January Minireviews – Part 3

Oh my gosh.  Okay.  I’m still here.  I had a mild breakdown today because freaking WordPress changing literally E V E R Y T H I N G on top of my already crappy week was just more than I could take.  I even started to set up a new blog on Blogspot.  But for now I am going TRY to continue working with this stupid website because I feel like I have so much invested here!

A bit of whining first, then book reviews.  Feel free to skip this paragraph.  I’m in a Mood haha  So besides the fact that the entire dashboard is just stupid now, my biggest issue is that the Pages are just in some kind of random order.  (Maybe what’s been edited recently?  But it doesn’t really seem to be that.  Definitely not alphabetical.  Definitely not in the order they are on my site, or anything else that I can figure that actually makes sense.)  I use these pages every time I make a post because it’s how I index everything.  Each book I review then has a link filed on at least three index pages – the ones you can see at the top of the website.  However, even though I can’t sort those pages and the whole thing looks stupid I can apparently “search” them so I think I can use the search function to find the pages I want when I want them… maybe.  Mostly.  Honestly I’m just flat pissed at how horrible the new set up is.  It’s so, so horrible.  

But onward, right?  I’m going to try to see if I can make this stupid website do what it’s always done for me, even if it now takes about 15 extra steps and makes no sense.  At least I can now “seamlessly create a podcast” from my website.  Because that’s definitely what I want to do.  Oh my GOSH.

As a side note I can “kind of” use the Classic editor by choosing it as a block in the Block editor.  Because that makes sense, right? *HUGE EYE ROLL*

EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT

I FIGURED IT OUT!!!!!  Okay, sorry, this almost feels like it should be its own post instead of one with reviews but whatever haha  OKAY so if your dashboard has also gone completely wonky – I went to My Profile and then on the left sidebar clicked Account Settings.  Now here’s the stupid part.  Just the other day I had to UNCLICK the button that says “Show advanced dashboard pages” so that the update would NOT show up.  Today I turned it ON and now everything is back to normal.  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

I’m SO SORRY that I’ve been whining about WordPress so much lately!!!  I’m going to try to go back to being the upbeat person that I usually am haha  Thanks so much for listening to me rant lately and for giving me helpful possible solutions!!!  Maybe this whole thing is back under control!?!?  Time will tell…  For now – on to a few reviews!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Time & Time Again by Ben Elton – 4*

The sad part about being way behind on reviews is that books that I really found interesting and thought-provoking at the time have now faded into the distance.  When I read this book back in January, it completely sucked me in.  A fantastic concept well-executed with a great twist – it honestly doesn’t fit my usual style of reading as it wasn’t a particularly happy book, but it was done so well that I didn’t mind.  If you’re someone with a rosier view of the human race than I have (i.e., if you think people are on a generally upward trajectory and are constantly improving rather than devolving), you may not like this book as well.  But since I actually think people are on a cyclical but steady downward trend, this book rather fit with my life philosophy in many ways.  

There were a few too many unanswered questions for me to rank this more than 4*, but all in all it was a solid and engaging read a bit outside of my normal parameters.  

Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries by Patrick McManus

  • The Blight Way – 4*
  • Avalanche – 3.5*
  • The Double-Jack Murders – 3.5*
  • The Huckleberry Murders – 3.5*
  • The Tamarack Murders – 3*
  •  Circles in the Snow – 2.5*
I usually give a series its own post, but I’m so far behind on reviews that I’m not even going to do that haha  
 
I grew up on McManus’s collections of essays/articles and many of my life philosophies are based on his theories.  This series was written late in his life and was one of his few forays into fiction.  Set in a small town in Idaho, the books focus on the county sheriff, Bo Tully, and various murders/adventures/shenanigans that occur in Blight County.  While the series started well with a likable group of characters, the last couple of books fell off sharply, with the stories getting weirder and the final book not even including most of the characters who had been regulars in the earlier books.  I can see myself reading the first two or three books again, but not the whole series.
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow by Miriam Mason – 3.5*
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow

//published 1941//

This is a simple children’s story about a pioneer family who moves west (all the way to Indiana haha) in a covered wagon but told from the (third person) perspective of the family cow, Susannah.  It was a happy little story but since it was focused on the cow it was lacking in a lot of details about pioneer life.  I think I would have loved this book when I was an early reader, though, because Susannah does have some exciting adventures.


Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

A fun little collection of short stories based around Miss Marple.  I actually rather enjoyed these because I quite like Miss Marple’s random-yet-somehow-make-sense connections between different people/situations, and those really shine in these shorts.  Not the best Christie has to offer, but still rather fun.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Oh look, it’s November and I’m just starting to review the books I read in October!!! :-D

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1939//

Some people complain about this book not “fitting” with the rest of the series since this one (along with Anne of Windy Poplars) was written out of order, but I never knew that until a few years ago and I’ve always loved this one. While the focus shifts off of Anne and onto her children for the most part, it’s still a lighthearted and happy book. I really appreciate that Montgomery didn’t find it necessary to give Anne a horrible life, or make her and Gilbert unhappy together later – instead, they continue to grow together, and now have a whole houseful of little ones as well. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis – 3.5*

//published 2015//

When I started reading Second Chance Summer, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series, so it took a minute for the second and third books to come in at the library. While I really enjoyed returning to Cedar Ridge, Colorado, I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the first book, mainly because I was seriously distracted by the fact that the whole reason that Bailey is at the lodge is so she can paint a mural… outside… in the middle of winter… in the Colorado mountains… ????? I don’t feel like any kind of paint would work under these conditions??? There’s even one point where she finishes the mural in the dark???

Aside from sketchy connections to reality, it was still a perfectly enjoyable piece of fluff romance. There are a few too many sexy times for me, but otherwise a fun little read.

Nobody But You by Jill Shalvis – 3*

//published 2016//

Sadly, the third book in the series was my least favorite, mainly because it was just… boring. Nothing really happens. Sophie’s divorced and she ended up with her husband’s boat, mainly to tick him off (despite the fact that she didn’t get anything else…) and since she’s broke, she has to live on it. So she’s wandering around in the boat working random temp jobs around the lake while intermittently running into another one of the siblings from Cedar Ridge Lodge, who is suitably hot and awesome. It wasn’t a bad book exactly, just really unexciting. I was never interested to pick it up after I had set it down, but wanted to finish the series itself. I was also annoyed when the big conflict between the main characters is Sophie accusing Jacob of lying to her… when he literally didn’t. When they first met, Sophie thinks he’s a Lake Patrol Officer, but she never actually says that to Jacob, so he doesn’t even know that that’s what she thinks. Later, she gets mad at him for “lying” to her about being an officer??? And his response is to be all apologetic?! My response would have been, Wow this chick is crazy, no thank you.

Not a bad story, but an overall rather apathetic ending to the trilogy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1813// And yes, I totally got the Chiltern edition – SO worth it!!!! //

Since I love reading P&P variations of all kinds, it seemed like I was overdue on a reread of the original story. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said – it’s a really fabulous novel with fun characters, an entertaining story, and plenty of romance. I always forget how delightfully snarky Austen is. This classic is definitely worthy of that title, and definitely worth a read.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

This is the first appearance of Miss Marple, an elderly spinster who lives in the small village of St. Mary Mead. The book itself is narrated by the vicar (who is extremely likable), but Miss Marple drifts in and out of the story a great deal with her habit of observing everything that is going on and drawing out similarities between situations that most people overlook. One of my biggest take-aways from the this read-through was just the reminder of how, at our core, people are basically alike, which is kind of the point of all the Miss Marple-isms. There is one big coincidence in this mystery that always is hard for me to get over, but for the most part this is a great story and an excellent place to start if you’ve never read a Miss Marple tale.

Sleeping Murder

//by Agatha Christie//published 1976//

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So I do believe that this is my favorite Miss Marple tale to date.  Sleeping Murder was a delightfully creepy, well-paced story.

First, though, let’s talk about something that really confused me.  I’ve been reading the Miss Marple stories in their published order, as I did last year with Hercule Poirot.  And, thus far, the stories have also been in chronological order (the Poirot mysteries did the same).  However, Sleeping Murder is definitely set earlier in Miss Marple’s timeline than the book before this one (Nemesis).   While still elderly, Miss Marple is much more active, and, throughout the story is found gardening and weeding, activities she has vocally mentioned in earlier books as being too strenuous for her, per her doctor’s orders.

