Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review - Dorothy L. Sayers's Unnatural Death

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Book 3) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published by: Harper Torch
Publication Date: 1927
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

One night at dinner Lord Peter and Detective-Inspector Parker are talking and a man at a nearby table overhears them and tells them his sad life story. He was a well placed Doctor but after the death of an elderly Cancer patient his insistence that it was murder, not natural, resulted in his ostracization and his having to leave the small town and try to reestablish himself in London. The Doctor gives no names, but Lord Peter is so intrigued, that he sets off to solve this "crime." Because Lord Peter is sure there is a crime. The only problem is means and motive... but he's sure once he starts poking around he'll find something.

The problem is, that while there where indeed odd goings on in Leahampton, the deceased, Miss Agatha Dawson, died quite awhile back and will or no will, the only person who would inherit was a great-niece, Miss Mary Whittaker. So why would she kill her "Auntie" if she was guaranteed to inherit? Once Lord Peter starts to intervene, secreting an old lady, Miss Climpson in Leahampton as his agent on the ground, the bodies start to pile up. If the murderer of Miss Dawson had left well enough alone they would have gotten away with murder because their was no proof. The ever growing stack of bodies is all the proof Lord Peter and Detective-Inspector Parker needed to know that their suppositions were right. Can they catch a killer before Lord Peter's conscience gets the better of him?

Holy time jump Batman! I have to say, that was my first reaction to Unnatural Death. This book starts out with an odd little biographical note that brought confusion galore to me and I had to go look up online to see if I was really reading book three. The thing is the note is written from the future date of 1935 by a Paul Austin Delagardie, a relative of Lord Peter's we've never met... yet. In actuality, the book was written in 1927 and takes place in that year. So why was I forced to read all this weird spoilerish information about who Lord Peter marries (though I have always known that) and has a child with and that Parker would eventually succeed in wooing Peter's sister Mary? Gathering from some reviews online, this might be an addition to the book... again, I ask why? As one review I read said "I can't imagine why Sayers would include it in this book since it makes reference to any number of events in the lives of Lord Peter and his friends and family that haven't happened yet." So shame on you Dorothy L. Sayers, I shall now send River Song to beat the shit out of you for trying to mess with the linear narrative of Lord Peter's life.

Now I will get to the actual plot, not the preface of the book. Spinster Sleuths. Or spinsters that are sleuths and occasionally murderers. Apparently this book was originally titled The Singular Case of the Three Spinsters which I think captures the themes in the book far better then Unnatural Death. The question is... who came up with the first spinster who decided to put aside the knitting and start asking some rather pointed questions. I was going back and forth between Sayers and Christie, I mean, this book came prior to Miss Marple, but Miss Marple was based on another character of Chirstie's that came out prior to this book... looking into it, apparently it's neither! Apparently it was an American author named Mary Roberts Rinehart with her book The Circular Staircase. So there goes my theory of rivalling writers. But it's nice to give the spinsters some love. Or at least, other writers giving the spinsters some love. Sayers seems to kind of hold them in contempt and as a punching bag and views their lifestyle as a little too "outre" and she drops one too many hints of lesbianism. Which, I'm guessing she's against. Sayers has pretty well established her racist card in earlier volumes, so her being a homophobe wouldn't really surprise me.

As for the method of death. Anyone who is anyone will figure out that an undetectable injection that kills has to be an air embolism. I mean, they use this constantly as a trope in fiction. Apparently this was Sayers idea, at least my googling hasn't proved otherwise. Yet critics weren't too kind about this new method of murder. "In Unnatural Death, she had invented a murder method that is appropriately dramatic and cunningly ingenious, the injection of an air-bubble with a hypodermic, but not only, in fact, would it require the use of an instrument so large as to be farcical, but Miss Sayers has her bubble put into an artery not a vein. No wonder afterwards she pledged herself 'strictly in future to seeing I never write a book which I know to be careless'." So, the question is, if this was so unpopular with critics then (and with me now) how did it ever become a trope? Sigh... sometimes I will never understand books.

Yet the nail in the coffin for this book is the fact that everything hinges on obscure British law... didn't I say I hate this? Didn't Dorothy get my memo I sent back with The Doctor? So what that the Law of Property Act of 1925 changed certain inheritances? I DON'T CARE! Yes, it's interesting, mildly, that some law passed by the government would spur a murderer to act, but... really, is it really that interesting? No! But then again, apparently I'm just having many issues with Dorothy L. Sayers that will never be resolved. Why have stupid quotes from books that no one has ever or will ever read at the beginning of each chapter? They don't even relate to the subject material at all! Also, writing it as three parts? Was this supposed to be that "epic" of a story that parts were needed? Still, there's a little bit of irony I love. Lord Peter says, "it isn't really difficult to write books. Especially if you either write a rotten story in good English or a good story in rotten English, which is as far as most people seem to get nowadays." The thing is, Dorothy L. Sayers... neither can be said of you. It's a rotten story in rotten English, I guess it is more difficult to write books then you thing. Well, I guess that's pretty obvious by now.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review - Dorothy L. Sayers's Clouds of Witness

Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey Book 2) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published by: Harper Torch
Publication Date: 1926
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lord Peter is taking some time off in Corsica. He has been incommunicado for some time. Therefore it is quite a surprise to him on arriving in Paris to find his older brother's name splashed across the front of the papers. Gerald has been arrested for murder! For once Lord Peter can show Gerald that his "lurid hobby" might be of some use to the family. Rushing back to England Lord Peter is fighting against the passing of time and the fact that the inquest has already happened. The family was in Riddlesdale, Yorkshire, where Gerald had rented out a lodge for hunting. Peter and Gerald's younger sister Mary was playing hostess and her fiance, Denis Cathcart was the victim of foul play.

Yet the motive for Gerald killing Cathcart is absurdly flimsy. Supposedly Gerald found out about Cathcart being a cardsharp and told him to leave. Why this should result in murder makes no sense. But Gerald is being obdurate. He will not tell where he was or what he was doing that night. The fact that Mary is also lying soon becomes obvious. With his own family obfuscating the truth, Lord Peter takes many a wrong turn, some into very boggy situations, before he heroically saves the day.

