23 April, 2010

Presenting: Teen Detectives, Inc.!

If there's anything my twenty-something years of reading have taught me, it's that if you have a crime that's been committed (whether it's murder, or arson, or burglary) and if you have a mystery to be solved (lost treasure, or voices in the night, or haunted towers) then there's no point calling in the police. No, the best possible people to get in on the case are: teenagers. This year, my focus is going to be on mocking - that is to say, celebrating - the world of teen detectives.

March 2009 to March April 2010, I was doing my 52 Book Challenge, wherein I read a book that was completely new to me, every week, for a year. That's now done and dusted, and I was left wondering what to with my blog in 2010. This year is thesis year for me, which means I have less time for pleasure reading then I would otherwise, but I can see no reason why I couldn't be spending my time reading some relatively short books and blogging about them. I'm probably not going to be updating as *cough* regularly as I have for the past year, but I'll do my best, and hopefully it will be a lot of fun.

So, update your bookmarks with the blog's new name, and come hang out with me (and Nancy, and Frank, and Trixie, and Timmy the Dog, and Meg, and the BSC...) while I give some in-depth analysis of these detectives and their mysteries. And by 'in-depth analysis' I mean 'recapping and eye-rolling'. The first post, The Double Jinx Mystery, will be coming soon.

It's going to be a good year.

20 April, 2010

Book 52 - "Blood oozed across the top and down the front of the seat, adding to that pooled around the gas and brake pedals..."

The last book! But not the end of this blog. Watch this space.

In the mean time, thanks to everyone who has been reading - I hope you've been enjoying following me as much as I've enjoyed the readin' and writin' (no 'rithmatic, luckily.)

Title: Grave Secrets (2002)

Kathy Reichs

Why this book:

Because I watch the tv series Bones, which is very-only-vaguely based on Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan novels. Of which this is one! Also: they're best sellers, and I usually enjoy even the most turgid of best sellers.

What's it about?

Dr Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist - that is, she looks at very dead bodies to try and understand how they lived (and how they died). She is currently working in Guatamala, trying to identify the bodies of peasants killed in a bloody massacre so that they can be given a proper burial. While there, a local policeman who knows she has worked with police before asks for Temperance's help on a case involving the dead body of a runaway teen found in a sewerage tank.

Neither job is going to be easy. There are plenty of people who want the past to stay buried - people with power, people who are now living respectable lives who don't want their former crimes revealed. People who see Temperance as a threat. People who may have just killed one of her friends and colleagues.

Temperance is stubborn, and she's determined to find the truth. But will it be at the expense of her own life?

The Good and the Bad

This is one of those books that just didn't click for me. I read furiously through the first half, and then I lost interest in it and had to really push myself through the second half. Actually, I think that had less to do with the book and more to do with how hectic my life got while I was reading it, but when I really want to read something I'll read it, come hell or high water. Grave Secrets just didn't quite make it.

Not that there isn't plenty to like about the book! I don't really think Tempe Brennan is the most interesting of characters, not to me personally, but she is a highly intelligent older woman who still enjoys (several!) romantic relationships, which is something nice to see (and probably part of the reason the series appeals to so many readers). The science-y bits in it are, as far as I understand, almost always right, as Kathy Reichs was (is?) herself in fact a forensic anthropologist. And the dig is based on one which Reichs herself attended, which just helps to make it more believable and horrifying.

I suspect I actually would have enjoyed this book more if I'd already "met" the characters, as a fair it of the non-mystery aspects of the book involve Tempe considering her relationship with her male detective friend, and I just wasn't that interested in reading about it - but if I'd read more of the background to the series, I expect I would have been super into it. I mean, the guy does sound pretty hot.

So should I read it or what?
I am decided "meh" about this book. I can't recommend it, but I don't... not recommend it. You know what I do recommend though? Bones, starting at season 3. It is ridiculous and hilarious, and I love it.

Video of the day:

03 April, 2010

Book 51: Old Peter's Russian Tales / Google and Me

As I'm coming up to the end of my 52 Book Challenge - one book to go after this! - I thought I'd share some of the better searches people have used to find my blog. I've been subscribing to a couple of google stats thingies for a while now - sadly not all year, or I suspect I'd have some ever better results. I use the word 'better' lightly.

Firstly, there's the people who have stumbled across my blog while trying to do their homework. How do I know they were trying to do their homework? Well, because they used to following searches:
  • an excerpt from agatha christie's book that explains her life but in diferant characters
  • how was yu-fang able to be happy even though she and dr. xia lived in abject proverty in wild swans
  • how does yu-fang (the grandmother) escape her life as a concubine?
  • what does the author think of the kuomintang rule in the book wild swans
  • where does a pocket full of rye take place?
  • sparknotes for the graveyard book
  • waht's bad about dreams of my russian summer
and my personal favourite: in what country did the bloodhound invented

Children, Auntie Helen has a piece of advice for you, and this is it: the best place to find out what happened in a book is to read the Goddamn book. Also, here is some other advice: just typing your homework question verbatim into google will probably not find you the best website for answering it. I mean, you might end up here.

I'm giving this advice for a reason: sometimes people land here looking for some! They want to know what would happen if while visiting a friend at his house, you accidentally broke an expensive vase. They want to know why all redheads look the same or what guys notice about you within 6 seconds. And they want to know how did you notice if it is manual book. If my blog has managed to help just one of these desperate souls, then that has made my life all the richer.

Other stats coming soon, possibly, if I think they're interesting. (They're probably only interesting to me.)

