However, one of the rooms in the apartment is a beer cellar for the rich man upstairs and thus the apartment reeks of beer. Which is kind of a problem for Rosie, who is experiencing morning sickness. And so it goes, good decisions with bad consequences and Don triumphs over all as his essential kindness and loving nature become apparent to even the most critical of observers, including the woman who declared he should never have children.

I think I liked this story better than the first one, The Rosie Project. Don was so different and strange in the first book and he has certainly mellowed in this one. His relationships with his friends are solid and he seems to make new friends without a problem. All these new relationships have helped him improve how he presents himself to the world, but, being Don, he still is misunderstood and inclined to upset and alarm people unknowingly.  This is what makes the book funny and entertaining, how Don messes up and still manages to put everything right. It was a lot of fun to read. Don Tillman is so cool.

For another review, see: