Follow the Clues Challenge 2017

Bev of My Reader’s Block has a new challenge which sounds like fun.   You read a series of books which creates itself by each having something in common with the last book.   I’ll post what she wrote to describe it:

Evidence Trail Example: if the first book I read is by Agatha Christie, then my next book could be Arrow Pointing Nowhere by Elizabeth Daly who has often been referred to as “Agatha Christie’s favorite author.” Using “Arrow” from the Daly book’s title, then House of the Arrow by A.E.W. Mason (published in 1924) could be next and it might lead me to another book published in 1924…and so on. If you have doubts about whether your clue is convincing OR you need any clarification about the challenge at all, you may approach the bench with questions (phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com).

There are several levels of participation:
Infraction — six books read in a single chain of evidence
Misdemeanor — eight books read in a single chain of evidence
Felony — ten books read in a single chain of evidence
Capital Offence — twelve books in a single chain of evidence

I think I will go for 10 books.

Check out her site and sign up for the challenge, too.  Or she has a couple of others.  She is a mystery reader, so this is a mystery challenge, if you don’t like mysteries, you’ll have to start your own challenge, but give credit to her if you do!

Deeds of the Disturber

Last week at work there was a disaster — the internet went out.  For hours.  I hadn’t brought my Kindle and neither my phone nor my ipad had a current book loaded and safety features prevented me from signing into the app on the phone.  So I went and looked at the book exchange we have and found Elizabeth Peters’ Deeds of the Disturber.  I had read Peters back in the 80s.  In fact, I may have gotten as far as Disturber in the Amelia Peabody series, but I don’t remember.   It was much as I remember them.  This one was set in England rather than Egypt, but still concerned a mysterious priest appearing by a mummy in the British Museum.  The entire Emerson family are Egyptian experts and almost insufferably arrogant, but they are fun books.  Not fairly clued.  Maybe that’s why they’re referred to as novels of suspense in their latest edition, not that there’s a whole lot of that, either.  They’re pretty cozy, somewhat amusing, a bit frustrating.  I still think half what the criminals did was unnecessary.  Don’t read it for a clever mystery.   Read it if you like Victorian Egyptology with a bit of adventure thrown in and a pedantic child.


Forgot to mention one of my favorite things.   Amelia applies to Scotland Yard for information and works with none other than The Moonstone’s Inspector Cuff!   I love stuff like that.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Just to prove I actually do live in the 21st Century, I thought I’d tell you I saw Fantastic Beasts last weekend (stupid to go then, but that wasn’t my decision) and I loved it.   I think if you like Harry Potter, you’ll enjoy Fantastic Beasts.   Which clearly isn’t true, as it’s only getting 76 at Rotten Tomatoes, but I don’t understand why that is.  I went in knowing nothing, but having sort of seen the trailer and liking the look of it and I recommend you do the same, but if you won’t do that, I’ll tell you a bit about it.

Fantastic Beasts Trailer

It takes place in the Potterverse, but it is 1926 New York City.   A young wizard with a suitcase full of magical beasts arrives in New York and almost immediately the beasts in his case start causing trouble.  A niffler which looks something like a duckbilled platypus but with an endless appetite for shiny things escapes and leads our hero Newt Scamander on a merry chase.   His case gets mixed up with a nomag’s (American for muggle) who wants to be a baker and has gone to the bank for a loan.   Meanwhile, Scamander has been spotted by a local woman who turns out to work for the wizard bureaucracy, but is clearly not held in high esteem there.   Things get more complicated as there are problems with magical happenings in NYC in addition to Newt’s escapees.  The film is gorgeous.  Eddie Redmayne is endearingly awkward as Scamander.

I’ve looked at a couple negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and they just seem cranky.   No, it’s not Harry Potter.   If you want to watch Harry Potter, go do that.  Some reviewers felt there was too much going on, but I disagree.   I found Newt charming and I liked the rest of them, too.   I was rooting for them and I think Rowling did a great job, extending the Potter world, but not putting out a retread.   As 83% of the audience enjoyed it, that’s probably a better guide.   So if you want to see a fun movie full of magic and fantastic beasts and you aren’t a cranky-pants, go see it.


The Woman in White

Finally finished The Woman in White.   It took me sooo long to get around to reading it and then it took me sooo long to read it.   Not because it’s bad, but I think it’s just harder to read long 19th century novels.   I need a break from them.   Or a readalong to make me keep up.   Wilkie Collins though is an excellent writer.   I’m not sure why he doesn’t rank up there with Dickens except I suppose Dickens managed more novels and more important ones, but Collins’ characters have a depth and subtlety I don’t think is found in Dickens or if so, not much.  Even his maidenly, soppy heroine has a bit of a steel in her.   Not a lot, but she perks up every now and then.   That our hero chooses her over Marian is a sad thing.   But it’s still true that big blue eyes and pretty blond curls will win over people for no good reason.

