The Patriotic Murders (aka One, Two, Buckle My Shoe)

 

by Agatha Christie

Published in 1940

Also titled: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

In this book, Hercule Poirot goes to the dentist.  And, as usual murder ensues.

This was a good mystery, and I greatly enjoyed it.  But, as usual, the reason I enjoyed it was because Christie was willing to delve a little deeper than just “who killed whom,” and wrestle with some more serious issues, in this case, Is human life inherently valuable simply because it is human life?

My only beef with this story is that several characters had names that were very similar, making the story sometimes difficult to follow. (Wait, is this Blunt or Barnes?)

This mystery was a 4/5 for me, and below I take a brief look at those more serious issues, whilst revealing many spoilers…

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The Merchant’s Daughter

 

by: Melanie Dickerson

Published: 2011

So, this was a sort-of retelling of “Beauty & the Beast,” except without a literal Beast, or magic (or mean sisters or a widowed father or much of anything to do with the original tale, really).

Set in England in 1352, Annabel is the daughter of a merchant, whose death financially devastated his family.  Annabel’s lazy brothers and mother refuse to work, but cannot afford to pay the fee that enables them to get out of their required work on the estate, so blah blah blah, Annabel has to work for three years as an indentured servant to the new lord, Ranulf le Wyse.  Lord Wyse is (shockingly) young, ruggedly handsome, and misunderstood, not to mention all scarred up from a wolf he fought off to save a young servant-girl many years  before.

Meantime, the bailiff of the estate, who is old enough to be Annabel’s father, really wants to marry Annabel, but she doesn’t like him and refuses, yadda yadda.  The story unwinds and gets more and more unbelievable.  In the end, everyone is surprised when Annabel ends up marrying Lord Wyse and living happily ever after.

Things about this book I liked:

  • The retelling was a bit different, and I liked that.
  • Annabel herself wasn’t terribly obnoxious.  Overall, I liked her and wanted her life to be happy in the end.

Things about this book I disliked:

  • Lots of parts of this book felt forced.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  A truly good book flows very naturally (although not always predictably; there is a difference).  This book frequently felt jarring–as though there was another way (or several others) that the plot could have turned that would have been more likely or natural, but instead the author shoved the plot the direction she needed it to go.
  • The Bailiff.  How can he be this horrible person lurking about waiting for a chance to rape Annabel, but everyone else in the town thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread? (Maybe better, because this was, I do believe, before sliced bread!)  Why does Lord Wyse believe Annabel’s stories of how the Bailiff is distressing and threatening her, and yet not fire the Bailiff?  Why does the Bailiff continue to pursue a girl so obviously favored and protected by his lord?  The Bailiff is just a bit too melodramatically evil for me, while at the same time, no other character in the book seems to care, or even notice, that he’s a creeper.
  • Lord Wyse.  He’s mysterious, but not.  He’s angry and cranky and then not.  And those changes occur within a week.  Because yes, that’s another thing that makes me roll my eyes at this book:
  • It takes place over about three weeks of time.  This mostly annoys me because we don’t really get that feeling that Annabel is able to (a) really appreciate the fact that she is going to be stuck here for a very very very very long time, or (b) that Annabel is able to love “the beast” for his true character.  And really, those two points are the foundation to a true Beauty & the Beast story.
  • The religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a conservative Christian myself.  Involving God in the story does not immediately annoy me.  And I knew what I was getting into, because the book is published by Zondervan and the author was a finalist for the Christy Award.  But, once again, the introduction of religion felt forced, as though modern-day Christian platitudes were being mouthed by historical characters.  This could be because the author decided to use the NIV as her quoted Scripture version, which definitely sounds nothing like 1532 language.  (I realize they were reading in Latin, but still…  NIV??  Seriously!?)

This was a fine book, but not one that I would read again, or particularly recommend.  For me, it overall did not have that happy, easy flow that allows a reader to believe that these events could actually have occurred.  2/5.

Magical Melons

 

by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1939

This book, the sequel to Caddie Woodlawncontains several new adventures of the Woodlawn family, based on the tales told to the author by her grandmother.

I actually like Magical Melons better than Caddie Woodlawn, and I’m not sure why.  I think it’s because in Caddie Woodlawn, the author seems to be trying to connect all the stories, but it doesn’t work very well, because they are all just individual vignettes.  But in Magical Melons, it’s as though Brink realizes this, and just tells each tale independently, and the whole book flows better because of it.

Overall, super happy little stories, fun historical context.  3/5.

Eragon

by Christopher Paolini

Published: 2002

So I apparently forgot to take a picture of this book before sending it back to the library.  Sorry about that.  But you know what it looks like:  thick, blue, with a dragon on the front?

Somehow, these books have been published for about ten years now, and I’m just now getting around to reading them.  I’m not sure why.  Because of their popularity, I was skeptical of them, but I am about 2/3 through the second book (Eldest) and so far, so good.

