Sunday, 30 December 2012

Books #47 - #58

The images are amazon affiliate links so click on them if you want to buy - but dudes, I'm only in it for the pictures.

At the start of the year I said I wanted to have read 60 books. I seem to have managed 58. I've been using to keep track and was up to 46 when I wrote my last review post in November.

#47 One Man Show
By Michael Innes

Probably one of the best Innes books I've read in a long time. Although there was a lot of long winded description it almost made sense and the plot twists and turns (it was like a freakin maze) were just extraordinary enough to keep me entertained as well as intrigued. In a nutshell - your detective goes to anart exhibition with his wife, sees a painting by a recently dead artist which is then stolen. Except it's all linked up with another stolen painting and it's not clear if the artist was murdered or not and what's happened to the woman upstairs and get the idea. 

I got this with a bundle of his others from Bookmooch so no surprise that at number forty eight we have...

#48 Appleby on Ararat
By Michael Innes
This book was an early on in the series and was preposterous, racist, farcical and generally not a byrne-pleaser. Your hero is aboard some sort of boat going somewhere when it sinks and only the passengers survive, adrift on the entire entertainment deck with hardly any food or water. No mention is ever made of any of the crew who presumably drowned, but were lower class - or worse! Foreign! The only black passenger is talked about like he'd only just left off evolving from a monkey and later natives don't fair much better. Having only just avoided all going nuts with thirst they pitch up on tropical island which they live on for a while without apparently noticing it has a luxury hotel over the hill. Eventually they make contact and then it starts getting really silly. Let's just forget this book happened and move on...

#49 Come Away, Death
By Gladys Mitchell
After the last book I thought I'd go to the trusty Mrs Bradley as I have enjoyed others in the series. This is number eight in order and I fear I struck out, as sporting people in america might say. The story was interesting but ridiculous. An archaeologist trying to create some sort of Greek spiritual visitation by carrying out certain rights. It was also a very slow story. Not her best. 

#50 Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters
By Ann Budd
The original book, Knitters Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, is my go-to book for my own jumpers so when I heard there was a top down version, and with *contiguous* sleeves, I was right in there. My single criticism of this book is it isn't available as an e version. If ever there was a book you wanted on your phone to use for quick reference it is this. I'm surprised Interweave have missed that but I am equally sure there is a highly commercial reason for it. Sweaters got from 24" to 54" chest and the complete patterns included for each type of sleeve/cardigan/neckline are all satisfactory. 

#51 Tom Brown's Body
By Gladys Mitchell (audiobook)
I'm always a bit hesitant - and this is going to sound weird - of listening to audio versions of books I haven't read. For me, an audiobook is a comforting thing to have on in the background, to dip in and out of, to fall asleep to. So having not read this one first I had to listen to it twice (and it is about 8 hours long) before I felt I'd got the story straight. Kudos to Ms Mitchell for writing realistically about little boys (or at least - they are as I remember them being when I was at a similar kind of mixed school) which is something that can be said about all her novels. She doesn't patronise or make them talk like idiots. The ending was a little confusing and the element of witchcraft felt a bit jarring but all in all a good one. 

#52 The Père-Lachaise Mystery
By Claude Izner
This is the second in the series and unusually I am reading them in order. The first was one was #38 in August. I found this one much better and very gripping - I read the whole thing in 36 hours and went to work in amongst all that as well. Victor's previous mistress's husband has died and she's visiting a spiritualist to try and contact him. Then she vanishes. Meanwhile there's lots of jealousies and intrigues and relationships and so on. Interestingly the author is the pen name of two sisters living in Paris. Well, I thought it was interesting. I'm still getting over Fred Vargas being a woman though. Speaking of which...

#53 Seeking Whom He May Devour
By Fred Vargas
Ooooo, this was good. While #52 was gripping, this one went fully in, grabbed you by the giblets and rang them out like a dishcloth. The wolf on the cover is a giveaway that wolves feature heavily in this story but given recent Twishite type writing I want to assure you that they are wolves, just wolves. Not werewolves, not shapeshifters, just wolves. Our hero, Adamsberg, is in the background for a fair bit of the novel and it is his lost love Camille who leads. Rather sweepingly, I am going to assume most women would say they saw something of themselves in Camille. Or something we would like to see in ourselves maybe. We could all have been free spirits, moving from place to place, befriending smelly women in the mountains and hooking up with Canadian versions of Ben Fogle had our lives gone a little differently. I love these books. I've got the next two in the series but I am afraid to start them in case they don;t live up to the first two. I know - man up Byrne. 

