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Murder From the Other Side Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The Seven Dials Mystery was pure fluff and even sillier than I remembered. Bundle gets an embarrassing Mr. Collins-style proposal from some dude she's been trying to wheedle information from, and it's great. That's what you get for pretending to be interested in politics, Bundle! I like Superintendent Battle so it was a little sad to see him drop a remark about "bad blood" at the end, but what can you do? This book also features bad American accents, my favorite! You can tell that the American characters would fit right in on an episode of Doctor Who. Will there be any more books featuring Bundle and her easily distracted but otherwise harmless dad? I don't remember, but I know there is at least one more with Inspector Battle, Toward Zero. The rest of the characters I could take or leave, but they have a lot of fun during their brief existence and there's nothing wrong with being ephemeral.

What I'm Reading Now

I've just started The Sittaford Mystery. A load of people are hanging around at a house, like you do, and they decide to do a little table-rapping. It's all fun and games until someone spells the word MURDER. Has one of their friends really gone and been murdered, and in the middle of a snowstorm, too? Well, what do you think?

Also: Blood Red Turns Dollar Green by Paul O'Brien. A crime thriller set in the world of 1970s pro wrestling! This one wastes no time at all: there's an attempted murder of two top-billed wrestlers, with grisly consequences, on Page 2. I'm not sure how I feel about it so far - the writing is a little aggressively clunky and shouty, but I can't tell yet if that's a minor flaw or a successful evocation of pro-wrestling storytelling style. We'll see!

What I Plan to Read Next

Giant's Bread has arrived! I feel like it's been a long wait, but non-murder Christie is next! Though the paperback edition I got calls it "a tale of romantic obsession," so who knows but that there might be a little murder around the edges? You can't trust the romantically obsessed.

Wednesday Read-O-Rama

What I've Finished Reading

The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings, and the empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and witty. Dullness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point consists in mispronouncing a word or in a gesture. This kind of argot is always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theater -- the joke is forgotten in a month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore and shuttlecock with words and ideas. The diorama, a recent invention that carried an optical illusion a step further than panorama, had given rise to a mania among art students for ending every word with rama. The Maison Vauquer had caught the infection from a young artist among the boarders.

"Well, Monsieur Poiret," said the employee from the museum, "how is your healthorama?"

Père Goriot was great, maybe less for its didactic plot than for its details, like the wonderfully observed conversation of the boardinghouse guys - young self-consciously callous would-be professionals batting an endless series of ephemeral pop-culture allusions back and forth. It's weirdly heartening to see this very familiar style of conversation reproduced with great care in a novel set in 1819 and published in 1835.

Balzac is forever throwing down metaphors, then going NO TRUST ME THE METAPHOR TOTALLY WORKS. He explains everything as he goes along so you won't miss any of the important points. And as always, it's fun to see the little fragments of his personality having arguments with each other.

I realized a little while ago that I'd never actually read The Wind in the Willows. I just thought I'd read it because I vaguely remembered having seen a Disney animated short that I didn't like or understand. The joke was on me because The Wind in the Willows turns out to be one of the best things ever written. The Mole gets sick of spring cleaning and ventures aboveground, where he meets a water rat and some other animals, who are a little like animals and a little like fussy and affectionate bachelors and in any case like to go on picnics and wear dressing gowns and look out for each other. For some reason (the title, maybe?) I expected it to be much less fast-paced than it is, but it rattles by at top speed, just one cozy adventure after another: a perfect book or very close to it.

What I'm Reading Now

Hold Me by Courtney Milan, one of wordsofastory's romance recs (for Reading Challenge: Read a book each in 5 genres you don't normally read) is very cute and funny so far. When this book was first described to me, I thought there was a chance of spotting that rarest of all birds, a male romantic lead I might actually find attractive in real life. But it was not to be. Jay na Thalang is a tall, needlessly chiseled judgmental nerd with a hate-on for superficial entertainments and girly-girls. Oh, well! But I already love Maria, the self-taught statistician and apocalypse blogger, and her wonderfully awful friend and ex-roommate Anj (a walking collection of Awful Roommate Stories that somehow coalesces into a funny and likable character) and it looks like we're in for a good Falling In Love With Your Enemy Unawares epistolary plot, so I have no complaints.