Me and Lord Peter have come to a bit of an understanding with this latest volume. Firstly, I didn't at any time want to hurl it across the room and I would only grumble about the stupid title every hour or so, not constantly. Clouds of Witness is one of those awkwardly titled books, I keep wanting to say "Clouds of Whiteness"... because, clouds, generally speaking, are white. If the title actually was the line used in the book "cloud of witnesses" that might have worked better, but still, awkward and will forever be a title I mangle. Back to me not hating Peter so much. Sure, most of the problems of the previous volume still proliferated, but the crime itself was far more interesting. In fact, I might have said I actually liked this book if the end of it hadn't gotten so bogged down in Gerald's trial that I was lost in a morass of legalese of outmoded British laws. If there is only one thing British I could be said to hate it's outmoded British courtroom dramas, this being the second worse perpetrator, P.D. James being the queen with Death Comes to Pemberley.

What I don't get is Sayers's weird way of setting up the crime in this case. It is odd that we arrive with Peter after the crime is committed. Almost as if we where the police brought in after some time to get to the bottom of things. Usually when you have a traditional country house murder that is very familial you're there every step of the way. Here it's a very different and novel approach. I personally was left a little cold by it. By not being on the ground and in the trenches as it happened, I was unable to get a connection to these other characters. They were literally just people I read about not cared about, which is the difference between a so-so book and a great book. Also, if she was going to take this tack of following Peter, why does Sayers let Peter wander off and leave is in the dark? She contradicts herself by changing her narrative style, especially at the end when Peter dramatically enters the House of Lords and lays out the case. If she had stayed true to the earlier half of the book we could have followed Peter and then curtailed the drawn out court case... just saying...

My big complaint of the previous volume was that you can't really tell one character from another, them all having, basically, the same voice. She seemed to have gotten this criticism at the time as well because she laboriously tries to make the Yorkshire natives "real" with a weird dialect that doesn't really work. I mean, yes, it's kind of funny because it's Jeeves and Wooster meets Wuthering Heights... but it just came across as not quite right and just another thing slightly wrong that made the book less whole. I also think I understand why Lord Peter annoys me. The way he's written he talks like he's speaking gibberish, like a 1920s version of Doctor Who. Sure it can be funny, and far more enjoyable if you picture Matt Smith as Lord Peter, but in the end, it's tiring trying to pick out the important bits of information from his verbal diarrhea. A forty minute show is one thing, and 300 page novel is another. Once again I shall lament the need for editors and move onto another book... hopefully this one without an author who assumes the reader is fluent in French... a common misconception of writers at the time... damn you Sayers and Mitford!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Girl with the Iron Touch by Kady Cross
Published by: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 28th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In 1897 London, something not quite human is about to awaken.

When mechanical genius Emily is kidnapped by rogue automatons, Finley Jayne and her fellow misfits fear the worst. What's left of their archenemy, The Machinist, hungers to be resurrected, and Emily must transplant his consciousness into one of his automatons-or forfeit her friends' lives.

With Griffin being mysteriously tormented by the Aether, the young duke's sanity is close to the breaking point. Seeking help, Finley turns to Jack Dandy, but trusting the master criminal is as dangerous as controlling her dark side. When Jack kisses her, Finley must finally confront her true feelings for him...and for Griffin.

Meanwhile, Sam is searching everywhere for Emily, from Whitechapel's desolate alleyways to Mayfair's elegant mansions. He would walk into hell for her, but the choice she must make will test them more than they could imagine.

To save those she cares about, Emily must confront The Machinist's ultimate creation-an automaton more human than machine. And if she's to have any chance of triumph, she must summon a strength even she doesn't know she has....

How can I protect the ones I love when it means helping our greatest enemy?"

Steampunk yeah!

Tempest Reborn by Nicole Peeler
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: May 28th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Anyan may be trapped in an evil dragon and Blondie may be gone, but Jane knows one thing: she's not about to give up. She's ready to tear down heaven and earth to save her lover, despite those who believe he's lost.

Luckily for Jane, those who've given up on Anyan do not include those closest to her. Defying The Powers That Be, Jane and Company form their own crack squad of misfits, in whose hands the fate of the world may well rest.

With a little help from her friends, the Universe, and lots of snacks, Jane embarks on her greatest adventure yet, confident that with great sacrifice comes great reward. The question is, who will be that sacrifice?"

A new Jane True.

The Pirate's Coin by Marianne Malone
Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 28th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of magic, mystery, and adventure will love the third The Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure—a perfect next step for kids who love the Magic Tree House series, and just right for readers who love Chasing Vermeer, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Wonderstruck. Sixth Graders Ruthie and Jack return to the Art Institute of Chicago's magical Thorne Rooms. During a school presentation, Ruthie and Jack discover that their classmate Kendra is descended from Phoebe Monroe, the young slave they befriended when they traveled to 19th-century South Carolina. Kendra tells them that long ago her family lost their good name and their business selling herbal remedies when mobsters accused them of stealing the recipes! Only Ruthie and Jack know the truth--because only they know about the secret ledger that Phoebe wrote the recipes in long ago! Ruthie and Jack's mission to clear Kendra's name takes them back to the Thorne Rooms, where a mysterious old coin leads them to 1753 Cape Cod and to Jack's own ancestor . . . the pirate Jack Norfleet! But playing with history can be dangerous! Suddenly, Jack's very existence is in jeopardy! Can Ruthie and Jack find the proof they need to help Kendra? And can they fix the past and save Jack's future . . . before it's too late?"

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Thorne Miniature Rooms in Chicago? And have I mentioned lately how cool I think it is that there's a series set in them? No? Well, now I've mentioned it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review - Dorothy L. Sayers's Whose Body?

Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Book 1) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published by: Harper Torch
Publication Date: 1923
Format: Paperback, 212 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant Bunter are very lucky in their lifestyle, in that they get to indulge their passions. For Lord Peter, this is rare Folios and amateur sleuthing, for Bunter, this is photography, which can be very helpful in amateur sleuthing. When Lord Peter hears about a body mysteriously appearing in the bathroom of the architect Thipps, his curiosity is peeked. He is even willing to miss a rare book auction to get there before the police cordon makes it impossible. Lord Peter sees many things amiss, but can't quite put his finger on anything in particular, aside from the fact that the police have got it all wrong.

