And these are the books.
|Cozy Mystery: |
The Accidental Alchemist – Gigi Pandian
The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg – Eva St. John
|Ice Cold Fear|
Garou – Leonie Swann
|Spies and Assassins: |
A fine madness – Alan Judd
|The River Styx:|
Medea – Euripides
|Home is Where the Hurt Is|
The Hours Before Dawn – Celia Fremlin
Murder on Paradise Island – Robin Forsythe
|Murder & Mayhem by the Book: |
Death of a Bookseller – Bernard J Farmer
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg – Dubravka Ugresic
4:50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie
Spear – Nicola Griffith
|POE the Raven:|
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
Mildred Pierce – James M. Cain
Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
The Case of the Gilded Fly – Edmund Crispin
|Death Down Under:|
Photo Finish – Ngaio Marsh
|Black Cat: |
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? – Caitlin Doughty
|Locked Room Mysteries:|
The Honjin Murders – Seishi Yokomizo
The Mystery of the Sea – Bram Stoker
|Arsenic and Old Lace:|
Family Matters – Anthony Rolls
|Death in Translation:|
Just the Plague – Ludmila Ulitskaya
The Bullet That Missed – Richard Osman
|Fear the Drowning Deep: |
Take Your Last Breath – Lauren Child
|Country House Mystery:|
The Bat – Mary Roberts Rinehart
Books & Thoughts:
Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: I really liked this. I expected a high fantasy story from the book’s blurb, and was not looking forward to it. As it turned out, the book was not about high fantasy at all, but was a psychological thriller. 4.5*
The Accidental Alchemist – Gigi Pandian: I don’t like cosy mysteries, they are a bit too twee for me. However, I enjoyed this one quite a bit even tho my enjoyment was based on the characters and the interactions between Zoe, her gargoyle, and Brixton much more than the actual mystery. 3*
The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg – Eva St. John: I finished reading this book but I think I only finished the book because of Halloween Bingo. It wasn’t the worst story ever but it just left me feeling nothing about it. It was difficult to get into the story and figure why the quantum curators were salvaging artifacts from a parallel Earth, and I could not figure out our main characters’ personalities at all. Sure, one was a hot professor and the other was a bad ass adventurer / curator, but I just could not get invested in them, nor the story. In short, this was a chimeramade up of elements of Indiana Jones fan-fic and of The Chronicles of St. Mary‘s. Tho, I’d recommend the The Chronicles of St. Mary‘s over St. John’s output any time. 2*
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg – Dubravka Ugresic: Well, this was different. In a good way. It’s not a book that I would recommend to others necessarily, but I liked it. There is no one clear story in this book. It’s more of a scrap book of different pieces – some fiction based on modern versions of Baba Yaga and her different versions in Slavic folklore, some extensions of the myth into a modern story about the relationships between a mother and her author daughter and between that author and another, younger, woman. I can’t describe or explain how the scraps were woven together and why, but it somehow worked for me. The last part of the book included yet another scrap consisting on research notes and interpretations on the various myths of Baba Yaga and her counterparts – for each region in the Slavic world seems to have their own versions. Of course, this is only right, if we see Baba Yaga as other witches, and as representations of women who are feared or frightful or just … different. I rather liked this exploration into the myth of Baba Yaga. 3*
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? – Caitlin Doughty: This was informative and entertaining, but I am glad that the book was aimed at a younger audience than me, because the author’s comfort level with respect to icky biology differs greatly from mine. So, I am also glad this book was short and was a say-time read. Still, I agree with the author that many urban myths and misconceptions about death are still place because the subject has for a long time been treated as a taboo to varying degrees across different cultures. So, I totally get why the author wanted to clear up some questions, and the way she does it works pretty well … even if I am not the intended audience. I also take some comfort in the fact that cats will eat you for food, whereas dogs are likely to at least try to wake you by licking so hard that they effective start to nibble. 3*
Spear – Nicola Griffith: Hm. I said it before, and I stand by it: I do not regret reading this book. It took me out of my comfort zone and into the land of fantasy. It was also great to finally be back to reading books alongside friends. I have missed buddy reads. However, … This very much was not for me. I didn’t really manage to muster much interest for the story or the characters. At all. And as for the descriptive language, which to me detracted from enjoying the read rather than adding to the enjoyment of the fantastical world building, … I didn’t like it. This just wasn’t for me. 1*
The Hours Before Dawn – Celia Fremlin: Wowsers. This book was a slow burner, and at times I really felt exasperated by the story’s detail about the live of mother of three, who is struggling to cope with a newborn that doesn’t sleep, and idiot of a husband, her own exhaustion, all while trying to keep respectable in the eyes of her neighbours. But, gosh, what a twist!!! And as I got to the end of the book I understood why the detail about the daily tasks and children were important – they ground the main character down to point where she was so exhausted and anxious that she could not trust her own mind. This was a great thriller, even if the domestic setting at the start of the book takes some getting into. 4*
Medea – Euripides: 5* – Oh, how I missed reading a good Greek tragedy. I loved this. I spent most afternoon curled up with tea, dog, and book yesterday to finally, finally read the play. I’ve seen Medea performed on stage (sadly not the Diana Rigg staging) but as with all plays, some of the speeches get lost in the performance, and I much prefer to read the play as well as see the performance.
