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review 2018-04-02 21:17
My KYD Reads ... or: Harry Potter, and What Else I read in March 2018
Harry Potter Box Set: The Complete Collection - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Gryffindor Edition - ROWLING J.K.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling,Stephen Fry
The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts,Gordon Griffin
The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble
A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley,Michael Boatman
Imperium - Robert Harris
The Distant Echo - Val McDermid,Tom Cotcher
Unterleuten: Roman - Juli Zeh
"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays - Dennis McCarthy,June Schlueter

A big thank you to Moonlight Reader for yet another fun, inventive BookLikes game!  I had a wonderful time, while also advancing -- though with decidedly fewer new reads than I'd origianlly been planning -- my two main reading goals for this year (classic crime fiction and books written by women).


Harry Potter - The Complete Series

This was a long-overdue revisit and obviously, there isn't anything I could possibly say about the books that hasn't been said a million times before by others.  But I've gladly let the magic of Hogwarts and Harry's world capture me all over again ... to the point of giving in to book fandom far enough to treat myself to the gorgeous hardcover book set released in 2014 and, in addition, the even more gorgeous Gryffindor and Ravenclaw anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.



That said, particular kudos must also go to Stephen Fry for his magnificent audio narration of the books, which played a huge role in pulling me right back into to books, to the point that I'd carry my phone wherever I went while I was listening to them.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling, Stephen FryHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry



As for the rest of my KYD books ... roughly in the order in which I read them:


Ngaio Marsh: Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin)

Killer Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh Death at the Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh

Also a revisit: One of my favorite installments in Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, not only because it is set in the world of the theatre -- always one of Marsh's particular fortes, as she herself was a veteran Shakespearean director and considered that her primary occupation, while writing mysteries to her was merely a sideline -- but because this one, in fact, does deal with a(n alleged) Shakespearean relic and a play based on Shakespeare's life, inspired by that relic.



The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon Griffin

Freeman Wills Crofts:
The Hog's Back Mystery

 Part of Crofts's Inspector French series and my first book by Crofts, who was known for his painstaking attempts to "play fair" with the reader; which here, I'm afraid, hampered the development of the story a bit, in producing a fair bit of dialogue at the beginning that might have been better summed up from the third person narrator's point of view in the interest of easing along the flow of the story, and in holding French back even at points where a reasonably alert reader would have developed suspicions calling for a particular turn of the investigation.  But I like French as a character, and as for all I'm hearing this is very likely not the series's strongest installment, I'll happily give another book a try later.



Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Carmichael

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death

Not my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey book by Sayers, but virtually the only one I haven't revisited on audio recently -- and as always, I greatly enjoyed the narration by Ian Carmichael.  That said, here again Sayers proves herself head and shoulders above her contemporaries, in devising a particularly fiendish, virtually untraceable method of murder (well, untraceable by the medical state of the art of her day at least), and perhaps even more so by hinting fairly obviously at two women's living together in what would seem to be a lesbian relationship.



The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen

Ummm ... decidedly NOT my favorite read of the month.  'Nuff said: next!













A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley, Michael Boatman

Walter Mosley: A Red Death

I'd long been wanting to return to the world of Easy Rawlins' mid-20th century Los Angeles, so what with Mosley's fiction making for various entries in the KYD cards, including at least one book by him in my reading plans for the game seemed only fitting (... even if I ended up using this one for a "Dr. Watson" victim guess!). -- This, the second installment of the series, deals with the political hysteria brought about by the McCarthy probes and also makes a number of pertinent points on racial discrimination and xenophobia, which make it decidedly uncomfortable reading in today's political climate.



One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Hugh Fraser, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Another revisit, and in no small part courtesy of Hugh Fraser's narration, I liked the book a good deal better than I had done originally.  This is one of several entries in the Poirot canon where we learn about Poirot's phobia of dentist's visits, which obviously makes for the high point of the book's humour ... and of course it doesn't exactly help that it's Poirot's dentist, of all people, who turns out the murder victim. -- The plot features several clever slights of hand, and you have to play a really long shot to get the solution right in its entirety (even if strictly speaking Christie does play fair).  Well, that's what we have Monsieur Poirot's little grey cells for, I suppose!