And so, I did something that I rarely do for this book blog (because, as I have mentioned in the past, I am a super lazy blogger) – I actually did a smidge of research on this book.  And by that, I mean I read the Wikipedia article.  And now I will summarize the publishing information from said article for you, so you can be a lazy blog reader and not click through to the link.  (Besides, if you click through to a Wikipedia link, you’ll never end up back here.  You’ll get swept up in a series of Wikipedia links, and before you know it, it’s already after 18:00 and you’re supposed to have supper on the table but you’re busy reading about the communication methods of honey bees.)

Okay, so, apparently, earlier in her career, Christie wrote the last Poirot novel and the last Marple novel. Then she put those novels in a vault, and went on to write many other novels, including lots that involved these two characters.  After she published Postern of Fatethe actual last novel she ever wrote, in 1973, Christie authorized the publication of Poirot’s final appearance, Curtain.  Sleeping Murder followed in 1976, although Christie passed away before it was actually published.  While Curtain is most definitely the end of Poirot, Sleeping Murder is, in fact, set earlier in Miss Marple’s lifetime (so I wasn’t crazy).  Sleeping Murder wasn’t as powerful of a mystery as Curtain, but I was unsurprised to find that it had been written earlier in Christie’s career – I really think that her earlier works are much stronger than her later ones.

This story starts with a young woman, from New Zealand, who has arrived in England to pick out a home.  Her husband is to follow shortly (he is traveling on business), but she gets the pleasure and the challenge of finding the perfect home for their new life together.  Whilst driving through the countryside, Gwenda finds a beautiful little house – she loves it at first sight.  She feels as though she has come home at least – it is as though she instinctively already knows about this house, all its secrets.  She purchases it happily, and wires her husband Giles to tell him the wonderful news.

As Gwenda settles in, though, she continually has feelings of unease.  That feeling of “knowing” the house takes on a more ominous tone as various  remodeling projects she puts into action turn out to be, in fact, restoration – clearing bushes leading down to the sea reveals that there used to be stairs there.  Putting a doorway between the den and the dining room – except there was already a door there, plastered over.  Separately, these little incidences would feel inconsequential, but as more and more of them occur, Gwenda becomes more and more frightened.

I cannot begin to describe how creepy Christie makes all of this sound.  I really don’t want to give any more of this away because you definitely need to read it yourself.  It sounds so dumb, but it is positively eerie.

Much like Curtain, Sleeping Murder is a book that you simply have to read.  I can’t describe much more for fear of giving it away.  The story unwinds with perfect pacing, hurling the reader into a very satisfactory ending.  A 4/5 for Miss Marple’s final entrance, and an excellent way to end her series.

At Bertram’s Hotel

//by Agatha Christie//published 1965//

746398In this Miss Marple mystery, she is once again on a nephew-Raymond sponsored holiday.  This time, Miss Marple has gone to London to stay at Bertram’s.  Bertram’s has been around forever.  A quiet, respectable hotel that, somehow, time has touched very lightly.  Everything about Bertram’s is really quite perfect, and Miss Marple is delighted to see how little it has changed since she was there as a girl.

This mystery is a bit odd because the murder is towards the end of the story and is, in many ways, rather anticlimactic.  The real mystery is more about a criminal ring that has been pulling have fantastic heists all around the countryside.  While we start and end with Miss Marple, much of the middle bit follows Chief Inspector Davy, who meanders around collecting bits and pieces of information.  Of course, Miss Marple frequently just so happens to be at the right place at the right time, and hears some critical conversations and makes some critical deductions.

At Bertram’s Hotel was a solid read, but, as with most of Miss Marple’s books, not really one that struck me as amazing.  I’m really just not as huge of a fan of Christie’s later works,  as they so often seem to lack the zing of her earlier stories.  Still, this was a perfectly acceptable installment in the Miss Marple series.  3/5.

A Caribbean Mystery

//by Agatha Christie//published 1964//

caribbean_mystery_qx6_jpg_235x600_q951Whoa ho, look at me going all crazy and putting the picture on the right!  Time to shake things up!  PARTY!

Um, anyway.  More confessions:  I really struggle with spelling Caribbean?  Like, not right now because right now I have it in my head 1 R, 2 Bs.  But next week if you pop up and ask me how to spell it, I will probably try any combination other than the correct one.  Caribbean and Pennsylvania.  I never get Pennsylvania right on the first try, either.

Anyway.

Miss Marple is back in this story.  Her “dear nephew Raymond” has sent her on a little holiday to a seaside resort in the Caribbean.  Miss Marple is all set to enjoy a few weeks of R&R, but she has to admit to herself that, while pleasurable, her vacation is a trifle dull.

