Tag Archives: book reviews

Top 5 Mystery Authors: Ngaio Marsh

death in a white tie
Ngaio Marsh
. Generally counted on one hand among the great dames of the English mystery’s golden age, Marsh is a New Zealand writer of the late 20th century. She wrote thirty-two crime novels over about fifty years, and most are considered classics of the genre. I’ve found her to be, at her best, the only mystery novelist I’ve read who is comparable to Christie within the style both wrote in – the sharpness of her characterizations of people both high and low in society, her good-humored approach to occasionally very dark and macabre stories, and most of all the atmosphere of her stories, such a warmly compelling blend of uncensored portrayal of evil and compassion and love for her characters. I should note, however, that I’ve also found her to be wildly uneven – I’ll pick up a Marsh novel and be wildly engrossed from the second page and come away hugely pleased – and the next week I’ll try another and be bored out of my mind.  Generally nothing in between, either – her novels are either fantastic or total duds as far as reading pleasure and quality. Unlike Christie, she chose only one hero for her novels, the deadpan, cultured Roderick Alleyn, whose mind it is a pleasure to be in, and whose famous artist wife is a significant character in several novels.

To read: Death in a White Tie

To avoid: Black As He’s Painted, which is both melodramatic and unfortunately tainted with quite a lot of the racism that was a fact of life in Marsh’s day

4 Books For People Who Like Character Driven Novels

4characterdrivennovels2Broke and Bookish launched this book theme for the week, so I thought I’d participate. They did 10 but I’m lazy and write longer descriptions because I get carried away so you’re getting four.

1. Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell. I’ve mentioned my love for Rainbow Rowell several times before, if you haven’t read her yet, she practically defines character-driven works. Eleanor and Park is a linear novel in that there are almost no characters featured at all beyond the central two; it’s a deep dive into the minds and personalities of two intelligent, outcast teens. Eleanor is a curvy loner with a unique clothing style and a troubled home life. Aloof Park is respected but left mostly alone due to being one of the only Asians at the high school. After a first, tentative connection on the bus, Eleanor stars reading along with him on the comic books he reads every day on the way to school. They forge a slow, tender, passionate connection over a shared love for music and comic books. It’s one of the best love stories I’ve ever read, and Rowell isn’t afraid to show the push and pull, tension and release, the intense obsession and curling joy and turbulence that comes with that epic first love.

2. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James. You didn’t really think I could answer this without including the book featuring Isabel Archer, one of the most complex and also identifiable female heroines ever, right? I don’t like most of James’ other works, but this – it feels as though James is sitting behind me reading my thoughts. Isabel Archer is an American of good birth and no money until an elderly acquaintance spontaneously leaves her a huge fortune. She finds love, misfortune, and a lot of societal complications as she travels between Europe and England and finally settles down in Italy. It’s the most perceptive book I’ve ever read about how women think, in the same way that Nick Hornby captures how men think in his funny, piercingly accurate prose.

3. A Murder for Her Majesty, Beth Hilgartner. Who read this as a kid? One of the most re-readable books I’ve ever come across, this incredibly engrossing book is technically written for younger/teen readers but it so beautifully plotted and captures the atmosphere of 16th-century Tudor London so vividly, you’re immediately drawn in. Orphaned Alice Tuckfield is on the run, penniless in the rain, having left behind her country home after the sudden murder of her father. She stumbles upon a cathedral and is taken in by a group of choirboys who befriend her and allow her to join them if she masquerades as a boy. Mystery, plots, a gruff tutor who becomes a father figure, and plenty of banter and friendship light up the book. The boys all have distinct personalities and interact with Alice differently, becoming her family, brothers, and friends, and she, plucky, well-educated, and a gifted singer, leaps off the page. Most of the Goodreads reviews of this are from adults who report they couldn’t put it down, and there’s a reason why. So good.

4. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. I am not certain if this is the only adult book Robin McKinley ever wrote, but it’s certainly one of the few. Sunshine has always known there’s something a little different about herself, but since she doesn’t know what it is, she continues living her life as a baker in her small town. One day, however, she’s grabbed and wakes up chained to a wall next to a similarly shackled human-ish creature named Constantine. Things for from there. Sunshine is flawed, and funny, and snarky, and even as she very (very) reluctantly falls in love with the vampire whom she’s been thrown together with and who winds up protecting her from his own kind, she gives him all kinds of hell. This book is immutably gripping and so much better than I can describe, mostly because Sunshine is amazing.

What I’m Into Lately: Murder Mysteries, Austen Web Series, Northern White Wine

65-third 1. Summer put me on a huge murder mystery kick for some indefinable reason, so I’ve been engulfing Agatha Christie like Turkish delight.

