Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Library Book Sale Finds: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Good afternoon, Squiders! Been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? My archives tell me last June. In case you were wondering, I’m still working on the stack of books from the library book sales in summer 2015. (We didn’t go to any last summer, which is probably for the best. I think I still have over a dozen.)

You know, I picked up all these lovely science fiction and fantasy books, yet I keep reading the non-scifi/fantasy ones. (Okay, well, I have done seven of these–this is the eighth–and three were scifi/fantasy, so not always.) Admittedly, I just finished a 600-page fantasy novel (American Gods) which probably had a fairly major impact on the decision, which came down to “not fantasy, not huge.”

(And now I have Wintersong back from the library, so I’m back into another fat fantasy novel. Just a two-day mystery cleanser in the middle.)

On to it!

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year:
1951

Pros: Great mystery, excellent use of misdirection
Cons: Weak, uninteresting beginning, too many characters?

I think I’m out of mysteries from the book sales with this one, though I do have several mythology collections and a book by Edith Wharton, so I can procrastinate on the scifi/fantasy for a bit longer if I’d like.

This is a Poirot novel! I’ve never read one before. I am familiar with Hercule Poirot, of course, because my family watched Masterpiece Mystery on PBS religiously when I was younger. It’s a far cry from the Miss Marple books, as it is in Poirot’s viewpoint (though it does occasionally stray into others) and also has a bit of a weird structure to it.

The book opens with the wrap-up of the trial for the murder of Mrs. McGinty, a charwoman (or cleaning lady) who was seemingly done in because she kept her savings under her floorboards and everyone in town knew it. The case has been rather clean and obvious, and Poirot took no note of the murder at the time because he found it boring. However, the superintendent of the police for the case, having worked with Poirot on a previous case, comes to him and tells Poirot that though he gathered the evidence, he can’t help but think that they’ve convicted the wrong person. He has nothing concrete to go on except his experience as a police officer. Poirot agrees to look into as a favor to a friend.

I found the first couple of chapters pretty dull. The book opens with an older Poirot wandering about being sad about the fact that he can’t eat constantly. Even once the potential mystery is introduced, the book still takes a few chapters to actually get into the act of mystery solving. For a while there, I actually considered putting the book down, which you know I rarely do.

Fortunately, for both me and the book, the pace picked up and got quite interesting after that point. Mrs. Christie throws in a good half dozen potential culprits and expertly keeps your attention off the real one. If I have one complaint, it’s maybe that she had too many suspicious personages in the end, because I’m pretty sure it’s never explained why–oh. No, never mind, I just figured it out. Nothing to see here.

I went to a mystery panel at a writing conference once, and one of the panelist said that you couldn’t know who did it, as the author, until you were most of the way done, because otherwise you’d  subconsciously write in too many clues that would point readers to the killer too early. So you have to write the book as if they all did it, so there’s enough red herrings and clues for any number of people. This book feels like it was written like that.

Anyway! I enjoyed it. I read the whole thing in two days, which I haven’t done in a while. So I’d recommend it, if you like classic mysteries and/or Poirot and/or Agatha Christie and/or if you’re looking to get into reading mysteries, which I also highly recommend.

(I use them as a brain cleanser.)

Read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead? Thoughts on Agatha Christie or Poirot in general?

Library Book Sale Finds: Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

You ever have a book that you’re not quite sure why you picked it up? That’s the case here. I have a vague memory of selecting this book from one of the library book sales last summer, but when I picked it up to read it again, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what had attracted me to it.

Title: Sushi for Beginners
Author: Marian Keyes
Publication Year: 2003
Genre: Chick lit? Slice of life?

Pros: Doesn’t require a lot of thought to keep up with despite the myriad of characters
Cons: Inconsistent characterization, head hopping, lack of plot

I mean, maybe I thought it was romance? I can get behind a good romance. Okay, I’ve just re-read the back of the book, and it definitely sounds like a female friend romp/romance. That would have been okay.

It is not either of those.

I admit I don’t read a lot of real life based stories because I don’t necessarily get the point of them. They tend to focus on depressing things, like infidelity, illness, depression, loss of spouse/child, getting over childhood abuse–all things that I don’t really want to think about if I don’t have to. Now, from what I understand, knowing that I am wildly out of my depth here, chick lit tends to be upbeat, funny, kind of like candy for your soul.

So, I think that’s probably what this book is–it’s got the witty banter, the sex scenes, etc. But I still don’t really see the point. It wasn’t necessarily hard to keep reading, but I didn’t particularly like anybody in the book, and there’s very little plot to speak of, which again, I think is normal for the genre.

Most of the action takes place at Colleen, a new fashion magazine based in Dublin, Ireland. You’ve got Lisa Edwards, the editor, who’s upset about being shunted over from London when she thought she was going to get promoted to a New York magazine; Ashling Kennedy, assistant editor, who is kind of a wet rag, honestly, and is still the most likeable person in the book; and Clodagh Kelly, who’s the mother of two and Ashling’s best friend. And then there’s occasional head hopping into male points of view for a line or two.

And there’s finding ourselves and learning to be better people, blah blah blah, but it’s not terribly interesting.

ANYWAY. I didn’t particularly like this book, as you can probably tell. But, again, not really my normal genre cup of tea. Good to read around and all that.

Squiders, do you know anything about chick lit? Is this a good example of it? Is there a different book I should read instead?

Library Book Sale Finds: Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis

First of all, good news, Squiders! We’ve finally decided on a title. So that’s one thing checked off the seemingly endless list.

Anyway, onward!

I’ve read a couple books by Connie Willis before (To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the Blackout/All Clear duology) from her Oxford time travel series. This is not one of those. This is planetary exploration scifi in the style of a Western.

Title: Uncharted Territory
Author: Connie Willis
Publication Year: 1994
Genre: Science fiction

Pros: Short, fun, interesting world and premise
Cons: A character twist really threw me, and not a lot actually happens

In general I liked this quite a bit. Westerns, like Age of Sail, have a lot of the same tropes as science fiction, so ala Firefly space westerns feel very natural. (You can read more about this subgenre here.) Connie Willis writes this first person, which generally I am not hugely fond of, but I love the character voice so it works out fine.

Basic premise is two surveyors, out on a new world, trying to explore but being faced with bureaucracy at every step. You see, the government doesn’t want to be accused of expansionist tendencies, so they’ve given the natives the ability to monitor and fine the surveyors, which the indigent people have figured out how to twist to their own advantage.

The voice is fun, the situations are ridiculous and totally believable, and I liked the characters as well. My biggest issue is that the PoV character is female, and this is completely not obvious until about halfway through, when it suddenly becomes (and remains) a plot point throughout the rest of the book. I thought the PoV was male, and it took me a good half a chapter to adapt to this new information. I’m not sure if I missed something early on (I did go back and do a cursory look) or if this was supposed to be a big reveal, or what, but it really threw me.

The other thing is that it doesn’t quite feel like a complete story. It’s a short book, only 149 pages, and it’s almost a slice of adventure sort of story. Only one thing’s changed from start to finish, really, and even that doesn’t seem to be anything major.

But it was short, it was fun, and I enjoyed it. So I’d recommend it, if you like space westerns or other planetary exploration stories.

Have you read this? What did you think?