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review 2017-10-15 10:33
Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

My real life book club chose this as the October read, and I admit, I've never before read this Christie classic.  My contrary nature, I suppose.  Plus, I knew how it ended, which dimmed the urgency of reading it.  So too did my dislike of Poirot.


Well, I've read it now and it's as brilliant as every person has ever said it is.  And there were two bonuses for me:  Poirot wasn't as annoying as I've found him in other books - he was, in fact, quite tolerable.  And Mrs. Hubbard blew me away.  Did. not. see. that. coming.


Since I knew how it ended, I tasked myself with trying to pick up all the clues.  Of all of them, I missed only two, I think.  Or at least, only two of the obvious clues.  I suspect if I re-read it I'd find a whole host of character related clues that sailed right over my head.


If you haven't read this yet and you think you might someday be interested, please take my advice and do not let anyone tell you how it ends.  Avoid reading any more reviews, and just read the book.  It will be so much better, so much more brilliant, if you don't know what is coming.

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review 2017-09-30 23:39
Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn - Daphne du Maurier

One of the most beautifully written books I've ever disliked.  And let's be clear - my 3 stars is my attempt at objectivity, because it is a beautifully written book, and I did dislike it.  A lot.


From the first sentence there's no doubt this story is dripping with dark, forbidding, gothic atmosphere.  By the second page, it's swimming it in.  By chapter 2, it's drowning.  I don't know if du Maurier was trying to pad out a short story, or if she just really wanted to make sure her readers knew this was going to be a dark, dreary, forbidding story; either way, too much of a good thing is still too much.  There might have been some skimming.


I liked Mary well enough, but I was unable to muster any sympathy for poor Aunt Patience; I really just kept hoping someone would push her down the stairs.  I do not much like enablers any more than I like those they enable.  Still, I was really getting into the plot (once I deep dived through all that atmosphere), until I got to the part where Mary meets the vicar.


What is up with the albino trope?  I realise that when this was written the whole thing might have taken readers by surprise, but has there ever been an albino in a book that wasn't the evil villain?

(spoiler show)


At that point, I was truly just reading to get 'er done. There was no way the book was going to surprise me from that moment on.


Aaannnddd then there's the ending.  I liked Mary until that point.  Hell, I liked Jem until that point.  Now, I think they both deserve a horrible ever after.   She should just change her name to Patience and be done with it.




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review 2017-09-11 10:43
Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes
Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes (British Library Crime Classics) - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

I've read three of the short stories in this collection so far, and I'd say 2 out of the three were excellent, with the third being worthy of note for just how transcendently bad it is.


The first story I read was, of course, Doyle's The Lost Special.  It wasn't a mystery in the sense of a puzzle to be solved, but instead as a solution presented after the fact.  Still, it was good and made better by the small touches that include a riff on Holmes' quote of "...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..." and the small uncredited cameo Homes himself makes by way of 'an amateur reasoner of some celebrity'.  I must admit that I guessed how it was done, although not what the special's ultimate fate was.  Harsh.


The next story I read was The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room by Sax Rohmer, which caught my attention because I saw in the introduction where Edwards chose it because it was the best example of what he inferred was a rather bad lot.  It features a psychic detective named Moris Klaw.  It was notable for being hilariously bad from start to finish; truly overblown and completely unbelievable, but in the manner that leaves you amused rather than disgusted (mostly).


The third story was Nicholas Olde's The Invisible Weapon which is built around that (now) classic motif of... read it to find out.  No spoilers here.  But it was written well enough to be enjoyable, if not 'oh wow' memorable.  


I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of these stories - hopefully soon.  But that's the great thing about anthologies like these, they keep on giving for ages afterwards if you want them to.


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review 2017-06-18 06:57
The Circular Staircase
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

My second read of this book and it's almost as good as the first.  


I continue to like Rachel; I'd like to think she comes closest to how I'd act in a parallel situation.  The humour held up too and I still marvel at Rinehart keeping all the plot points of her story straight.  I've read too many contemporary books that have half the plot complexity and holes you could drive a train through.