While at the same time, Inspector Parker, a friend of Lord Peter's, is investigating the disappearance of Sir Reuben Levy. At first the cops jump to the conclusion that the body in the tub must be a shorn Levy... but aside from their both being Jewish and of a similar appearance, this is obviously not the case. Yet... could the two be somehow connected. Inspector Parker with Lord Peter and Bunter are determined to get to the bottom of this, even if it puts them in personal peril. At least if they have to hole up at Lord Peter's there is plenty to read and drink.

Please don't attack me for not liking this book. Send me no death threats or piercing glances. No flamethrowers in the darkness to wake me from a deep sleep. I know it verges on sacrilege to say I didn't like this book, but... I just didn't like this book. I will use as my "get out of jail free" card the fact that many people have told me to just skip to Strong Poison and the arrival of Harriet Vane or to just skip ahead to Gaudy Night, which is the best by far. So, my thought is, that what they're really saying, instead of emphasising the awesomeness of Harriet Vane, they're pointing out the flaws in the earlier books and are trying to get me to skip ahead so I won't abandon Lord Peter before he meets his match. That's how I'm justifying it, ok?

The overwhelming problem with Whose Body is that Dorothy L. Sayers can't write. I mean, literally, this book verged on the incomprehensible. Shall I sweep this under the rug as the foibles of a first time writer? Or shall I ripe her to shreds? Shreds it is. Whose Body almost reads like some bizarre exercise to get as many styles of writing into one book. First, there's the standard third-person narration, which isn't well executed, but, at least it's expected. Then she throws in some straight up back and forth dialogue, which, I'm cool with, Lisa Lutz does it all the time, so, that's fine, and also, for the 1920s, pretty novel. Sayers occasionally verges into epistolary form, which again, I'm down with that. Her haphazard and incomprehensible annotations are more then a little odd. I really don't know why she does them, they don't further the plot or even make sense.

Where the book really started to fall apart is when she randomly, I mean seriously, why did she just do this for a few random pages, went into second-person narration. Second-person narration never really works for me, and here it just comes out of left field. Was I supposed to feel like I was there at the graveside exhumation? Because the narrative shift just made me think I was reading some bizarre experiment by a bad writer and instantly pulled me out of the book. Finally, the meta. While meta is a concept that has taken on in recent years with it's self referential attitude, it's not really a new thing. Agatha Christie would sometimes have Poirot joke about how "real life" isn't like a "detective story" and the reader would laugh thinking, little did Poirot know, he's fictional. Sayers takes this further and is having Lord Peter always joke about detective stories and Sherlock Holmes and Raffles. Ok, cute a few times, but you've beat it to death. Stop. Just stop. Nothing you can do, even making me laugh (which I didn't), redeems the slipshod writing and amateurish style.

So how about the characters? They are so flat and similar that I couldn't tell who was speaking till a "what" tagged onto the end of a sentence made me go, oh, Lord Peter must have been talking. Peter and Parker, their mode of speaking and the habit of Sayers to not qualify the speaker makes Whose Body a muddled mess. Then there's the fact that Lord Peter and Bunter are really just bad shades of Jeeves and Wooster with crime solving inclinations. Which wasn't helped by my recently watching the new show Blandings (horrid first episode, gets radically better), because I kept picturing Jack Farthing as The Hon. Frederick Threepwood with his bland acting, over the top facial expressions and fly away hair as Lord Peter. Why you might say? Because Freddie has the "what" disease, that seems to plague the upper crust in order to get a laugh. While Wodehouse did this humorously, as I've said, I think Sayers just did it, not as a character trait, but as an afterthought... some way to make Peter not Parker. The one aspect of Lord Peter that did interest me was his PTSD. I've railed against this before in literature, but it's interesting to see it in literature of the time, before it was diagnosed to death and had "stereotypical symptoms." This shell shock could prove to be interesting.

Now, I will say, one thing that I did find interesting. Yes, there really was only one, because I figured out the killer damn early and was offended by the antisemitism. There are many groan worthy lines, but one was so obviously, "Look Here! KILLER!" that it made me audibly groan. Ok, enough of the being mean, here's what I liked. I liked that Lord Peter is so obviously not Poirot. That needs some explanation. So, with The Murder on the Links, Poirot is always railing against the modern methods, the fingerprints and footprints and what have you, while Lord Peter and Bunter are openly embracing them. In fact, Bunter is often updating to the latest gadgets just because he can. While endlessly reading about forensics might get boring after awhile, I find it interesting that Sayers, writing at the same time as Christie, decided to take such a radically different approach. Good on you Sayers, but I'm still hugely grateful this wasn't chosen as my bookclub's selection, I don't think they would have ever forgiven me for how bad it is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was a singular and unique character, whose singular and unique creation, Lord Peter Wimsey, has not only been awarded a place in the pantheon of great fictional crime solvers, but has also secured a place in the heart of many a romantic for his wooing of his lady love, Harriet Vane. Sayers led an interesting life that tended to buck convention. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree from Oxford University and she even had an illigetimate child she passed off as her nephew, all in the roaring twenties.

Her passion was always for writing, whether poetry or even copy for an advertising firm, which later inspired Murder Must Advertise. She is credited with creating the saying "It pays to advertise!" What is interesting about her writing is that while she wrote in many different mediums and genres, including Christian writing like her Inkling friend C.S. Lewis, she actually never wrote any other fiction on her own aside from Lord Peter Wimsey stories... this focusing solely on Lord Peter never hurt her and has made her one of the Grand Dames of the Golden Age of Mysteries.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Storm Front by Richard Castle
Published by: Hyperion
Publication Date: May 21st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There's a storm front coming!

Four years after he was presumed dead, Derrick Storm--the man who made Richard Castle a perennial bestseller--is back in this rip-roaring, full-length thriller.

From Tokyo, to London, to Johannesburg, high-level bankers are being gruesomely tortured and murdered. The killer, caught in a fleeting glimpse on a surveillance camera, has been described as a psychopath with an eye patch. And that means Gregor Volkov, Derrick Storm's old nemesis, has returned. Desperate to figure out who Volkov is working for and why, the CIA calls on the one man who can match Volkov's strength and cunning--Derrick Storm.

With the help of a beautiful and mysterious foreign agent--with whom Storm is becoming romantically and professionally entangled--he discovers that Volkov's treachery has embroiled a wealthy hedge-fund manager and a U.S. senator. In a heated race against time, Storm chases Volkov's shadow from Paris, to the lair of a computer genius in Iowa, to the streets of Manhattan, then through a bullet-riddled car chase on the New Jersey Turnpike. In the process, Storm uncovers a plot that could destroy the global economy--unleashing untold chaos--which only he can stop."

