Posts Tagged ‘library books’

Library Book Sale Finds: The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

Heyo, squiders. It’s that time again. And once again, I try to recapture what I was thinking when I stuck a particular book into my bag. Not sure. Maybe I just thought it would be cool?

Title: The Ipcress File
Author: Len Deighton
Genre: Spy/Thriller
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Neat example of what’s probably the height of this genre
Cons: Incomprehensible in parts if you’re not genre savvy

This book was apparently made into a movie in 1965, but try as I might, I cannot find a copy to see if it makes more sense. Wikipedia tells me this is Len Deighton’s first novel, and that he’s considered one of the top three spy novelists of all time (Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and John le Carre are the other two).

We follow our unnamed narrator as he recalls the specifics of a mission to the Minister of Defence (British spelling intentional). The story is in first person throughout, and features a lot of what we probably now consider to be common in the spy genre: double crossings, questionable loyalties, sarcastic spies, etc.

When I could follow the story, I enjoyed it. I liked the narrator (whom I honestly didn’t realize was never named until I sat down to write this), I thought the female characters were handled better than in many contemporary stories (each shown as having her own strengths), and the dialogue was fun to read in many cases.

That being said, there were parts where I felt lost, where I couldn’t quite tell what was meant or what was happening, and whether or not it was important. I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem with the writing so much as that I am not the target audience and so do not have the necessary culture references/understanding to follow along.

All in all, very interesting, but I don’t know that I would pick up another similar book. Perhaps I’ll stick to the movie versions IF I CAN EVER FIND THEM.

Read anything by Len Deighton, squiders? Like ’60s-era spy novels?

(All things being said, I read John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as a teenager and don’t remember being lost, so mileage may vary between authors.)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

So, squiders, one of my “resolutions” for the year is to read more of the books I have sitting around. Specifically the books I keep picking up at library book sales.

It tickles me eternally that, as an adult, I like to talk about books when I hated it so much in high school.

If you guys have been around, you know I love mysteries in general and Agatha Christie in particular, so I never miss an opportunity if I see one sitting around.

Title: The Body in the Library
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 1942

Pros: Fast read, has Miss Marple
Cons: Meanders a bit in the middle

If I had to pick between Poirot or Miss Marple I’ll go Miss Marple every time. I like the deviation from your standard mystery protagonist. And I don’t mean that she’s an older woman, though I do appreciate that as well, since older women are rarely included in most novels, and certainly not as the protagonist. I mean she rarely actively sleuths; she just picks things up through gossip and knowledge of human nature. The quintessential armchair detective.

This is the second Miss Marple novel I’ve read, I believe, though I’ve read a number of short stories. She’s not actually that active in the book–a lot of chapters are from other points of view, such as the inspectors’ working on the case or other side characters–but she does figure it out, all the same, and sets up an elaborate plot to catch the murderer in the act, which I’ll admit is one of my favorite mystery tropes.

I also appreciate that the other characters in the book, especially the police, respect her and her abilities, instead of writing her off.

Is there anything special here? Not especially. It’s not one of her twistier plots. But it’s a fast read (I read it in about two hours total), it’s entertaining, and it includes this bit of dialogue:

Miss Marple said doubtfully, “Of course, dear, if you think I can be of any comfort to you–“

“Oh, I don’t want comfort. But you’re so good at bodies.”

Page 13 in my copy, The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie

I laughed out loud. I’ll admit it.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Read almost anything by Agatha Christie (except The Passenger to Frankfurt, which is one of her last books and is a bit unfocused in general).

(As an aside, my copy’s cover has a body stuck in a bookcase that is obviously shorter than said body, which amuses me greatly. Someone took the title very literally and obviously did not read the book.)

Read this book? What did you think? Opinions on Agatha Christie in general? Miss Marple or Poirot?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Glimpses of the Moon

Howdy, squiders! I dug back into my collection of library book sale books and came out with The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, circa 1922.

This is another one of those books where I try to imagine what I was thinking when I picked it up. Did I like the title? Did I think I should read something by Edith Wharton? Who knows?

Title: The Glimpses of the Moon
Author: Edith Wharton
Genre: General Literature
Publication Year: 1922

Pros: Beautiful writing. Just, really pretty.
Cons: I wanted to strangle the male lead for 75% of the book.

As a caveat, I use “general literature” for basically everything that’s not an obvious genre. This is a story about two people, married on a lark with an agreement that they can divorce if something better comes along for the other. They are fringe members of society, spending time with the wealthy, but not having money themselves.

This is not an overly plotty book, so I won’t spend a lot of time there. What it is is a look at the opulence of the twenties and what is important, and how relationships work in a world where you can buy anything you want. A lot of social commentary. Somewhat reminiscent of The Great Gatsby (which I despise) but less likely to drive you to depression.

I do take a bit of umbrage with the male lead, Nick. (See?) He has a mild crisis of morals over something the female lead, Susy, does, and instead of doing anything useful, runs off and doesn’t talk to her for the next five months.

Dude. You suck. I know the whole point of the book is about love and realizing what matters and blah blah blah, but you are trash.

I admit I got so mad at one point that I flipped to the back of the book, which I NEVER DO, to make sure things were going to get resolved, because if I had to read 250 pages of shenanigans with him just running off for good, well, it wasn’t going to happen.