In fact that reminds me - when observed to be cowardly men are often told to 'grow a pair'. I heard this in a number of different contexts recently and it caused me to speculate more about testicles than I think I ever have before in my life, all put together. 
Parable with a skull  (reverse view)
For example, some lizards shed their tails when frightened or can lose them and grown them back. Is it implied therefore that men could lose theirs and it would leave them free to get on with whatever it is they were scared of doing? Could a man grow a set if he lost them? And what if you were in a scary situation with him and they fell off in front of you. What would the etiquette of handing them back? Testicles withdraw towards the body when cold and swing free'r when hot - so when you're scared what do they do? Could you grow a pair of testicles on the back of a mouse, like they did with that ear, and graft them on to the man should the need arise? And would you need a mouse per testicle or would one do both?*

#54 The Long Farewell
By Michael Innes
Another good Appleby story - like #47 but slightly later on the timescale I would guess. Our hero looks up a friend in Italy and when back in England hears that he has apparently killed himself. Two wives, domestics, academic rivals, trophy hunters and various family members appear and it all winds up into a weak ending but a very good story. 

#55 Watson's Choice
By Gladys Mitchell
Maybe I should have a new year resolution to broaden my pool of authors. I seem to be repeating a lot of them. However, having loved all things Sherlockian since I was about 9 I was naturally interested in this and immediately longed for my own party where everyone came dressed as a character from one of the Conan Doyle stories. This book was great, right up until the ending. I realise I've criticised a number of endings and I have started to wonder whether it is me. I find myself watching detective shows on TV and guessing in the first few minutes what the plot will be. I have now been reading and watching this type of thing for 25 years and there can only be a finite number of plots. Having said that I can't work out if I am dissatisfied when the outcome is too easy to guess or when the author puts in a twist you couldn't have predicted (as Conan Doyle frequently did) and so makes the build up in the book seem pointless. Maybe in 2013 I'll find out. 

#56 No Coffin for the Corpse
By Clayton Rawson
Isn't that cover awesome? None of the characters, especially the magician, reminded me of a white rabbit but the symbolism is good. I think Knitting on the Green did a review of this - either that or Goodreads itself recommended it to me. I had it on my wishlist for ages in any case before tracking it down in the deep stacks of Holborn Library. It's a great read except for, guess what, the ending. Maybe I'm too harsh though. Maybe. The style is a little bit Dashiel Hammett but think Thin Man rather then Maltese Falcon. It's essentially a 'cosy' and the magician is a good inclusion. For a book from 1942 it wears its age well. I'll definitely be reading more of these. 

#57 The Murders in the Rue Morgue
By Edgar Allan Poe
This is said to be the first detective story and it was interesting in that light but I'm not a Poe fan. The introductory essay was much more interesting than the story itself. What a strange man our Edgar was. Even excluding the whole judging-by-todays-standards thing. I only read the title story since I was only reading it out of academic interest. 

#58 Where Women Create: Book of Organization
By Jo Packham
I added this to my Amazon queue when it was first announced and bought it with some xmas money otherwise it is essentially Pinterest in print. Lots of full spread photos of studio and craft spaces. Minimal text pointing out little details or speculating about what 'your craft room' looks like. It's printed on what feels slightly like blotting paper - presumably to mop up the tears as you weep when you reflect your 'craft room' is the side of the sofa and your 'creative storage solutions' are largely pieces of tupperware from asda. Having read through the book I did today go out and buy some different storage - plastic boxes...from asda...BUT THE BOXES ARE NOT MEANT FOR FOOD. So it's ok. Besides, if I create some unnecessarily kooky labels for them I'll practically be Martha Stewart so it all works out in the long run. 

If I can pluck up the courage my first read for 2013 will be the next Fred Vargas. Now I've just got to grow a pair and get on with it.
Goodbye testicles. Brilliant. :)

* I do know none of this is possible, except maybe with the mouse, but it was a 'what if' kind of train of thought. Besides - apart from the fertility thing - what woman would mourn if men did lose them? Stupid things really.

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