Third Girl. This is a twisty Christie in that you really have no idea where you stand until the last 10 pages or so of the novel – in some of her novels, especially the Marple ones, Christie gives us most of the information, but in this one nearly all of it is withheld so we’re as confused as the victim. I did figure it close to the end but simply by instinct rather than logic. Poirot is approached by a girl who is convinced that she has murdered someone – Poirot goes on the hunt and can’t find anyone who has been murdered! This is also one of the faintly disturbing ones – a girl is psychologically ruthlessly manipulated, so it left me with a feeling of unease. Nonetheless worth a read and there’s a sweet romantic note at the end.  (Side note: do you follow me on Goodreads yet?)

The Seven Dials Mystery. A very melodramatic and ultimately silly plot, but the character-writing is superb – Lady Eileen Brent, better known as “Bundle”, is the quick-witted, plucky daughter of a Lord, and when a man is murdered in her father’s house and some clues turn up months later, she goes determinedly on the hunt. She’s a delight and there’s some very endearing romance. A Superintendent Battle mystery. All told read for the dialogue and ignore the plot.

2. Emma Approved. This webseries based on Emma from the production team behind The Lizzie Bennett Diaries is not very good, but it’s finally picked up speed with the adorable latest episode which featured some flirtation between Emma and Alex Knightley.

3.montinore_borealis_12_750

Borealis Northern White wine. This 2012 Willammette Valley wine is what the wine shop recommended when I asked for a white that was slightly sweet. It’s still a little too sweet for my taste, but really grew on me over time. It seems to be a versatile wine, it starts out a little dry in the mouth then delivers sweetness; I would say offhand that it’s a wine better with food than drunk on its own, and that it goes well with Asian food. There’s something addicting about it nonetheless – it’s a perfect refreshing summer wine, I find myself reaching for it more evening after getting home. $12.99. Update: much more polished description from Drink here.

Book Review: A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

wallflower christmas

You, me, chiclit…and how I stopped reading chic lit.

Seriously, after reading this over the weekend, I think I may have officially outgrown adult romance.

A Wallflower Christmas

I have generally very positive feelings about Lisa Kleypas. I’ve read quite a few of her books in the past (when I was still reading chic-lit) and while her books were a little too sex-drenched they were always light, breezy, witty, with some good touches of emotional depth and genuine affection and convincing compatibility between the leads.

This? Is tripe dressed up in pretty clothes. First off, notorious bachelor Rafe Bowman, just-arrived in London to have an arranged marriage with a pretty noblewoman, meets, and instantly finds insanely sexy, the average-looking Hannah, his intended’s paid companion.

Continue reading

Caffeinated Links: Atwood and Nesbø Retell Shakespeare, Blistering Book Reviews, Men Get Dumber When Women Watch

measureofsuccessbook

 

Carolyn McCulley, one of my favorite authors, has a new book on success coming out RT

“The Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbø will write a retelling of Macbeth for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, according to a press release from the publisher. Nesbø is quoted in the release saying, “Macbeth is a story that is close to my heart because it tackles topics I’ve been dealing with since I started writing. A main character who has the moral code and the corrupted mind, the personal strength and the emotional weakness, the ambition and the doubts to go either way. A thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind. No, it does not feel too far from home.” Hogarth has enlisted authors including Jeanette Winterson, who will retell The Winter’s Tale, and Margaret Atwood, who will retell The Tempest, for its series launching in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.” RT

There is NOTHING I love more than a blistering book review

“On reflection, it might be quicker to list everyone Raphael loves, a roll-call that begins with R for Raphael and ends, a little abruptly, with R for Raphael” (nominated for Omnivore’s annual Hatchet Job awarding well-written critical/negative reviews) RT

The Atlantic putting the Academy Award noms with their customary succinct accuracy  –

“Finally, there’s Her, my choice for the best film of the year. It made out okay, with nominations for picture, screenplay, score, production design, and even a surprise nomination for “The Moon Song.” As much as I would’ve liked to see Scarlett Johansson nominated for best actress (or supporting actress, if necessary), that was always going to be a heavy lift given her physical non-presence in the film. But the Academy’s decision to pass on Joaquin Phoenix for actor and Spike Jonze for director—those are not to be forgiven. If one day in the not-so-distant future, our artificially intelligent computers turn out to be ill-tempered, more Skynet than Samantha, they will be able to point to these snubs as a rationale for their distrust—and ultimate eradication—of the human race.” RT

And finally, men get dumber when they think women are watching: “Unfortunately for men, this is a case of negative stereotypes containing a grain of truth. A pair of studies showed that when men were simply told that a female observer would be watching them perform a cognitive test, they performed less well, while women showed no difference regardless of the gender of their observer. Whether this is due to societal pressure for men to impress women, or a biological condition was not established.”  RT

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