lifetime book-lover who writes about - what else? - a variety of books.
well, that was WONDERFUL. i can certainly see why The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered Agatha Christie's best. i'd thought And Then There Were None was impressive, but i had no idea. i've been reading mystery novels since at least middle school. but, if there's one thing that reading Christie's two novels has taught me is that the devil is indeed in the details. and my, oh my how very many details i missed.
i didn't peak at the last page this time, so i had no idea who the killer was until the very end. well, i could say i figured it out before H. Poirot made it obvious. but that'd only mean i figured it out one page before H. Poirot pointed the final finger. nevertheless, i think i'm finally on to Christie. i've come to understand that she simply can not be trusted. every decision -- the plot, the narrator, the way information is provided -- is strategic. and if there's information that isn't provided, it's left out for a reason. and if there's information that is provided, it may not be for the reason one would assume. and who am i kidding? i know all of this, and i'll still probably be clueless when it comes to the guilty party in the next book. and there will, of course, be a next book. i intend to read through Christie's top ten personal favorites, and i'm looking forward to every single one.
once again, i'm pretty sure i'm one of the last people in the world to finally read this book. but just in case, i think the less i say about the plot the better. the only thing i will say is that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd struck me as a more british style mystery than And Then There Were None, probably because the former is set in a small town and is largely about the seediness that might lie behind the idyllic scenery and close relationships. i thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of this book. highly recommended.
next up: murder on the orient express. because, what else am i going to read?
here's the thing: i love Jane Austen. i've read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, and enjoyed them immensely. simply put: Austen was a phenomenal writer who created thoroughly fleshed-out characters, and contrary to popular belief, she didn't write romance novels so much as she wrote stories of morality and manners. yet, far from being preachy or pompous, Austen - either through her characters or through narration (or both) - is often witty, friendly, wise and sympathetic. she is an author with whom i'd love to spend a day or a dinner. hell, i'd even take a cup a coffee (or tea, as the case may be), because any time spent with Austen is bound to be both entertaining and enlightening.
and yet, i did not enjoy Sense and Sensibility. let me rephrase that: i enjoyed the writing, which is as good (and witty and wise) as anything found in Austen's later novels, and i enjoyed how vibrantly alive all of the characters were. what i did not enjoy was one character in particular: Marianne. as i've said before: i thought she was exceedingly irritating and selfish. if, as i've read in other places, Austen meant to determine by the end of the novel whether it was better to have sense or sensibility - well, this was a clear winner for sense. especially, if sensibility is best exhibited by the melodrama associated with a teenager's first love and heartbreak.
i tried to sympathize with Marianne, i really did. but seriously, all that "i shall never love again!" drama just did not sit well. especially since it lasted for chapters upon chapters. especially, when the drama came after her being such an obnoxious know-it-all in the first half of the book. especially when, even after she's been shown how foolish she's been (or being) she continues to be selfish and ungracious, and it isn't until after she makes herself sick (thereby unnecessarily becoming an even greater inconvenience and worry to the people around her) does she repent. kind of. i kept wishing Elinor would smack her, or at the very least sternly tell her how ridiculous she was being.
and then, at the end of all of that, Marianne gets the best guy in the book! i mean, come on. i kind of get it - their marriage wasn't so much about what she deserved, as it was about what he deserved. Austen isn't shy about saying that he loved Marianne, and had behaved honorably (and sensibly) enough to deserve the object of his affections. now, i'm just going brush right over how much the idea of a woman being a man's "prize" for his good behavior puts my feminist panties in a bunch, and get right to the point where i say that, excluding the idea of desert, i couldn't for the life of me figure out what he saw in her. except, of course, that she was young and pretty. and, as unsurprising as that idea might be given -- SPOILER ALERT! -- their age difference, i find it frankly disappointing. i mean, I thought the Colonel was supposed to be more sensible than that. SPOILER END
in the end, my biggest problem with this book was that Marianne's moral development did not seem particularly earned. she suffers for her indiscretion of manners by getting her heart broken by a cad, but she doesn't learn anything from this heartbreak. in short, she's as overwrought in her emotions after the breakup as she was before it, and she never really changes even when she says that she has. for example, she faints and has to be carried from the room when the family learns that Elinor's love interest has been married. apparently, even in the end, Marianne's sensibilities are so delicate that she can't even take the idea that her sister is the one whose heart is being broken. i tell you, i wanted to give that girl a good boot to the butt.
and Elinor. well, I liked Elinor. truly i did, but perversely, she was so good and so sensible that she was . . . well, she was kind of a bore. needless to say, it was the side characters who shone for me. Mrs. Jennings, Lucy, Mrs. John Dashwood, Mr. John Dashwood, the Middletons, and the Palmers among others were what kept this novel moving for me.
so, four stars because i love Austen's writing and three stars because I did not love Marianne nor did i particularly enjoy how this story was resolved, which leaves us with 3.5 stars. this one is recommended if you've read and enjoyed, or would like to read, a Jane Austen novel. you might enjoy this more than i did (many others definitely have), but i make no promises.
