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review 2017-04-05 11:45
Fast Women
Fast Women - Jennifer Crusie

I've been talking up Agnes and the Hitman lately, and it got me in the mood for a re-read.  I wanted something slightly less madcap than Agnes though, so I went with Fast Women.

 

I've read this book at least half a dozen times - it's one of my favourite Jennifer Crusie books - and it never gets old for me.  Its three female leads are all extraordinarily three-dimensional; their marriages extraordinarily realistic; their coping strategies extraordinarily commonplace.  I love the interaction between the women, and between the women and their men.  What keeps this book from becoming a dreary, depressing drama is the humor that is constant throughout; these people are struggling, but they keep it in perspective.

 

Add to all of this a delicious murder mystery and for me it was, and still is, love.  The mystery is so well plotted, that even when you know how it's going to end, Crusie leaves you surprised at the end.

 

Chick-lit isn't for everyone, but if you enjoy some dramedy with strong female characters, tossed in with a murder mystery, I don't think you can go wrong giving this a try.  

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review 2017-03-15 22:36
The Book of God and Physics
The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery - Enrique Joven,Delores M. Koch

I loved every single thing about this book.  Except the writing.  Or maybe the translation.  Probably the translation.  Either way, what could have been a story to blow The DaVinci Code out of the water, was instead a worthy read for only those that are interested in the Voynich Manuscript, astronomy, and/or the intersection of faith and science.

 

I am incredibly fascinated with all of those things - except astronomy, of course - so I couldn't give up on the book.  For those unaware of the Voynich Manuscript, it is a real, illustrated manuscript believed to be about 500 years old.  It's full of beautiful ink and watercolour drawings that encompass chemistry/alchemy, botanicals, and astronomy, and it's written in a language that doesn't exist anywhere else.  It remains to this day undecipherable.  The manuscript currently resides at the Beinecke Library of Yale University and they have it online here.

 

Anything that has remained untranslatable for over 500 years becomes an unavoidable conspiracy theorist magnet, but the author of this book includes an introduction, where he makes it clear that other than the creation of the MC and his two friends, everything else in the book is historically accurate; all the other characters are real and their back-stories were kept intact without creative license.  Knowing this also kept me glued to the book when the prose would have sent me fleeing long before chapter 2.

 

The book is heavily centered in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  (They owned the Voynich Manuscript until 1912 when Voynich secretly bought it from them.)  My gender aside, the Jesuits are my people.  I make no secret of my faith in God and my faith in science; a stance that neatly pisses off everyone in one go: atheists because I believe in God, and those calling themselves Christians because I'm a heretic for accepting the Big Bang (first hypothesised by a Belgian priest*, btw) and evolution. The Jesuits also find no contradiction between God and science and in fact, most of the major contributions to science - experimental physics, specifically - in the 17th century were made by Jesuits. They weren't slackers in the 18th century either.

 

So, a story about a real coded manuscript, in its historically accurate setting, involving science and theology, taking place in a Jesuit school in Castile.  And I haven't even mentioned the secret tunnels, hidden passages and coded messages, or the major supporting characters that include Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Dee, Kelly, Galileo and Cassini.

 

Unfortunately, as I've already said, the writing translation is the major sticking point. The narrative was choppy and there was a general abuse of pronouns, leaving the reader sometimes wondering who was being talked about at any given time.  Dialogue jumped around too so that there were a few leaps of logic I couldn't follow because I couldn't parse the writing.  The ultimate care the author takes to make sure the history and the science are explained carefully (and sometimes repetitively), inclines me to fault the translation.  The author's love and knowledge of the subject matter screams from the page, as does his concern that the reader understand as much of the hard stuff as is possible, so it doesn't make sense that the story itself was written with so little care.

 

If I were only rating the writing, this would be 1 star.  But the subject matter and the plot were 5 stars, so in the end I split the difference and went with 3.  Don't bother with this one if you're only looking for a thriller or adventure, but if you're fascinated by the other stuff, maybe see if your library has this one and give is a go.  It'll be work, but it'll be fascinating too.

 

(* Georges Lemaître was the first to formally propose his hypothesis of the primeval atom, which became known as the Big Bang Theory, first published in 1931 in Nature.  He was a Jesuit priest and professor of physics.  He was also the first to note the expansion of the universe, and the first to derive Hubble's law and made the first estimation of what is called Hubble's constant - all misattributed to Hubble, at least in name.)