Medea is no different. Especially, the plot of revenge here has a few aspects that made me stop in the text and re-read. Is Medea mad? Is she just evil? I loved how her speeches showed her as an articulate woman who is aggrieved, hell-bent on revenge, yet also very manipulative. … Jason had it coming, tho.
I felt this was a very good choice for The River Styx square.
Just the Plague – Ludmila Ulitskaya: 4*
Having never heard of the author before and not quite knowing what to expect of this book, I took a chance on it for the Death in Translation task because the combination of plague and Stalinism sounded pretty horrific to me. And so it was. This was not a book that dwelt on gore, tho. The horror that unfolded in the pages was based on a clinical, even austere use of language. There were hardly any adjectives or descriptions that embellished the plot of characters in any way. It’s almost that the absence of certain explanations told much more than if there had been an attempt by the author to elaborate an explanation to the reader. This may, of course, be because the idea for this book was, I believe, realised in a script first, and novelised later, but the format really worked for me. In a way, Just the Plague managed to convey everything I missed in A Year of Wonders (2002) by Geraldine Brooks, even though both books deal with similar ideas. Anyway, I thought Just the Plague was as hard-hitting as Zweig’s Chess Story (1941) in terms of how horribleness can be conveyed without gore. In terms of plot, I was also reminded of the (terrible) film The Cassandra Crossing (1976), where we follow a plague outbreak on a train through Europe. There are a lot of similarities between both plots, including the description of the government-led response. And of course, we have the most recent “plague” to look to for an actual link to real life. Interestingly, Ulitskaya mentions in the interview included at the end of my edition of Just the Plague that her story is based on true events that happened in 1931, including the cause of the outbreak described in her book about the plague within a plague. So, yes, scary stuff indeed.
I read this for the Death in Translation square.
Garou – Leonie Swann: 4.5*
It must be well over 10 years since I read Swann’s first book about the crime-solving sheep of Glennkill, but I remember having had fun with the book. So, when Garou, the sequel, crossed my paths for Halloween Bingo, I had to take a chance on it. And what can I say? I liked it even better than Glenkill (aka Three Bags Full). I loved it.
It’s hard to describe why, because sheep – including Miss Maple, the smartes sheep of the flock – solving crimes and a novel that is being written in part from the sheep’s point of view is a pretty niche idea, and not everyone will like the andromophising that Swann has done here. However, I loved how each sheep had their own character, how their very naive outlook on life was not limited to providing cheap laughs but also included some profound views. I loved the way that Swann took the idea to the Garou, the werewolf, to look at evil and the myth of evil. I loved that the book included a lot of tender moments between humans and animals as well as between animals and other animals.
Now, I know that the idea of the book may sounds a bit twee and a bit cosy, but it really was not. There was some gore in it, and there were scenes that really made me well up. For a heads up on triggers, there are some animal deaths in this plot, too, but I feel they aided the story. The human deaths mostly happen off-page, tho.
Still, there were scenes that made me stop and re-read them because they were just beautiful, such as when a ewe is threatened by the Garou and we get this (English translation in the second quote):
Zora blieb an einer Wurzel hängen, strauchelte und stürzte. Sie rappelte sich mühsam hoch und wollte weiterhinken, sinnlos durchs Dickicht, immer weiter, nur weg von den bodenlosen Schatten unter den Bäumen, den samtigen, kaum hörbaren Schritten und dem langen, lauernden Schweigen dazwischen. Sie würde sich wieder verheddern, sie würde wieder fallen, und sie würde – hoffentlich – wieder aufstehen. Dann, auf einmal, hörte Zora unter ihrem hämmernden Herzen einen anderen Herzschlag, leise wie ein Gedanke, aber bestimmt. Ruhig. Regelmäßig. Unbeirrt wie ein Schaf, das mit sicheren Schritten am Abgrund entlangläuft, dem Leben entgegen. Warte, sagte der Herzschlag. Atme. Wittere. Wir sind zwei.