Derek Storm is ALIVE!?! I wonder how they will work this into Castle...

The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: May 21st, 2013
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The service of Britannia is not for the faint of heart--or conscience...

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime in service to Queen Victrix, has a mission: to find the doctor who has created a powerful new weapon. Her friend, the mentath Archibald Clare, is only too happy to help. It will distract him from pursuing his nemesis, and besides, Clare is not as young as he used to be. A spot of Miss Bannon's excellent hospitality and her diverting company may be just what he needs.

Unfortunately, their quarry is a fanatic, and his poisonous discovery is just as dangerous to Britannia as to Her enemies. Now a single man has set Londinium ablaze, and Clare finds himself in the middle of distressing excitement, racing against time and theory to find a cure. Miss Bannon, of course, has troubles of her own, for the Queen's Consort Alberich is ill, and Her Majesty unhappy with Bannon's loyal service. And there is still no reliable way to find a hansom when one needs it most...

The game is afoot. And the Red Plague rises.

The fantastic follow-up to The Iron Wyrm Affair, set in an alternate Victorian world where magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head."

Steampunk yeah!

How to Negotiate Everything by David Spellman (Lisa Lutz)Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 21st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 32 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There’ll be no more hearing “no” after this clever picture book teaches you how to get everything you want.

Have you ever wanted something and been told “No”? Then this is the book for you. Through several simple steps, you will learn the best way to ask for what you want, how to ask for more of what you want, and the importance of not overreaching. With helpful illustrations and a complete glossary, there is no end to what these skills can get you.

Straight out of the pages of the New York Times bestselling Trail of the Spellmans, authors David Spellman and Lisa Lutz and illustrator Jaime Temairik show you that it is possible to negotiate for everything. Even an elephant!"

I love books in books! Meta yeah! Also, I can't wait to read how David fully messed up Rae with learning exactly what he taught her.

A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems
Published by: Hyperion Book CH
Publication Date: May 21st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 64 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.

Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.

Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

In A Big Guy Took My Ball! Piggie is devastated when a big guy takes her ball! Gerald is big, too...but is he big enough to help his best friend?"

If you don't adore Elephant and Piggie, I really don't think I can talk to you ever again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review - Agatha Christie's Poirot Investigates

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
Published by: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 1924
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

While Poirot takes on cases that are immense in scope, occasionally he takes on those smaller, but still significant cases, sometimes with the fate of the world in the balance, that can be solved very quickly, comme ca. From jewel heists to mysterious deaths, people in disguises to Egyptian curses, disappearances, both staged and unfortunate, to a will most cunningly hidden, Poirot has a host of clients, thankfully none of them with missing dogs. Poirot's genius succeeds at every turn and the police and Hastings are baffled that his little grey cells are able to make such leaps of intuition, in more than one case, without even leaving his bed. Because all you need is your little grey cells, everything else is just fodder.

Recently I read an article about Terry Pratchett and his distaste for modern storytelling, in particular Doctor Who. In the interview he said "On planet Earth it's generally taken for granted that it's a bad thing to introduce into a narrative some last-minute solution that was totally unexpected and unheralded ... The unexpected, unadvertised solution which kisses it all better is known as a deus ex machina – literally, a god from the machine. And a god from the machine is what the Doctor now is. A decent detective story provides you with enough tantalising information to allow you to make a stab at a solution before the famous detective struts his stuff in the library. Doctor Who replaces this with speed, fast talking, and what appears to be that wonderful element 'makeitupasyougalongeum'."

This is exactly my problem when you take a Poirot story and make it short. I have always had reservations about short stories. They can be shallow and way too short. With the case of Poirot, you don't get the joy of following him every step of the way so that it's conceivable that you could solve it, instead you get his, and here's how it happened, with Poirot as God. We aren't given "enough tantalising information!" Also, while I was familiar with a lot of these stories from the TV series, I can see why they had to expand and pad them out, they were making them what Christie should have made them in the first place, fully formed stories without "unexpected and unheralded" endings. Instead, we are left with Hastings scratching out heads. And if I've said it once I'll say it a thousand times, I do not want any comparison between me and Hastings, thank you very much.

Speaking of Hastings... he seems really a little hard on Poirot in his narration. Always commenting on how Poirot is full of himself, a little man with a big ego and unjustifiably vain in his abilities. I'm sorry Hastings, but seeing as he can solve cases without leaving his house and is able to get a result every time, that isn't unjustifiably vain, it's justifiably vain. That lovely little Belgian has every right to toot his own horn, and you even are going "How does he do it?" and marvelling at his little grey cells. You can't praise him to his face and then grumble about his genius too! You can't have it both ways the way you are written. Either you think he's vain or he's a justifiably vain genius, you aren't written to begrudgingly talk about his genius. You are astounded so much that your carping on makes you sound like a bitter little man not accepting of his friends personality quirks but still riding his coattails. Another reason not to like Hastings. The Argentine can't come soon enough for you matey.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review - Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Links

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Published by: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 1923
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Poirot is lamenting the lack of any interesting cases. He doesn't know what he will do if he is asked to find yet another missing dog for some Dame or doyenne. Then he receives a letter from a Monsieur Paul Renauld. This lights up his face and gets his little grey cells going. Poirot is to set out at once for Merlinville-sur-Mer in France because Monsieur Renauld fears for his life daily. A fear that was justified. When Poirot and Hastings arrive in France, Monsieur Renauld is dead. His body was found next to an open grave on a golf course abutting his property, while his wife was restrained in their bedroom. When she is well enough, she tells the story of two heavily bearded men who wreaked this tragedy on her family. And yet... while everything seems open and shut, Poirot doesn't agree. He soon sets his little grey cells to work and finds many suspects and echos of the crime in the past. Soon another body is discovered and Poirot has two murders to solve, and solve them he will. Poirot must prove that old fashioned crime fighting can beat modern forensics any day.