Imperium - Robert Harris

Robert Harris: Imperium

The first part of Harris's Cicero trilogy, and both a truly fast-paced and a well-researched piece of historical writing; covering Cicero's ascent from young Senator to Praetorian and, eventually (and against all the odds), Consul. 


The first part of the book deals at length with one of Cicero's most famous legal cases, the prosecution of the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, and Harris shows how Cicero employed that case in order to advance his own political career.  Notably, Cicero quite ingeniously also ignored established Roman trial practice in favor of what would very much resemble modern common law practice, by making a (by the standards of the day) comparatively short opening statement -- albeit a supremely argumentative one -- and immediately thereafter examining his witnesses, instead of, as procedural custom would have dictated, engaging in a lengthy battle of speeches with defending counsel first.  As a result of this manoeuver, Verres was as good as convicted and fled from Rome in the space of the 9 days allotted to Cicero as prosecuting counsel to make his case. 


The second part of the book examines Cicero's unlikely but eventually victorious campaign for consulship, and his exposure of a conspiracy involving Catiline, generally believed to be the most likely victor of that year's consular elections, who later came to be involved of conspiracies on an even greater scale, and whose condemnation in Cicero's most famous speeches -- collectively known as In Catilinam (On, or Against Catiline) -- would go a great way towards securing both Cicero's political success in his own lifetime and his lasting fame as a skilled orator.



Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: Murder Is Easy

Another Christie revisit, and I regret to say for the most part I'm down to my less favorite books now.  This isn't a bad book, and the ending in particular is quite dark ... but the middle part, much as I'm sorry to have to say this, simply drags.





The Distant Echo - Val McDermid, Tom Cotcher

Val McDermid: The Distant Echo

Holy moly, how did I ever miss this book until now?!  Even more so since the Karen Pirie series is actually my favorite series by Val McDermid ... OK, Pirie herself has little more than a walk-on role here; we're talking absolute beginning of her career, and the focus is decidedly not on her but on her boss and  on a quartet of suspects involved in a 25-year-old murder case -- in fact, the whole first half of the book is set 25 years in the past, too, describing the immediate aftermath of the murder and its consequences for the four main suspects, chiefly from their perspective.  But still!  Well, I sure am glad I finally caught up with it at last ... definitely one of the best things McDermid ever wrote.



Unterleuten: Roman - Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh: Unterleuten

A scathing satire on village life, on post-Berlin Wall German society, on greed, on the commercialization of ideals ... and most of all, on people's inability to communicate: Everyone in this book essentially lives inside their own head, and in a world created only from the bits they themselves want to see -- with predictably disastrous consequences.  The whole thing is brilliantly observed and deftly written; yet, the lack of characters that I found I could like or empathize with began to grate after a while ... in a shorter book I might not have minded quite so much, but in a 600+ page brick I'd have needed a few more characters who actually spoke to me to get all the way through and still be raving with enthusiasm.  If you don't mind watching a bunch of thoroughly dislikeable people self-destruct in slow motion, though, you're bound to have a lot of fun with this book.



Von Köln zum Meer: Schifffahrt auf dem Niederrhein - Werner Böcking

Werner Böcking: Von Köln zum Meer

Local history, a read inspired by conversations with a visiting friend on the history of shipping and travel by boat on the Rhine. -- A richly illustrated book focusing chiefly on the 19th and 20th centuries, and the mid-19th-centuriy changes brought about by diesel engines and the resulting disappearance of sailing vessels (which, before the advent of engines, were pulled by horses when going up the river, against the current): undoubtedly the biggest change not only in land but also in river travel and transportation, with a profound effect on large sectors of the economy of the adjoining regions and communities.



And last but not least ...



Dennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North -- A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays

The lastest in Shakespearean research, also a read inspired by conversations with the above-mentioned visiting friend, and a February 7, 2018 New York Times article on a possible new source text for passages contained in no less than 11 of Shakespeare's plays.  The story of the discovery itself is fascinating; the research methods applied are in synch with modern Shakesperean scholarship ... and yet, for all the astonishing textual concordance, unless and until someone proves that Shakespeare not only had the opportunity to see this document but actually did (at least: overwhelmingly likely) see it, I'm not going to cry "hooray" just yet.  According to the authors' own timeline, Shakespeare would have been about 11 years old when this text was written, it was kept in a private collection even then, and there is no record that the Bard ever visited the manor housing that very collection -- which collection in turn, if the authors are to be believed, the text very likely at least did not ever leave during Shakespeare's lifetime (though it was undoubtedly moved at a later point in time).  And Shakespearean research, as we all know, has been prone to a boatload of dead-end streets and conspiracy theories pretty much ever since its inception ...

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review 2018-04-01 07:56
Lake Silence (The World of the Others, #1)
Lake Silence - Anne Bishop

I wasn't even going to read this one.  I was sure I didn't want to leave Lakeside and the characters in that courtyard.  But this was one of those rare times when advance press got me to reconsider. I don't even remember what I read, but it was enough to make me think that maybe Lake Silence would be worth a read. 


Squee!  It was!  Much to the detriment of my sleep.  I started it yesterday afternoon and, true to previous experience, I almost didn't put it down again - I finally lost the battle at 1am, but was up again at 7am, book open, real-life rudely put on hold, until it was finished.


Turns out it's not Lakeside I'm attached to; it's the Others.  I'm enamoured with their morality, to put it bluntly.  Honesty and good faith keep you alive.  Shady dealings and selfishness get you killed.  Every. single. time.  No second chances.  In a world that's constantly pissing me off because people do bad things and get away with it, or dodge the consequences, if not immediately, than eventually (Pete Rose trying to get his lifetime ban lifted; Australia's cricket vice-captain caught cheating and already publicly stating he hopes to play again), I find this world of the Others refreshing.  Unfortunately, even in a work of fantasy, humans can't stop being selfish and exploitative, in spite of clear cut rules, and consequences that are meted out consistently and immediately, and brutally.


The setting for Lake Silence is completely different, with an entirely new cast of characters, although there are a few cameos.  This is a small town that's always been owned by the terre indigene, where the human residents fool themselves into believing the Others keep themselves to themselves.  Vicki is a new resident, trying to make a go of an old abandoned resort she got as part of her divorce settlement, not realising the true purpose of the resort and her role as caretaker.


As in previous books, I just got sucked in; the characters, the setting, all of it.  The only discordant note, and the reason it's not the full 5 stars, were the villains; they were the most 2 dimensional characters in the story - so much so they were caricatures, and that made it hard to take them as seriously as the story deserved.   Vicki is also an emotionally broken character, and that's starting to make Bishop's MCs feel formulaic.  While Meg's fragility was logical, given her background, Vicki's felt gratuitous; I don't think the story would have suffered at all, or worked less well, if she's been a relatively well-adjusted, independent woman getting on with her life after a divorce.


Doesn't matter in the end; I loved the book and lost sleep over it, and I'll gladly snap up the next one without reservations.


This was my final read for Kill Your Darlings, and I used it for the card Crime Scene: Planet Camazotz, as it is a book that takes place in a different world.

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review 2018-03-31 23:16
Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn Series Book #7
Death in a White Tie - Benedict Cumberbatch,Ngaio Marsh

Another good book by Marsh...this one is set during the London season and starts out with Detective Alleyn on the hunt for a blackmailer and winds up looking for a murderer too. By the end, he professes his love to Angela Troy again with an ultimatum that if she doesn't love him back, then he can't bear to see her ever again. I flipped back and forth between reading and listening to the audio. The audio narration had me cracking up! Some of the voices they used for the women especially Lady Alleyn's was hilarious but it was a very accurate representation of what I pictured Lady Alleyn to sound like. : ) 

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review 2018-03-31 20:42
Should Have Just Re-Read Pride and Prejudice
Practice Makes Perfect - Julie James

Well the only redeeming thing about this book is that I realized in hindsight I could count the terrible thing towards Kill Your Darlings. There is something silver on the cover, the douche-bag hero's cuff-link. Bah to this terrible book.