But the racism is still confronting enough to take me out of the story; Thomas might have been well respected by the characters, and the story a product of its time, but the descriptions and use of vernacular were the bruises on what would have been a perfect peach of a story in my time.  And on this second read, I marvelled at how anyone believed so pitiful a disguise could have worked so thoroughly for so long.


Still, this is a great story; a gem that shows some things transcend time (in this case almost 110 years): there have always been crafters of labyrinthine plots, there have always been strong women with resourceful intellects, and there is always a place for humour and wit, even in the most extraordinary circumstances. 


I'll continue to heartily recommend this book to lovers of a great mystery.

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review 2017-04-28 03:06
Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë,Jessica Hische

Well, I finally did it.  I finally read Jane Eyre.  


::bracing myself::


It was okay.


I know I'm treading on sacred ground here with many, many fans - and I did like it!  I just didn't love it.  Not like I love Austen, the most obvious comparison to be made by classic lit neophytes such as myself.


I loved the plotting and the story; I loved reading about the path Jane's life took and how she chose to shape her life in spite of circumstances.  I loved the dialog between Eyre and Rochester and if I'd gone into this book having never known the first thing about it, I'd have been left gasping at the church along with everyone else.  That Charlotte Brontë could write is without question.


But the characters....  eeehhhhh....  I'm a character-driven reader, almost to the exclusion of everything else.  Or, at least, I can forgive a lot if I like the characters, but I can't forgive much of characters I don't like.


Jane Eyre - You can't dislike Jane, can you?  I mean, she's not a special snowflake, she's well educated, she's willing to work, and she stands up for herself... eventually.  But her need to please, to be loved, her starvation for affection... while they all came from a very understandable place, it was hard to respect her at times.  Eyre (as narrator) makes a very astute observation early in the book when she says, looking back, that her Aunt could not like her because she was so needy.  And yes, that was entirely the Aunt's fault, the witch, but it's one of those dooming, self-sustaining cycles.  I'd have liked Jane more if she'd done something with that moment when, at 10, she breaks the cycle; I'd have liked Jane more if she'd learned from that experience.


More to the point, I lost a lot of respect for the book and for Eyre when, after all is revealed, not once does she so much as question Rochester's continual charade and methodical lies.  I don't know what I'd have been more pissed about if I were her; the attempted bigamy or the fact that the man who professed undying love to me systematically lied to me while I lived under his roof about the existence of someone who liked setting beds on fire.


Also, I gotta say, the whole "sir" thing got creepy.  Totally to be expected when she was working for him, but after he kissed her?  No, no, no.  Before kiss: sign of respect; After kiss: sign of submission.  Don't care what time period it was, it was creepy.


Edward Rochester - I know that over time, Rochester and Heathcliff have become confused in my mind, but I was expecting someone broodier.  Still, I really liked him and understood the appeal, until the scene in the orchard, where he struck me as hopelessly, delusionally (new made up word), romantic and - again, apologies for what's coming - something of a man-child.  His optimism that he'd be able to marry Jane and keep Bertha in the attic indefinitely was ludicrous.


Question:  If this man was so outstandingly rich, why didn't he just put Bertha in her own house with a nurse somewhere in the back of beyond?  He says he was going to use his other manor house, but that it was too damp (although not too damp for him, apparently); if that's the case, why not just buy another cottage somewhere else?  There were too many alternatives to this disastrous arrangement for me to fully buy into it.


St. John Rivers - What a prat!  I liked him until his proposal, at which point he become one of those religious nuts I particularly loathe; the kind that use faith to manipulate and control.  Brontë flat-out failed here, in my opinion; it seems clear she wanted readers to admire his purity and devotion, but all I really got from him after that scene was an abusive narcissist in the making.


Ultimately, I'm glad I read the book and I'll likely re-read it (although I'll probably skim some of the more verbose bits).  That I don't think it the masterpiece of literature I do Austen's work is entirely down to my personal reading preferences and my own personality quirks.


I'll end with my favourite quote, which, oddly enough, doesn't come from the text of the story itself, but the preface Brontë wrote for the second edition:


"Conventionality is not morality.  Self-rightousness is not religion."





Page count: 514


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