The writing is so so pretty. The characters are so so frustrating.

So! Would I recommend this book? Not sure. The writing is gorgeous, the human study is great, the moral is…iffy. There is kind of the implication that whatever Nick did in the interim is okay because he came to his senses in the end, which maybe was a good message back in the day? But I really just wanted to slap some sense into him.

So! Up to you, really. You know what you like. I thought it was okay, but I’m not going to be picking up other books like it for a while.

Library Book Sale Finds: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

I don’t think I’ve done one of these all year. Whoops.

(For those who are new, I acquired a ton of books at a few library book sales a few years back, and occasionally I will read one. I like library book sales because I think you’re more likely to buy books you wouldn’t otherwise, so it’s a good place to find a new favorite author–or a book so ridiculous you have to share it with everyone you know.)

I love Agatha Christie so I tend to pick up everything by her that I find. (Because her stories are often republished under different titles, or shorts are moved around, this sometimes means I end up with the same stories multiple times.)

I suspect I bought this one because I’ve always wanted to see The Mousetrap, which is a play Agatha Christie wrote that’s been running continuously in London since 1952. It has a twist ending, which the audience is asked not to reveal (it’s probably somewhere on the Internet, because we can’t have nice things).

At the request of the author, the short story that the play is based on has not been published since the play opened. Luckily for me, this book is from 1949.

(Though, to be honest, we don’t seem to be sticking to that anymore. A simple Google search turns up a bunch of editions.)

(Of course, now I can never see the play because I know the twist. Or at least, I won’t be surprised. It is a VERY nice twist.)

The book itself is a short story collection (the original title being Three Blind Mice and Other Stories), with “Three Blind Mice/The Mousetrap” taking up about a third of the book. There are also four Miss Marple stories, three Poirot stories, and one featuring a Mr. Harley Quin, whom I’ve never heard of before, but am tickled by the name.

Title: The Mousetrap
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery/short story collection
Publication Year: 1949

Pros: Everything
Cons: 
Not longer

(Varying dates for the individual stories, of course.)

I don’t have a lot to say about the individual stories–don’t want to give away anything–but it is a good mix, with some nonstandard twists that were very interesting. Miss Marple is my favorite, so I was glad to get so many stories about her (and they were all new to me, yay!) and am also fairly fond of Poirot, so it was all good.

I really enjoyed this collection. I would definitely recommend it, though, of course, who knows if other editions will have the same stories (aside from the first one, of course). Also, if you guys know any modern authors who write in a similar style to Agatha Christie, please tell me.

Have a lovely weekend, squiders! My show opens tomorrow, so I’m a bit in panic mode. It should be fine–it’s in good shape, I know my bits–but it’s a bit mentally taxing.

Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ♥ Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Goldcamp Vampire

Hooray! Another one off the shelf for your enjoyment. Neither my husband or me cop to buying this. I mean, look at the cover.

This has no elements that would entice my husband. It’s bright. It’s colorful. No one is immediately dying. (My husband tends towards darker fantasy.)

But I dislike vampires. A lot. I so rarely pick up any sort of media that includes them, and there one is, right in the title.

(It probably was me. But what was I thinking?)

Maybe I thought it would be a romp. I do like romps.

Anyway! I bought this book at a library book sale in 2015 and now I have read it, and we can talk about it.

Title: The Goldcamp Vampire
Author: Elizabeth Scarborough
Genre: Historical fantasy
Publication Year: 1987

Pros: Occasional fun capers and no one cares about there being a vampire, not even the Mounties
Cons: Wanting to beat viewpoint character over the head with something

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s fairly ridiculous, and no one’s fooling anyone, and also no one cares and it’s glorious. But I felt like the prose was dense and I admit to skimming when it got bogged down in description, and I wasn’t too fond of the main character, who often couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

(Goodreads includes a longer title: The Goldcamp Vampire, or the Sanguinary Sourdough, though I’m not sure where sourdough comes into it.)

This is also the second book in the series, the first being The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas. I have not read that book or this author previously.

Pelagia Harper, also known as Valentine Lovelace (author), has recently lost her father, so when his mistress offers her a chance to make a new life in the Yukon, she goes along with it, thinking she’ll at least have a good story to tell. There is a weird addition to the party, however–they’ll need to escort the coffin of the mistress’s new employer’s former partner with them.

By the time they reach their end destination, several people around them have died seemingly randomly, and Pelagia/Valentine has been implicated in at least one of their murders. So the mistress and her employer insist on hiding her in plain sight by dying her hair and making her a flamenco dancer at their saloon, answering to the name of Corazon and speaking no English.

So you can see what sort of book this is. I wish I had liked Pelagia/Valentine better. Besides the name confusion (as she rarely thinks of herself by name, and those around her have practically half-a-dozen names she’s referred to), she’s older (in her ’30s), an author, has dealt with supernatural creatures previously, and isn’t afraid to go to other people’s rescue. I should like her. But I didn’t. Nor was I too wild about most of the side characters, of which there are a couple dozen, which are sometimes hard to keep track of. I did like Larsson, Lomax, and Jack London, and occasionally Vasily Vladovitch. Oh, and the cat.

I dunno. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars. So not good, but not bad. If you like romps involving the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and vampires, hey, here’s a book for you. There’s also a were-moose.

Read anything else by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Would you recommend anything?

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?