Firstly I must say I breathed a true sigh of relief when I got immersed in the book and realized that there would be nothing about golf in it. Now you might find it strange that this was my first thought going into the book, but with a title like The Murder on the Links, I was picturing people being clubbed to death round the third hole... or close to that as makes no difference. I don't doubt Agatha Christie and Poirot's ability to make golf even mildly interesting to me, it's just if I don't have to deal with it all the better. I can not fathom why people like to watch golf, playing, maybe I get it a little, mini-golf, I totally get that, but watching it... no thank you, it's like some really boring activity that maybe is zen like to some people but to me is a snooze fest. Whereas a dead body just found on a golf course next to an empty grave? Sign me up!

Now I've reached the part of the review where I rant about Hastings, you had to know it was coming. While I can see why Poirot keeps Hastings around, it is the true Watson/Holmes dynamic after all, there are times I just want to smack Hastings. I think I'm coming around a bit to my mother's Hastings hate. He's just such a blithering idiot. Poirot needs to spell out every little thing for him. I'm sorry, but if Hastings is there as a conduit for the reader, can I upgrade the conduit, to say, Mrs. Oliver? And speaking of Mrs. Oliver, I find it interesting that in actuality, she is in as many books as Hastings is. She appeared in six Poirot novels, and two other novels as well, whereas, Hastings is in eight novels, but because of the collections of short stories, Hastings appears to be more prolific in the life of Poirot then he really is. Also, I really can not in my head separate him from the actor who plays Hastings, Hugh Fraser. Now I'm sure he's a fine actor, I just would have preferred a more likable buffoon, like Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster. So instead of having Hugh Laurie read to me in my head, I have Hugh Fraser. Plus, he was too old for Hastings. He's mentioned as being 35 in the first book, and Hugh was a good ten years older when Poirot started.

Ok, enough on my Hastings rant... hmm, if they were to excise him from the show I think Stephen Mangan would be perfect... no really, I'm done with this now. Here's what I love about the Hastings/Poirot dynamic. Poirot is always chiding Hastings for his melodramatic and overly romantic notions, saying at times Hastings' ideas would make wonderful movies, but this is real life. Yet, deep down, Poirot is a romantic. Hastings and Poirot are really kindred spirits, with vastly different IQs. Poirot more then once plays the matchmaker and gets a little gleam in his eye. But then again, those who believe in the fine art of deduction have to be romantics in some way. To choose the path of deduction verses cold hard evidence... ah, a beating heart must be there with the little grey cells.

But what really drove the plot for me was the antagonism between Poirot and Monsieur Giraud of the Paris Sûreté. Poirot had earlier been deriding Hastings on these "new" police methods of cigarette butts and tiny bits of dirt and stray hairs, and of course, the fingerprints! Poirot believed, and rightfully as is always the case with Poirot, that these new detection methods that have the police scrambling around in the dirt for hours for a stray hair have turned the noble art of detection into being nothing more then a foxhound. Also, the evidence can easily be planted or faked. Poirot insists that a true detective needs nothing more then their little grey cells! As you would expect, Poirot is vindicated in his opinions. What's interesting is that I think this struggle between Poirot and Giraud shows why people love the Golden Age of Detection. It's about motive and profiling and thought processes. Solving crime was romantic. It wasn't about watching some hot lab tech run a DNA test like on any of the various CSI shows. You needed little grey cells, not computer equipment. While it could said the Girauds of the world have won, it's the Poirots of the world we love and venerate. Though if someone did a David Caruso CSI: Miami meme with David Suchet in character as Poirot, I think I might be the happiest person in the world.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 14th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he urged them to make good art.

The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech."

If anything, this book proves that WHATEVER Neil Gaiman says is now gospel and therefore will be published... not saying I concur... but getting Chip Kidd to design the book does sway one.

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
Published by: Hyperion
Publication Date: May 14th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter: "Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?

Rachel Hawkins' delightful spin-off brings the same wit and charm as the New York Times best-selling Hex Hall series. Get ready for more magic, mystery and romance!"

Spin off series! YEAH!

His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: May 21st, 2013
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, whip-smart heroine Maggie Hope returns to embark on a clandestine mission behind enemy lines where no one can be trusted, and even the smallest indiscretion can be deadly.

World War II has finally come home to Britain, but it takes more than nightly air raids to rattle intrepid spy and expert code breaker Maggie Hope. After serving as a secret agent to protect Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, Maggie is now an elite member of the Special Operations Executive—a black ops organization designed to aid the British effort abroad—and her first assignment sends her straight into Nazi-controlled Berlin, the very heart of the German war machine. Relying on her quick wit and keen instincts, Maggie infiltrates the highest level of Berlin society, gathering information to pass on to London headquarters. But the secrets she unveils will expose a darker, more dangerous side of the war—and of her own past."

I've been eying this series for awhile... similar to other books I love and gorgeous covers... think I might have to check it out. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Review - Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Published by: UK General Books
Publication Date: 1922
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

When Tommy and Tuppence run into each other outside a tube station it's fate. They've been friends forever but have fallen out of touch since they last saw each other when Tommy was sent home from the front to hospital and Tuppence was the nurse sneaking him out to late night picture shows. Since the end of the war they've both fallen on hard times financially. Tuppence only thinks about money morning, noon, and night, as does Tommy. While nibbling away at a rather meagre tea Tuppence decides that they should do something about this destitute situation they are in immediately and form a joint venture, she likes the sound of that: "Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused."

As luck would have it, after leaving Tommy a man called Whittington follows Tuppence out of the restaurant and asks for her help, if she would just come to his office tomorrow. The next day she arrives and things seem to be going smoothly enough until she gives the false name of Jane Finn as her own. Whittington explodes and tells Tuppence to leave after paying her rather handsomely. Meeting with Tommy they decide that maybe accidentally blackmailing people is the way to get some money, yet they itch to know why Whittington reacted so strongly to the name of Jane Finn. They place an ad in the local paper and the next day they have two replies, one from a man within the government going by the name of Mr. Carter, who wishes to hire them off the books, and another from an American, Julius Hersheimmer, a millionaire who is looking for his cousin Jane Finn, who disappeared after surviving the sinking of the Lusitania.

What becomes clear from these meetings is that there is an elaborate plot afoot and finding Jane Finn is the biggest priority, not only of Tommy and Tuppence, but Julius Hersheimmer, and a mysterious Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown is the real danger. No one knows who he really is or what he really looks like. He is the controller of a vast network of thugs and spies and he will not allow Tommy and Tuppence to get in his way, but perhaps he can use them for his own means. 

