Friday, January 31, 2014

Middle Sister's January Books

Well, January has been almost all book club books, all the time. I'm working on my second book club book this month (The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain--I've read it before, but it was my suggestion to the group, so I'd better read it,right?), with a third on order from the library. All in all, a very enjoyable month of reading. (And I'm still trying to slog my way through Lorna Doone, November/December's book club selection.)

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie I thought I'd read all the Agatha Christie novels that existed, but perhaps I've only read all the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple books. This title didn't ring a bell at all, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was completely bamboozled by the ending, and that rarely happens these days.Tthat's why Dame Agatha is still so popular. The social aspects of her early twentieth-century world may be vastly different than today (it was published in 1929, 85 years ago), but the characters and their human foibles are timeless. Suffice it to say, this book club's selection for next month is a Christie I now suspect I haven't read, and I can't wait. Highly recommended (library copy)

By Its Cover by Donna Leon Italy, rare books, rare book libraries, palazzos, contessas, impersonations, a mysterious murder--what's not to love? Usually I do not like police procedurals, but I like Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series. That may be in part due to their setting (Venice), their main character (Guido Brunetti, an honest policeman in a corrupt department within a corrupt and lazy system that sometimes seems to not want to catch the bad guy), the relationships (Guido's marriage, his coworkers--all are so finely portrayed with just a few succinct sentences), but mainly it's the mysteries and the writing themselves. Guido investigates more esoteric mysteries, like this one about stolen rare books, and more urban  and gritty murders for more familiar reasons, so the series stays lively without falling into the traps series often do. Her writing is top notch--crisp, clear, yet evocative. I will admit here to a slight fictional crush on Guido, too.  Highly recommended (NetGalley)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Middle Sister's December 2013 Books

I spent a lot of time trying to read Lorna Doone for my 19th century novels book group. It's not that it's a bad book, it's just that first third (according to my fellow readers) is very slow. Unfortunately, that coincided with grading final papers, writing and grading final exams, work, and the holidays. But I did squeeze in a few other books.

The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler The latest Peculiar Crimes Unit novel has Bryant and May becoming enmeshed in international politics as well as murder, immigration, and class snobbery. There is nothing to say except that I love this series. They are so erudite, so interesting, so hard to put down. If you haven't met Arthur Bryant and John May yet, please do. I confess to a slight fictional crush on John May and wish Arthur Bryant were my curmudgeonly uncle. Wholeheartedly recommended (NetGalley Kindle ARC)

Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber I really like Seattle, so I'm always happy to read mysteries set there. A vegetarian yoga instructor seemed a different take on the cozy genre amateur detective. After the murder of a homeless man Kate had befriended, she takes in his special needs dog while searching  for the murderer and trying to find the dog a home.  The premise was appealing to this dog lover.  I did find Kate's references to her "fluffy hips" very annoying. When, oh when, will writers stop trying to harp on women's self image as a way to supposedly connect with their readers? Anyone who does yoga as often as Kate, and she's constantly practicing yoga or teaching it, and is a vegetarian is probably not that 'fluffy' at all and is very limber and healthy. And cellulite is not fluffy. Weber does a good job at contrasting the positive training methods used by most dog trainers these days with the horrible negative, punishment-based systems that some old-time adherents still insist on using. The passages with the negative trainer and the dog's original owner were so realistic they were truly upsetting to me. The murderer? Too easy to figure out. The romance? Too boring, sadly. The angst over her father's death? Too trite. But I really liked her friend Rene, and if Rene has a more prominent place in other novels, I might give this series another try. (NetGalley Kindle ARC)

A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie A classic to cleanse the palate. Another book group I belong to is all Agatha Christie, and in December we started reading A Murder Is Announced. There is also the option to knit or crochet a Miss Marple-inspired pattern while we read and discuss. We're still reading (a set number of chapters per week), but come on, who can really stop at Chapter 9 just because that's the last chapter for that week? I spent New Year's Eve re-watching the television version with Joan Hickson, and comparing the differences between the novel and the filmed version. Set in a small English village just after WW2, a newspaper advertisement announces that a murder will happen that night at the home of Leatitia Blacklock, so naturally all the neighbors pop round for sherry and fun. But when a murder really occurs, Miss Marple cannily figures out the whodunnit amidst a number of people pretending to be someone they're not. Wholeheartedly recommended (paperback)

And here's my Miss Marple Scarf (pattern by SusanneS-vV):