I have really enjoyed Julie Jame's FBI/US Attorney series and stupidly thought this was a book that was part of that universe. Nope, this is part of a two book series she did and I guess she threw in the towel in. This book was initially published back in 2009. I suppose she thought this was her clever take on Pride & Prejudice. Nope. Not even a little. Besides profoundly mis-understanding Elizabeth and Darcy it seems, I don't think Darcy went around telling their boss that he banged her on his desk and then goes, but hey I realized I did that cause I loved you. I would have grabbed this fool by the tie and choked him out If I didn't think he would have enjoyed it.

Sorry, I just don't have a lot of patience with romance books like this these days. I want some romance and some chemistry. But I hate/loathe romance books that have strong women just going along with a man treating them like crap. What gets me is that I don't think the hero (JD) changes at all in the end. He still has appalling as hell views of women/equality/liberals and the heroine (Payton) I don't see putting up with that in the end. 


"Practice Makes Perfect" has two rival attorneys Payton and JD doing their best to one up each other. It's been 8 years since they met/started working together and they are both on the partner track at their firm. When a high stakes case comes their way, the two are thrown together. When they are both told due to plot reasons (seriously though) that the firm can only offer one person under 40 a partnership that year, the two of them are now in direct competition. 


Payton is developed more than JD in my opinion. I do wish though that James had followed up a bit more with the fact that Payton's father (who has nothing to do with her) came from money and maybe had some conversations with her best friend/mother about it. I don't know, it just pops in the story and pops back out. She also is dating a very nice guy named Chase, but hey, he doesn't treat her like dirt so she goes around saying something is missing there. 


JD sucks. He comes from a wealthy family and his father is a judge. His views on women would serve him well in this new world we seem to find ourselves increasingly these days. I will say this, JD would fit right in with those guys suing Google claiming them being white and male they are being discriminated against.


‘Forty Women to Watch Under 40,’ ” J.D. emphasized. “Tell me, Payton—is there a reason your gender finds it necessary to be so separatist? Afraid of a little competition from the opposite sex, perhaps?”

I have met some JD's in my life. I have so far managed to not bludgeon any of them to death.


“. . . how do you think it would go over if the magazine ran an article called ‘Forty Men to Watch Under 40’?” He took the liberty of answering for her. “You and your little feminista friends would call that discrimination. But then isn’t that, per se, discrimination? Shouldn’t we men be entitled to our lists, too?”

That's the other thing that drives me nuts about this character, he doesn't even get how far up his own ass he is. 


"J.D. ignored the sarcasm. “The playing field isn’t level—that’s the problem. Now maybe you’re comfortable accepting that, but I’m not. You know as well as I do that these days, if a man and a woman are equally qualified for a position, the woman gets the job. It’s this socially liberal, politically correct society we live in. Men have to be twice as good at what they do to remain competitive in the workplace. Women just have to stay in the race.”

Expletive you. 


"He pictured her place as being a tad . . . plebian. That probably wasn’t the most politically correct way to say it. What word did liberals prefer nowadays? Granola? Organic? In reality, however, Payton was none of those things. In fact, if she never spoke, one might actually think she was quite normal."

I call it now. These two marry and eventually divorce. 


“See, you just don’t understand women the way I do, J.D. They want it all: a career, apple martinis, financial independence, great shoes; but at the same time—and this they’ll never admit—they are drawn to patriarchal men who are dominant and controlling. That’s the essence of the Darcy complex. He may be an asshole, but he’s an asshole that gets the girl in the end.”

Somewhere Jane Austen just gave Tyler and JD a middle finger.


Seriously the whole book was JD just being a jerk and Payton being drawn to him cause he's attractive. When the inevitable sex scene happens I yawned. The only interesting that James had going for with this book was who would get the partnership, but she gets rid of that over some 11th hour BS I love you thing and then these two fools dance off happily into the sunset. 


