Book log September 2016

I’m busy tidying up the notebooks I use to write on the bus, and came across my book log notes for the books I read in September last year. As it happens, two of these are in the sale at Amazon UK and Kobo at the moment. :-)

Agatha Christie — Murder on the Orient Express

There isn’t really a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of reviewers on LibraryThing. It’s a classic bottle mystery–a murder and a group of people in an isolated venue, in this case the Orient Express trains stranded in a snowdrift. It’s great fun watching Poirot piece together all the red herrings to find that some are clues after all.

Kobo

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Agatha Christie — The Murder on the Links

Poirot novel set in France, with Poirot butting heads with the local police investigator. Poirot is asked to come urgently by a man in fear of his life. The widow’s story does not quite hang together, and yet she is genuinely shocked and distraught by her husband’s death. Red herrings abound, and as usual Hastings repeatedly gets hold of the wrong end of the stick–or in this case, the length of lead piping. Enjoyable Poirot fare, although nothing outstanding.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lindsey Davis — The Silver Pigs

First of the Falco books, a mystery series set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Vesparius. Marcus Didius Falco is a PI. That’s public informer, a role remarkably similar to that of the private investigator in the modern era. And as with the classic gumshoe mystery, Falco has an office/flats at the top of a seedy low rent tenement building.

The novel is as historically accurate as Davis could make it, but human nature hasn’t changed much over the last 2000 years. Falco rescues a damsel in distress, and finds himself sucked into a case involving theft and corruption in the silver mines of a backwards colony at the fringe of the Empire.

Excellent mystery, with an appealing lead character and careful world building. I loved this, and will be reading more of the series.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US

book log April 2013

14) Oscar Wilde — The Picture of Dorian Grey
Lots of reviews and critiques out there already, so I’ll simply say that I liked it.

15) Gladys Mitchell — Watson’s Choice

28th Mrs Bradley mystery. Mrs Bradley is invited to a weekend country house party thrown to celebrate the Sherlock Holmes anniversary. Naturally, someone provides a real life mystery, complete with a real live Hound of the Baskervilles. The plot wanders a bit, but it’s still a lot of fun if you’re a Holmes fan. I suspect that it will be less fun if you’re not, as the book is stuffed with Holmes references and jokes.

http://www.librarything.com/work/439987
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

16) Mary Stewart — Stormy Petrel

Romantic suspense set on a remote Scottish Island. the story’s fairly simple, and the appeal is in watching the interplay of the characters, and the evocative descriptions of the island and its way of life. It has mixed reviews, and I can see why; but I liked it a lot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/96426
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

17) EM Forster — Where Angels Fear To Tread

There are plenty of other reviews, so I will only note that I liked part of the novel, but it didn’t quite gel for me even though I like this sort of social satire. I don’t regret the time spent reading it but am not inclined to re-read. It’s out of copyright in some countries, and thus available on public domain sites.

http://www.librarything.com/work/20427

18) Agatha Christie — Death on the Nile (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. Heiress steals friend’s fiancee, friend starts blatantly stalking, even unto the honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Heiress is found murdered, and as the husband points out, the ex-friend has an obvious motive. The one problem is that she couldn’t possibly have done it. Nor could any of the other people the heiress has provided with motives. The abridged audiobook has been well edited for the plot, but does by necessity skimp on the character development and social observation. There’s also an unabridged audio edition, read by David Suchet, which I’ve not yet listened to.

http://www.librarything.com/work/29995
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

19) T Baggins — Fifteen Shades of Gay (for Pay)

Contemporary m/m romance, and yes, the title’s riffing off That Book. What it isn’t is a rip-off of That Book. It’s a thoughtful and well-written look at men coming to terms with their sexuality, seen through the eyes of a young actor who takes on male escort work to pay for his sister’s chemotherapy, even though he’s straight. The blurb for the book tells you all you need to know about the plot, and there’s little point in rehashing it. It’s a plot that has the potential to be very cliched, but Baggins shows what a skilled writer can do with the concept, and the book is a joy to read.