Lucky for Miss Marple, the death of one of the other residents of the resort gives her something to puzzle over.  While it appears that Major Palgrave died of natural causes, Miss Marple has reasons to think otherwise.

A Caribbean Mystery was an enjoyable read, but not one that really struck me, leaving it a pretty solid 3/5 in my estimation.  I will say that I have read most of the Miss Marple mysteries in the past but, as with the Poirot stories, reading them in their published order has definitely given Miss Marple herself more depth and made her more engaging as a protagonist.

Still, this particular mystery was rather mediocre, so while it was a decent read, it’s not one I’m putting on the classics shelf.

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

The_Mirror_Crack'd_From_Side_to_Side_First_Edition_Cover_1962by Agatha Christie

published 1962

In this Miss Marple mystery, we return to the village of St. Mary Mead.  It has been several years since we last saw that little hamlet (back in The Body in the Library), and while many of the characters reappear, Christie actually dwells a great deal on the changes in village life, discussing the modernization of the homes, the appearance of department stores, and the building of The Development on the edge of town.

Although Miss Marple contemplates these things, as well as her own aging, at length, Christie manages to write about these topics in a way that actually propels/provides a setting for the story, rather than dragging it down.  Part of the reason may be because Christie/Miss Marple does not necessarily make a judgment as to whether these changes are good or bad.  Certainly, they have their disadvantages, at least from Miss Marple’s perspective, but overall she seems to recognize them as a part of life.

The mystery itself must have been buried somewhere within my subconscious, as I’m usually quite bad at mysteries, and this one I knew immediately who the murderer was and why.  I’m just not that clever, so must have read this book sometime long ago.  Still, despite the fact that the mystery was not at all mysterious, I rather enjoyed seeing the clues and red herrings for what they really were as the story progressed.  It also allowed me to relax and enjoy some of the old faces (especially Mrs. Bantry, although the Colonel, sadly, has passed away in the interim).

In the end, beyond the mystery, what I enjoyed about this book is the fact that Miss Marple realizes how although our trappings and technology may change, human nature is ever and always the same.  I am a strong believer in this myself (it’s no secret that part of the reason I enjoy Christie’s writing so much is that her worldview so closely follows my own!), and I love the way that as Miss Marple gets to know new people, and people from The Development, she recognizes afresh how we all have the same struggles and complications and desires as humanity ever has.

While this is not, in my opinion, one of Christie’s best works, it is still a good read, and an easy 3/5.

NOTE:  This is my first attempt publishing a review on queue instead of live.  We will see how it works!!!

4.50 from Paddington (aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw)

by Agatha Christie

published 1957

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In this Miss Marple mystery, our story starts, not with Miss Marple, but with another elderly lady, Mrs. McGillicuddy.  After doing some Christmas shopping in London, Mrs. McGillicuddy boards the 4.50 from Paddington, heading to the country to visit an old friend.  On the way, another train momentarily runs parallel to Mrs. McGillicuddy’s.  In that brief moment, the blind in the carriage of the other train flies up and Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a murder being committed.

Although she reports this when her train arrives at the station, no one really takes her seriously, especially since no body is discovered.  Luckily, the old friend Mrs. McGillicuddy is stopping to see happens to be none other than our intrepid Miss Marple, who takes her friend very seriously indeed.  Unable to do the legwork herself, Miss Marple calls upon a younger friend, Lucy.  Together, with Lucy finding the clues and Miss Marple piecing them together, both body and murderer are, of course, found.

While a good mystery, this one seemed to lack a lot of what one might call “Miss Marpleisms” – where she draws completely baffling parallels between players in the current story and people back in her home village.  While we do get a few of these conversations, the bulk of the action is taking place with Lucy and her conversations instead.  I missed the fluttery Miss Marple comparisons, and attempting to figure out what she’s saying (which is often more of a mystery than the mystery itself!).

Still, there were a few solid conversations with Miss Marple, and, as usual, a few of Christie’s personal beliefs did flow through well.  Two conversations in particular really struck me in this story.  In the first, Lucy is distressed because she and Miss Marple have discovered a potential motive for the murder:

“And yet – there was quite a lot of money, wasn’t there?  You’d think it would be enough shared out…”  She paused, the words tailing off.