The Secret Adversary is the first book staring Agatha Christie's famed crime fighting duo, Tommy and Tuppence.  A few years back I was thinking of watching the series that ran in the 80s, Partner's in Crime, staring the always fabulous Francesca Annis, but I had the misfortune of watching the deathly flat production of Why Didn't They Ask Evans, which had the same cast, first. After that waste of a long evening I decided to shelve my plans of watching anything further with these stars. While I'm now thinking I might go and try the series, what it did give me was a rare experience. I had an Agatha Christie novel that I knew nothing about! Most books and stories have been adapted somehow and in someway in recent years to be part of Marple if they weren't already part of Poirot. So the only real experience I had of Tommy and Tuppence was the odd mash up they did of By the Pricking of My Thumb. So I had a miraculously clean slate on this one.

Oh, and how I loved how alive and vibrant Tommy and Tuppence are. They just jumped off the page radiating the energy and the witty banter that films like His Girl Friday are known for. It reminded me, more then a little, of the wonderful series by J.J. Murphy with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley as a crime fighting duo, that is how quick and funny and rabid fire the dialogue was with our hero and heroine. Tuppence is a little English Dorothy Parker through and through. I'm sure Dorothy would have taken the money if she was unexpectedly blackmailing someone. The supporting characters didn't lack anything either, all the evil henchmen are nice and evil, while Julius Hersheimmer radiated "American." There's a broadness to the way Americans are depicted that can be a bit grating for us Americans who don't all have endless pocket books and a gun next to the cash, but Christie was still able to make Julius feel real, despite embodying this stereotype. The one flaw was that, after the amazing first chapter, Tommy and Tuppence are separated in their investigations, whether from expedience or fowl play, when they aren't with each other the book becomes a bit limp. Tommy and Tuppence are like a circuit, they need the other to spark.

Then I come to the newness of Christie as a writer. As I said before, she obviously doesn't have the fluidity that she would later develop, but here there was a marked improvement over The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Here the problem wasn't so much the particulars of writing but the style of the convoluted plot. Now, I could be doing a disservice to Christie, and the convoluted nature of the plot could be more a device, a red herring thrown out so that we don't suss out too early who the bad guy really is. Yet, there's a point when you realize that Christie had some demented need to not just throw everything into this novel, but everything and the kitchen sink, that makes you want to shake her and ask for restraint. There are abductions... three of them, false identities, amnesia, government conspiracies with missing documents and the looming threat of Communism. Um... just one of those would have been good, or at least, not that many abductions... with all these plot devices, the book veers a bit out of the cozy murder mystery genre and heads closer to espionage and a pre Cold War thriller. While I do enjoy that kind of story, overall, big government conspiracies and the fate of nations leaves me a little cold. I like my murder a little warmer, a little cosier, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review - Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Published by: UK General Books
Publication Date: 1920
Format: Hardcover, 296 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Arthur Hastings has been invalided out from the war. Running into his old friend John Cavendish, he's invited to stay at the family estate Styles, in Essex, where Hastings lands in the middle of a family crisis. Styles is packed with people. John and his wife are in residence, as is John's younger brother, Lawrence. Yet the real trouble lies with John and Lawrence's step-mother. She was a wonderful mother to them but has recently re-married an odd younger man who was her secretary, a Mr. Alfred Inglethorp. Evelyn Howard, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp's friend, who has long lived at Styles, as well as Emily's ward, Cynthia Murdoch, is so upset, that Evelyn leaves quite volubly on Hastings arrival. Though the situation is about to get much worse. Emily is found dead one night. All the doors to her room were locked and, despite the local doctors insisting that her heart just gave out, it turns out to be murder.

With everyone acting suspicious, and a new husband to point the finger at, things get more complicated as multiple wills arise. Hastings wants to help but is at a bit of a lose. Then felicitously, Hasting runs into Hercule Poirot. Hastings knew Poirot back in Belgium when Poirot was a detective of great renown. Poirot has been displaced by the war and placed in Essex. Hastings doesn't take long to ask his old friend for help. With Poirot on the case, soon all the suspects will be rounded up and he will point the finger at the murderer. Because that is what Poirot is best at.

Now this may come as a surprise, but until now I've never read an Agatha Christie novel with Poirot. When I was younger I'd watched the BBC adaptations on Mystery and my friend Sarah used to devour the books at a prodigious rate, I remember her actually picking up an omnibus edition when we were on vacation in LA and I think she had finished it before we arrived home. But for some reason I never felt compelled to pick one up myself. In fact, I haven't actually read that many books by Agatha Christie, I know, for shame. I finally picked up The Body in the Library years ago when there was an outcry that the new Marple adaptation had changed the ending, and I was therefore intrigued to see how they had changed it. I was immediately struck by the ease and apparent simplicity of her writing. Her straight forward prose was able to hide wonderful twists and turns. I have since read a few more of her non-series books, Sparkling Cyanide and Endless Night, but still I hesitated on picking up Poirot.

Thanks to the re-release of the early seasons of Poirot on Blu-Ray, finally in the correct order I might add, I have been re-watching all the old episodes and loving every minute of David Suchet. The episode that I loved far and away more then any other was "The Mysterious Affair at Styles." The "origin story" of Poirot, if you will. What I loved more then anything else was a fussy Poirot trying to get his fellow Belgian exiles in line with his ideas of dress and deportment. Watching Poirot herd mini Poirot wannabes was beyond entertaining to me. Therefore, my desire to finally read Poirot and more Agatha Christie helped inspire this whole "Golden Summer."

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Agatha Christie's first book, and sadly it shows. The books by Christie I had previously read were written 22 years after this book and her ease of writing and narrative flow are sadly a little choppy here. The fact that I have never been a huge Hastings fan and that he narrates this story doesn't help that much. Of course, my "meh" attitude is nothing to my mother's loathing of Hastings, which resulted in me not seeing a lot of the early episodes on TV because of her refusal to watch any episode with him in. I kid you not when I say I have a list of "approved" Poirot watching just for my mom, with the Hastings episodes excised. Though reading this book, I have to say, the show was a little generous to Hastings... he's a little more annoying and a lot more stupid then I have been led to believe. Which makes me wonder... all the books can't be from Hastings POV, can they? I mean he eventually goes off to the Argentine and enter people I really like, like Mrs. Oliver.