It’s an m/m romance, so of course the POV character isn’t straight after all. But this isn’t a gay-for-you story. There’s a solidly laid foundation for a character who is in deep denial about his bisexuality, and has good reason to be that way. It’s Andrew’s story, so we see his character grow and change the most; but there are also good portrayals of men who aren’t in denial to themselves, but are closeted to their family and have different ways of coping with that. Perhaps it edges over into fairytale territory with how quickly Andrew comes to accept having gay sex without accepting that he’s bi, but the story’s good enough to carry it.

Be warned that it has the potential to be triggery for readers who’ve had to deal with cancer. Baggins doesn’t dwell on the reality of living with cancer in a loved one, but doesn’t gloss over it either — the one that got me was the comment about neighbours who insist on showing their neighbourliness by just popping in to see how you are even though they’re not well themselves, and infectious. But with that one caveat, thoroughly recommended.

http://www.librarything.com/work/13260408
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

book log March 2013

Taking advantage of the Christmas break to (very slowly) catch up on the book log. Alas, it’s long enough since I read these books that for most of them I can’t write anything in depth about them.

10) Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle

Big ebook bundle, previously reviewed.

11) Agatha Christie — Death in the clouds (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. A passenger aboard a plane between France and England is found dead, apparently of a wasp sting. Poirot rapidly finds evidence otherwise, and what appears to be the murder weapon — placed where Poirot is the most likely suspect. Poirot knows he isn’t the killer, but in proving himself innocent, he will also need to correctly identify the real killer, lest some other innocent be wrongly convicted by one of the many false clues.

The abridged audiobook is well edited, and ably read by Timson, but as always suffers somewhat from the abridgement. I enjoyed listening to it even though I haven’t read the novel in decades and remembered nothing about it; but I am minded to try the unabridged version read by Hugh Fraser the next time I want to listen to it.

Librarything

Abridged audiobook ISBN 978-1405046442 (Macmillan Audio Books)
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Unabridged audiobook: CD ISBN 978-0-00-719111-6, download ISBN 978-0-00-724855-1 (HarperCollins)
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

12) Maria Dahvana Headley — Queen of Kings

Dark fantasy novel which takes as its premise the idea that Cleopatra did not commit suicide, but sacrificed to the dark goddess Sehkmet to try to protect her country and her husband from the invading Roman army — and found that she had sacrificed her own soul as part of the price. A price paid in vain, as Octavian tricks Mark Antony into committing suicide and the Romans take her children as captives. But Sehkmet’s new servant is now immortal, and consumed with a quite literal bloodlust for revenge. Octavian will find that his conquest of Egypt and its ruling family is not complete just because the Queen appears to have died at her own hands…

Cleopatra as a newly-made vampire fighting with a goddess for control of her own body while in pursuit of her stolen children is an intriguing premise. Headley’s novel has its flaws, but she makes good on the promise to the reader to provide an unusual twist on historical fact and historical myth. I’m glad I bought this. There’s an excellent review by Snat on LibraryThing which says pretty much all I would have liked to say about the book: http://www.librarything.com/review/75919863

Amazon UK
Amazon US

13) Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White”13) Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White

One of the earliest mystery novels. I bailed about half way through, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was having trouble concentrating on long work at the time, and this is indeed a long work. Out of copyright, and as such freely available from public domain websites such as Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks.

book log February 2013

It’s the return of the book log! Not a particularly detailed book log, since it’s a long time since February… But here are such thoughts as I can remember about what I read way back then.

5) Gladys Mitchell — Tom Brown’s Body

Another mystery for Mrs Bradley to solve. This one involves the murder of a junior master at a boy’s school. Mr Conway was unpopular with both boys and teachers alike, for a variety of reasons. A lot of fun, with some sharp social observation. It was first published in 1949, which has some bearing on one of the minor plot threads. One of the boys is Jewish, and subject to anti-Semitic bullying. He does engage in some stereotypical behaviour, but Mitchell, through her lead character, observes that the behaviour is in response to the bullying and not the other way around. I get the impression from this and other books that Mitchell had a low opinion of racists.

LibraryThing
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

6) Fiona Glass — Gleams of a remoter World

LGBT paranormal mystery, where the mystery is long in the past, and the investigator is a ghost hunter. There’s a romance sub-plot, but the emphasis here is on the mystery. I can’t write a sensible review of this one because I’ve left it so long, but I stayed up far too late to finish it, and it will be no hardship to read it again at some point in order to review it properly. You can find the blurb and the first chapter on the book’s page at at the publisher’s website.