“The trouble is,” said Miss Marple, “that people are greedy.  Some people.  That’s so often, you know, how things start.  You don’t start with murder, with wanting to do murder, or even thinking of it.  You just start by being greedy, by wanting more than you’re going to have.”

I appreciate the way that Christie doesn’t beat around the bush with her concept of what makes people do bad things.  In Christie’s narratives, people don’t do bad things because “society didn’t train them right” or because they “lacked a supportive family” or any of the other weak social excuses that seem to be handed to every criminal out there these days.  In Christie’s book, people do bad things because their own greedy desires lead them to do bad things, and they lack the moral character to stand against those selfish impulses.

This idea is illustrated by another conversation a few pages later, which Miss Marple is recounting the story of a woman who murdered two of her children and was planning to murder the third –

“[those murders weren’t committed] exactly for money.  She was jealous of them for being younger than she was and alive, and she was afraid – it’s a terrible thing to say but it’s true – they would enjoy themselves after she was gone.  She’d always kept a very tight hold on the purse strings.  Yes, of course she was a little peculiar, as they say, but I never see myself that that’s any real excuse.  I mean you can be a little peculiar in so many different ways.  Sometimes you just go about giving all your possessions away and writing cheques on bank accounts that don’t exist, just so as to benefit people.  It shows, you see, that behind being peculiar you have quite a nice disposition.  But of course if you’re peculiar and behind it you have a bad disposition – well, there you are.”

In Miss Marple’s book, and by everything I can read, in Christie’s as well, there is no room for the currently-favored “insanity” plea.  People who have done terrible things have done them whether they were crazy or not, and, as Christie frequently tells us, bad things cannot go unpunished.  And whether you agree or not with her conclusion, you must admit that it is one worth of contemplation.

Merry Christmas + Mini Reviews

Okay, so I’ve been a really terrible blogger (again).  It’s been the usual combination of insanity and me wondering where all my time is?!  Then, I finally return to WordPress to find that everything is different on my dashboard.  And yes, I realize I can switch to classic mode, but I always like to at least try the not-classic.

Anyway, while I haven’t exactly been in a reading slump, I’ve not really read anything that’s made me go “!!!!!!!!!” so I’ve decided to compile another mini-review post.  I kind of hate doing this because this always ends up being a super long post, but such is life.  :-D

The Hollow Hills //  by Mary Stewart  //  Published 1973

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So this book is the second of the Arthurian quartet, which started with The Crystal Cave.  In this sequel, we continue to follow the story of Arthur through Merlin’s voice.  I really liked this book.  The language is excellent, and Merlin’s “Sight” allows us access to important action scenes that Merlin couldn’t/didn’t physically see.  However, a lot of this book is simply slow.  The first chunk of the book is Merlin meandering about waiting for Arthur to be old enough to be interesting.  And while I enjoy many of Merlin’s thoughts and philosophies, the book just didn’t have enough actual action to keep me really engaged.  Still, we do see the beginning of Arthur’s reign in this book, and get to see him being shaped into the man and leader he will become.

Through a man’s life there are milestones, things he remembers even into the hour of his death.  God knows that I have had more than a man’s share of rich memories; the lives and deaths of kings, the coming and going of gods, the founding and destroying of kingdoms. But it is not always these great events that stick in the mind: here, now, in this final darkness, it is the small times that come back to me the most vividly, the quiet human moments which I should like to live again, rather than the flaming times of power. I can still see, how clearly, the golden  sunlight of that quiet afternoon. There is the sound of the spring, and the falling liquid of the thrush’s song, the humming of the wild bees, the sudden flurry of the white hound scratching for fleas, and the sizzling sound of cooking where Arthur knelt over the wood fire, turning the trout on a spit of hazel, his face solemn, exalted, calm, lighted from within by whatever it is that sets such men alight. It was his beginning, and he knew it.

A Murder is Announced  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1950 

christie_a-murder-is-announcedIn this next Miss Marple mystery, we begin our story in the small village of Chipping Cleghorn.

Frequently, Christie employs a writing technique that I actually enjoy – chapters are further divided into little mini-chapters, with each little section switching to a different character.  Because most of Christie’s  mysteries are classic cozies with a limited set of players, this style works well, especially in the introductory chapters.

Overall, A Murder is Announced wasn’t really for me.  There were a few too many people killed, Miss Marple was just sort of dropped into the story, and the ending was a bit too much of a jump for me.  Still, the story is paced well, and I always prefer to read in the third person instead of the first.  And I have to say that the execution of the crime/perpetrator was quite well-done – for me, it was the motivation that was lacking.

