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review 2018-08-31 20:42
The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault meet the Creatures of the Night
The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter, Emilia Fox,Richard Armitage

 

What a great early start to this year's Halloween Bingo.

 

I confess I didn't care so much for the first (i.e., the titular) story -- leaving aside the obvious similarities to Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, it feels like I've read essentially this very story a few times too often already, because pretty much every update of Bluebeard's Castle seems to run along similar lines.  Maybe I have indeed even read this exact same version before (if not, the most recent incarnation I read was most likely something by either Neil Gaiman or Susanna Clarke), but anyway ... let's just say I was happy to move on when I could.

 

That said, the other stories were a sheer delight, and so is the collection as a whole -- and its narration by Emilia Fox and Richard Armitage, who take turns in reading the various tales.  My favorites by far were the second, third, and fourth entries (The Courtship of Mr Lyon, The Tiger's Bride, and Puss-in-Boots) -- the second and third being variations on Beauty and the Beast; both more melancholy than terrifying -- but especially so the fourth one, not least to Richard Armitage's rendition which had me howling with laughter ... and overlooking entirely that it actually is included in this collection for a reason

(after all, clever Puss and his lady help Puss's master to a rich bride by contriving the permanent, um, removal of said bride's present husband).

(spoiler show)

 

And now ... is it September 1 yet?

 

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text 2018-08-31 11:52
Reading progress update: I've listened 273 out of 422 minutes.
The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter, Emilia Fox,Richard Armitage

@Jennifer (of Jennifer's Books), have you listened to this?  If not (yet), you absolutely need to ... for Richard Armitage's rendition of this version of Puss in Boots alone.  He completely had me in stitches last night!!

 

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text 2018-08-25 20:29
OK -- let's do this!
The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter, Emilia Fox,Richard Armitage

 

 

As per Moonlight Reader Madness:

 

Well, alright -- here we go!  Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories, so spreading these out over the course of a week will allow me to make progress here while at the same time finishing up my "Summer of Spies" reads.

 

 

My Bingo Markers:

   
Read but not called ~~~ called but not read ~~~ both read and called      

 

 

Wild Card Author:

TBD -- currently leaning towards Neil Gaiman.

 

 

My Card:

 

Comprehensive update post to follow separately.

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review 2018-05-27 20:50
"They seek him here, they seek him there ..."
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy,Gary Hoppenstand
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Stephen Crossly,Emmuska Orczy

Oh, what a glorious prelude to the 2018 Summer of Spies.

 

Maybe not a "spy" novel in a narrower sense, but writing in 1902 and leagues ahead of her time, Orczy created the first book of what would become a series of perfect swashbucklers, starring a power couple in which the heroine is every bit her partner's equal and then some.

 

Indeed, cleverly Orczy even tells this book's story chiefly from Marguerite's point of view, which not only has the benefit of keeping the first-time reader (though ... is there such a creature, in this day and age, when it comes to this particular novel?) unaware of the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity as long as possible, but also gives Marguerite an added reason to hurtle all the way to France in Sir Percy's pursuit once she has cottoned onto (1) his alias, and (2) the fact that Chauvelin has unmasked him as well and is now hunting for him in turn.  After all, the narrative perspective would go to hell in a handbasket if Marguerite were to just stay at home and gnash her teeth, anxiously awaiting her husband's safe return -- whereas this way, Orczy is able to present her as a woman of action ... even if, for the most part, it looks like the much-touted "cleverest woman in Europe" is stumbling blindly after her husband and Chauvelin in their respective tracks and comes darned close to ruining Sir Percy's whole enterprise, not to mention imperiling the life of her beloved brother Armand, to whose assistance Sir Percy had rushed off to begin with (well, that and in order to finish the job of getting the de Tournay family safely across the Channel).

 

No wonder, in any event, that the reading public soon demanded a sequel -- and Marguerite  and Sir Percy would soon also find their way onto the silver screen.  The rest, as they've never said more truly than here, is history ...

 

 

My "Summer of Spies meets Women Writers Project" reading list:

Women of Intelligence

(http://booklikes.com/apps/reading-lists/897/women-of-intelligence)

 

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review 2018-05-18 13:12
Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels:
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

The first caveat, obviously, being "don't ever try this at home."  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie's time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that's not true for all of them -- belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject -- particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse -- and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

 

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you've finished all of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly large enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup's book and Christie's fiction. (Obviously, if you're just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie's works at all, the story is a different one.)

 

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as "anchors" for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer. 

 

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn't), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie's craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader's attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer's trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) -- it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup's book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing -- the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect -- see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters

(Veronal)

(spoiler show)

she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she's ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

 

As a result, Harkup's book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I'm left with one of the odd entries in my library where I'm checking off the "favorite" box for a book that I'm not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup's explanations just how the poisons used in Christie's novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie's chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie's catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison -- from the beginning of this read, I've had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I'm gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh's Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I'd also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I'm fairly certain that particularly my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

 

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose ... don't ever try this at home!

 

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