Librarything
at amazon UK
at Amazon US

7) Dick Francis – Under Orders

Another entertaining thriller set in the world of horse racing. This one features jockey turned private detective Sid Halley, pursuing leads in the murky world of online betting.

Librarything
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

8) Mary Stewart — Thornyhold

Romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart, published in 1988, but set in the 1940s and 1950s. Young Geillis, known as Jilly has had a quietly miserable childhood, followed by leaving university early to look after her newly widowed father. Her future as a jobless spinster with no savings and no inheritance to speak of might have been bleak after his death, save for her older cousin and namesake leaving her Thornyhold — Cousin Geillis’s woodland cottage.

Jilly finds that her cousin has left her enough money to live on if she’s careful, together with all of Thornyhold’s contents. Those contents include the still room — and Cousin Geillis’s reputation as a witch. There is nothing but good in that reputation, but Jilly is still drawn into strange occurrences, some of which have an obvious rational explanation but which still leave her unsettled.

She’s even more unsettled when she meets a handsome neighbour — and then life becomes very odd indeed…

Highly enjoyable period romantic suspense, with well-drawn characters and just a touch of magic left even when the explanations are done. Definitely one I’ll enjoy re-reading.

Librarything
at Amazon UK
at AmazonUS

9) Agatha Christie — The Secret Adversary

First of the Tommy and Tuppence books. It’s shortly after the end of the Great War, and a pair of bright young things are finding peacetime both rather boring and rather financially restrictive. They decide to advertise themselves as “The young Adventurers”, in the hope of finding a job. There follow many adventures in pursuit of a missing document, served with a large helping of fun and an even larger helping of red herrings. The politics are somewhat eyebrow-raising, but a reflection of the time when the book was written. I didn’t find this as appealing as the Marple and Poirot stories, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours. It’s still in print, but also now out of copyright in some countries and thus available on various public domain sites.

LibararyThing
at Amazon UK

book log: 57) Agatha Christie — Three Radio Mysteries: volume 1 [audio book]

Three of Christie’s short stories, adapted into half hour radio plays and updated to a modern (at the time of broadcast in 2002) setting. I found this volume rather disappointing, and thought that the adaptation of “Philomel Cottage” was very poor. I wasn’t familiar with the stories, and wasn’t sure what was supposed to have happened at the end of Philomel Cottage. Having looked up the story online, I found that my impression of what happened was quite different to the original text story. Having re-listened to the last few minutes, in case I’d simply misunderstood — no, it still gave the impression of the ending having been re-written.

Magnolia Blossom has been updated, but I think has not been greatly changed, going by the plot summaries I’ve found online.

Swan Song has been significantly re-written, but in a way that preserves the basic point of the plot. I suspect that the modernisation is going to annoy a lot of readers, but for me it worked well.

In hindsight, I’d have probably enjoyed this CD set more if Philomel Cottage had been last rather than first of the three plays. It annoyed me so much that it rather put me off the other two. I’m in two minds as to whether the set would have worked better for someone who was already familiar with the stories – I think I would have got on better with Philomel Cottage had I already known the story, but that the alterations to Swan Song might have been irritating. Overall, I don’t really regret spending the time to listen to this set, but I’m glad I only paid remainder price for it. and am disinclined to listen to it again.

http://www.librarything.com/work/8332809/

Book log: 43) Agatha Christie — Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? [audiobook]

Abridged on three CDs, and read by Jenny Funnell. This is a standalone mystery without any of Christie’s regular characters. It features a pair of bright young things who become suspicious about the circumstances of an accident and decide to investigate. Naturally, they don’t take their suspicions to the police, and in various other ways prove themselves too stupid to live, including walking into really obvious traps. None of which actually matters, because it’s very amusing watching them being too stupid to live. Christie very gently sends up her characters while keeping them sympathetic. The dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, but I had a lot of fun picking my way through the red herrings. Not her best work, but still an enjoyable way to pass three hours.

http://www.librarything.com/work/3137/