Zora atmete. Ein Ast knackte, nicht weit von ihr. Zora wartete. Nahm einen weiteren, tiefen Atemzug. Sie waren zwei. Deswegen mussten sie entkommen. Sie, Zora, musste für sie beide entkommen. Die Panik floss aus ihren Hufen und versickerte im kalten Waldboden. Auch der Schmerz verschwand. Der Wolf war hinter ihr her, der Garou, und Zora würde mehr als nur vier panische Beine brauchen, um ihm zu entkommen. Sie würde ihre Nase brauchen, ihre Augen und Ohren, ihren Kopf, ihr Herz und wenn nötig eben auch ihre Hörner. Denn sie waren zwei.
Zora lauschte. Das Knacken hatte aufgehört. Irgendwo in der Nähe stand der Garou, und auch er lauschte – auf ein Schaf, das halb verrückt vor Angst durchs Dickicht brach. Zora wich einige vorsichtige Schritte zurück, tiefer in die Schatten. Sie witterte. Warum witterte der Garou nicht? Er musste sich doch nur einfach an ihre unmissverständlich panische Geruchsspur halten. Zora senkte furchtlos ihre eleganten Hörner und wartete.
Zora got caught on a root, tripped and fell. She scrambled to her feet and wanted to keep limping, pointlessly through the thicket, farther and farther, only away from the bottomless shadows beneath the trees, the velvety, barely audible footsteps and the long, lurking silence in between. She would tangle again, she would fall again, and she would—hopefully—get up again. Then, suddenly, beneath her pounding heart, Zora heard another heartbeat, soft as a thought, but firm. Calm. Regularly. Undeterred like a sheep that runs along the abyss with sure steps towards life. Wait, said the heartbeat. Breathe. Sniff. We are two.
Zora breathed. A branch snapped not far from her. Zora was waiting. Took another deep breath. They were two. That’s why they had to escape. She, Zora, had to escape for both of them. The panic flowed from their hooves and seeped into the cold forest floor. The pain also disappeared. The wolf was after her, the Garou, and it would take more than four panicked legs for Zora to escape. She would need her nose, her eyes and ears, her head, her heart and, if necessary, her horns as well. Because they were two.
Zora listened. The cracking had stopped. Somewhere nearby stood the Garou, and he too was listening—for a sheep that was bursting through the thicket, half mad with fear. Zora took a few cautious steps back, deeper into the shadows. She sniffed. Why didn’t the Garou smell her? All he had to do was stick to her unmistakably panicked scent trail. Zora fearlessly lowered her elegant horns and waited.
I read this for the Ice Cold Fear square.
The Bullet That Missed – Richard Osman: 3.5*
I’ve said it elsewhere, I didn’t love this latest instalment in the series as much as the first two books, but it is still so much better than many other contemporary mysteries. It was the characters and the relationships between them that made the first two books special. The Bullet That Missed seems to be more interested in plot, and while the plot is not horrible, this focus still takes away from the time that we get to spend with the members of the Thursday Murder Club.
Or maybe I’m just spoiled by the way and level of depth we got to get to know the ladies and gentlemen of the club in the first two books. There was still some of it in the third book, but I missed spending time with Ibrahim and Ron and Joyce and Elizabeth every time the main plot line developed. Though, the scene where someone is trying to put pressure on Ibrahim was very special.
I read this for the Genre: Mystery square.
Take Your Last Breath (Ruby Redfort # 2) – Lauren Child: 2*
This was … not for me. I knew there was a chance this would happen, not necessarily because this is a middle grade book, but because the use of language put me off from very early on in this 400+ page tome. Yes, I thought this book was also way too long for the story in it. I thought early on in my read that my 12-year-old self might have enjoyed this, but now I am not so sure that I would have had the patience even back then to put up with a plot that drags quite a bit – there are chapters where nothing happens – and with turns in the story that aren’t really described or explained.
For sure, the use of language I mention would have put me off. What language?
