"Take no heed of her...She reads a lot of books."
~Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (Gyles Brandreth)

This review has been a long time coming, especially since the book itself should not have taken this long to read.  At less than 400 pages, this engaging mystery should have been a quick read on a Sunday afternoon.  Instead, it sort of dragged.  I had read it once before (pre-blog, if I recall) and couldn't remember why I never finished the series.  Ah, that might be why.

Anyways, dear readers, I thought I'd give it another go.  And this is the end result.

The best way I can describe this book to people is like this: Think of a Sherlock Holmes book.  But, instead of Sherlock Holmes, you have Oscar Wilde.  And instead of Dr. Watson, you have poet Robert Sherard.  When Wilde discovers the corpse of his friend and pupil (and possibly also his lover) Billy Wood, naked, surrounded by candles, with his throat slit ear to ear, he decides that Billy's killer must be found.  But when the police aren't willing to look into the death of a street urchin whose body has mysteriously disappeared from the crime scene, Wilde takes matters into his own hands and goes searching for clues with the help of his friends Robert Sherard and Arthur Conan Doyle.

In theory, this is a great book.  And really, it was an interesting read and I did enjoy it.  But, it was just so slow.  It moved at a glacial pace (okay, perhaps that's unkind).  It was slow, but it was not boring.  Oftentimes, there were twists and surprises which caught me completely off guard.  Still, there was something missing.  And I'm not exactly sure what that is.  This had all the makings of an amazing book, but instead, I feel it only earned a very average 3 of 5 on Goodreads.

After this, I'll moving away from mysteries for a moment, and turning to some science books I picked up (mostly chemistry) and a bit of sci-fi/fantasy.  Stay tuned for more reviews!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)

I'd like to say at this point that my summer reading has gotten off to a good start.  I've been out of school for about a week (give or take a day or two) and I'm already posting about my second summer mystery!  This one is a bit of a jump from the Father Brown mysteries.  Now, instead of a Roman Catholic priest, we have an aspiring chemist, who just happens to be an eleven year old girl with a passion for poison.  Her name is Flavia de Luce.

Life has not been super-kind to Flavia.  Her father has been emotionally distant since the death of her mother when Flavia was a baby, and her two older sisters are always ganging up on her.  (Not that she can't handle herself.  She gets back at them on more than one occasion).  Things start to get interesting for Miss Flavia, however, when a dead bird turns up on the doorstep with a postage stamp pinned to its beak.  This is followed up the next morning when Flavia finds a dying man in the cucumber patch.  But, what starts off as simply fascinating soon becomes personal when Flavia's father is charged with the murder.  Soon, she finds much more than she bargained for in this exciting story.

I have never been much for cozy mysteries, which is why I thought this would be a great summer reading assignment.  As far as I'm concerned, this topic is about as close to virgin soil as I'm going to get when it comes to reading materials.  Sure, I've read mysteries, but not many.  Perhaps I don't because of a couple simple reasons.  (1.) I hate being able to guess who the murderer is right off the bat.  Do I try and guess anyway?  Of course!  Half the fun of reading a mystery is to figure out who the murderer is, what's the motive, and how was the murder committed.  A lot of times I can guess.  And that's annoying.  (2.) Or, the murderer will be something stupid.  "I killed Mrs. Patterson because I wanted to be the head of the bake-sale committee for this year's PTA."  Huh.  Not much of a high-stakes crime here.  Just a stupid one.  This book avoided both of these pitfalls.  Not only was I not able to guess who the murderer was, but the motive and method were thought-out.  It was very good!

Another of this book's positive characteristics was the detective.  For such a grim sort of character (an 11 year old with a passion for poison!!) Flavia was incredibly likeable.   She was funny, candid, and fascinating.  Sometimes, when writing a mature child character, he or she does not sound realistic.  Mostly, you get the image of an adult when reading, or worse, the character either sounds creepy or fakey-fake fake.  So, of course, I was vaguely concerned that Flavia would turn out the same way.  I was pleasantly surprised.  She's smart, certainly.  In fact, remembering the awful struggle that high school chemistry was for me, I would even venture to say that Flavia might be smarter than most adults my age (and probably smarter than me).  But, at the same time, there is no doubt that she's a child.  She's simply a beautifully written, three-dimensional character.  Clever, but naive, Flavia is an impressive sample of a well-written character, and I can't get enough of her!  Good news is that there are at least six books out, and a seventh on the way for 2015.

