Destination Unknown

My latest Christie and another Not Proper Book of Summer.   My excuse is that I found it having mislaid it months ago and started reading it.  It was so familiar at first I thought perhaps I’d read it and forgotten it, but no, I think I read the first chapter, the rest was new.  New to me, as it was published in 1954.   This is another of her forays into spy territory.  More entertaining than some, but the woman was no Le Carré.  While I don’t think of her mysteries as cozy — though probably most people do — they offer a puzzle, which her thrillerish books don’t.   They are vague and unrealistic, frequently featuring a plucky, down on her luck young heroine and a nebulous force of evil that secretly controls everything.

This time our plucky heroine is a redhead named Hilary who’s feeling a bit suicidal after her child died and her husband left her.   She has gone to Morocco to feel better and when she doesn’t, she goes out in search of sleeping pills.   She is noticed and offered a deal by a British agent — a probably suicidal mission as a more interesting way to end her life.  She resembles the wife of a missing scientist, Olive Betterton, who is dying after a plane crash.   Hilary takes the deal and becomes Olive Betterton who was on her way to join her husband wherever he’s gone.   They expect to find not only Tom Betterton, but dozens of missing scientists from around the world and foil the foul plot, whatever it may be.

destinationunknownAnother super-boring cover.   It’s got a plane on it, so that’s the category for the Scavenger Hunt.   I think I’ve read maybe 4 qualifying books all with lousy covers.

If you enjoy, light, spy fantasies, this might be for you.  If you like a good mystery, skip it.   There isn’t even really much of a crime until the end.   In fact, it’s difficult to see why the whole thing had to be an evil plot to begin with.

Third Girl

Yesterday I had a feeling there was something else.   I was not so lame as to only read 2 books in a month and a half.  (Can’t believe I totally missed July.)  I also read Agatha Christie’s Third Girl.  The title comes from the concept of sharing expensive apartments in London – a young, working woman and a friend would get an apartment and then they’d need a third girl.  It is a Poirot mystery with a completely unbelievable solution, but Mrs. Oliver always amuses me.  I never get tired of Christie essentially satirizing herself, or at least herself as famous author, hating the detective she invented on a whim and has had to live with ever since.  There is something about later Christie that never quite works as well as Christie between the wars, and probably up to the 50s.  She moved with the times, it’s always around the year she wrote, so there are young working women and artists and drugs, but somehow it always worked better for me in an isolated old mansion with silver chafing pots keeping breakfast hot for all the guests in the morning, minus the ones who’d just been killed.


Not the cover I had, but much better.   Honestly, I begin to think cover art is a lost art.   Maybe because of ebooks.   I did read an ebook, but it still had a cover of a door open and a shadow stretching into a room.   Yaaaaawwwn.   Knives and numbers and peacock feathers much better.   Anyhoo, it starts with the third girl in an apartment visiting Poirot because she thinks she may have killed someone.  Then she bugs out without saying more because Poirot is Too Old.   This, naturally, wounds Poirot’s amour propre and he goes to see his friend Ariadne Oliver for some comfort.   It turns out Mrs. Oliver was the one who recommended this girl see Poirot to begin with so tracking her down becomes much easier.   Finding the crime is much more difficult and the book is entertaining enough as you read until you get to the end and think, yeah, no way.   I can’t, of course, tell you why without giving the whole game away.   I would say this is probably only for Christie completists.  Or fans of Mrs. Oliver as she’s in fine form.

Back by Popular Demand

Okay, there was no popular demand.   But I’m back.   For now.   Will it last?  No one knows.  Time will tell, as they say.   And I’m way behind and off-liste, mostly, for my Ten Books of Summer.   I did read one that I was supposed to, so let’s start with that.   The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  This is a trilogy of which I’ve only read the first one.   It was described to me as Harry Potter for grown-ups.  Well, yeeees, kinda.  It starts off with Quentin Coldwater and his friends in New York about to apply for college.   But Quentin is different and after some Strange Events he is inducted into a magic college.   All very Potter-like except older, yet less mature.  I found it pretty readable, but not terribly gripping.   The older Quentin gets, the bigger a baby he seems.   In the novel is a series of fictional books which seem to be parallel to the Narnia books, which turn out not to be fictional.   It is different enough from both Narnia and Potter that it doesn’t feel like Grossman just ripped them off, and perhaps if I stuck with it and went on Quentin would stop sulking at some point.   The villain was pretty creepy, the magic was different, I’m not sure why I feel so meh about this book, except I think the characters just don’t cut it for me.   I have the second book, maybe I’ll give it a shot some time, but not soon.