So, for me, a decent read that really is about what I expect from Christie’s work in the 1950’s as opposed to her earlier, and in my mind much better, earlier writing.

Bellweather Rhapsody  //  by Kate Racculia  //  published 2014  //  A Novel

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This is definitely a book that, if I was reviewing it closer to the time that I read it, would have deserved an entire post.  Tragically, I read it about six weeks ago, so the initial feels I had about this book (and there were a lot) have really quite faded.

In this novel, Rabbit and his twin sister Alice have been selected to attend a state-wide music festival for high schoolers.  The festival is held every year out in the middle of nowhere in an ancient and imposing hotel called the Bellweather.  There, we meet a strange and eclectic group of people whose lives are twined together throughout this weekend as they face ghosts both past and present.

This was an engaging book with excellent pacing.  I’m not going to lie: I was also quite drawn to the fact that the book was published in a classy font that made me happy just to look at it.  in the end, though, the curse of A Novel stuck with this book for me – it was dreadfully depressing, and no one really had a particularly happy ending.

Notes/complaints:

  • Seriously?  Is this how kids think/act/talk in high school?  This book would have made significantly more sense with a setting as a college music festival instead.  The idea that some of these kids were only 14 was not only hard to believe, but, frankly, disturbing.
  • On that note:  Hello?  Chaperons?  Every adult in this book was completely self-centered and only interested in his/her personal activities.  Rabbit and Alice didn’t even know where their chaperon’s room was, and basically didn’t see her the entire weekend, despite the fact that Alice’s roommate disappears and Alice believes she (the roommate) was murdered.
  • The bad person in this  book is a really bad person.  I guess I’m not necessarily saying this as a negative, because she’s actually an incredibly well-written villain.  She is disturbing beyond belief.
  • Adultery.  Per usual.  Because apparently all adults are only driven by sex now.  These scenes where she convinces herself that she should be able to “live her own life” and “let loose” and have this one weekend out of her entire life where she’s truly free – yeah, those scenes are super boring to me.  Basically, what you’re saying is “I feel like having sex with this person, so I’m going to do it despite vows of fidelity that I’ve taken.”  What these scenes also imply is that if you’re married, it’s only because you’re too lazy or too comfortable to find something better, because obviously there is no possible way that you could still love/enjoy being with this person you married so many years ago.
  • Crazy old guy who runs the hotel – excellently done.
  • Person exploring their homosexuality?  Of course we have that.  We always have that.
  • Table of contents laid out like the program for an orchestral performance – beautiful.
  • Did I mention that this is kind of ghost story?  Because it’s kind of a ghost story.  It starts with a murder, bam!  That old ghost story is deftly woven throughout this tale, very well done.

I’m sure that this book has a lot of artistic merit, and, like I said, I found it to be an engaging read.  But it was just so depressing, and I am so over being told that marriages that last longer than five years only last that long because the people involved are too stupid to bail.  It would be really nice if someone wrote a novel about a couple who like each other and get along and still like hanging out because I know people like that so they definitely do exist in real life.  

Still, if you want to read a rather depressing-yet-intriguing tale that involves a lot of musical language, you should give it a try.   Also, I first heard about this book over at PaperBreathers, so if you want a more positive review, check out what Sophie has to say!  :-)

The Last Enchantment  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1979

2715068In the third book of Stewart’s Arthurian series, Merlin is growing old.  This book mostly covers Arthur’s reign and Merlin’s attempts to protect and help him, as well as the building of Camelot.  But, surprisingly, this book was really not very interesting.  I’m not sure how or why, but I really wasn’t able to connect with the characters very well.  Despite the length of these books, there isn’t a lot of depth or emotional attachment to the characters.  A lot of this book was about Merlin having ‘feelings’ or visions, and then kind of wandering about from place to place.

And, at the risk of sounding like a raving feminist, this book was really quite anti-woman.  Every woman in this book, with the exception of Nimue, was shown as either weak and flat, or evil and conniving.  Although, if I’m honest, the men weren’t much better, as they were all either stupid brutes or sneaky weasels.

