My Favorite Spy – Appleton Porter – What? Never heard of him?

Somewhere in the company of George Smiley and James Bond you will find Appleton Porter, a very British spy created by Marc Lovell. Appleton (“Apple” as he is known by his friends) is about as memorable as a spy can be. He is 6’7″ tall, with red hair, freckles (when he is not blushing) and a problem in that he blushes very easily.

His boss describes him as “six feet seven inches tall…How could he ever blend into the background?…He is kind to the aged and small creatures…and falls in love at the traditional drop of a lace handkerchief…training scores were pretty dismal…It makes me sigh myself to wonder why Porter didn’t have the cunning to try and fake his ratings. Is there no guile in the man at all? Finally, Porter blushes.”

His favorite snack is tea and toast with lemon marmalade – it helps him think. Often after just such a snack his mind is clear enough to see the solution to whatever problem he is facing.

The Spy Game is the first in this fourteen book series.

In the fifth book, Apple to the Core, Appleton manages to buy Ethel. Ethel is a very old British cab that has long been used by the Secret Service and for which Appleton has a great fondness. Ethel had been featured in the previous four books and it was nice to see the cab finally belong to Apple.

If I had to think up a description for this wonderful series I think I would call them “cozy spy”. While he does often have to fight physically the books aren’t full of killing, neither does Appleton swear. The circumstances he sometimes finds himself in are at times a bit crazy, but it makes the story so much more fun. The books are about 200 pages, give or take a few, and are a quick read.

While it is hard to choose among them, because they are all so much fun, Apple Spy in the Sky is one of my favorites. Appleton is an unlikely spy and in this episode he is up against a KGB agent as unlikely as he is.

White Hurricane : A Great Lakes November Gale and America’s Deadliest Maritime Disaster by David G. Brown

This was the story of the tremendous storm that raged over the Great Lakes in November, 1913. The storm began to be felt in small ways on Friday, Nov. 7th and from Saturday, the 8th, through Monday, Nov. 10th, 12 of the huge freighters were sunk and 31 more were run aground. 253 sailors were lost. But these figures are not the total because in 1913 no single body was responsible for keeping track of ships and lives lost. It also did not take into account fishermen or casual boaters out on the lakes or people who died on land. The storm was called the ‘white’ hurricane because it was accompanied by snow and ice which ravaged the ships and brought the towns along the Lakes to a standstill. Cleveland had over 21 inches of snow fall. Waves were 35′ high. Downed telephone and telegraph lines ashore hampered getting information to life-saving stations.  Brown describes the effect of the storm on the cities, especially Cleveland, and it is quite harrowing.

As with all disasters, press and politicians are desperate to point the finger of blame and the Weather Bureau took most of the blame. Brown points out, in all fairness, that in 1913 the methods of forecasting were very basic as was the current knowledge of what made weather patterns. The Gulf Stream was unknown, for example. Fingers were also pointed at the ship owners who pressed their captains to get in as many trips as possible. In fairness to the captains, if they had forecasts that really indicated how bad the storm was many of them might not have sailed.

The storm, which was actually two storms that immediately followed one another, was unprecedented when it occurred and there has not been a storm to match it since.

The story was engrossing, but I found it difficult to follow the timeline as Brown shifts from one ship, in one Lake to another ship in a different Lake and it would be much later when he came back to the original ship.  Not a terrible thing, the book still keeps your attention, but it was frustrating at times.

I found the title of the book, ‘America’s Deadliest Maritime Disaster’, a bit confusing.  Perhaps it was the deadliest disaster caused by weather; it certainly was not America’s deadliest. The SS Sultana was near Memphis TN on April 27, 1865 when three of her boilers exploded and she sank with the loss of 1800 lives.  It never received much publicity as it occurred the day following the shooting of John Wilkes Booth, so perhaps the author can be forgiven his extravagance.  Sometime in the next year I hope to read about the Sultana’s sinking.  Perhaps there is a technical difference between a disaster on the Great Lakes and one on the Mississippi, that makes one a ‘maritime’ disaster and the other not, or perhaps it is because the 253 lives lost were crewmen and the Sultana’s loss of life was concerned with passengers? I wouldn’t question that it might have been the, or one of the, costliest.  It might also qualify,  if you consider the loss of a ship a ‘death’, with 12 freighters going down.

But, in the end, I think the title is just the author’s, or his editor’s, hyperbole.

Game Day on the Mountain

Hopefully our game days are back on track. We had quite a good time this past weekend. Normally we play our new games first – getting over the learning curve while our minds are still fresh.

Our first game was Deadwood Game - Deadwoodfrom Fantasy Flight. It was pretty easy to pick up. Light strategy. It is for 2 – 5 players. The company says from 13 yrs old and up. I see no reason why a game-savvy 8 year old would have problems with it. Certainly a 9 or 10 year old would find it easy to learn. The game is attractive with nice quality playing pieces. I would recommend it for a family game, or a game when friends get together and want something light, but with more chew than a ‘party game’.

Next up was Professor Pugnacious; Professor Pugnaciousbought because the steampunk element appealed to me. We didn’t play the game because the rule book was totally confusing, talking as if we all knew how the game was played, and had only one drawing that didn’t even show the layout. This is a bit confusing because one review on boardgamegeek had the following: “I actually really liked this Rule Book. You get a short overview of how the game is played. Then, a more detailed section in the same format. This is brilliant. The book uses good examples and includes full color photos. The book has an old time feel to it. Overall, I really did like this rule book and thought it was fantastic. Playing the game, I had a few questions but I was able to use common sense and work most of it out.” Maybe the rule book got left out of our box. I will check into that, but we couldn’t play the game with what we had.

We played The Downfall of Pompeii; it was a re-visit as we have played it before and really enjoyed it. Kill Dr Lucky cardsKill Dr. Lucky, the card game version, was a new game but since we have played the board game version it wasn’t difficult to pick up. The graphics and the card quality were very good. Zen Garden had some confusing directions as well because there are two games you can play, Zen Garden and Rock Garden, but the rule booklet didn’t make clear which rules were for which game. We enjoyed it and hoped we were playing it correctly.

The winner of the evening was Carcassonne South Seas. In fact, I would judge this as the best of all the Carcassonne games. Game - Carcassone South SeasMore elements, more strategy – my favorite.