Can anyone explain the cover?   I don’t remember a tree of significance in the story.  But then it was over a month ago.


I also read another Mr. and Mrs. North mystery Hanged for a Sheep in which the ex-husband of a rich woman is shot in her dining room in the middle of the night and there is apparently no evidence to pin it on anyone.   The lack of police procedure stuff in these novels annoyed me in this one.  I just couldn’t buy that the murderer could shoot the guy, move the body and yet there be nothing to give that person away.   And it was just so stupid to kill them there in the first place.   Shoot him and dump him in the river.   Not your family home.   This is, of course, Pam’s family and more people must die before they figure anything out.   I would have to say this is not a good one, but I will read more of them.

I definitely put too much history/biography on the list.   I am working on Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, not progressing on Our Mutual Friend, and made some headway on Kim.   I’ve also read a bit of another North novel, a bit of Kerouac’s Big Sur and started the Problem of the Green Capsule.   Perhaps I should just review beginnings of books.   I could do a lot more of those.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Against the odds, I have read my second book of the #20booksofsummer and it was on my list.  I can’t remember what put it in my head to read Mrs. Palfrey, but it has been on my radar for over a year.  Now it has been read and I must say Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent writer, but damn it’s depressing.   Mrs. Palfrey is an elderly widow who moves into a quiet, sad hotel in London to see out her remaining days in quiet.   It’s not absolutely stultifying, but close.  Mrs. Palfrey and four or five other residents take their meals together and spend most of their evenings in the parlor sometimes watching the telly.   They all long to be visited by the outside world, to be taken places, to have something to look forward to.   Except for Mrs. Burton whose brother-in-law comes regularly, these visits and outings are rare.   Mrs. Palfrey’s own daughter in Scotland pays her almost no attention, as does her grandson, Desmond, who is living in London and simply can’t be bothered.   The lack of care among most of the family members in this book is what is most depressing.


Mrs. Palfrey tries to keep a stiff upper lip and soldier on.   She makes herself take walks around the neighborhood and it is on one of these that she has a fall outside a young man’s cramped bedsitter.   He sees her fall and rushes to her aid and though a bit confused and embarrassed, Mrs. Palfrey laps up this bit of attention like a glass of water in the desert.  They hit it off and a sort of awkward friendship develops, but Mrs. Palfrey suffers from caring too much what other people think and introduces the young man, Ludo, as her grandson Desmond.  This bit of intrigue makes life more interesting with the enjoyment of a shared conspiracy and the danger of being caught.  Ludo is a sympathetic, caring and good-looking young man who makes Mrs. Palfrey happy when they are together, though naturally it is not nearly enough for her.   Being elderly doesn’t change human nature, just their ability to take an active part in life.  Freedom and self-determination are curtailed and looking down the road, will only be more so.  Nothing very exciting happens in the novel, but it is an extremely well-drawn picture of the autumn of life.

20, no, 10 Books of Summer

I finished May and began June with Dame Agatha.  I read A Caribbean Mystery and And Then There Were None in May and finished both by the 31st.  I had skipped None in reading order because I remembered whodunnit, but then it was on sale for two bucks, so I bought it and really, it’s pretty gripping even when you know the murderer.  A Caribbean Mystery is more traditional Christie, except Miss Marple gets to go on a nice island vacation.  I’m pretty sure I read this one too, in my youth.  I suspect there were more of the later ones in the library when I was reading her in my teens.  I didn’t guess because it seemed too obvious.  I thought it couldn’t be who it seemed to be because there seemed no mystery about who it was — I’m probably not being very clear here.  It’s okay, not great.

