Thursday, December 22, 2022

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

Murder on Astor Place is the first book in Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mystery series. The setting is NYC, the year is 1895 and when the novel begins we are introduced to Sarah Brandt, a young widow and nurse/midwife who lives in Lower Manhattan.  Sarah grew up in a wealthy high society family who she has been estranged from for the past few years.  We are also introduced to Frank Malloy who will become Sarah's detective partner in this 25 book series.  Frank is a police officer with the NYPD.  He is a gruff man made weary by life and, like Sarah, his spouse died a few years back.

Sarah and Frank first meet when a young woman, Alicia Van Damm, is found murdered in a boarding house on Astor Place.  Alicia was pregnant at the time of the murder and that she would wind up dead in a boarding house is puzzling because she is the daughter of the wealthy Van Damm family.  They are not eager to solve their daughter's murder, not wanting the scandal.

Sarah and Frank are not thrilled with each other.  He sees her as a too sure of herself suffragette type.  She sees him as a rude and coarse NYC cop who is probably on the take..  Nevertheless, Sarah and Frank are angry that no one seems to care about poor Alicia and so they decide to work together to find her killer.  

I found Murder on Astor Place to be a really fine start to what I predict will be a well worth one's time historical mystery series.  The author has done a very good job researching the time period of what 1890's NYC was like.  Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy are an engaging duo that the reader will want to invest in and if my TBR list wasn't so long I would be up to tackling this 25 book series.  That said, I plan to at least give the second novel in the series, Murder on St Mark's Place, a try.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

2022 Back to the Classics Wrap Up

For this year's 2022 Back to the Classics Challenge I didn't make it to all 12 categories.  So here is a recap of the 9 classics I did read: 

Choose a 19th Century Classic:  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -  My favorite book from this year's classic's challenge.  A wonderfully written gothic masterpiece.  It's also a novel of ideas in which the author takes on the 18th Century Age of Enlightment and Scientific Progress by creating a doctor, Victor Frankenstein, who decides he can create the perfect man with tragic results.

Choose a 20th Century Classic: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier - The writing was excellent but I did not care for the heroine, the second Mrs. DeWinter.  Beneath her timidity and shyness I found her to be snobby in many ways, inwardly cringing at  those she considers forward and low class.  Where Mrs DeWinter's judgment fails her is with her husband Maxim DeWinter.  Once he reveals his secret she is more okay with it then she should have been in my opinion.

Classic by a Woman Author:  Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - No book will equal Pride and Prejudice for me but Sense and Sensibility I really enjoyed.  Persuasion is probably the better book but I was somewhat bored.  Next year on to Emma!

Choose a Classic Mystery or Crime Novel:  Laura by Vera Caspary - A classic crime noir novel from the 1940's.  I enjoyed it and it's rare to find a mid-twentieth century crime noir novel written by a woman.

Choose a Classic Written before 1800: Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster - One of the earliest American novels to be published and based loosely on a true story.  It's interesting from a historical perspective.

Choose a Classic from a Place You Would Like to Visit: Breakfast at Tiffany's  by Truman Capote - People who have seen the film and Audrey Hepburn's charming and quirky performance as Holly Golightly are going to be suprised by Truman Capote's book.  The Holly in the novel has a much harder edge than the screen version and of the two I prefer the screen version.

Choose a Classic Short Story Collection: Hungry Hearts by Anzia Yezierska - Published in 1920 Hungry Hearts is a collection of short stories set on the Lower East Side of NYC in the early 1900's focusing on immigrant Jewish American women and girls trying to build a better life despite the sweatshops, poverty and heartbreak.  It's a moving collection of stories about how though the dreams one started out with may not match the reality, with hope and determination, new dreams are possible.

Choose a Non-Fiction Classic: Walking by Henry David Thoreau - I have been meaning to read Thoreau for years and Walking is a very short book about walking, the natural world and humanity's place in it.  It's a good introduction to Thoreau although the classic he is known for is Walden.  

Choose a Wild Card Classic:  Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe - Published 1958, the year I was born, a classic of mid-twentieth century British fiction.  This novel was one of the most prominent works to come out of the Angry Young Man movement dealing with the lives of the working class in Britain in the years after World War II.  This novel is realistic, gritty, very disturbing in certain parts but also the writing is first rate.

If Karen at Books and Choclate decides to host the Classics Challenge next year I'm up for it.  I owe this challenge so much because most of the classics I have read since taking the challenge 5 years ago I would probably never have gotten around to reading.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Walking by Henry David Thoreau

For the 2022 Back to the Classics category- choose a nonfiction classic I decided to go with Walking by Henry David Thoreau (1851).  At only forty pages, its a nice introduction to Thoreau's writing, his views about the natural world and humanity's place in it and the importance of walking.  Here is Thoreau on these subjects: 

"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return—prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man—then you are ready for a walk.       

"I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights—any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor; as when my neighbor's cow breaks out of her pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray tide, twenty-five or thirty rods wide, swollen by the melted snow. It is the buffalo crossing the Mississippi".

"At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only—when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the PUBLIC road, and walking over the surfarce of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's grounds".

I enjoyed Walking and underlined quite a few passages as I read through the book.  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is remarkably relevant today.  He was a writer, an abolitionist, a naturalist, a philosopher and as has been pointed out his one room cabin on Walden Pond could be considered the forerunner of the tiny house movement.  I recommend Walking and I am definitely planning to give Thoreau's great classic Walden a try.