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review 2018-08-07 08:44
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury

The writing style is beautiful and evocative, but somewhat rambling and lacks a solid plot.  This novel is something of a intimate memoir of a small boy's life growing up in a small American town.  Personally, I didn't enjoy the book all that much - I found it tedious.  There were grand moments, but not enough to fight away the boredom.

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review 2018-07-20 06:23
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I'm going almost the full five stars on this because it's the best cat book I've read to date.  I've not read a ton, to be honest, but McNamee manages to capture both the science and the essence of the relationship between a cat and its owner.  He is undoubtedly a man coming at the subject with heartfelt appreciation and love for our feline overlords and his advice is rational, sound and passionate.


I learned a lot from this book.  I never knew that the sticking out of the tongue was a sign of friendship and acceptance; I always thought Easter-cat just left her tongue sticking out sometimes.  The front leg stretch isn't really a stretch, so much as it's a gesture of acceptance and friendship.  McNamee has me a little stressed out about Easter-cat's insistence on only eating dry food.  Small things like that, as well as much bigger issues like separation anxiety have given me much to think about. 


McNamee also talks about a lot of very sticky issues, especially regarding breeding, the cat's need to hunt, and the feral population problem that plagues communities around the world.  His overview of how Italy - specifically Rome - is tackling the issue is an inspiration, if not a complete solution.  I think he does a phenomenal job bringing home the basic idea that cats (and any pet for that matter) are not merely personal possessions or accessories; they are living creatures with as much right to quality of life and dignity as we might and arrogant humans so.


This book is a weaving of science and personal anecdotes about the author's cat, Augusta.  Those personal parts are brilliant, and sometimes nail-biting.  Full disclosure:  I flat-out skipped chapter 7 on sickness and death.  I'm a sissy, and the first 6 chapters convinced me that McNamee was going to write chapter 7 with at least as much passion and heartfelt sincerity and there aren't enough tissues in the world to get me through that chapter.


I knocked off half a star because some figures at the start seemed to fantastical to be true, and though there is a notes section at the back, those figures weren't cited, leaving me and others feeling distrustful of the data.  Otherwise, I thought this was a brilliantly written, fantastic resource for anybody who wants to be a better cat slave.

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review 2018-07-01 17:58
+1 for my collection of Christie Heroines I Would Totally Get Drunk With
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I actually finished this a few days ago, but haven't yet reviewed it because I somehow managed to schedule the buddy read during my trip to Disneyland. I don't know what I was thinking.


Anyway, I went into this book prepared for a repeat of my Passenger to Frankfurt experience. Imagine my surprise when it was more of an Anne Beddingfield crossed with Emily Trefusis experience. I loved Victoria Jones, even if she did make the preposterous mistake of crossing continents for a man that she'd just met. She amused me greatly, and I loved the part where she broke herself out of captivity after being kidnapped. I'm a great fan of women saving themselves - not so much a fan of men saving women.


The story was even somewhat believable for the first 50%, and had a delightfully campy feel to it. I do feel like Agatha always tries to go too big in her spy thrillers - it's always an attempt to take over the world, instead of just something small, like trying to assassinate a secret agent, or get some government secrets handed off to Russia. She goes so small with her murders - so many of them are just the narrowest of family homicides, where the motive is something of middling value, or a small slight, that her spy thrillers are jarring. I just can't take them seriously, so when they are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, they work for me. As opposed to the ones that are seemingly serious, which just come off as strained and sort of embarrassing.


I've really enjoyed reading the updates of my fellow readers! I agree with Lillelara that Christie may have been drunk while she wrote this. It was also definitely written before she lost her sense of humor and became the "Get Off My Lawn" Christie of her later books. And I loved reading BrokenTune's comparisons with Ian Fleming's James Bond.


Now that I've read this, I am even more excited for the proposed adaptation. It could be great fun! Let it be great fun, please.....

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review 2018-07-01 15:40
They Came to Baghdad
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I have about 10 books left to read of Dame Agatha's canon of fictional work, and I must admit that this was one of the ones I was not looking forward to. 


Knowing from previous experience that Christie did not excel totally sucked at writing international espionage thrillers, and still suffering from some sort of PTSD following my reads of Passenger to Frankfurt, Destination Unknown, Postern of Fate, ... I expected that this book could only be approached with the help of: 


1. A Support System


2. Gin


So, imagine my surprise when the book turned out to be a romp with a fabulously delightful young female lead character - Victoria Jones - who stands up for herself and, as is unfortunately rather unusual in a Christie novel, does not completely loose her mind to a sapless idiot of romantic interest...well, ... it's a long story...just read the book.


I loved the setting of the story in Baghdad, even tho it is littered with the ex-pat cliches of its time. I loved the inclusion of the archaeologists...especially Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones (whom I simply had to call Dr. Jones in my head all the way through...even if he did not resemble our fedora-wearing favourite at all), and I even did not mind the ridiculous conspiracy plot. 


Now, you may ask why I didn't mind the ridiculousness here in They Came to Baghdad when I have so often on this journey through Dame Agatha's canon complained about the sheer idiocy of similar plots?