Title: Old Peter's Russian Tales (1916)

Author: Arthur Ransome

Why this book:
I read Arthur Ransome's childrens' adventure series, Swallows and Amazons, growing up, but it wasn't until I read a somewhat-mostly-partially fictionalised account of his own life in Blood Red, Snow White that I realised how truly badass he was. He was an Englishmen living in Russia at the time of the revolution who may have been a spy for the British, and may have been a spy for the Russians. He definitely married Trotsky's secretary, at any rate. Anyway, I was interested enough in Ransome's life in Russia to be interested in this book.

What's it about?
Old Peter's Russian Tales is basically a collection of Russian folktales, and was (I believe) instrumental in taking these stories to a foreign audience. Some of the stories may be familiar to readers, like the tales of Baba Yaga; others are a little more obscure, but fascinating nonetheless.

I'm particularly fond of Baba Yaga myself, but there are so many good stories in this slim volume that it's impossible to mention them all. Frost is similar to the story of Cinderella, only more people die (they don't mess around in Russian folktales). Little Master Misery is a morality tale of the good-poor-brother mean-rich-brother, but there's always something enjoyable about people getting what they deserve. Oh, and Who lives in the skull is great too. It's about some animals who... live in a skull. Until a bear squashes them. That's the whole story.

The Good and the Bad
One of the lovely things about this book is that it's written as a grandfather, Old Peter, telling the stories to Maroosia and Vanya, his granchildren, and in that way they're stories that are just dying to be read out loud, perfectly inkeeping with the idea that these would have traditionally been oral tales. There's also interruption in the stories as Maroosia and Vanya ask their grandfather questions; but in such a way that the narrative flow is steady. I also love that, when his grandchildren are too disbelieving of his stories, Old Peter insists that of course they're true - he knew one of the characters, or was at their wedding.

So should I read it or what?
If you like folktales and fairytales, then definitely; otherwise, it's not a book that's going to hold much interest to you. However! I do highly recommend Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick. Quite apart from starring Arthur Ransome, it's an interesting and readable account of the revolution, which does contain fictionalised scenes but is pretty good on most of the facts.

02 April, 2010

Book 50 - "...all the secret agents following each other round and round Geneva, all knowing each other by sight, and often ending up at the same bar"

Title: Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)

Author: Agatha Christie

Why this book:
I, um, accidentally tripped into a second-hand bookshop, and then I bumped into a bookshelf and this book just happened to fall into my hands, and then as I was trying to get rid of it I dislodged my cash and it just flew onto the counter, and for some reason the bookseller thought I was trying to buy it, and I was too flustered to explain that that wasn't what I had intended to do at all. Honestly.

What's it about?
Murder most foul, of course!

In the fictional Middle Eastern country of Ramat, a revolution is about to take place. Warned ahead of time, Prince Ali Yusuf entrusts a very important package to his friend and pilot, Bob Rawlinson. Bob hides it away for safekeeping, then does his best to fly Ali to safety. But the plane is lost...

...and some months later, at his niece's school, a gymteacher is shot dead in the brand new Sport Pavilion. She won't exactly be missed, since she's very new and she's not very likeable, but for a school like Meadowbank reputation is everything, and having a murdered teacher in one's sport pavilion does not exactly increase the school roll. What exactly was Grace Springer doing there that night, and who would have a reason to kill her?

The school headmistress, the successful Miss Bulstrode, has felt since the beginning of term that something is wrong - but what? It's not just that one of her new staff members is a government spy, or that the Prince Ali Yusuf's former fiancee may get kidnapped at any time. Luckily, one of the school's best and brightest pupils, Julie Upjohn, knows just who to ask for help - a certain Belgian detective...

The Good and the Bad
I was always going to love a book which melded my two favourite genres - detective fiction and girls' boarding school stories - and Cat Among the Pigeons was everything I had wanted. Thrills! Murder! Tennis! I think I read the entire thing with a goofy grin on my face. The plotting, the insight into the characters, the twists and turns and red herrings, everything about this book screams that this is Christie at her best.

But - and this is a big but - this should never have been a Poirot novel. He only turns up more than halfway through the book, and feels like an interloper, an uncomfortable presence. He solves the mystery - of course - but the book simply feel imbalanced after he appears. I can't exactly blame Christie for Poirot's appearance. She was constantly being hounded to write more about him; she got to the point where she came to loathe her own creation (and even invented a fictional detective writer, who obviously represented herself, who similarly hated her most famous detective, obviously an outlet for Christie's frustration.) But she could have worked him more naturally into the story, if she had to have him, rather than have him appear at the end like a thunderstorm raining down the denouement on the unprepared reader.

Other issues? Well, there's some dodgy racial opinions going on - Ramat will never be a democracy because, it's implied, the people of Ramat aren't capable of understanding the benefits of it. Prince Ali Yusuf, of course, has the benefit of a superior Western education, which is why he wants to reform his country. A Middle Eastern country rejecting Western values could almost be a contemporary storyline - but the suggestion in Cat Among the Pigeons is that the prince's subjects simply aren't enlightened enough to want to change. Completely usual thinking for someone of Christie's age and era, I guess, but that doesn't make it grate any less.

I loved the melding of thriller and detective yarn, though - and, given that I also enjoyed Destination Unknown I'm definitely keen to read a few more of Christie's thrillers, however far-fetched they may be.

So should I read it or what?
The day I find a Christie I wouldn't recommend will be a traumatic day indeed.