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review 2017-02-23 04:17
The White Cottage Mystery
The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham

My first Allingham, and fittingly, her first too.  Definitely not my last.  

 

DCI Challenor's son is on his way home to London one evening when he sees a young woman stepping off the bus with a heavy load and stops to offer her a ride to her home.  Moments after leaving her there, he and the local constable hear the rapport of a shotgun and on returning find a man most definitely dead and a hallway full of suspects.

 

This is a very short read, relative to today's average mystery, coming in at just 157 pages.  But it's a fast-paced 157 pages and Allingham dispenses with anything monotonous or that might smack of filler.  The timeline jumps from one paragraph to another; sometimes by just a few hours, sometimes a few days, towards the end, a few years.  This might really aggravate some readers but if you're familiar with Golden Age mysteries, you won't find it unusual.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it; so much so that it was 1am when I finally shut the light off, having finished the entire book in one sitting.  She had me guessing the entire way through, and not once did I come close.  I found DCI Challenor's advice at the end appalling; it would never fly in our time, but in the age it was written, it would have been standard.

 

A very good mystery and from my first peek, I'd say Allingham is under valued as a master of mystery, but to be sure, I'll have to read a few more - as soon as possible.

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review 2017-02-15 07:44
The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes, #1)
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde

This book...  I have so many random thoughts about this book.  In no particular order:

 

1.  Easily the most highly quotable book I've ever read.  Including books of quotes.  
One of my favourites:

 

Mr. Pewter led them through to a library filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

'Impressive, eh?'

'Very,' said Jack.  'How did you amass all these?'

'Well,' said Pewter, 'you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?'

'Yes–?'

'I'm that person.'

 

Don't know why, but that cracked me up.

 

2.  I'm pretty sure Fforde had no intention of writing a satire (based on what I've found on the interwebs) about the sensationalism of the free press, but this is definitely a case of current events shaping a reader's interpretation of the text.  I had a really hard time reading this and not drawing parallels.

 

3.  I'm equally sure he definitely meant to write a satirised murder mystery and this was easily the closest I've ever read to my blog's namesake movie, Murder By Death, which in my totally biased opinion is the acme of mystery satire.  Which brings me to another quote:

 

Dog Walker's Face Body-Finding Ban

 

Anyone who finds a corpse while walking their dog may be fined if proposed legislation is made law, it was disclosed yesterday.  The new measures, part of the Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill, have been drafted to avoid investigations looking clichéd...

 

Now this is legislation I can get behind.

 

4.  I wish I'd picked this book up directly after reading The Well of Lost Plots.  It makes no difference to someone new to Fforde's books, but I think those that have read TN would feel a stronger connection to the characters here when The Well... was still fresh in the memory.

 

5.  Prometheus has an incredible monologue on pages 271-273.  A popular fiction novel that can weave serious philosophy into its narrative always earns huge bonus points with me.

 

6.  Oh, yeah - good mystery plot too!

 

Off to order the second one...

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review 2017-02-09 02:25
The Persian Pickle Club
The Persian Pickle Club - Sandra Dallas

This was an impulse purchase at one of my local library sales, I think.  It's set in 1930's Kentucky during the dust bowl years and featured friendship and quilts.  How bad could it be?

 

Turns out not bad at all - it was excellent.  AND what they don't tell you on the cover is that there's a mystery to be solved, so of course I loved it even more.

 

Queenie is a young farm wife and part of the quilting circle called the Persian Pickle Club.  Rita is a newcomer to town and the club; a city girl who has just married a hometown boy reluctantly returned to the farm.  Queenie decides to make Rita feel welcome and tries her best to fold Rita into the daily routine of life in a farming community, but Rita doesn't want to be a farmer's wife; she has ambitions of her own to be a journalist and in her pursuit she digs up secrets people would rather remain hidden.

 

The beauty of this book is that it isn't trying to be anything it isn't; it feels like an authentic snapshot of time and place (and warning: it includes some language common to the time that we consider verboten now).  It doesn't make any moral judgements and the plot doesn't adhere to the strict definition of justice.  And that's all I'm saying because anything else would spoil it.  Let's just say I was giddy over the way it surprised me.

 

It's an easy read with potential to be a comfort read as well.  Definitely one of the better impulse buys I've made.

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