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review 2017-01-10 12:59
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bonus Entry
Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow
Collector of Worlds, the - Ilija Trojanow

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the "activity" entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here's my "bonus entry" post ... sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. :(


Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas ... (sigh).


Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking -- partially successfully, though he didn't know it -- the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.


Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.


Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities


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review 2016-12-31 19:03
Death in the Tunnel
Death in the Tunnel - Miles Burton

From the book description on Goodreads:


On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet. Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no reason can be found.


Originally published in 1936, Death in the Tunnel is one of the mystery novels that was re-issued as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. I was really looking forward to this, not just because it satisfied a task in this year's holiday scavenger hunt, but also because I was hoping to discover more great writers from the golden age of mystery writing.


Sadly, for me Death in the Tunnel fell short of that mark. The story started out great with a mysterious death on a train that seemed to occur just as the train passed through a tunnel, yet there were no witnesses, no motives, no suspects, and according to the chief investigator it looked like suicide. (Tho, why there would be such an elaborate investigation if this was a suicide is a question that is not really answered...)


Anyway, the leading detective starts to interview people close to the dead man and at some point draws another investigator into the case. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I'll come straight to the problem I had with the story - the two investigators are utterly useless idiots, who come up with one random theory after another and seem to be stumbling along in the proverbial dark until the very, very end of the book.



Seriously, I had to roll my eyes a lot at their assumptions so many times because they just were the least logical conclusions ever - and yet, we were supposed to believe that this was great detecting when it seemed they created most of the red herrings themselves instead of actually sifting through the relevant information.


Death in the Tunnel is one of those books that would make for a pleasant beach read or something to pass the time while waiting at the dentist's, but I found it really tiresome as an antidote to a craving for a delicious mystery.

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text 2016-12-28 21:04
12 Tasks of the Festive Season: Almost there....



Just a quick update on the Twelve Tasks of the Festive Period.....I have one more square to fill, which I am working on with Death in the Tunnel.


The latest two completed squares are:


Task the Fifth: The Kwanzaa:

– Read a book written by an African-American author or set in an African country.


I read Under the Udala Trees in completion of this task.




Task the Seventh: The Christmas:

– Read a book set during the Christmas holiday season.


See here for my  review of The Santa Klaus Murder, which is set during Christmas.

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review 2016-12-28 17:17
The Santa Klaus Murder
The Santa Klaus Murder: A British Library Crime Classic (British Library Crime Classics) - Mavis Doriel Hay

“Well, I’m jiggered!” said Constable Mere. “We looked in that pile! I’d’ve said there couldn’t be a dead rat left in it, let alone Father Christmas’ Sunday suit!”

I was inspired by Moonlight Reader to pick this up. The Santa Klaus Murder is another installment of the British Library Crime Classics series that focuses on works by authors of the Golden Age of Mystery, who have been largely neglected in favour of such giants of the genre as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, et. al.


The Santa Klaus Murder is set in a typical mystery setting: a country house, a family gathering for the holidays, a murder that was impossible to take place, and a lot of red herrings.

The story had all the markings of a perfectly cozy read, except....there were some darker themes that meandered through the book that gave this mystery an air of interest beyond the pure fun of solving the puzzle.

For example, one of the characters is suffering from PTSD, or shell-shock, and one of the interesting aspects of the novel was how his family cope with his altered self.

However, the topic was not given as much depth as for example Sayer's allocated to it in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Altogether, The Santa Klaus Murder remained a diversion, a light read.  


As for the mystery, ... it dragged a bit and thanks to the incompetence of the investigators, some of the conclusions seemed a bit far-fetched. I would rather have all the facts and try and piece them together than be presented with new evidence just as the case is wrapped up. It always seems to be too convenient to the author (rather than the characters) when a conclusion is rushed. 


One other note, tho, I loved the language that is used in this book. I could not decide whether it was just quaint or actually funny. The passing of time since its original publication in 1936 may have a lot to do with it, but some of the expressions that were used really made me smile. 

Once Jenny reached the door she was so quick that I couldn’t help see her rush at him and throw herself incontinently into his arms.

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review 2016-12-26 17:00
Under the Udala Trees
Under the Udala Trees - Chinelo Okparanta

“There’s nothing more important now than for us to begin working on cleansing your soul,” says Ijeoma’s mother.


I read Under the Undala Tree for the 12 Tasks of the Festive Season. If it had not been for that purpose, I would have DNF'd this book without any regret or hesitation. 

In fact, the only aspect I liked about the book was that it was the first and so far only book I have read that was set during the Biafran War and that provided some insight into Nigerian history and culture. 


Nevertheless, the book was pretty horrible,

It was not the description of war and cruelty against people that was off-putting as much as the description of many of the adult characters as rather two-dimensional, unfeeling, stupid, bigoted asshats, and of the two main characters as so overly precocious it made me think of at least two ways in which the story could have been delivered without inducing repetitive eye-roll injuries. Then, of course, I got frustrated because I should not have to think of ways in which the story could be delivered.....


The descriptions of Nigeria and its people during the civil war were gripping. It was difficult reading about the hardship and the violence, but it did provide a realistic picture of a post-colonial civil war setting.  But then, pretty much out of nowhere the book took a turn into the romance genre - except that, you know, the relevant characters were about 12 years old.....


The idea of 12 year old girls discussing issues of marriage, and the impossibility of their marriage in 1970s Nigeria and the differences in their religions and backgrounds and whatnot is one thing, but the two 12 year old characters actually engaging in a sexual relationship???


Erm, ...


I do see why the book has been getting a lot of attention because it does give a voice to LGBT issues in Nigeria, and it is one of the few books that I have seen that also takes up other issues such as religious fundamentalism, tribal prejudice, the roles of men and women in society, etc. in an African setting. However, I just cannot see beyond the fundamental flaw that one of the hooks in this book is that it seems to want to deny the two child characters what is left of their childhood after the war time experiences, the hatred towards them because of their gender, tribal background, religious views, and whatnot by supposing that a same-sex relationship is what is on the minds of two 12-year-olds. 


So, as I said, I get why this is an important book: It perfectly describes the horrible situations people find themselves in in places that do not tolerate "otherness". It holds up a mirror to the ugly face of societies that actively promote hate and the criminalisation of homosexuality and promote correctional rape, religious conversion, etc. It supposedly tells people trapped in a similar situation that they are not alone, and that they have a voice in the form of this book.

I appreciate all of these intentions.  


And yet, to this reader these intentions are not what memories of Under the Undala Trees will evoke in this particular reader. To paraphrase the line I quote from the book, there’s nothing more important now than for me to find some brain bleach.

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