The cover illustration includes both main characters with their heads still on, as shown [here.]heads up

Also: Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field by Sir Walter Scott, my first Scott! Back when I was writing Emily of New Moon fanfiction, I stocked up on a ton (possibly a literal ton) of schoolbooks from 1880-1920. This is a 1911 school edition of Marmion with essay questions and a glossary and ads in the back for more school books. It's very tempting to keep all of these around, but I have to let some of them go. Anyway, I'm having a good time reading it out loud in my best Miss Brownell superficial-knack-of-elocution voice. It's all about shining banners and steeds and whatnot.

[Reading Challenges Update]
I've decided to put my name down for this Mount TBR Challenge, because I'm already trying to read more of the books I have sitting around. My challenge level for 2017 is Mount Kilimanjaro: 60 books in one year. That means I will read and give away at least 60 books that I already owned in January 2017 (so books brought home since that time don't count, alas - they will count for next year). I think I can actually make it to 75 (El Toro), but we'll see.

So far, I'm at 7: The Golden Notebook, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Père Goriot, The Backslider, Murder Up My Sleeve, Living With a Wild God, and The House by the River. The Wind in the Willows was going to be no. 8, but I love it too much so I'm going to keep it until I find a replacement edition that doesn't have Disney cartoons on the front cover.

Ideally I'd like the only books in my collection to be 1) books I love enough to keep, 2) books I am about to read, and 3) reference books that I use. This will probably never happen in practice, but I can get a little closer to the ideal. Part of the trick is that paying sustained attention to the problem makes me feel like I've already half-solved it. Then I feel a sense of accomplishment and reward myself by buying more books.

I think after I've made a little measurable progress there I'll be back to the 99 Novels in earnest.

What I Plan to Read Next

More books from my bookshelves! Next in my TBR pile are "The Cricket on the Hearth" (more school editions!) and I Capture the Castle.

Murder Never Goes on Vacation Monday

What I've Finished Reading

I'm still not sure if The Mysterious Mr. Quin is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. It could go either way! Mr. Satterthwaite is a mild-mannered elderly socialite who resists the goading of his mysterious detective genius, but not very energetically, and always manages to get mixed up in matters of life and death anyway, spoiling his breakfast and his opera dates and every single vacation he tries to take. Very cinema-atmospheric, like if someone had made The Twilight Zone as a series of film shorts in the 1930s. I'm still not really clear on what the whole harlequin thing is about, but maybe one of these days I will read a Wikipedia article about it. I particularly liked the story in which Mr. Satterthwaite saves not one, but TWO unhappy people from suicide through the power of coincidence.

I finished Conferences Are Murder by Val McDermid almost in a single sitting. Ex-journalist Lindsay Duncan travels to a journalism conference after nearly ten years of peaceful retirement with her girlfriend, only to land smack in the middle of a murder when her old nemesis, corrupt union boss Tom "Union" Jack, is found shoved out the window of her hotel room. So much for a holiday spent not breaking into other people's offices to clear her name. Quick and smart, well-written, and bracingly 90s (this book contains both hypnotism and hacking). Duncan is a wholly lovable sleuth: cynical, human, sick of this bullshit.

Conferences Are Murder is a 1999 reprint from a feminist press called Spinsters Ink, with a wonderfully bad computer-generated cover. The symbol for "Grave Issues," apparently the Spinsters Ink mystery imprint, is a tiny "woman" symbol inside a magnifying glass.

What I'm Reading Now

I opened up my new copy of The Seven Dials Mystery, and who do you think I saw? Val McDermid! Her introduction encourages the reader to treat Seven Dials as a funny pastiche of the thriller genre rather than a bad thriller, which of course it is (though whether it is a good pastiche remains to be seen), and asks the reader not to write Christie off as a hidebound conservative, which, ok, I wasn't going to.