UPDATE (6/30): incidentally, i just remembered that i loved The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, which i read a few years back. Goodman's novel has frequently been compared to Austen's Sense and Sensibility and, after having finally read Sense and Sensibility, i get the comparison -- the two protagonists in The Cookbook Collector are sisters with very different views about life. but as exasperating as i sometimes found Jess, i didn't find her nearly as annoying as Marianne. and the romance between the Jess and her guy made much more sense despite their differences. the Amazon reviews on Goodman's book are mixed, but i'd recommend it. it makes for an interesting comparison to Sense and Sensibility at least, and whatever her faults, Goodman is an evocative and beautiful writer.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is my new favorite thing. i 'heart' this show so much! and it's based on a series of books, you say? *drools*
i don't know how others feel about it, but i'm finding Marianne exceedingly irritating. yes, her heart's been broken, but good lord, the drama! also, she's kind of a selfish jerk, if you ask me. then again, i guess it makes sense when one considers her age (seventeen? eighteen?). she's a teenager, and acts like it. but, really her behavior is an insult to even teenagers that old.
imagine a world in which x-men-style mutants exist, but no one knows they exist except for the government. and instead of trying to eradicate these mutants (which would be foolish, right?), the government recruits them to secretly fight other baddies and goulies of the supernatural like werewolves, demons, dragons, et cetera. in The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, the british version of this secret government organization is "The Chequay," and all of its employees have titles named after chess pieces. everyone agrees this a terrible way to arrange an organization, but it's tradition so whaddaya gonna do?
our heroine Myfawnwy Thomas is a Rook in The Chequay, and for the most part her job is pretty sweet. it includes a chauffeur service, expensive clothes, a few well-appointed apartments, great health benefits, and the respect that comes with being a member of the court. she also has a very special power that will come in handy on more than one occasion.
the only problem is that Myfawnwy has no idea who she is. not only does she have the worst case of amnesia ever, she has no idea how she got that way. the only thing Myfawnwy does have is a series of well-executed letters written by her pre-amnesia self to her post-amnesia self, because pre-amnesia Myfawnwy knew she was going to loose her memory in the near future (it's a long story). so Myfawnwy has a few problems: she's got the whole amnesia thing, a traitor to uncover, and an ancient foe of the Chequay to defeat.
i came away from this book with very mixed feelings. for starters, i probably went into it with very high expectations. judging from the reviews and comments on it, just about everyone who's read this book has loved it. plus, this kind of reading is usually right up my alley. yet, for the first half of the book, it felt like it was both trying too hard and not trying hard enough. most of my issues stemmed from its very uninteresting main character, about which i've already complained. another problem i had was that i didn't find the inner workings of the court -- the conferences and strategizing -- all that interesting either. in a novel with vampires, buried dragons, and beings that can make their bodies do ungodly, nightmarish things, i don't find conference room meetings all that exciting. unfortunately it takes up a lot of the first half, or least it felt like it did.
what i did enjoy was Myfawnwy's trips into the field where we actually see The Chequay in action. we see Myfawnwy in action too, which is a welcome relief. Myfawnwy herself doesn't really come into her own until the American versions of The Chequay arrive in London (to consult about that old enemy), and Myfawnwy makes a friend in Shantay (who is a badass, and who I wish there was more of). this is about half-way through the book when the action picks up and doesn't let up until the end. needless to say, i liked this part much more than i had the first half. the second half didn't make it a perfect book, but i'm happy i stuck with it since i was really enjoying myself by the time i turned the final page. also, i didn't figure out who the traitor was until Myfawnwy did, so that was a bonus.
all-in-all, it was a mixed bag, but worth reading. especially if anything about this world sounds like it might be something you'd enjoy. and besides, as i said before, as much as i liked it, the majority of people who've read this one seem to have liked it even more.