Yet, Hastings being even more of an idiot was nothing to the marvel of Poirot. Poirot was perfect from his first line. I remember watching the Agatha Christie Biopic Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures staring Olivia Williams and Anna Massey and how Poirot just "came to her" while working in the World War I dispensary. I wonder if this isn't more truth then fiction, because, there he is, on the page, fully formed first time out. It's rare for an author to have the full and perfect embodiment of their most famous character right away, yet she did it. Poirot was a perfect, fussy, enigmatic detective from day one. It's no wonder he became one of her most popular creations going on to be in 33 novels, 50 short stories and one play. Oh Poirot, I love you, I promise to read all your books and I look forward to the final season of your show with joy and sorrow, I never want it to end.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review - Charlaine Harris's Dead Ever After

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

By saving Sam, Sookie has forced Eric's hand. He will go with the Queen of Oklahoma. Sookie didn't realize that this is what would happen. She just knew that seeing Sam dead she had to save him. This is Sam! Now Eric is all off being his aloof self and all Sookie wants is to talk everything through with him to see where they stand. It doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon. So Sookie goes back to her life. She works at Merlotte's, though Sam is being very odd since he "came back." Then one day the last person in the world she would have expected walks through the door. Arlene shows up. Arlene who has been in prison awaiting trial because of the whole trying to kill Sookie with the aim of crucifying her on a nice big wooden cross to make a point about what happens to those who sleep with vampires. Well, Arlene wants her job back, or at least she has been told to ask for her job back very publicly. Sookie flat out refuses her and then Arlene shows up dead. Sookie soon is the prime suspect, not because of any real evidence, but because someone wants her to suffer. All Sookie's friends and family gather round to help her clear her name. All Sookie wants is freedom and a simple life. Enough is enough.

We have come to the end of the Southern Vampires books, and some of you, myself included will be saying about time. Yet there's something poetic about ending a supernatural series on the thirteenth book, sadly a lot of the overly long series have overshot this by quite a ways. While the series has definitely had it's ups and downs, I have to say I enjoyed the ride and now I really don't know what book will fill that end of semester/start of summer gap at the beginning of May. That is why I picked up Dead Until Dark ten years ago. It was 2003 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had ended and I had no supernatural outlet. The third book in the series, Club Dead had come out, and this was still when they were released in paperback, so Charlaine wasn't a household name. To try to drum up readers Charlaine's publishers put an ad in the Buffy magazine, and, well, I was an easy sell.

I remember being on a road trip to Pennsylvania, ironically for a Buffy convention, and I actually longed for each night when I could crawl into bed to pick up my book. I would read it any chance I got, even curled up on my friend's floor on my uncomfortable air mattress. I didn't want the book to end, but when it did and as I was home again I went straight out to Barnes and Noble and bought the next two in the series. Since then, every year, round about May I've gotten to hang out with Sookie, and she has become a bit of a friend... one who I believe deserved her happily ever after.

A few weeks before Dead Ever After came out the ending was apparently leaked by some fan in Germany. Much like the Doctor Who leak of more recent history, this caused a furor online. The reason, because the Eric fanbase didn't like that Sookie ended up with Sam. You know what I have to say to that? Suck it haters, I loved the ending. I have been rooting for Sookie and Sam since DAY ONE! Bill was always blah, Eric, well, he's too much the sexy undead vampire viking, and while yes, very sexy, especially as played by Alexander Skarsgård on True Blood (his apparently leaving the show is hurting Eric fans as well right now), well, you don't get a nice happily ever after with an vampire do you? Yes, I'm looking at you Twilight! That's not how things work, even in a made up land with fairies. Sookie got what she deserved and needed. She lived a sheltered half-life before the supes, the supes made her come out of her shell and become herself. The scene in the courthouse shows how far she's come. Real people love her and support her. Sookie is no longer a freak of nature, but just one of the many supernatural and magical things that exist in the ever expanding world Charlaine has built. Her time with the supes has taught her to control her "gift" and given her love and happiness... sure death and destruction too... but Eric's final gift of protection means that she now has a valid chance at her happy ending.

And you know what? Sookie just hanging around her house, doing laundry and cooking... well, there's something a little magical in that to me. I know I might sound a little crazy... but I admire the simple life that Sookie has tried to hang onto despite all that has happened. I'm glad she gets this life, I'd kind of like that life, supes aside. Because, let's face it, the vampire politics can get a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Dead Ever After was almost bereft of vampire politics, with Eric and his new Queen's machinations going on behind the scenes. Instead we get human threats. Though the glimpse of "the" Devil and his creating soullessness was really intriguing to me, I was happy that we stuck to the more human threat. Also by seeing some of the action through the eyes of these evil men, well... it gave a greater sense of peril then some of the other books. Sure, there was more then just humans behind it in the end... but it showed that we don't need something supernatural to show the evilness of man. That actually goes back to the first book. The Big Bad was human. So I guess we've come full circle. Sookie may have changed, but she has changed for the better. Though I can't wait to read the little "what happened next" book that is slated for this fall. Sure it might be more like the Sookie Companion... but I still need to know!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

There are secrets in the town of Bon Temps, ones that threaten those closest to Sookie—and could destroy her heart....

Sookie Stackhouse finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance…and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.

Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.

But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough…"

Oh, I have been waiting so long for the end of this series! Not that I haven't enjoyed the ride, but I think it's time for Sookie to get her happily ever after (one hopes... and one hopes with Sam!)

Alpha and Omega Cry Wolf: Volume Two by Patricia Briggs
Published by: InkLit
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 120 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A world of shapeshifting wolves comes vividly to life in this collection of four comics based on Cry Wolf, the first book in Patricia Briggs’s #1 New York Times bestselling Alpha and Omega series.

Charles and Anna are on the hunt for a rogue werewolf in the Montana mountains. The creature has morphed into something so dark that it kills everything in its path: deer, elk, grizzlies…humans.

But the wolf is the creature of something far more powerful. One of Charles and Anna’s own pack harbors a centuries-old secret that has come back to haunt him—and wreak vengeance on those around him.

Charles and Anna—unaware of the truth—are two innocents who stand in the way. But even as members of their pack rally around them, Anna’s rare power comes into its own—and is unleashed…"

While Cry Wolf might be one of my favorite of Patricia Briggs's books, I have to say, I was really unimpressed with the first volume... so, not sure if this will redeem it.

