Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Books 2013 #20 - #34

Wow, no reviews since April. Some of my tube time (i.e. reading time) has been snagged by my hopeless attempts to learn Japanese. However, I have managed to read a few books along the way...

#20 Extreme Office Crafts
Jimmy Knight

I wouldn't suggest you go so far as to buy it - unless you see a second hand copy - but it is actually a better example of this kind of thing. There are some pretty elaborate things in here and some really subversive ones, but then pretty much everything seemed highly doable in my current office setting. Admittedly, in my office we play 'hide the cow' and if someone is wearing headphones it is acceptable to throw paperclips (and once, a stapler) to attract their attention, but still.

#21 The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Laurie R King

#22 A Monstrous Regiment of Women
Laurie R King

 Clearly the cover illustrator has not read the first book. A picture of Miss Mary Russell would certainly not bear much resemblance to that lady. Better job on the second although the quote on the cover "A novel which challenges the cliches of history" is wrong unless you think Sherlock Holmes was a real person. These are the proper first and second books in the series that I read a free kindle short story of in my last post. I am now on the third book so it makes sense to review these two together. Miss Russell meets Sherlock in his retirement cottage as she lives nearby with her mean Aunt. They meet and recognise intelligence in each other and he effectively takes on her education. Naturally a case then appears and so the story goes on. The author emphasises that Holmes is not of retirement age, but about 50 when they meet. But still...I dunno. It's like with the Robert Downey Jr films. If they had not based them on the Sherlock character I probably would have liked them better, but then I suppose most people would never have bothered to watch/read them. The second book was much more engaging than the first and could be read as a stand alone. In it Miss Russell gets her degree from Oxford (in Theology) and gets in with a group of women who stand in awe of a kind of spiritual leader. I could believe in the character in this book, right up until the end. And now the third book has picked up from there and I just can't accept that...well...it would be unfair to say it I guess. All in all a worthy read if you like the original Holmes character and aren't ready to accept him as a historical reference.

#23 The Roman Hat Mystery
Ellery Queen

Why did I read this? I read one of these in 2009 and should have learned my lesson. The idea is that they give you all the information you need to solve the crime and then the book pauses about 2/3 of the way through to let you work it out. My arse. Plus the story was very of-the-time racist ad sexist which normally I would just put down to the age of the book but in this was just annoying. To summarise - guy dies in theatre during a sell-out performance. Turns out he was a blackmailer with lots of hats. Who killed him and why?
Cheshire Cat on Alice in Wonderland Ride Legend sign
Bleh.

#24 Hilda Hopkins Bed and Burial
Vivienne Fagan

I reviewed the first (free) one in this series back at the start of the year. This is the second and was rather funny. Hilda has escaped from prison and is on the run, longing to take up machine knitting again. She manages to get a job and it's not long before she's back to her naughty ways but it all starts to go wrong. How will Hilda get out of it this time? Having said that the story is about a machine knitting, murderous pensioner it may seem odd for me to say that this story had a bit more realism than the first. It was again a novelette and a good way to while away a few hours.

#25 The Skeleton in the Closet
M.C. Beaton

I spent the first half of the book under the impression MC Beaton was Alexander McCall Smith. Once I'd worked out my mistake the boring everydayness of the story and the predictability made sense. Man works in menial job having had to leave school early to look after semi-invalid parents. Parents die. He discovers lots of money. Story continues. If you like Agatha Raison you may well enjoy this. I find her too annoying to read anymore and although this book is very different the writing style is close enough for me to find these people annoying too.

#26 The Colour of Magic
Terry Pratchett

I have always wanted to read the whole of his Discworld series in order, to see how the characters and storylines develop, so this is a reread of an old favourite. I am so glad that Death changed later to become the character he is in books like Reaper Man. And that I know we revisit Twoflower later on, although I can't quite remember when. And that the Luggage remains the same intimidating piece of wood throughout the subsequent Rincewind books. If by some chance you haven't read a Discworld book I would start with something like Guards, Guards or perhaps Maskerade. Oooo, I've got so many wonderful books to reread ahead of me!

#27 This Night's Foul Work
Fred Vargas

Adamsberg has got over his stupidity regarding Camille but although he is playing his part in bringing up their son, she has had enough and is looking elsewhere for honey. This was one of the best ones in the series so far. I was really compelled to keep reading on the tube, at lunch, before bed, just to find out what was going to happen next. Adamsberg has a snooty pathologist to contend with, a possibly haunted new home and a potential rival - a man he has some shared history with from when they grew up - something that neither of them is comfortable with although it's not straight forward. But then you don't expect it to be really. A great read.

#28 Death at Gallows Green (no.2 in the series)
#29 Death at Daisy's Folly (no.3)
#30 Death at Whitechapel (no.6)
Robin Paige

Robin Paige is my Murder She Wrote in book form. I know they're not great but they're very comforting - like Heinz Ravioli in tins. They do have a small amount of historical accuracy too, although only a small amount. I doubt Winston Churchill's father was ever really thought to be Jack the Ripper. Or that Beatrix Potter was quite the profiler she is made out to be (different books). Still, they keep my mind occupied and are relaxing to read.

#31 When Last I Died
Gladys Mitchell

I am a Mrs Bradley fan (not the TV series - yuk) and this was a good one in the series. Mrs Bradley's grandson finds an old diary of a woman who was involved with a death and some disappearances - or were they all murders? She was tried and acquitted but there was doubt. Mrs Bradley looks into it and finds it concerns a local boys approved school where young criminals are sent. These are clever books which are occasionally brilliantly read on BBC radio.

#32 But He Was Already Dead When I Got There
Barbara Paul

This was an unabridged recording from Audible read by Chris Kayser. I don't normally bother giving the reader but in this case it is relevant since his issues with accents meant I spent the first half an hour of the story assuming various people hated each other from their tones and inflections. Turns out it was just his voice. The story revolves around three couples who are all involved in some way with a high end bespoke jewellery shop. There is an evil uncle who dies and it turns out pretty much all of them lie quite elaborately at some point or another. The poor detective (who coincidentally has a side-kick who keeps doing an awful fake accent) has to peel each of these away before finding the truth. I cannot recommend the reading of it but the story is good so the book is worth keeping an eye out for.

#33 Death and the Maiden
Gladys Mitchell

Another Mrs Bradley and a really good one. Lots of excellent characters get involved in the story, all with different backgrounds and interesting hang ups. This was also an Audible recording and Patience Tomlinson reads these very well.

#34 An Elegy for Eddie
Jacqueline Winspear

My cousin gave me this and I tried very hard to like it. I realised as I read that I had read the first in the series when it came out in 2003 and remembered it as being a bit mawkish. However, this kind of series can often take a while to get going so this one having appeared nine years later was bound to be a different kettle of fish. But then the barrow boys she'd grown up with (before she got educated) came to see Maisie about the death of a man born in a stable who was a horse whisperer and my hopes were dashed. When I was a young teen I worked in a bookshop that sold a lot of books with titles like "Only a Factory Girl" or "Billy Come Home" full of sentimental stuff about growing up on the poverty stricken streets where you might be poor but the table was well scrubbed.
 
I tried really hard not to think about those books as I read, but I failed. I could not like Maisie. I couldn't care about the penniless mother Eddie had left behind. I could not be interested in whether Maisie would accept a place in society by marrying her rich young man. It wasn't a bad book, but it made me itch.

I hope someone finds these interesting! I am well into the third Mary Russell book and looking back at my books from 2012 has reminded me of a number of authors I want to check to see if they have produced a book yet this year. Meanwhile the weather on my holiday is on the cusp and we are in for a few days of rain - perfect weather for reading!

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