It's Friday the 13th! Again! It's perfect time to remind you good luck black cats :)
Whether you believe in Friday 13th bad luck or not, we wish you all the best and all the luck. Btw, we think the superstition about the bad luck black cats was made up by the white cats' gang. Just look at those pics!
Stamp your feet via Lenore on BookLikes
Reading lesson via Lenore on BookLikes
The Sleepyhead via Tina Sandevska on BookLikes
Smart one via
Just sitting via
and sitting via
and still sitting via
Come, sit by via
Mark Twain’s vintage cat Bambino via
Lucky 13 via
Comma cat via Tina Sandevska on BookLikes
And if you wish to read some cat books have a look at the collection of several reads featuring cats found by Kagama -The Literaturevixen.
Happy Friday the 13th and good luck! ;-)
P.S. Watch out! Zombie kittens are waiting.
furry zombies via Musings of NerdyNatasha on BookLikes
Originally posted on BookLikes Blog: December 13, 2013, updated June 13, 2014.
the Huffington Post has an excellent article by author M.R. Cary on why genre fiction is valuable reading, and why literary snobbery is not only silly but often just plain wrong.
on critics who spurn genre writing because it's too formulaic:
Yes, of course there are constraints when you write genre fiction. There are also constraints when you write literary fiction. Totally unconstrained writing would be (to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut) gibberish interspersed with exclamation marks. When you write -- when you write anything at all -- you write on the end of a tether. But it's a flexible tether, and it's all about the dance you perform on the end of that thing and how you work with it or strain against it or in some cases tie it into knots that were never seen before.
he later continues:
But special pleading aside, look at the works of Ursula LeGuin, China Miéville, Lord Dunsany, Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury, Connie Willis, Mervyn Peake, Ted Chiang, Raymond Chandler and Don Winslow (just for starters) and see whether writing in genre made their work less resonant, less profound, less valid and affecting, than the work of any canonically approved genius you care to mention.
And while you're at it, there's fun to be had in trying to think up reasons why Hamletand Macbeth aren't genre fiction. Because they're old, maybe? Because there's an R in the month? One's a ghost story, the other one has witches in it, and both were written (whatever else was in Shakespeare's mind) in a sincere bid to break the record for "most groundlings in a theatre the size of a pocket handkerchief."
incidentally, Cary's new novel The Girl With All the Gifts is supposed to be pretty darned good. i haven't read it yet, but i intend to.
i've never been particularly interested in scientology. when it does come to mind, i think of tom cruise and that hilarious south park episode. i grew up a jehovah's witness, so i'm fairly familiar with how unorthodox religions are often ridiculed by people who don't understand the basic tenants of the religion to begin with. i'm not a practicing jehovah's witness (or a practicing anything, for that matter), but i reserve my scorn for people who try to force their religious beliefs on others, rather than for people who believe things that might seem strange or abnormal to me. so if you tell me you believe in Xenu and thetans and the power of e-meters, i'm likely to think, "well that's kinda strange, but more importantly, is L. Ron Hubbard's Battlestar Galactica really worth reading?"
but i read in a few places that Going Clear practically read like a nonfiction horror story. and the moderators at the end of this year's Tournament of Books remarked upon how, if they'd had a similar contest for nonfiction, this would've made the list. apparently some strange things happen in this history and examination of scientology. so i decided to give it a read.
and a pretty good read it was. it was fascinating, to say the least. the first half of the book deals largely with Hubbard and his founding of the Church of Scientology; the second half with the more recent activities of the church, and it's dealings with celebrities like tom cruise, john travolta, and paul haggis. i must say that i enjoyed the first half the most. how and why a man with hubbard's background, education, and abilities founds a major church is awfully engrossing.
the first half also introduces a running theme, which is the corrupting influence of being enamored with your own ideas and the power it can bring over people who believe in those ideas wholeheartedly. i think the quote i'm looking for is "absolute power corrupts absolutely." (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton). it's a tale as old as time, and scientology's founder and current leader David Miscavage have no monopoly on the despicable and just plain bonkers things people do when they have the power to carry out their most ridiculous and horrifying whims. it's sad when these whims destroy people's lives, but it's not new.
i can't vouch for the veracity of the facts in this book, but wright strikes me as a journalist with integrity who sincerely tries to uncover the truth of what really happens in the church. but even if you read it as complete fiction, it'll still be a damned eye-brow raising, engrossing read (i almost gave myself a headache a few times), because the consensus is that this is one crazy book. and they're right - it is.