Murder is a Fine Art by David Morrell
Published by: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten."

Oh, this just sounds too too fun, can't wait! And, ok, I admit, my idea of fun might be a little weird to some...

Silent Voices by Ann Cleaves
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ann Cleeves has thrilled readers everywhere with her critically acclaimed mystery series set in the Shetland Islands, which began with the award-winning Raven Black. Now, Cleeves is back with another compelling mystery series (set in Northumberland, England). This one features detective Vera Stanhope, the lead character played by Brenda Blethyn on the hit television series “Vera.” Destined for the same kind of fame achieved by Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, the show is a favorite of millions of viewers in the U.K. and is available here on Netflix, PBS, and Amazon.

When Vera finds the body of a woman in the sauna of her local gym, she wonders briefly if, for once in her life, she’s uncovered a simple death of natural causes. But when a closer inspection reveals bruises around the victim’s throat, Vera’s team start their investigation. Vera and her colleagues soon uncover details in the victim’s past that may explain her untimely death. But Vera knows from experience that there’s no such thing as a simple case, and this one gets more baffling by the minute.

With pitch-perfect writing, a finely tuned mystery, and a protagonist with a complex past of her own, Silent Voices is a stand out penned by one of Britain’s most successful mystery writers."

Are you as addicted to Vera as me? If so, you'll be really excited for this new book!

The Barbed Crown: An Ethan Gage Adventures by William Dietrich
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In The Barbed Crown, the sixth tale of rogue and adventurer Ethan Gage by William Dietrich, our hero returns to Paris and London. Against a background of imperial pomp and the gathering clouds of war, Gage plots revenge on Napoleon Bonaparte for the kidnap of his son.

Paris, the “City of Lights,” shines – but alongside its splendor is great squalor. Heroic patriotism rubs against mean ambition, while grand strategy and back-alley conspiracy are never far apart.

While Ethan spies on the French court, his wife, Astiza, works to sabotage Napoleon’s coronation using the Crown of Thorns, a legendary relic said to have come from the Crucifixion itself. But when Napoleon is crowned nonetheless, they flee to England.

At Walmer Castle on the English coast, Gage joins a daring campaign by Smith, Fulton, rocket inventor William Congreve and smuggler Tom Johnstone to halt Napoleon’s intended invasion of England – a campaign which leads Ethan to take a role in the Battle of Trafalgar itself…"

I  just recently heard about this series thanks to my Bas Bleu catalog, can't wait to see what they're like, they should fascinating.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, besides being a hugely prolific writer, even dabbling with romances, is also synonymous with the whodunit. She is ranked as the best selling novelist of all time only beat out by God and Shakespeare, with her characters of Poirot and Miss Marple being the most famous amateur sleuths of all time, though Poirot would object to the "amateur" title. Christie's play, The Mousetrap, is the longest running play in history, seeing as it hasn't closed since it's opening in 1952. The play is unique because to appease Christie's hatred of spoilers, theater goers are asked not to reveal the ending before they depart.

While her books have nice tidy endings, Christie's life contains a great mystery, in that on December 3rd, 1926, Christie disappeared for nine days. While she showed up at a hotel registered under another name, the public outcry and the fact that the reason for her disappearance was never explained has added an extra air of mystery to the Queen of Crime. Was it the failure of her marriage, or as Doctor Who suggests, a giant alien bee, we will never know.

Besides her writing, she had a lifelong love of archaeology. She spent many seasons in the Middle East on the sites managed by her second husband Max Mallowan. Her love of archaeology also played into several of her novels, Death on the Nile probably being the most famous. But with a writer like Christie, "most famous" is really a matter of personal opinion, as all her books are read and re-read and are still being adapted and loved till this day. She is the Gold Standard of Golden Age Mysteries.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Golden Summer

After the last two months living in the lands of Mitfords and Kenya, I came to realize how much I adore the 1920s. I mean, not just a little, but like, an all out passion for the period from fashion to personalities to literature. Sadly, I still do not have a time machine or Tardis, no matter how hard one wishes, it just doesn't seem to work! But luckily there is a far cheaper way to time travel, and that's by reading. Books can transport us to anywhere and anywhen. Therefore I decided that this summer I wanted to live in the 1920s, and subsequently picked out all my reading material and realized that this was going to be really fun. Now I only have to get myself a gramophone, some cool clothes and lots of booze and I'll be set.

But, on top of my love of the 1920s, I have a love of mysteries. As it so happens, the 1920s were known in literature as the "Golden Age of Detection." This was when many of the "Queens of Crime" first published, from Agatha Christie to Dorothy L. Sayers, this time period brought about a thriving of the whodunnit. So it was never a lack of choices for my reading, more a who to cull with this embarrassment of riches... I have devised a nice little list containing some of the luminaries of the day, but I have gone beyond this into modern mystery writers too. Because there is a distinct trend for current writers to set their mysteries during this golden age. From Jacqueline Winspear to Carola Dunn, many modern writers are just as enraptured with the 20s as I am! Then to go even further, there are modern writers who have writers from the Golden Age as their crime solving protagonists, all set in the Golden Age! In other words, such fun! Therefore I say, let us start this "Golden Summer" off right with a giveaway!

The Prizes*:
1st Prize: A gorgeous hardcover facsimile edition of Agatha Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary. This is one of those swoon worthy editions that are being released that are made to look exactly like the original books, but without the hefty price tag of buying a true first edition.

*For the first time in awhile I'm doing incentivized prizes. I've been looking at that side bar and seeing somewhere around 300 followers for awhile now... all of you I love and adore, as you'll see below, you get more entries... but I'd like to bump it up this summer. So the more people who join, the more prizes in the pot. I break 350, another prize gets added, if I break 400 another prize. You get the picture, for every 50 people who sign up to follow little old me, more mystery goodness goes into the swag bag. So let's get going, sign up those friends and family!

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too), just because you haven't been following me all along doesn't mean you don't matter, you just get more entries and prizes if you prove you love me by following.

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Monday, September 30th at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment in the space below!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: Who is your favorite crime solver? Poirot? Marple? Someone more modern like Castle? Yes, tv crime fighters count too!
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, sidebar, twitter (please @eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once). Also please leave a link! There's a handy code on the side for your sidebars!
  • +25 if you comment on any of the posts during the Golden Summer, with something other than "I hope I win" or a variation thereof.
Good luck!

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