The book itself is just as cheerful and silly as it was six months ago, or whenever it was I read the falling-apart copy. Like The Secret Adversary, I think I'll enjoy the silliness a little more now that I know what to expect. I especially appreciate that the intrepid Bundle makes sure to grab a cocktail before she locks herself in the conveniently situated eavesdropping cupboard of the international conspiracy meeting room.

What I Plan to Read Next

Giant's Bread and eventually The Sittaford Mystery. I also have another Val McDermid book around here somewhere, from the same press.

Postcards from Nowhere Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

Bruised on the outside, and apathetic on the inside, I returned to work from the rock party weekend with The Enchanters, with Renee, thoroughly disinterested in facing the squid again. I was twenty minutes late, caught in sluggish Monday morning Cimarron Boulevard traffic. When I finally made it to Cleveland Steamerz Good Time Bar and Grille World, I snuck in through the back-door employee entrance, the white black-lettered sign reading "THRU THESE DOORS WALK THE WORLD'S GREATEST EMPLOYEES." I was dehydrated and a little dizzy, with a headache like beavers chewing on my optic nerves. My unwashed work clothes - black regulation slacks and teal floral-printed button-down short-sleeved shirt - stunk like rotten seafood. My thoughts were a blur of the last three days as I moved through and around the stainless steel kitchen's line cook pot clangs, the prep cook's machete thwacks on the cutting boards, Hobart the Dishtank's whooshes, the abandoned squid-cutting station in the far corner next to the walk-in cooler, wherein the stoner line cooks and coked-out servers took turns tiptoeing inside with furtive little giggles, then hopped out, coughing and sniffling like a TB ward.

In The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs, squid-cutter Shaquille becomes the drummer for Sprawlburg Springs' most enigmatic and galvanizing underground band. They wear football helmets and tshirts with dumb slogans written on them in Magic Marker, and their house shows inevitably turn into chaotic Dionysian free-for-alls. Renee, the curiously earnest lead singer, insists in referring to as a "pop band," "because, like, our songs have things everyone can relate to. I don't mean pop like in the traditional sense of it, but in the universal, the stuff everybody knows about but doesn't talk about everyday."

I'm normally a little wary of satires of suburbia, but I liked this one a lot. Maybe I can discuss why a little better when I stop having a cold. It very successfully recalled a complex of feelings I used to have a lot, when I was a shabby, grubby, pretentious teenager in a Midwestern suburb. So in a way it was pure self-indulgence, like a lot of the other things I've been reading lately.

I was shocked - shocked! to discover that Can't Help Falling, a sprightly and extremely innocuous romance about two nice young C.S. Lewis fans falling in love in Oxford, turned into a Christian romance halfway through. I know, C. S. Lewis - but there were no signs in the cover design or back-cover copy, and no hint in the first hundred pages - except maybe the innocuousness, and C. S. Lewis, of course. The first half of the book is cute and fun, if a little repetitive, but once God rears his head and the characters decide to grapple seriously with the problem of evil, things get awkward. And for a book that lured me in with its promise of my favorite thing, characters who are fans of something, there was surprisingly little Lewis content. But I read it all anyway and I'm not sorry I did.

What I'm Reading Now

It was supposed to be Catching Fire, but I have no idea where I put it. :(

What I Plan to Read Next

I ordered a couple of wordsofastory's romance recs, and I am DELIGHTED by how embarrassing these covers are. My only regret is that there is no public transport where I live, and that I have no bus on which to flaunt these beauties. The cover of the surprise!Christian romance was sugary but contained zero (0) bare chests, which in retrospect may have been a sign.

Also Catching Fire, if I ever find it.

Monday Murder and Its Discontents

What I've Finished Reading

I had a terrific time reading Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Per Cent Solution, in which John H. Watson, M.D. tells the true story of what happened to Holmes on the Continent that one time when everyone pretended he was dead. Alarmed by Holmes' increasingly erratic behavior and persecution of a harmless math tutor, Watson, Mary, and Mycroft lay a false trail in order to lure Holmes to Vienna so that Sigmund Freud can cure him of cocaine addiction.