I had expected to enjoy Woman in White more than The Moonstone, but a large chunk of it takes place during an abusive marriage in which our pretty blonde heroine is bullied by a lout of a husband and this I don’t enjoy.  Her too-lazy-to-be-truly-evil uncle is quite funny, especially during his portion of the narrative — like Moonstone, WiW is a collection of documents from different perspectives to tell the story — but I think not as funny as Drusilla Clack with her pamphlets and Betteredge was much more entertaining than Hartright, which now I look at the dates, makes sense.   Moonstone was eight years after Woman in White.   The Count is a wonderful character, so vividly drawn throughout.  His sentiment, his culture, his attachment to his little pets, all lend him a complexity seldom found in villains and certainly not found in his partner.   More Pesca would have been good and another scene or two with Hartright’s family I think would not have gone amiss, although it’s certainly a long enough book.   Both main narrators are exceedingly thorough in their narration.


And the long and short of it is, if you only read one Collins, I would recommend The Moonstone over The Woman in White, but they are both worth reading, so why choose only one?   I believe I will read more of him in the future.   He was a great writer, lively, entertaining and far less cloyingly sentimental than Dickens.   I need to go back to Our Mutual Friend, but the brother is becoming a jerk, so I find it tough to go back.  I forgot I have one complaint:  showing a gloomy lake, perfect for a crime scene, and then not having a body show up there is just wrong.  Oh, and the ending is very conveeeenient, but that happened a lot back then.

Passenger to Frankfurt

Time sure do fly.   I meant to write up Christie’s Passenger to Frankfurt before leaving on a long weekend, but I didn’t and here we are at the 21st already.  I think I finished it the 15th.  I’ve almost read all of her novels.  Then I read some reviews of it trying to discern why it spent 27 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.  Mostly people thought much the same as me, although most of them seemed even more confused.   The one who said much of what I would was Furrowed Middlebrow.  He even posted the Robert Barnard quote I would have from Wikipedia.

The book does have a plot, sort of.  It’s pretty much the same plot as in all her other “spy” novels.  A mysterious cabal of rich people have gone all Pinky and the Brain and are trying to take over the world.  This time using rebellious youth in all countries and a music festival.  It starts off all right with a mysterious woman asking Sir Stafford Nye to borrow his cloak so she can get back to England in an unkilled state.  He goes along with it and is swiftly embroiled in The Plot.   Any time they or his great aunt are involved, the book is fairly readable, but when they aren’t, it’s a bunch of government committee members rehashing the plot and updating its progress in the vaguest, most repetitive way possible.  Sadly, this is likely owing to dementia on Dame Agatha’s part, but that doesn’t explain 27 weeks on the best seller list.  Did it come with a free TV?

About 3/4 of the way through, there is an actual idea revealed which I don’t wish to spoil for anyone who’s a completist and feels the need to read this.  This idea makes the plot slightly less ridiculous, but should have been revealed much earlier and then thwarted later by the actions of our heroes rather than sort of dismissed through work already done.   I think there’s an actual book in this muddle, it just needs serious rewriting, more suspense, more suspicion, and a lot less vagueness and repetition.   Cover’s not bad though.


Hallowe’en Party

I know I shouldn’t write two in one day.    I should spread the wealth such as it is, but I have time and inclination to catch up, so catch up I will.  I have not been doing so hot on reading more things.    I was reading the Woman in White (still am, actually) and with two days left and only 40% in, I decided to go to Agatha, my old standby, especially as Hallowe’en Party was next in line and it was the day before Hallowe’en.  Sadly, I did not make it.   I finished it on the 2nd.   Dame Agatha is clearly losing it at this point.   It starts with the titular Halloween party for teenage children.  Ariadne Oliver is attending while visiting a friend.  They are decorating for the party during the day: there will be games and the girls can look in mirrors and see there true loves, bobbing for apples and something called Snapdragon which I had to look up on the internet.   Wonderful thing, the internet.  Snapdragon is a holdover from Victorian times, why anyone still plays it is a mystery.   In a pan you put raisins and brandy, then set the brandy on fire and take turns trying to reach in and grab the raisins.  Losers get singed knuckles, winners get singed knuckles and raisins.   Worst. Game. Ever.

Lovely blue color though.

