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

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Alan Bradley)

Summer mysteries are well under way.  I've officially finished the second Flavia de Luce book mere minutes before writing this.  This is a wonderful series.  I can't wait to get my hands on book 3 (A Red Herring Without Mustard).  But, for now, let's just focus on book 2: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.  First, I have to say Mr. Bradley has the most interesting titles for books!
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
  • Red Herring Without Mustard
  • I am Half-Sick of Shadows
  • Speaking from Among the Bones
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Not yet published)
I thought this book was delightfully unsettling.  What I like about this series (from the two books I've read) is that while the deaths are certainly unsettling, they are never graphic or disturbing.  This is a classic cozy mystery, where you can close the book at any time and go right to sleep, instead of staring up at the ceiling thinking about the grisly details.  While in book 1, Flavia, our precocious 11-year old chemist, finds a dying man in the garden, this time he falls right onto the stage during a puppet show being put on in the parish hall.  And there is a whole delicious list of characters and suspects.  Who would have killed Rupert Porson, the puppeteer?  Could it have been his pregnant traveling companion, tired of his abuse or his wandering eye?  Or was it the mad woman who lives in the forest, who shouted that the devil was dead when Rupert came crashing down onto the stage?  Or perhaps the German POW who lives on one of the local farms and has a bit of shared history with him?
It was a fun book.  Sure, it was perhaps not as good as the first one, but I really enjoyed it.  I just love the main protagonist, Flavia.  She's clever, cute, and feels so original.  As a kid, I think this is the sort of person I would have loved to hang out with; she's smart and adventurous.  Plus, she's got a heart of gold (when she's not plotting revenge on her sisters, who can be rather cruel to her).
I feel like there is more that I should be saying about this book, but I'm afraid if I do, I'll be giving away plot points.  And besides, all my gushing about how wonderful Flavia is was taken care of in my previous post about this wonderful little detective.  As for my next read, I think I'll be deviating from the mysteries yet again.  I'm currently also reading the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and once I get a few more of those under my belt, I'll be writing up a post about the series (or at least a small portion of the series.  There are literally 40 books so far.  I've read 2.)
I've got a few other interesting books lined up.  Perhaps one of the most interesting is a little gift I received in the mail today from The Roomie, whom I have not been in contact with for months.  A book of library/librarian stories is pretty much the best thing ever to find sitting on the kitchen table after coming home from a particularly busy day at work.   I can't wait to start reading!  (Thanks, hun!)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief (Maurice LeBlanc)

Those who know me well enough know that I'm a huge fan of the anime Lupin III by Monkey Punch (as well as the manga that inspired it, although it's really not as good).  And one day, while I was on a total Lupin III kick, I happened to stumble upon an interesting little fact on the Internet: Lupin III (or "Rupan sansei" as he's known in Japan) is based off a French book series by Maurice LeBlanc about a gentleman thief-turned-detective named Arsène Lupin.  (He's called Rupan in Japan in order to skirt around a copyright issue that originally prevented them from using the name Lupin.  Not that it mattered to them, since there is no "L" sound in Japanese, and they were already pronouncing it with an "R" sound anyway).  Already a fan of the famous anime criminal, I thought it might be fun to go back and read the book that inspired it all.  And that's how I ended up reading Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Thief this summer.  It also helped, of course, that the book fit into my theme of summer mysteries.  

This was a great book!  I honestly wasn't sure what to expect.  After all, I had fallen for Lupin the THIRD, the young, brash, and completely charming GRANDSON.  And sure, he was based off of the LeBlanc character, but that didn't mean that they were going to be the same.  And I'll be honest; they weren't the same.  But, despite this, they were both VERY good.  I really loved this original incarnation of Lupin.  He was funny, clever, charming, and had a sort of confident, mature bearing to him that Lupin III lacks.  While his "grandson" is cocky, over-confident, and pretty lusty, the original Lupin is much more of a romantic.  He does things not so much for the money or the sex, but because it's a charming or romanticized adventure.  It's like Robin Hood: robbing the rich and saving fair maidens.  Whether or not the whole thing is actually like this is up for debate, but this is certainly how Lupin sees it.