So, started the Ten Books of Summer #20booksofsummer with Our Mutual Friend which is, of course, a doorstop in print.  I started it once before, but have gotten much farther this time.  But it’s soo slow I got restless and read At Bertram’s Hotel.  Yes, less than a week in and I’m off-piste already (Or should I say, off-liste?)   I did leave a blank knowing I would do this, but I didn’t think I’d do it so soon.   So, the first book is done.  At Bertram’s hotel is another Miss Marple, but more of a crime novel like The Big Four.  It’s so so as a book, but boy do I want to stay in that hotel.   Perfect comfort, fantastic tea with whatever you like.  No idea why anyone’s top choice would be seed cake, but if it were, you could get it.  I’m back to Our Mutual Friend at the moment, which I am enjoying, it just takes such ages I will probably start something else soon.  Hopefully from the liste.



I forgot And Then There Were None qualifies for Bev’s Vintage Scavenger Hunt.

and_then_there_were_none_agatha_chrisite I guess I will go with Body of Water.    Haven’t been reading so much this year and what I have has been post 1960, but there’s still a little over half a year left to do better.

Spring and Summer

I thought to myself the other day ‘It’s almost June.  Isn’t that Once Upon a Time time?’  It is.   Only two months late.   But as Carl makes this easy with a category you only need one book in I’m going to sign up this late.   It goes until June 21st, so if you’re interested in fairy tale, mythology, folklore, fantasy…  and can read a book by the 21st, sign up!   It has lovely art, too!


I am signing up for The Journey as I like to make things easy.  One book.   That’s it.  I can always do more if I have the time.




I may not have time because I’ve decided I really need to refocus on reading.  I’ve read like 13 things this year, which is pathetic.  So, I’m stepping it up, but not too much with the 10 Books of Summer challenge.   Cathy of is doing 20 Books of Summer, but I’m a slow reader and have not been very focused this year, plus I have a terrible time sticking to a list.   I’ve tried to make the list fun enough that I h



Dead Wake – Erik Larson: author of Devil in the White City

Kim – Rudyard Kipling:  having failed to read the Buddenbrooks for 1901, I thought I should try this instead

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer – X.J. Kennedy

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor

Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L. Sayers

Magicians – Lev Grossman

Desert Queen – Janet Wallach: saw the movie and wanted to know more about Gertrude Bell

Virginia Woolf – Hermione Lee:  Woolfing Along July-Aug book

and a player to be named later.   I had worked out 10, but realized one was already started which I guess would be cheating.  I think it better be something light as I have two history, a biography and two classics which may or may not be too much for a 3 month period.   There are bloggers out there who read that monthly or so it seems, but I am not one of them.  Then again, there are people who read less than this all year.  But ‘comparisons are odorous’ and that way lies madness.   If I must pick a 10th, I’ll update soon!


Monday or Tuesday, Or Woolfing Along After All

Hello, Friends, by which I mean strangers I may or may not sort of know in a way through their writings on teh interwebs.   And maybe that’s a purer way of knowing people.   I wonder what Woolf would have made of it — she who writes a story in which someone invents a whole back story for a woman on a train only to have it shattered when reality proves to be other than she imagined.   I am, once more, or really for the first time, #Woolfalong-ing rather than Woolfingalongafter.   Perhaps I’ll even go back to Night and Day and take another stab at it.  For the May-June phase, we were to read a book of short stories.   I chose Monday or Tuesday because it was one she published during her lifetime with her husband on the Hogarth Press.   If you had one of those first thousand copies, you had a book not merely written by the author, but published by her as well.   As it turns out, it is very short.   I read it in two days.  Which may be how I like my experimental fiction.


Strange to think just the year before Agatha Christie published her first mystery.   Two very different writers.  Woolf is almost entirely observation in these stories.  In fact, calling them stories seems incorrect.  The aforementioned woman on the train — who is just a daydream.  A narrator wondering about a mark on the wall.  These come closest to being stories, which is not very close.  Then you have observations.  Acute ones.  Details by the hundred.  It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope or a fly’s eye and trying to make sense of it.  They say our brain filters out much unnecessary information which enables us to get on with our day.  This reads like a mind without those filters — overwhelming detail.  Detail which adds up to nothing.  With the exception of A Society which follows a group of young women as they investigate how men have run the world while they’ve been busy populating it.   They seem to conclude that no, by and large men have not done a very good job and yet the investigation has exhausted and irked them to the point of simply throwing in the towel.  Can’t say I blame them.  Trying to change the world is hard work with a deeply uncertain outcome.   The story is entertaining and frustrating simultaneously, but it’s definitely a story which makes it oddly out of place in Monday or Tuesday.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.