"He will see through your scheme," she protested automatically. "No one knows so much about clues as does he."

"Very likely," I responded, "but no one knows so much about Holmes as do I."
Holmes and Freud hit it off, maybe a little too well, once the withdrawal symptoms subside (Holmes' admiration for Freud has a bit of a strange flavor because Freud has gone out of fashion since the mid-twentieth century and Sherlock Holmes hasn't). Holmes neatly rescues one of Freud's patients from having the crimes against her misdiagnosed as sexual neurosis or whatever Freud was going to say - knowledge of American religious minorities coming in handy once again. Freud challenges a villainous anti-Semite to a tennis match. There is a breakneck train chase. Everything is very silly and breathless in a pleasantly ACD-resonant way.

I didn't particularly like the big scoop of Tragic Backstory Myers dropped on at the last minute, because I don't think Holmes needs a tragic backstory to have turned out the way he did, and I don't agree with Freud that no one ever develops a drug habit out of boredom. But I also have no trouble believing that Holmes could and would lie under hypnosis if it suited him, so no harm done.

What I'm Reading Now

The Great Agatha Christie Publication Order Mega-Read got stalled for a while by my inability to find a copy of The Seven Dials Mystery - which I'd read only a few months ago, but which fell apart in my hands & had to be discarded. Eventually, I gave up and decided to jump to the next book in sequence, The Mysterious Mr. Quin. It's a novel in stories or a collection of linked short stories about a "fussy, old-maidish" man called Mr. Satterthwaite whose encounters with the mysterious Mr. Harley Quin nudge him into an unintentional but not totally unwilling career as Miss Marple-esque amateur detective. Mr. Quin is a knowing stranger of no fixed address who keeps turning up every time Mr. Satterthwaite tries to take a vacation or attend a party. Is "Harley Quin" his real name? Does he have a "real name" in the first place? The mysteries vary, but the setup, so far, is always the same: Mr. Satterthwaite tries to do something innocuous with friends, a mystery presents itself (dark secret unspoken, lost jewel, mysterious disappearance), Mr. Quin shows up and goads everyone into talking about it until Mr. Satterthwaite arrives at the truth. It's enjoyable easy reading so far, with typical low-key Christie humor and an atypical hint of magic.

What I Plan to Read Next

Since I've already broken my promise not to buy any new books until March (I went to a book fair, mistakes were made) I am going to go ahead and order Seven Dials and Giant's Bread, the first of Christie's non-murder non-mysteries published under the name Mary Westmacott.

Where Are the Snows of Yesterwednesday

What I've Finished Reading

I've been trying to get on top of some "real" work (the kind I need to get paid) and assorted other things, so it's useless placeholder season again.

In a way this book is a sequel to the friendship which there was between Wilson, Bowers and myself, which, having stood the strain of the Winter Journey, could never have been broken. Between the three of us we had a share in all the big journeys and bad times which came to Scott's main landing party, and what follows is, particularly, our unpublished diaries, letters and illustrations. I, we, have tried to show how good the whole thing was—and how bad.

The Worst Journey in the World - more guys, more ice.

Also The Hunger Games, sad teenage gladiators win the day, sort of, precariously and at a terrible price.

Both were good, or at least I enjoyed reading them. I also read a couple other books about the Race for the Pole which maybe I'll get to eventually. Everyone has an opinion about Robert Falcon Scott!

What I'm Reading Now

I need to say more about The Hunger Games and also Catching Fire, which I began yesterday, but I'm too tired. Also Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

What I Plan to Read Next

Now for something completely different: The Cruelest Miles is the story of a (dogsled) race against time to get crucial medicine to Nome, Alaska during a winter diphtheria outbreak in 1925. In the opposite direction from Antarctica! Next week will be better, maybe, at least as far as reading goes. Maybe.