More than anything, these stories actually reminded me a lot of the Lupin seen in the Hayao Miyazaki Lupin III film The Castle of Cagliostro which quickly became one of my all-time favorite films as soon as I had seen it.  In this movie, Lupin III seems more mature.  He's not interested in all the ladies and the money; in fact, I don't think he makes any sex jokes at all (as contrasted to his other movies, which has him ogling breasts, chasing pretty girls, or attempting to seduce his on-again/off-again girlfriend Fujiko Mine).  His focus is on righting wrongs and saving a damsel in distress.  And in this book, that's what Lupin focuses on, too.  Sure, he plays some tricks and steals some things.  He even goes up against the greatest detective in literature: Sherlock Holmes.  But, he's not all about childish excitement.  He's more purposeful.  And it made for some great, fun stories with lots of drama and mystery.  I think my favorite was actually the final story: "The Sign of Mercury," which was almost completely over-the-top at times, but it was just so much fun that I didn't even care!

If you read any of the books I suggest this summer, this is one you just have to check out!  And I highly recommend that while you're at it, you give the anime a shot, too.  (A side note, some of the movies are rather bland, and might give you a bad introduction to the series.  Start with Castle of Cagliostro or Lupin III Series 2.)  But, read this book first.  Seriously.  Go read it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Bad, the Good, and the Down-Right Amazing

"Miss Emmy?"
"Yes, Watson?"
"What are all these books?"
"Well, those are books I just read."
"Yes, but, as far as I can tell, none of these are mysteries.  Isn't mystery your theme this summer?"
"That is correct, doctor.  That's what happens when you work in a library and new and interesting books are constantly falling into your lap.  You take them home and you read them."
"And what are you going to do now?"
"Elementary, my dear Watson!  I'm going to review them!"

And, that's pretty much what happened.  I went to work, I found lots of books (mostly chemistry, but I haven't read those yet) and I sat down to start reading, even though many of them weren't mysteries (mostly because they were coming due).  What can I say?  I'm a sucker when it comes to books!

First in this motley lineup is David Sedaris's Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.  I've heard some great things about this author, so I was really excited to check it out.  But, I'll be honest, I was terribly disappointed.  The stories were actually pretty depressing, and the characters were really full of themselves.  By the time I finished reading (it was a short book, so I managed to choke it down), I was feeling a bit bleak about stuff in general.  I'm sure his other stuff is funny, but I just wasn't feeling it with this book.  One positive, though: the illustrations were pretty fun.  (I mean, some of them were gross, but I did like the artist's style.)

The next book was far more enjoyable, and actually
should probably get it's own post, but I'm just not feeling up to it right now.  This was Vicious by Victoria Schwab, a twisted Sci-Fi novel about two friends, turned enemies, after their thesis studies on near-death experiences and super-human abilities goes horribly wrong.  It was a fast-paced read, and constantly kept my attention.  I really enjoyed reading it.  I think the best part is that for most of the book, you really don't know who to side with.  Clearly, both protagonists are nuts, but each presents a compelling reason that he is the correct one.  I have my thoughts on the matter, but I don't want to be the one to give any spoilers, so I'm going to just keep quiet about that.  But, I will say that it was a fast-paced, fascinating book, and one of those rare stories that actually left me completely unsure of what was going to happen until the very end.  Plus, I loved the characters for their depth, but only really "liked" a couple of them based on personality.  Some of them were just despicable but that's sort of what you want from your antagonist.

And finally, I did promise that this was to be a three-book post.  So, the final book of this trio is a wonderful manga graphic novel: Hetalia: Axis Powers, Vol. 1.  I recently started watching the anime, and I'm actually almost done with it.  So, while starting Season 4, I thought: Hey, isn't there a manga to this?  Yeah, let's go check it out.  For those of you unfamiliar with the anime or manga, Hetalia: Axis Powers is essentially a collection of stories about world history and politics (in this case, mostly WWII) where all the countries are depicted as attractive men.  The stories are clever and funny, and somehow manage to make sense, even though the countries are people instead of landmasses.  An example, when America decides to break free from England, he actually leaves England's house (he was living there along with other English territories.  Likewise, other countries in the same empires live together, like Austria and his girlfriend Hungary, who appears to be one of the only girls in this comic!).  It's a clever storyline, and makes me want to get interested in world history again.  I used to think history was fascinating, but after four years as an English major (during which time I decided to dump my History minor in favor of a Classical Studies one), I guess you can say that I got a bit sidetracked and my interests went elsewhere.  I've noticed that post-graduation Emmy is much more interested in reading about other things, like history  and science than she was before.  This is certainly a good thing.  And of course, I'm looking into reading more manga.  Hetalia is just the first on my list.