The other thing that frustrated me about this book was the incredibly vague way that time passed.  I genuinely have no idea how long of a timer period this book is supposed to cover, especially since Merlin starts referring to himself as elderly in his mid-30’s!  (And yes, that struck a little close to home.)  Even though it seems like a minor thing, it made it really hard to follow what was going on.  Overall, The Last Enchantment didn’t leave me yearning to read the fourth and final book.  (Spoiler alert: I still did.)

They Do It With Mirrors  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1952

81In2eIi7-L._SL1500_This Miss Marple mystery was actually about Miss Marple, which was nice.  In this tale, Miss Marple goes to visit a childhood friend whom she believes may be in danger.  With an astonishingly unlikable group of people to choose from, the hardest decision I had was which of the characters I sort of hoped was the murderer!

Even though I didn’t really like any of the players, the mystery itself was well done, and I found the ending to be quite plausible.  I do enjoy the way that Christie quite often presents you with all the information you need – it’s not another clue that you need to find, but another way of looking at the clues you already have that ends up being the key to the puzzle.

While this isn’t a favorite of mine, it was still a fine read.

The Wicked Day  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1983

!B80Jq+gBWk~$(KGrHqUOKp!Ey+jC1UHjBM4DykfP4w~~0_1Okay, last review for this post.  I started to include Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield, but I legit do have enough to say about that book to justify making it its own post!  So we’ll finish off these mini-reviews with the final book of Stewart’s quartet, and some thoughts on the series as a whole.

In this final book, we no longer have Merlin’s voice narrating.  At the end of The Last Enchantment, Merlin basically retires (long story), so The Wicked Day is told in third person.  This book focuses on Arthur’s son, Mordred.  Mordred was conceived (and, by the way, this is all according to Stewart; I’m not really super familiar with traditional Arthurian legend, and I’m sure she’s changed things to fit her narrative) incestuously when, before he was king, or knew that he was the son of the king, Arthur slept with his half-sister, who also happens to be a witch, Morgause.  Merlin has prophesied that Mordred would be Arthur’s downfall and bane.

Mordred, like his father before him, doesn’t know how is father is, and definitely doesn’t imagine that it could be the king.  He grows up in Orkney, raised by simple fisher-folk.  When he gets a bit older, Morgause contrives to have him brought to the castle to live with her and her sons, but most people (including Mordred) believe him to be the bastard of Morgause’s dead husband, King Lot.  Eventually, King Arthur calls Morgause and her sons to Camelot, where, eventually, Mordred discovers his heritage.  He is the only son of Arthur’s body, since his wife, Guinevere, is barren, and Arthur refuses to set her aside and take another wife.  As the story progresses, Mordred and Arthur come to know and love each other, and Mordred is chosen to be Arthur’s heir.  Despite this, darkness still hangs over them and, in the end, though unwitting, Mordred is, in fact, the cause of Arthur’s death.

I really, really struggled to get through this book.  I did not like a single person.  Most of them were rather flat and uninteresting anyway.  Mordred’s half-brothers are bloodthirsty and dreadful, and there are a couple of rather graphic and gruesome deaths.  And, once again, it was just boring.  Actually, this whole series kept reminding me of when I read the Eragon books.  They came highly recommended, and I enjoyed the first book in the series, but they just kept getting less interesting and more depressing, and the characters, instead of growing and evolving, were just astonishingly flat for a books of this length.

I will say that, in many ways, Stewart has written an account of King Arthur that is (mostly) plausible, and maybe part of the reason that these books were so unexciting was that they rather read like a historical account instead of adventure in fiction.

In the end, I felt incredibly MEH about the whole series, but there are some passionate fans out there – I’ve seen these books highly recommended several places – so it’s possible that they may work for you.

*****

Okay, that’s all for now!  The Afterworlds review will be coming soon, and then maybe I’ll (sort of) stay on top of things for a while.

Merry Christmas!!

The Moving Finger

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by Agatha Christie

published 1942

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve read them, I have this vague feeling that I really didn’t like the Miss Marple books as well as some of Christie’s others.  And I’m not sure whether or not it’s Miss Marple herself, or the fact that more books with her as the main character were written later in Christie’s career – I find myself trending towards her 1920’s and 30’s books myself.

At any rate, The Moving Finger was not one of my favorites, mainly because Miss Marple isn’t really a part of the story.  The story is about a young man named Jerry, who is recovering from a long illness by leasing a house in a small village.  With his sister to keep house for him, Jerry settles in for what he assumes will be a quiet life.  However, it isn’t long before he and his sister receive an anonymous “poison pen” letter.  Jerry finds out that several – that is to say, most – villagers have been receiving these letters.  While uncomfortable, the letters don’t seem dangerous – until a woman commits suicide after receiving one.