Child makes her dialogues sound like they have been taken from Dashiel Hammet, so we have a bunch of 13-year-olds talking like Bogart in the Maltese Falcon… and I’m not keen on this kind of noir-speech at the best of times. At the worst of times – looking at you here, Ellery Queen – it makes me disengage with the book simply because there is no discernible meaning conveyed in the dialogues. If you haven’t noticed by now, this way of writing really grinds my gears.
I did like that Ruby’s best friend and side-kick is called Clancy Crew and that Ruby got to learn about diving and wildlife but other than that … I’m sure a MG or YA version of James Bond can be executed better.
I read this for the Fear the Drowning Deep square.
The Mystery of the Sea – Bram Stoker: 3.5*
Gothicky, rollicking good fun if one is in the mood for High Victorian attitudes and expressions. It an adventure story mixed in with a thriller and some supernatural goings on.
More thoughts here.
I read this for the Gothic square.
The Bat – Mary Roberts Rinehart: 2.5*
Overall, I loved the start of the book, but not the execution of the majority of the rest.
More thoughts here.
I read this for the Country House Mystery square.
The Case of the Gilded Fly – Edmund Crispin: 4*
I tried to read this one last year but just could not get into it. This time around, something clicked straight away, and I really liked Crispin’s style and humour. The book is not all about fun, tho, as the solution of the murder asks some very valid questions: should all murders be solved, even when the victim was genuinely unlikable. I liked how Crispin handled this just as much as I liked how he described rail travel.
I read this for the Dark Academia square.
A Fine Madness – Alan Judd: 4*
Oh, I really liked this. I think it helped that I know little enough of Marlowe to begin with that I wasn’t irked about errors or fabrications in his biography. If anything, the book has inspired me to read more about Marlowe.
What I also really like is that this book could have been a thriller of derring do and using Kit as and “action hero”. Judd doesn’t do this. This is told by a character (a specialist in cyphers and fellow “spy”) who is imprisoned in the Tower and is interviewed by someone 30 years after Marlowe’s death. The interview is being conducted apparently about Marlowe by order of the King.
It’s all about Kit’s character and more so his way of thinking, with his search for honesty (and whether it can be found in religion) in the foreground.
The suspense element is built around us not knowing why Thomas is being questioned about Marlowe.
It does become clear in the last chapter but in keeping with the espionage theme and the vagueness and ambiguity of what each of the characters say to each other, it is never spelled out for the reader.
Apart from the investigation into Marlowe’s thinking and character (both of which I thought were done really well), I loved the structure and style in which the story was told. I totally felt immersed in the Jacobean politics and plotting that made it impossible to trust any of the characters completely. Judd pitched this against the main character describing Marlowe’s search for truth in everything, which I felt was a superb contrast to the description of the environment in which Marlowe lived.
The ending also really worked for me. It finally touches on a point that other books such as Tamburlaine Must Die have picked up about Marlowe, but I really liked how Judd deals with it. Again, it seemed that Judd acknowledges that too little fact is known to be certain of much about Marlowe, and that speculation may actually distract from the bigger picture.
What I can say is that a man is more than his proclivities. Christopher had hot blood and a fearless mind. He walked where the rest of us fear to tread and he dissolved my faith in the life to come. Yet he sought not to destroy, but to be true. His bequest to me was honest doubt. That is what I believe is important about him, more than his plays or his verses, of which I know sadly little. His life showed that the courage to be honest is the best exemplar of whatever life might be to come. If there is one. And if there is no life to come, only nothingness, then being honest about that and living fully in the face of nothing is an even greater virtue, the very best we can do. And that surely is deserving of something.
I very much look forward to reading more by Alan Judd.
I read this for the Spies & Assassins square.
Mildred Pierce – James M. Cain: 4*
Another HB choice that I really liked. This was a train wreck of a story. I hated all of the characters, even though I thought Mildred had an admirable attitude at times, Cain never let her shine. Veda on the other hand was just plain evil. I may have cheered when Mildred first gave her a spanking. (Sorry, not sorry.) And as for the men in this novel … Wow. What a bunch of useless twits. Still, I could not put this one down even if it was “of its time” in its attitudes.
I read this for the Noir square.
Family Matters – Anthony Rolls: 4*
I hoped that Family Matters would satify the prompt for the Arsenic & Old Lace square, but I had no idea just how poisonous this novel would be. I really liked it. This was a quirky story with quirky characters and several laugh out loud moments. I really liked the twists, too, even tho the ending let me down a little. Still, this is one mystery caper that I will re-read in the future.