i haven't the faintest idea where this story is going, and it's about as weird and disturbing as the cover art. i mean, what is that? a creepy porcelain doll with red eyes?! but well, it's neil gaiman. unlike like almost any other author, neil gaiman exerts a kind of wizard storyteller power over me every time. reading one of his books is like falling into a fairy tale. even when it's a nightmare. after all, fairy tales have their hints of darkness too. in fact, what's a fairy tale without it?
this is the second book i'm currently reading, which has been described as " hilarious" by various readers and reviewers. the New York Times calls it "divinely funny" on the front cover, and Redbook promises me on the back that I'll "laugh my pants off." sadly, i have not found it divinely funny, and my pants (for the most part) remain firmly attached to my body.
but, here's the thing: i'm still liking it. a lot. i think i'd like it more if i hadn't been led to believe this was going to be a laugh-riot when it's really -- as yet another reviewer more accurately described it -- a "dramedy." because what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a woman on the verge of a nervous break-down. or, maybe even in the middle of one. the first quarter of this novel is a "blue jasmine" breakdown of a upper class mother told from the perspective of her precocious daughter. it's been kinda funny in places, in a cringe-worthy sort of way.
and really, some of this is my own fault. i'd heard that the author was a writer on "arrested development" ( ! ), and made some unfair assumptions about what i'd find here -- mainly that it would be absolutely hilarious and awesome. while it hasn't yet been all that hilarious, i reserve judgment on the "awesome" bit. it's early yet, and now that i've revised my expectations, Bernadette and i should get along just fine.
this is my third try with this book, and i'm determined to make it through this time. now, i am by no means a "die hard" finisher of books. but this just happens to fall into that category of books that, while not quite as enjoyable as i'd hoped it would be, it's intriguing enough for me to keep reading.
part of the problem is, i think, the the main character. a lot of interesting (and plain freaky) things are going in the heroine's world, and she's, frankly, the least interesting aspect of it all. i guess a gal with no memories is bound to have a few personality issues (or even a lack thereof). but seeing as how the novel is told from her POV, it doesn't make, for this reader, a very engrossing experience. i'm afraid that if it weren't for the other interesting (and plan freaky) things going on in the novel, this would've been a "((shrug)) i'm sorry, but we must part ways" type of read.
also, i have to say that this is one of two books that i'm currently reading which has been described by readers and reviewers as "hilarious", and i'm just not getting it. the heroine is occasionally witty, but it's really nothing i haven't seen before. nothing at all thus far has inspired a half-hearted chuckle, or even a measly "hrrumph." and now that i've finished talking about all the reasons why this book isn't living up to its hype for me, i'm going to get back to it. because of the interesting (and plain freaky) things, of course.
i'm honestly surprised i haven't finished this book yet. it's so darned engrossing and impossible to put down that i find myself zooming through it when i'd rather take it slowly. in that way, this "true life novel" is much like its heroine: it has a mind of its own, and damn anybody who tries to get in its way.
so i accidentally cheated on this one, and figured out who the killer was, and honestly, it's all Booklist's fault. that's right, i said it. Booklist spoiled my first Agatha Christie. see, when i went to put in how many pages I'd completed out of "x" many pages, i necessarily had to turn to the very last page. (hint: DO NOT read anything on the last page, otherwise you might have a few uh . . . premature suspicions.) i dutifully turned to the last page, and my wandering eyes saw something they shouldn't have.
but i have to give it to Christie, because even with that little give-away i was still like, "wait? did X really do it? and, if X didn't do it, who did it? and when there were none, i was really like, "how? how? HOW did X do it?! tell me. tell me!" because besides being the Queen of Mystery, Christie is the Queen of Making You Feel Like an Idiot. or maybe not you, dear reader if you've read this before and figured it out, but me, definitely. especially after i went back and re-read a few choice scenes to convince myself i hadn't been as oblivious as it seemed i'd been (i had been).
so, all-in-all, this was a good one (call me the Queen of the Understatement). so good, in fact, that i'm going to be a glutton for punishment and order "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" imminently. i'm also going to go out on a limb here, and recommend "And Then There Were None" to anyone who enjoys classic mysteries, and/or an easy read with a thoroughly puzzling plot where everyone could have done it, or maybe no one at all . . .