This is not a bad story, but it’s not a great one, either.  The characters are a bit flat, and both Jerry and Joanna’s love stories feel a bit contrived (and a bit out of place as they don’t move the story forward much).  Miss Marple pops in at the end, magically knows all the answers, and wraps everything up.  I much prefer going along with the person who knows the answers in the end.  Because Miss Marple wasn’t really a part of the story (it isn’t even her village!), it felt odd to have her be the person who pulls it all together.  In my opinion, this story would have worked better without her – as a stand alone with Jerry as the amateur detective, perhaps.

Still, a fine if not stunning addition to the Marple tales.

‘The Murder at the Vicarage’, ‘Thirteen Problems’, and ‘The Body in the Library’ {introducing Miss Marple}

by Agatha Christie

published 1930, 1932, 1941

Sometimes I just need to read some good mysteries, ones where the bad guys are always appropriately punished, and the hero is unlikely but brilliant.  And so I turn to Agatha Christie yet again.  :-D

All the way back in early 2012 (before I was even on WordPress!  Back when my main book blog was on tumblr!  Ah, those were the days!  Not really; WordPress is a much better format for this blog.  Anyway) I started reading the Hercule Poirot books in their published order.  It took me a while to work through them, but it was well-worth the effort to see his character (and those of various secondary characters) unfold and build.  While Miss Marple does not star in nearly as many works, I’m still intrigued about following another character through her progression.

I’ve never liked Miss Marple as well as Poirot, but she is still a fun character in her own right.  She is much smarter than I am, as I never see what she’s driving at with her village connections, but I do love to see how she explains how, exactly, a body in the library ends up being like the little boy who put the frog in the clock.

The Murder at the Vicarage is narrated by the vicar himself.  While Miss Marple had appeared in a short story previous to this (“The Tuesday Night Club”), this was her first full-length novel.  I actually really liked the vicar and his wife, and their relationship made a nice second level.  As always, Christie’s strong morals and droll sense of humor lend a flavor to her books that I greatly enjoy.

“Will you tell me exactly what it is that has upset you?”

“Tell you that in two words, I can.”  Here, I may say she vastly underestimated.

Her humor is so dry, and she frequently makes me giggle.

On the other hand, she can also give me pause –

“If you catch him on the wrong side of the law, let the law punish him.  You agree with me, I’m sure.”

“You forget,” I said.  “My calling obliges me to respect one quality above all others – the quality of mercy.”

“Well, I’m a just man.  No one can deny that.”  I did not speak and he said  sharply, “Why don’t you answer?  A penny for your thoughts, man.”

I hesitated, then I decided to speak.

“I was thinking,” I said, “that, when my time comes, I should be sorry if the only plea I had to offer was that of justice.  Because it might mean that only justice would be meted out to me.”

Thirteen Problems is a collection of short stories that were published at various times throughout the late 1920’s and compiled into one book in 1932.  The first chapter is “The Tuesday Night Club,” Miss Marple’s original appearance.  Several friends are gathered together for dinner, and decide that every week a different one will tell a story and see if the others can solve the mystery.  Miss Marple, of course, never ceases to astound those around her with her intuition and common sense.  Although even Miss Marple can be distressed at times –

I was more disturbed than I can tell you.  I was knitting a comforter for old Miss May at the time, and in my perturbation I dropped two stitches and never discovered it until long after.

As I discovered when reading through the Poirot books in order (and actually the same thing happened when I read the Bertie & Jeeves books in published order as well), many of the secondary characters reappear, and getting to know them through multiple stories really increases the depth and interest for each subsequent tale.  The Body in the Library was a much stronger read this time around because I already knew the Bantrys and Sir Henry and Inspector Slack – even the vicar’s wife pops back in – the names of various gossip-mongerers match up with personalities from Murder at the Vicarage, and everything just ties together so much more completely.

Miss Marple is a fun character, and her little insights do actually give the reader a better chance of solving the mystery herself, so that’s an added bit of fun as well (although I’m notoriously bad at mystery solving).  I can’t help but admire her strong sense of practicality that enables her to strip human drama down to its basic form –

Everybody is very much alike, really.  But fortunately, perhaps, they don’t realize it.