I read this for the Arsenic & Old Lace square.
Death of a Bookseller – Bernard J Farmer: 4*I’m really lucking out this year with my book choices. Death of a Bookseller was another winner. I loved it. It was an odd story – and I don’t usually like stories set in the bookish world – but the way that it was kinda far-fetched made it fun. It was also written in more of a noir style than other titles in the BLCC series, and I could easily see this one being played out in black-and-white on screen. (Edit: BTW, I meant to mention that Mary Robert Rhinehart’s The Bat also left its mark on this novel. It may be me and the fact that The Bat was a recent read, but there is a supposed Bat character in this novel, too. Just one more thing that made me laugh and that appealed to me. Still, I know that this would have gone over my head had we not had the MRR / The Bat Buddy Read.)I guess, one of the things that set this book apart from other less successful mysteries, was that we got to get to know several characters and weren’t just left to rely on the main character to tell the story. It was really easy to follwo the different characters, too. Now, as a heads up, this title really did warrant the diclaimer that the publisher added to the series about the book being of its time. There are several references and portrayals / stereotypes that would not pass muster in a novel today. Still, nowhere near as bad any novel by Ian Fleming. I read this for the Murder & Mayhem by the Book square.The Honjin Murders – Seishi Yokomizo: 2.5*
I’m glad I have finally read this book, and I am looking forward to reading more in the series even if my rating (2.5*) does not look like I liked the book much. I really enjoyed the style of the book, the writing, the artistic storytelling, the aesthetics of it. Where the book fell flat for me was in the motive and solution to the mystery. The motivation is “of its time” perhaps with respect to the motive, but this didn’t work for me. Also, I had a hunch re the solution – as far-fetched as it may sound – half-way through the book, and when I happened to watch a re-run of a particular episode of Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett version) this morning, my suspicion became even stronger.
The trouble is, as much as I love Sherlock Holmes mysteries, when a more modern author comes up with a convoluted solution as we have in The Honjin Murders, it does not work for me. It’s why John Dickson Carr continually fails to impress me. I really could have done with the author remembering the very wise words of Miss Marple – at the bottom of most murders lie simple motives. I’m paraphrasing here, but yes, Marple was on the money.
I read this for the Locked Room Mystery square.
4:50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie: 4.5*
I’ve forgotten how many times I have read this book, but it still brings me joy. Lucy is one of the finest Christie creations, and it is always fun to accompany her on her adventure to solve the murder.
I read this for the Amateur Sleuth square.
Photo Finish – Ngaio Marsh: 3*
Photo Finish was new to me, and I was surprised to find out that it was published in 1980. It had some very modern elements like helicopters.
I didn’t find this jarring exactly, but it reminded me of some of the slightly weird 1980s adaptations of classic mysteries. Something just felt … weird.
I loved that this story was set in New Zealand, but as this turned out to be a country house mystery set on a remote island, I was a little disappointed that Marsh didn’t really make more of the setting. It didn’t really feel different to a story set in England, and nor should it need to feel different, but I had hoped that at least some descriptions or local flavour would come through, especially since NZ was Marsh’s home turf.
I did enjoy the theatrical element of the story, or rather the of the characters. So. Much. Drama. However, the motive and background to the murder was a little obscure for me, not to mention the cupboard scene near the end. That was just silly.
Murder on Paradise Island – Robin Forsythe: 3.5*
This was a new to me title – and I only read one other title by the same author (The Polo Ground Mystery – 3*). This was an odd story. I loved the Lord of the Flies meets And Then There Were None mash-up of the story. Some of the decisions of the characters really made me think – for example, why was everyone willing to appoint a leader that had to be obeyed??? This made no sense to me. Was it something that would have been more natural at the time of the books publication??? I don’t think so, but it made me think nonetheless. I disliked the solution, or rather the motive behind the solution. It was ridiculous. However, I know that this was a product of its time and the lack of understanding of the particular issue. To say more would be a spoiler. I had to deduct half a star for it, tho.
I read this for the Vintage Mystery square.
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton: 3.5*
Why did I leave it so long to read this? I now have a much better understanding of where Christie was coming from with The Seven Dials Mystery and The Big Four. I liked much about this novel but I guess it was the novelty factor (or appreciating the novelty it would have been at the time of publication) that made this book for me.
I read this for the Darkest London square.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle – 5*
What can I say that has not already been said? I love this story and was hankering for a bit ACD.