Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: Ghost Ship by Brian Hicks

✰✰✰½ The mystery of the Mary Celeste and the disappearance of her crew in 1872 is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time. For anyone who has ever wondered what happened aboard the Mary Celeste, Brian Hicks' book is for you.

Over 150 years ago, Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife and daughter along with the crew disappeared without a trace. The derelict brigantine was found days later, by the crew of the Dei Gratia. The seaworthy brigantine with her load intact was brought into Gibraltar amidst rumors of foul play. Although the Dei Gratia crew expected the salvage hearing to proceed quickly and be rewarded handsomely; things did not go as expected. Instead the proceedings were tied up for weeks as they had to deal with the overzealous local attorney general Frederick Solly Flood, who insinuated something more sinister.

Today much of what we know about the Mary Celeste is shrouded in myth. Hollywood has done a great job in leading us astray as well, but author Brian Hicks separates fact from fiction in his treatment of the topic. Hicks investigates all the possibilities including mutiny, foul play, piracy, and insurance fraud. Explore the hoaxes and possible solutions for yourself and decide if the Mary Celeste was cursed from the beginning or simply unlucky.

The Bottom Line: For readers who enjoy true mysteries, Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew doesn't disappoint. Author Brian Hicks lays out the facts and the background story of the ship and her fateful voyage as he helps dispel the myths surrounding of the Mary Celeste. This is one of those nonfiction books that reads life fiction; it has everything including deception, mystery, and suspense. Recommended for anyone with an interest in true stories, mysteries, shipwrecks, and maritime history.

Details: Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks. Hardcover published by Ballantine Books in 2004. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-46391-9

Note: The author includes a chapter about a short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle which was loosely based on the Mary Celeste and the disappearance of her crew. The story was called J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement and was very convincing at the time. It was so convincing, in fact, that some of the myths in Conan Doyle's story are still believed as fact today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: Still Life by Louise Penny

✰✰✰✰ Three Pines is a quaint little town south of Montreal where no one ever locks their doors at night. Well, no one does, that is, until retired school teacher Jane Neal is found dead in the woods on Thanksgiving Sunday. At first it looks like a hunting accident gone wrong, but upon closer inspection there is more to her death than at first appears.

The case falls under the jurisdiction of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who arrives with his team to investigate the suspicious death. As he digs deeper into Jane Neal's death, the secrets of this sleepy little town begin to unravel much to the dismay of the villagers. The twists and turns of this complicated mystery keep everyone guessing right up until the surprising ending.

Still Life is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Three Pines and Inspector Gamache. I received it as a gift from my Secret Santa at LibraryThing, and I'm glad that I did. I'll definitely have to pick up the rest of the series.

The Bottom Line: Still Life is written in the tradition of an Agatha Christie mystery. While it does have a slow start, it succeeds in drawing you in until you can't put it down. It's easy to see why Still Life made a splash at the CWA Debut Dagger in 2004. Not only is it a fabulous mystery with its layer upon layer of clues and symbols, but it's also a literary treat. The quirky characters are lots of fun too. Highly recommended for mystery buffs.

Details: Still Life by Louise Penny. Paperback published by St. Martin's Paperbacks in 2007. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-94855-9

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cookbook Review: Gifts of Good Taste: The Creative Kitchen

✰✰✰✰½ Gifts from the heart are welcome any time of the year. This latest volume in the Gifts of Good Taste series features 100+ recipes for all gift giving occasions including the holidays.

There's something for everyone with recipes for homemade candies, holiday treats, and snacks. The cookie recipes feature all sorts of fun shapes like fish lures, watermelon slices, and ice cream cones. Bakers will also enjoy the variety of bread recipes for quick breads, muffins, biscuits, and yeast breads. And don't forget the beverages; there's plenty for coffee and tea lovers to enjoy.

Additionally, this book features cute gift presentation ideas like candy boxes, bottle bags, and ribbon roses. Patterns for crafts are included, and most require only basic skills. A recipe index is included as well.

The Bottom Line: Bakers looking for gift giving ideas will welcome this newest addition to the Gifts of Good Taste series by Leisure Arts. The Creative Kitchen features recipes and crafts that are quick and simple to make featuring ingredients and materials that are readily available. Bright, full color photos are included for each recipe and craft. Both bakers and crafters of all skill levels will find a bounty of ideas in this volume. Recommended for all.

Details: Gifts of Good Taste: The Creative Kitchen by Leisure Arts. Paperback published by Leisure Arts, Inc in 2011. 160 p. ISBN: 978-1-60900-124-7