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review 2018-03-31 20:19
A Tale of Two Men and One Woman
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Wow. I am so glad that I read this. "My Cousin Rachel" is not just a mystery/thriller, it also has very good Gothic elements and a very twisty (in a good way story). We have two men who come across their cousin Rachel with both trying their best to hang onto her even though she wants freedom from both. You do wonder if Rachel has done all that she has been accused of via her husband Ambrose and his cousin and heir Phillip. Or have both men been seeing zebras where there were just horses? I like to think in the end there was a mixture of things in this story.


The story begins with the Phillip thinking of how murderers are no longer hung at a certain location anymore. He goes on about his upbringing with his cousin Ambrose, and how he will be seen as a standing and upright citizen like Ambrose one day. But you start to realize that these are merely words to Phillip. That something has happened that has broken him. We eventually have him mention his cousin Rachel. 


Phillip is 23 when we go back to when Ambrose decides to depart for a warmer climate due to his health. Both of the men (long without women) have backwards notions about women even for the time this book takes place in. There are a few times we get Phillip's comments about his godfather's daughter, Louise, and wow. His condescension towards her at times did make me worry for her health a few times. Ambrose eventually writes to Phillip about meeting their cousin Rachel in Florence and before you know it, the two are married. Phillip is jealous of the fact that Ambrose has fallen in love and forgotten about him. And those nearby gently tell Philip that he will have to see about getting his own home soon. When Ambrose starts writing Phillip, it seems the bloom is off the rose of his new marriage (it's been 10 months) and then the letters becoming increasingly unhinged with Phillip concerned that something is being done to Ambrose. Taking himself off to Italy he finds that Ambrose has died a few weeks before he came there and all his thoughts are about destroying Rachel if and when he comes across her. 


The story takes a turn at this point with Phillip eventually getting to meet his cousin Rachel and having her stay with him at his house and estate (he inherited from Ambrose). You start to wonder if Rachel is just a woman with unfortunate luck (her first husband died by duel, Ambrose by they say a tumor/brain disease) or is she more devious than she seems. 

Du Maurier likes playing both sides throughout the story. You can see how Rachel's actions at time seem to be as if she is playing with Phillip. However, you get to see his actions and they are in some ways worse. He ignores Rachel when she says stop and doesn't listen to her wants and needs. He seems determined to treat her as if she has no say in her own life. Since Rachel is 35 and Phillip about to turn 25, you would wonder why he would become so fixated on Rachel, but it seems that he was determined to take over something that Ambrose had. 


The other characters in this book are interesting as well. Initially Phillip's godfather (Nicholas Kendall) is put out by Phillip's hostile behavior towards Rachel. But when Phillip swings the other way to being too generous and not listening to his advice, he realizes that Phillip will come to some bad end if things are not changed.

I thought the character of Louise was the only one who saw things clearly and loved re-reading her comments to Phillip. The fact that Phillip treats her as brainless made me shake my head. If anyone could not see what was going on it was definitely Phillip. And you become sad since if things had gone another way, she would have been a perfect wife for him. Due to the ending, I wonder if she stayed away from Phillip in the future, or not.


The writing was very good. The house starts to feel oppressive and dark after a while, matching Phillip's mood. Even though the house is undergoing a restoration with gardens, a bridge, flowers, it feels like it will stay a museum, pretty to look at, with no soul. 


The flow was a bit wonky at first. The book starts off slow and you may find yourself bored, but stick with the story, it will pick up and you won't be able to put this down. 


The setting of the story is in Cornwall and Florence. Most of the book takes place in Cornwall though. Phillip hates Florence and does not write of the charm of the place or the food. He merely complains of the heat and dryness. In contrast, Rachel longs for Italy and the weather. Cornwall at first seems quite magical when Rachel first comes to the house.


The ending leaves you with so many questions. The uppermost in my mind is the question of whether Rachel  is guilty of what Ambrose and Phillip thought of her? In the end though, does it matter? 


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