I honestly have to say that it is because They Came to Baghdad opened my eyes even more to the overrated status of Ian Fleming's James Bond series, which to date I had considered the epitome of ridiculous espionage thrillers. 

The fact is that I recognised a lot of the really cool elements from the Bond series (of which there are very few elements in the entire series, imo) in this very book, written by Christie, years before Fleming even published his first spy thriller - Casino Royale.


The "similarity" that stood out most for me was a scene where a character checks her/his hotel room to see if anyone has been snooping while they were away. It is one of the most memorable scenes in Casino Royale and was also one of the scenes that made it into the movie franchise (in Dr. No, I believe...one of the Connery ones anyway). 

So, it came as a shock to me to see the exact same scene written by Agatha Christie is used in They Came to Baghdad, which was published 2 years before Fleming's first Bond novel. 2 years before!!!


There were other elements, too. For example, Christie dreams up a conspiracy in this book that resembles an organisation that features in the later Bond novels ("SPECTRE" anyone?).


I mean, I know that Fleming basically copied the entire plot of Casino Royale from Phyllis Bottome's book The Lifeline, and I had great fun in researching this claim earlier this year and compiling a comparison of both books after seeing for myself how much Fleming "borrowed" from Bottome.   

What I had not expected, tho, is that there are other elements of the iconic classic that is the Bond myth, that may have not originated as such with Fleming, but that may have existed prior to Fleming's canon.


Least of all, I expected to find these elements in Christie's work! I love her mysteries. I love her writing even tho her sometimes antiquated views drive me nuts. 

And now I have to yet again salute Dame Agatha for the very thing I had not thought her capable of - I have to salute her for being able to create an international espionage romp that has all the hallmarks of a Bond novel, mocks the entire essence of the Bond novel, and simultaneously improves upon it - and all of that before the blasted Bond novel even became a thing!


But never mind my weird obsession with Bond and Fleming's plagiarism thievery. They Came to Baghdad does not need the comparison to work as book. Christie dreamt up a hilarious adventure and it is obvious that she had great fun writing the story. 

Nearly every chapter starts with a tongue-in-cheek comment, and the characters themselves - including a celebrity sporting a cloak and a large, unusual hat - are so much fun to watch. 


Some of Christie's comments and descriptions are dated, of course, but They Came to Baghdad seems positively enlightened when compared with that other, slightly more famous, series of spy adventures that was to be created two years later.



Previous updates:


Reading progress update: I've read 5%.

Reading progress update: I've read 7%.

Reading progress update: I've read 11%.

Reading progress update: I've read 24%.

Reading progress update: I've read 38%.

Reading progress update: I've read 46%.

Reading progress update: I've read 74%.

Reading progress update: I've read 86%.

Reading progress update: I've read 88%.

Reading progress update: I've read 93%.

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

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review 2018-06-24 20:56
Sad Cypress
Sad Cypress - Agatha Christie

The court. Faces. Rows and rows of faces! One particular face with a big black moustache and shrewd eyes. Hercule Poirot, his head a little on one side, his eyes thoughtful, was watching her.

   She thought: He’s trying to see just exactly why I did it… He’s trying to get inside my head to see what I thought – what I felt…

   Felt…? A little blur – a slight sense of shock… Roddy’s face – his dear, dear face with its long nose, its sensitive mouth… Roddy! Always Roddy – always, ever since she could remember… since those days at Hunterbury amongst the raspberries and up in the warren and down by the brook. Roddy – Roddy – Roddy… 

   Other faces! Nurse O’Brien, her mouth slightly open, her freckled fresh face thrust forward. Nurse Hopkins looking smug – smug and implacable. Peter Lord’s face – Peter Lord – so kind, so sensible, so – so comforting! But looking now – what was it – lost? Yes – lost! Minding – minding all this frightfully! While she herself, the star performer, didn’t mind at all!

   Here she was, quite calm and cold, standing in the dock, accused of murder.

In my reading of Christie's novels, this is one of the best opening scenes. 


And what is more, I thought this was one of the best Poirot novels of the canon, together with Five Little Pigs, which is quite similar in structure. 

There is a little more to Sad Cypress than meets the eye at first, and it doesn't read like the usual formulaic Christie novel. 


For a start, the character of Elinor, the MC, is not your happy-go-lucky bright young thing. We meet her as the accused, who hesitates when asked whether she pleads guilty or not guilty. 

From there on, we step back in time to see the story unfold from the start but even then, Elinor, is riddled with doubts and cares. Christie does a marvellous job describing a woman being close to a breakdown throughout the story leading up to the arrest. 


By that time, of course we still don't know what happens and whether her state of mind is caused by her guilt over plotting a murder. We won't know this until the end. 

This is another aspect I liked. This book keeps up its suspense until the end - and even then there are elements which remain ... a mystery. 


Yes, the murder is resolved, but much of the book is based on the character of the individuals involved in the plot - and one person's reading of a character may put forth a completely different interpretation of the ending than another reader's. 


I, for one, tended to find the ending unsettling - in both the ways of what happened to the villain and what happened to the victim. I don't know if Dame Agatha had intended this to be a happy ending, but I can't quite see it that way. 

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