Eragon manages to be a plot-setting book while still telling a story.  The first book in a “epic” series can often degrade into mere background and character introduction, but Paolini manages to accomplish that while still allowing a story to move along.  He has created a world that is consistent and characters who are relateable.  As another bonus, he did not end the book on a cliffhanger.  While there were plenty of open-ended story-lines to follow for the rest of the series, the author did a nice job wrapping up the loose ends for that particular book, which I like.  Overall, I felt that the book was very well-paced.

For me, the main drawback was a personal whim–I get so aggravated with books that involve multiple fictional languages, meaning that I constantly have to flip to the glossary at the back of the book.  I understand the dramatic reality it (sort of) portrays (a la Tolkien), but to me, it’s just a distraction.  Every time there is an tense meeting between multiple races, the flow of the conversation is lost by the fact that two or three languages are being spoken.  Paolini doesn’t do it too much, which is almost more annoying…  just the first sentence of everyone’s paragraph is in their native language, then they apparently either revert back to the common language, or Paolini decides to translate the rest for us, I’m not sure which.  Either way, it irritates me.

Still, an overall very enjoyable read, and I am definitely finishing out the series.  4/5.

 

Sad Cypress

by Agatha Christie

Published: 1939

In this rather mediocre Poirot mystery, Poirot works to discover the truth behind the murder of a lovely young girl and an elderly woman.  For me personally, this story struck no chord.  It was fine, the plot moved along, but there was nothing particularly unique or grabbing about it.

So, an average 3/5.

The Little White Horse

 

by Elizabeth Goudge

1946

Some fellow reader on tumblr recommended this book to me.  I wish that I could remember who, so that I could heartily thank them, because I loved every page of this book.  I really have no idea how to describe this book.  It was like a flower–beautiful, delicate, fragrant, old-fashioned, simple yet complex, uplifting.  Okay, so that’s a bit sappy, but still true.  This book was just wonderful.

I don’t really want to go into the storyline for fear of giving too much away, but I would like to note that I do not usually enjoy books that mix religion with magic.  But this book did it just perfectly–magic somehow became miracles, and the beauty of believing in God was not at all belittled or mocked; in fact, it was an important part of the tale.

By all means, find and read this book.  I will definitely be looking up more books by Elizabeth Goudge in the future!

5/5.

An Unfortunate Series of Events, Books 1-8

Lately, I have also been reading Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Series.  Overall, I have been enjoying the tales, but to  me they just drrrrrrrrraggggggg.  It’s as though all of the books could have been just one book about the same size as they each are now.  And, as the name implies, they are not particularly happy stories.  Bad things are constantly dogging the steps of the young orphans, so it’s not exactly uplifting reading.

I like the overarching story and the bit of mystery there, and am interested to see how things eventually end.  But at this point, the books are just SO slow to me.  I’ll let you know how I feel when I finish them.  ;-)

Caddie Woodlawn

 

by Carol Ryrie Brink

Published: 1935

This story, set during the 1860’s in the west, is based on the author’s grandmother’s life.  The book is anecdotes from  a year of Caddie’s life and is full of interesting history and a glimpse into everyday life during the time.  The book is a lot of fun, although sometimes the jumps in the story seem a bit abrupt.  There isn’t much of an overall plot tying things together, which can make the book seem a bit choppy at times.  Still, it’s a happy story and very readable.  3/5.

Friday’s Child

 

by Georgette Heyer

Published: 1944

I loved this book!  I actually will probably end up purchasing it; it may be my favorite Heyer book that I have read to date (and I have read several!).

And it could be because I really enjoy stories that begin with the wedding instead of ending with it.  The characters of this tale are just sweet and endearing and I loved reading about them.  The dialogue is so much fun, and the plot has just enough friction between the characters without being annoying.  The title comes from the poem about the characteristics of children born on various days of the week–

Friday’s child is loving and giving…

And the young heroine of the story is just that.  The love and patience she shows to her husband is lovely to behold, and watching Sherry learn to cherish and appreciate his wife is beautiful.  If you’ve never read a Heyer book, Friday’s Child is a wonderful place to start.  5/5.

The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, & Revenge

 

by Paul Preston

Published: 2006

I’ve been working my way through this book slowly for the last several weeks, and I came into it with absolutely NO prior knowledge of the Spanish Civil War.  In fact, I didn’t even know they had a Civil War in the 1930’s.

The book was a good read.  Preston writes knowledgeably and readably, in an informative but not overly-scholarly way.  While his writing doesn’t quite compare to Richard Pipes (see Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime), it trends in that direction in its accessibility, and the ability to be interesting and useful for a non-expert like myself.

I was drawn to this book when I began to realize that I have no idea what Spain was doing during World War II.  It’s a pretty big piece of Europe to just be sitting there, so I decided to start with some pre-WWII background.  And lo, Spain has quite the pre-WWII background!  Almost a decade of a brutal, bloody, desperate Civil War, led by the Fascist rebels (and eventually, their leader, soon-to-be evil dictator Franco).  Without rambling on about Spanish history (because I am still definitely no expert), I will say that this was a very interesting read.  I feel that Preston did a good job balancing various perspectives on a historical event that is still being vigorously debated eighty years later.