A Very Meager Murder Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The Chinese characters in this book are fictitious, but the background is not. Such inaccuracies as exist are due to my own inability to concentrate upon that which has been shown me, and, in turn, to depict what I have seen. [. . .] Lest some of the things in this book seem exaggerated, may I observe that the most scholarly talk on concentration I have ever listened to was by a Chinese; that the one man I have met who seemed to have a perfect command of the English language, summoning with effortless ease the words by which he expressed the most subtle nuances of meaning, was Chinese; that the most satisfactory friendships I have ever enjoyed were with Chinese. [. . .] I am not a novelist. I wish that I were But lest the reader consider the Chinese atmosphere in this book overdrawn, I assure him that I have known the exact counterpart of the characters described. I have had Chinese friends unhesitatingly risk their lives in my behalf. I am indebted to them for a most fascinating system of mental discipline, and I herewith make public acknowledgement of that indebtedness.

I was a little surprised to find this postscript at the end of Murder Up My Sleeve, a decidedly pulpy story in which Chinese concentration techniques are the source of Terry Clane's preternatural detective powers (and possibly also the reason why every female character is in love with Terry Clane), and where characters regularly monologue at one another about the nature of their respective races, with eyes that are flashing or inscrutable as nature dictates. The attempt at a multicultural cityscape is interesting, even if Gardner's convoluted plots and Hollywood dialogue are a little outside my taste.

What I'm Reading Now

I've been packing up the remaining inventory for our (now defunct) used bookstore, and taking home a lot of the books I was planning to read eventually. One of them is The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, one of the most famous Holmes pastiches and a Most Frequently Donated book. It's not bad at all so far! There's the obligatory manuscript history complete with obligatory reference to the long history of Watson forgeries. Watson, in spite of his warning to readers that "my style may appear dissimilar to that of my earlier writing because this adventure of Sherlock Holmes is totally unlike any that I have ever recorded," is familiar and recognizable, at least so far. Holmes has been raving about someone called Moriarty, but in the morning he doesn't remember anything about him. Is it too much cocaine, or something more sinister? I guess we'll find out.

What I Plan to Read Next

There's one more library I have to check for The Seven Dials Mystery. Maybe I'll be able to get out there tomorrow. Maybe.
What I've Finished Reading

The Hidden Land is much more fast-paced and intense than The Secret Country, and the intensity gets a giant boost three pages from the end, with YET ANOTHER inconclusive and uncomfortable ending. Characters are a little sharper and a couple of plot elements that were total mysteries in the first book are - not so much explained here as investigated a little more efficiently. Biographical note confirms that this and The Secret Country started life as a single novel, which seems much more like their natural state (though I liked the bit that was added to fill The Hidden Land out to novel length).

Alabama writersCollapse )

What I'm Reading Now

The Hunger GamesCollapse )

The Worst Journey in the WorldCollapse )

What I Plan to Read Next

More Hunger Games! I'm still keeping the reading to lunch breaks, so as to avoid burning straight through in a day - so it will be a little while before I finish this book. The next book is called Mockingjay CATCHING FIRE and there's no shortage of copies at my library. My library may or may not have The Whim of the Dragon, the final book in the Secret Country trilogy.

Placeholders Can Be Murder Monday

No Murder Monday today; I'm still adjusting to my new schedule.

You can rest assured that The Murder at the Vicarage is a near-perfect Christie, and a near-perfect Christie is one of life's great gifts.

"I said mildly that though doubtless Miss Marple knew next to nothing of Life with a capital L, she knew practically everything that went on in St. Mary Mead."

The Hunger Games

I got The Hunger Games from the library yesterday, so that I could start reading it in the evening and have something to anticipate at work today. It's pretty good so far! The worldbuilding feels a little shaky (how big is District 12? How big is Panem? Why are the Games being presented explicitly as punishment and not as an exciting opportunity for community and personal betterment?) but that's probably a function of the narration style; I would be happy to take everything shown me for granted if it weren't being explained in frank YA first-person at the same time.


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