On a bit of a tangent, I know I had some great supplementary materials for Father Brown.  Coincidentally, while there are no movies about Flavia out yet (as far as I'm aware), there is a huge stack of chemistry-related books lying on the floor of my bedroom.  I'll hopefully be posting about those soon.  It's entirely a coincidence that I have those.  I didn't even make the connection about Flavia being a chemist until early this morning.  Oh, and according to IMDB, there's a possible TV series in the works, as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Complete Father Brown, Part 1 (GK Chesterton)

And so begins the Summer Reading 2014 collection!  And our first detective is one Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest with a knack for solving all the mysteries that he has the misfortune to encounter.  This collection, written by a personal favorite of mine, GK Chesterton, has been on my To-Read list for years.  It's only now that I'm getting around to picking them up.

The collection I read was actually comprised of two Father Brown books: The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown.  Before this, I had only read one of the stories before: The Blue Cross.  It was a great story about the French detective Valentin pursuing the master criminal Flambeau, who happens to be pursuing the mild-mannered, doddering priest Father Brown.  I highly recommend checking it out, just for a sample of these sorts of stories.  You can actually read it online here.  (Project Guttenberg is great for reading old books in the public domain, such as this one!)

What I liked the best about this detective is just how sweet and innocent he is.  Father Brown is not your typical action hero.  He's too short to scale walls, and not strong enough to fight off any desperate criminals.  But, he's full of common sense and goodwill.  He's more concerned with saving the soul of the perpetrator than he is with seeing that justice is done.  But, at the same time, he's not going around preaching and emphasizing an overly Catholic attitude.  This is not one of those books that is made to be obviously Christian to the point where everyone but the most zealous of believers are ready to put the book down.  For the most part, he most Catholic thing about him is the fact that he's a priest.  These are genuinely enjoyable cozy mysteries with surprising twists.  My personal favorite was probably The Hammer of God, which is about the mysterious death of the local minister's womanizing, hedonistic brother who is discovered dead in the center of town with his skull completely smashed like a pumpkin.  The murder weapon is a small hammer--too small to have done that kind of damage--which belongs to the cuckolded blacksmith whose wife was having an affair with the victim.

In an attempt to expand the scope of Ramblings, I'll also be including any supplementary material concerning the detectives that I pick up over the course of my summer.  In the case of Father Brown, there is actually a lot more than you would expect, including several audio adaptations (at least one of which is not so much an audiobook as a "radio program" or "audio play" retelling), and a couple of TV series.  I've been watching and greatly enjoying the one starring Kenneth More as the little priest.  While he appears to be a bit older than suggested in the books, he does an absolutely wonderful job, and I highly recommend it!  I'll be posting more about that later, though, when I have the chance to finish the series.

So, in the meantime, just sit back and prepare for more mysteries and mayhem to come.  Is there a mystery series you have particuarly enjoyed?  Share it in the comments below!  Unless something changes (and you never know!!) I'll be posting about the Flavia de Luce series next, with the first book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  (And in case you were wondering, yes, I would also like to eventually read The Complete Father Brown, Part 2!)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

Summer is finally here!  And it could not have come fast enough.  With my job and classes, I found that I rarely had time to spend with my friends or do anything fun.  It was just work, work, work.  Even my Spring Break was one long week of playing "catch up" on the projects and assignments I didn't do earlier in the semester.

I'm tired.  I think that sums up my feelings right now rather well.  I'm tired, but excited for the chance to spend some more time doing fun things, blogs, catching up with friends, spending time outside, and of course: reading!

I've done some thinking about what I wanted to do for this summer's reading theme, and I believe I've settled on a suitable one.  It's a mystery.

No, that's not me being coy.  The theme of this summer's reading is going to be "It's a Mystery".  A focus of course, on the mystery novel.  Alternate titles I went through before settling on this one were:
  • The Butler Did It
  • Death of a Writer
  • A Cozy Mystery
  • Killing Lovborg's Child (a reference to the play Hedda Gabler--the "child" is a manuscript)
  • Miss Scarlet, in the Library, with the Candlestick
In all cases, the spirit of it all is the same.  This is going to be a summer of mysteries!  I've been collecting mysteries that I want to check out for a while.  Here's just a small sampling of what I have planned:
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Anything Sherlock Holmes (both Conan Doyle and various adaptations)
  • The Joseph Rouletabille stories by Gaston Leroux
  • The Arsene Lupin stories by Maurice Leblanc
  • The Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton
  • The Flavia de Luce stories by Alan Bradley
  • The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Granted, this list is a bit ambitious, but I'm just hoping to at least sample each series.  You never know what you'll like and what you won't.  Be sure to check in periodically, where I'll be keeping you up to date on what I'm reading and what I plan on reading next.  As always suggestions are most welcome!

Until next time,