At the party set up one of the children, Joyce, brags about having witnessed a murder once.  Before the night is through, Joyce is dead and Ariadne Oliver is off apples for life.  Ariadne brings in Hercule and then, most unlike herself, largely disappears from the book.   Hercule walks around town in his too tight shoes interviewing everyone and I had part of the solution from the get-go.   I honestly have no idea if I read this before or not.   It rang no bells, but it was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten a lot, but I really think it did not have the usual pool of possible suspects.   It went on and on about how people who should have been in asylums no longer are, though there was no one in the book who would have been in an asylum in olden times either.  Somehow though even if I guess part of the solution to a Christie book, that doesn’t mean I guess it all and I didn’t.   Though whether that’s because it was ludicrous is a fair question.   At least I now know to avoid any parties where Snapdragon is on the schedule.

TL, DR:  Don’t bother unless you’re a Christie completionist.

This was an R.I.P. read and I’ll probably post it, even though it’s late.   It is too recent to count for Bev’s scavenger hunt.   I have gone back to Woman in White so there may not be more reviews for a while.  I’m also planning to read 50 pages of The Waves for the Woolfalong.   I mean, I’m planning to read the whole thing, but I keep getting not very far in these Woolf books.   Even the diary and I like diaries.  I find it interesting though that even though I’ve only read the beginnings of Night and Day, Lee’s biography and the vol 1 of the Diary they all sort of resonate and reinforce each other.    Especially N&D and the biography, but there’s a better understanding of each because of the others.  I did finish To the Lighthouse and Monday and Tuesday.  I like this Woolfalong idea and would like to do something like it in future years.    Maybe read all of Proust one year.   Or pick another author and do the 4-5 works and a biography like this.   A project which lasts the year, but doesn’t shut out everything else.   Though I probably should have shut out a few more things and done better on Woolf.

Once more vowing to step up my game and finish the year with style and aplomb.  Hoping to finish Woman in White, the Waves, and maybe some other stuff I started earlier.  There’s enough of it to last the rest of the year, sad to say.

Master & Margarita: Non-Spoilery General Review

As some people already know, I did a readalong with Alice of Reading Rambo of this book in October.   It also fit in for the R.I.P. which I hadn’t realized until I started it, but it’s got the devil, witches flying around and demons, so that counts, I think.   Plus I’m counting it as my classic in translation for the Back to the Classics challenge.   Not published until 1966, it was written by Bulgakov from the late 20s until his death in 1940.   It’s quite a wonder it survived at all.   He burnt the first version.   Could have been arrested for writing it at all.   His wife carefully kept it until things relaxed a bit in the 60s and it has been a huge hit in Russia ever since.   Bulgakov has become one of their most celebrated writers although for the most part he seems to have mostly befuddled our little group.   In Moscow, there is a sign near Patriarch’s Ponds:


“Don’t Talk to Strangers” which is exactly how the book begins.   Berlioz, an editor, and Ivan, a poet, are discussing an article Ivan has written about Jesus which Berlioz is unsatisfied with because it made Jesus seem too real.   The goal is to discredit the existence of Jesus, God, the Devil and any other religious or superstitious figures.   Unfortunately for Berlioz, at that moment, the Devil himself introduces himself to the conversation.   The two do not realize exactly who they’re talking to, although his strangeness is immediately apparent.  In addition to looking a bit odd, he seems to be claiming to have known Kant and then Pontius Pilate.   From here, things just get more and more bizarre.   The devil and his cohorts, a couple of strange, demonic men and a humanoid cat cause all sorts of trouble, driving men mad, transporting them to Yalta, getting them run over by streetcars…   It is a wild, prankish, entertaining ride that makes you think maybe LSD was actually invented much earlier.

Then there is a parallel story of the crucifixion which is told first by Woland, the devil, and then later as part of a book which is central to the story of the Master and Margarita who don’t show up until much later.   Pilate’s story and Yeshua’s is quite different from the one that has come down to us.   As I read somewhere that I can’t figure out where,  ‘the devil is there but not that devil and Jesus is there, but not that Jesus’ which seems to be about as well as it can be put.   Woland is only sort of satanic and Yeshua is sort of like Jesus and the whole story seems to mean something important which I can’t guess.  But although more than half our group was pretty much ‘wtf?’ about the whole story, I highly recommend it.   I don’t get it, but I don’t think you’ll read anything else like it and many people have loved it.  In its absurdity, I think it captures something about living in Soviet times that could not be captured any other way.

There are quite a few translations of this book.   I went with the Burgin and O’Connor after looking up a couple websites which posted comparison sentences.  I’m not sure they had all the versions though.   Here’s an article definitely not recommending Pevear and Volokhonsky  It is not about Bulgakov, it is about Tolstoy, but reveals P&V’s attitude toward translation and why their work might be “like singing or piano playing by someone who is not musical.”

Phinnea's Book Blog List

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