May 11th, 2014

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book 36

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1)The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I've been rereading Dame Agatha and one of my reading challenges had the prompt of read a first book by a favorite author so as far as Doc. Google can tell me, this is her first book. It's also the first Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings book. They are two of my all time favorite detectives.

I marked it historical even though it's not written as one but rather because it's just six years shy of being 100 years old. Wow. I can't even believe that. But as such it does have a lot of things that modern authors have gotten away from, like adverbs. So you have to keep in mind when this was written. Not only that Dame Agatha was laying the groundwork for all those mysteries to follow. Mysterious poisonings, locked door mysteries, misdirections etc etc.

Captain Hastings is visiting an old friend, John Cavendish at Styles when John's wealthy and recently remarried stepmother is poisoned. It quickly becomes obvious someone at the household has to be guilty of the murder, with the likely suspect being Mr. Inglethorpe, her new and recently estranged husband. The family would certainly like to see him hang for it.

However, Hastings learns his good friend, the retired Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot, is also in town and known to the Cavendishes who ask him to help them figure this mystery out. Poirot, however, is less sure of Inglethorpe's guilt and with the help of Hastings (who does come off as a bit put out and jealous of Poirot's quick wit) they try to get to the bottom of how Emily Inglethorpe could have been given strychnine before the wrong man hangs for it.

I enjoyed it very much. It's always fun to revisit Christie's books, especially now as an adult (I read them all in my teens many years ago).



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Book 99: Wars of the Roses Book 1: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Book 99: Wars of the Roses Book 1: Stormbird .
Author: Conn Iggulden, 2013.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 15th Century England.
Other Details: Hardback. 507 pages.

King Henry V - the great Lion of England - is long dead.

In 1437, after years of regency, the pious and gentle Henry VI, the Lamb, comes of age and accedes to the English throne. His poor health and frailty of mind render him a weakling king - Henry depends on his closest men, Spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, to run his kingdom. Yet there are those, such as the Plantagenet Richard, Duke of York, who believe England must be led by a strong king if she is to survive. With England's territories in France under threat, and rumours of revolt at home, fears grow that Henry and his advisers will see the country slide into ruin. With a secret deal struck for Henry to marry a young French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou, those fears become all too real.

As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who, or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?
- synopsis from author's website.

I certainly enjoyed this first in a series about the Wars of the Roses. The characters are well fleshed out and the narrative moves between the nobles and their allies and the common folk caught up in the changes brought about in France as well as the Kent Rebellion: an event I had only known a little about before reading this novel. The battle scenes are well written, very visceral and it is easy to feel right in the middle of the action.

My only slight criticism is the way the list of characters was presented at the start. The family trees were fine but the list itself had no organisation to it: such as listing by first appearance or by family. However, the complex politics and blood lines that opened the conflict between the Yorks and Lancasters were laid out in an accessible fashion. In the end notes Conn Iggulden explained where he used some creative license such as the creation of the fictional spymaster Derry Brewer.

I look forward to others in this series as they appear in coming years.
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Book #25: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent by Washington Irving



This was a completely blind read for me, as I had no idea what exactly it was about; it certainly wasn't about someone writing in a sketch book, as I had imagined!

This book is nothing like any book I have ever read before, and certainly seems very post-modern in format, though written in a typical style for the 19th century. This book comprises of a series of self-contained pieces of writing, mostly in the style of essays and memoirs (some of these effectively combine both), with a few short stories. However, this wasn't the thing that made this book unusual.

The whole thing is written from the point of view of the eponymous (and fictional) Geoffrey Crayon, and the writing demonstrates a variety of subjects. There are essays on Westminster Abbey and also on Native American history, and at times the fictional author describes himself walking around the place while talking about the historical importance. This book effectively feels partially like a textbook and partially like a book on observations on life 200 years ago; I also noticed that the character Geoffrey Crayon seemed to spend a lot of time in Britain, and at times it felt like I was reading a book by a very early version of the travel writer Bill Bryson.

At times, I wasn't sure exactly what to make of it; most of the historical stuff was presumably from Washington Irving's own knowledge, while some of the accounts of times spent in the company of others could have been based on real-life events or could have been written up based on Irving's knowledge of customs of the time. I noticed that a few of the chapters did join together to form a whole story, particularly about six chapters in the middle which tell of Geoffrey Crayon spending Christmas with an English family, and talking about all the customs that he witnessed. I got the impression that maybe Washington Irving was just curious about some things that he must have observed while visiting England himself.

As for the fictional short-stories, there are only a few. This includes the story of Rip Van Winkel (the man who slept for twenty years), which felt like a very quirky, but entertaining tale, although I could tell where it was leading because it is so well known. The longest story, located towards the end, is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The story spends a lot of time talking about parties in the town of Sleepy Hollow and introducing main characters, with the headless horseman from the Tim Burton movie not showing up for a long time. This did make me realise that the movie version included a lot of stuff that wasn't from its source material, which deals with the appearance of the phantom and finishes with the disappearance of a character who he was pursuing.

Overall, I had mixed-feelings about the book; at times, it felt long-winded, but there was something in the style of writing that made me want to keep reading it. I remember one of my favourite bits was the fictional author talking about how me made the obvious social faux pas of laughing out loud in a reading library. Overall, I would say that this is worth reading, though at times it wasn't the easiest book in the world.

Next book: The X-Files Season 10, Volume 1 (Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire)
book

Atchison Code; Hay People; Fix the Lane

The Magus of Hay, by Phil Rickman
This was good. One of the ones of this series I really like, rather than just mostly like. BUT I MISS JANE.
(53)

Atchison Blue, by Judith Valente
A lovely, reflective memoir of one person's interactions over time with a community of nuns. Spare but warm.
(54)

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
Character sketch stories! Some wonderful, some kinda meh. The comics were my favorite.
(55)

Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein
So I absolutely adored the first part of this book, despite the torture scenes (the narrator for the first half is brilliant) - but the second half of it threw me off because the narrator of that part Did Not Sound British (she sounded American, actively - something about the rhythms; it wasn't just that the slang was all Americanized, I'm used to that part). So that kind of bothered me. But it was okay because the book was SO GOOD that I had to finish it anyway, which if you know how easily distracted I am by this sort of thing, well. It is a really good book! With one frustrating flaw.
(56)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
The most Neil Gaimanest book of all. Which made me very happy.
(57)

In a Fix, by Linda Grimes
Paranormal chick lit fluff with EXACTLY the right plot / cotton candy balance. Also an intriguing premise. I dug it. Just put the sequel on hold at the library.
(58)
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