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review 2017-11-29 06:54
The Moonstone
The Moonstone - Ronald Pickup,Sean Barrett,David Timson,Wilkie Collins,Dale Brown,Jonathan Oliver,John Foley,Fenella Woolgar,Joe Marsh,Jamie Parker

What can I say other than the book is worth the hype?  

 

I wasn't sure at the start; I listened to the audiobook version - which was excellently done - and Gabriel Betteredge's opening narrative is... trying.  I loved his character the best and the narrator who played his part played it to the hilt, which meant it felt like there was an amiable, loveable, old man telling me a story by taking the longest possible route.  I was charmed, while at the same time wanting to prod him along, and honestly, if I had to hear much more about Robinson Crusoe I might have started pulling out my own hair.

 

Once we get past Betteredge's ramblings (which take up the first 40% of the book), the story moves along much quicker and the story becomes far more interesting, as the twist at the midway point was riveting.  I only ever listen to audio while I'm in the car, because I'm so easily distracted, but I found myself carrying my phone and portable speaker out to the garden to listen to The Moonstone while I weeded, and found 3.5 hours disappeared in a blink.  I got so close to the end today by the time I got home, I came straight in and grabbed my print edition so I could finish it. 

 

I guessed who the villain was at the start, but then the twist came in and I had NO idea where he was going with the mystery; subtle misdirections were everywhere in the narratives and so, while I never really gave up my notions of who was guilty, I was entirely ready to believe I had the wrong end of the stick until the end. 

 

The Moonstone is excellent and I highly recommend it; it's not a light, breezy read to be done in one or two settings, but it does reward the reader's commitment at the end.  

 

Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.

 

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review 2017-11-20 07:17
The Chosen
The Chosen - Chaim Potok

I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak.  Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book.  I thought The Chosen was about baseball.

 

It's not about baseball.

 

What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence):  the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path.  But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV.  This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform).  Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.

 

I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for.  The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.

 

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people

 

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review 2017-10-22 04:15
The Red House Mystery
The Red House Mystery - A.A. Milne

Before there was Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robins, Eeyore and Piglet, there was murder most foul.  Before there was murder most foul, there was a stint as editor of Punch, a British weekly magazine of humour and satire published until 2002.

 

Now I don't see a huge influence of the murder most foul at the house on Pooh corner, but Punch definitely left its mark on The Red House Mystery.  A.A. Milne set out to write a traditional mystery following all the 'rules' of fair play, and he took the plotting very seriously, but that did not keep him from planting his tongue firmly in his cheek while he wrote the story.  It's alive with small jokes aimed at Holmes and Watson, mysteries in general, and at the characters themselves.

 

As such, it's a great mystery - heaps of fun to read, if sometimes it felt a tad long.  I thought to only give it four stars for this reason, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt for two reasons:  I read this while flat out with hideous, unrelenting back pain, and I read the introduction.  The former might be more obvious than the latter, but Milne was very careful in his introduction, to state his desire to play fair and make sure the reader had all the same clues as the amateur detective.  So I might have over-focused on recognising the clues instead of enjoying the ride.

 

Not that it did me an ounce of good.  By the time the denouement arrived I had no idea who did it or why.  I can't say the ending was a massive ::gasp:: shock, but it was definitely not anti-climatic.

 

I wouldn't' suggest for a moment that the world could have done with less Winnie-the-Pooh, but it is a shame that Milne didn't write more than this one murder mystery.  I can't help but wonder if this was his first effort, what future bafflement, wonder and entertainment he might have achieved with a bit more practice.

 

(For the Golden Age of Crime bingo, this could be used for Singleton, or Birth of the Golden Age of Crime)

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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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