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text 2017-12-13 01:10
Reading progress update: I've read 200 out of 336 pages.
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings - Charles Dickens,Michael Slater

Never make bargains with phantoms.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-12-13 00:18
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 8 - Las Posadas: A Christmas House Party, the Murderous Way
Murder for Christmas - Francis Duncan,Geoffrey Beevers
Murder for Christmas - Francis Duncan

Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends.

 

Christmas house parties were definitely "a thing" with the Golden Age mystery writers -- small wonder since they are, in essence, nothing but a seasonal subspecies of the subgenre that, perhaps, has come to be more synonymous with Golden Age detective fiction than any other subgenre: the country house mystery.  So it's no surprise that Francis Duncan, who published some 20 mystery novels between the 1930s and the early 1950s, but who was quickly and thoroughly forgotten after his books had fallen from favor,* turned to the subject as well, sending his amateur detective (and retired tobacconist) Mordecai Tremaine to the English countryside to attend the Christmas party of wealthy Benedict Grame.  But what begins like a true-blue Dickensian Christmas extravaganza, with Grame doing his level best to mime the likes of Samuel Pickwick and Mr. Fezziwig (Father Christmas / Santa Claus suit, presents on the Christmas tree, and all), in due course inevitably turns into a ghastly crime scene.  The victim is Grame's closest associate; a man whom some, but by far not all of those present seem to have a reason to dislike, but who to Tremaine seemed decidedly more "on the level" than some of the other guests, who had exhibited an unexplicable tension even before, and whose nerves now seem to resemble bow strings a fraction of a second before breaking point.

 

Few of the party's guests actually struck me as likeable -- but while I would have been quite happy to live with this in and of itself (which is, after all, par for the course of the average country house mystery), the solution 

makes clear that Duncan's real purpose here seems to have been to turn Christmas (particularly the Dickensian Christmas clichés) on its (or their) head, and the final reveal in the book's last pages contains a brutal about-face,which

(spoiler show)

considerably marred my enjoyment of the story, even if I had seen parts of it coming and my early suspicion as to the murderer's identity (though not their motive) turned out to be correct.

 

I own a print edition of this book, which I did pull for reference purposes on occasion, but I primarily listened to the deligihtful unabridged audio recording narrated by Geoffrey Beevers, who finds just the right tone for each situation and character.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

* As the Guardian reports, even his publisher no longer knew anything about him when Murder for Christmas was undusted and became a surprise revival hit -- it took for the author's children to see the book at their local Waterstone's to become aware of the publisher's appeal for information and get in touch with them.

 

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text 2017-12-12 23:48
Reading progress update: I've listened 376 out of 990 minutes.
Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky,William Henry Hudson

The debate on its purpose and meaning – on the lesson that the arrival of such a prodigy was intended to teach – lasted for generations, over the whole span of the creature’s long life and beyond. Its behaviour was strange and complex, but it seemed mute, producing no kind of gesture or vibration that could be considered an attempt at speech. Some noted that when it opened and closed its mouth, a cleverly designed web could catch a curious murmur, the same that might be felt when objects were pounded together. It was a vibration that travelled through the air, rather than across a strand or through the ground. For some time this was hypothesized as a means of communication, provoking much intelligent debate, but in the end the absurdity of such an idea won out. After all, using the same orifice for eating and communication was manifestly too inefficient. The spiders are not deaf, exactly, but their hearing is deeply tied into their sense of touch and vibration. The giant’s utterances, all the frequencies of human speech, are not even whispers to them.

 

The spiders are awesome. They also see value in preserving ecological diversity.

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review 2017-12-12 22:58
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 5 - Advent: Golden Age Christmas Vignettes
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

 

Book themes for Advent: Read a book with a wreath or with pines or fir trees on the cover.

 

Silent Nights is the first of (at this point) two Christmas mystery short story anthologies in the British Library's "Crime Classics" series, edited by Martin Edwards. The anthology combines stories by well-known and -remembered authors (e.g., Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham) with stories by authors who, even if they may have been household names in their own time -- and many were members of the illustrious Detection Club -- have since been rolled over by the wheels of time; not always deservedly so.

 

The standout story in the collection is doubtlessly Arthur Conan Doyle's The Blue Carbuncle (one of my all-time favorite Sherlock Holmes adventures that shows both ACD and his protagonists Holmes and Watson at their absolute best), but I enjoyed almost all of the stories -- in varying degrees, and not all of them were apt to make me want to go on reading an entire novel by the same author, but several did; and thus, I am glad that I have extended my "Detection Club / Golden Age crime fiction quest" to the likes of J. Jefferson Farjeon, Ethel Lina White, Edmud Crispin, Leo Bruce, and Nicholas Blake (better known as Cecil Day-Lewis, poet laureate and father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis).

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review 2017-12-12 21:38
β€œAll Systems Red – The Murderbot Diaries #1” by Martha Wells – fresh, fun, science fiction novella
All Systems Red - Martha Wells

I picked up “All Systems Red” because it was one of the Best Science Fiction Nominees in the GoodReads Choice Awards 2017   It’s my first Martha Wells book, but I’m sure it won’t be my last.

 

I’ve been reading Science Fiction for more than forty years and it’s rare for me to come across a novella as fresh, engaging and original as “All Systems Red”.

 

Told from the point of view of a part machine, part organic, Security Bot that secretly refers to itself as “Murderbot”, “All Systems Red” is a turn-the-page-I have-to-know-what-happens-next read. Murderbot has gone rogue, is proud of himself for not having murdered everybody yet and mostly wants to be left alone to watch entertainment videos. Strange and violent happenings that threaten “his” humans mean that he has to put the entertainments aside and take risks to keep his humans alive.

 

Murderbot’s interior monologue is simple, alien and compelling. He is not human but he is not just a machine either. He’s a person that you end up rooting for.

 

The mystery at the heart of the book is relatively simple and is soon resolved but a whole universe of expectations and rules and behaviours are revealed along the way.

 

The ending is pretty much perfect. It allows “All Systems Red” to work as a standalone novel while leaving me hoping that there will be a sequel soon..

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