Archive for the ‘52 Books in one year challenge’ Category
Born in Ireland in 1828, Fitz-James O’Brien moved to the United States in 1852 after running through most of his inherited fortune. Once in the USA, he made a living writing for a variety of publications, like the New Yorker and Harper’s. He also wrote short fiction, and Hesperus Press Limited recently rereleased a collection of his work.
The Diamond Lens and Other Stories contains three creepy gems: the eponymously named Diamond Lens, featuring a scientist’s obsession with a microcosmic world, originally published in 1858; The Wondersmith, a revenge story with soulless mannequins and interesting romantic message, first published 1859; and last of all What Was It, an invisible monster story that predates The Invisible Man and other stories with similar concepts, as it was published in 1859.
If you like Edgar Allen Poe, and macabre stories, this is a collection for you. Early science fiction and fantasy is fascinating both for the sheer creativity but also the worldview it gives to the time period it was published.
On a side note, O’Brien joined the New York National Guard in 1961, after the Civil War broke out. He was wounded in action in February 1962, and died from his wounds later that year.
Title: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories
Author: Fitz-James O’Brien
Read: September 2012
Following last week’s review of Anderby Wold, here’s the next in our Winifred Holtby series: The Land of Green Ginger.
Joanna dreams of the world beyond Yorkshire, the mystique of faraway places, and is in love with the idea of adventure. At eighteen she meets Teddy Leigh, and he sweeps her off her feet and into a quick marriage before heading to the trenches of World War I.
Teddy returns from the war, but the world isn’t as the magical fairyland Joanna hoped for. Teddy suffers from tuberculosis, and she has to care for him in addition to their two daughters and struggling farm. She’s overwhelmed by her responsibilities, but she can still dream of the world she wants to see.
When Joanna is asked to take in a lodger it seems like the perfect solution to their financial woes. The lodger, a Hungarian named Paul, has seen the world, and is a healthy man. But Yorkshire in the aftermath of World War I isn’t welcoming to foreign labor, and the neighbors are suspicious of Joanna’s feelings. Will her family survive?
The Land of Green Ginger brings insight into Britain just after World War I while also illuminating the lives of women. Like South Riding and Ander by Wold, the sense of time and place is amazing.
The tuberculosis aspect of the novel is fascinating; it wasn’t until the 1940s that scientists were able to create an antibiotic to cure the disease. (Researchers are still batting TB, as the newer multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis, usually referred to as MDR-TB, has a strong foothold in parts of the world.) During the time period of the novel, patients with TB would go into sanitariums and be exposed to lots of fresh air and proper nutrition. If their immune system could fight the bacterial infection, they might go into remission with the infection dormant, but present. Teddy’s fight and fear of being stuck in a sanitarium is understandable, even if his relationship with his wife is troubling.
Next up: Poor Caroline, the third and final installment in our Holtby Series.
Title: The Land of Green Ginger
Author: Winifred Holtby
Read: March 2012
Source: ARC from Publisher
Some books just feel timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books. It could have been written during World War II (the same time period it’s set), although it was published in 2011. The language has a classic, poetic feel and the story is timeless.
Twelve-year old September is bored with her life in Omaha. Her mother works long hours for the war effort, and her father is abroad, serving his country. The Green Wind offers to take September on an adventure, and they head to Fairyland. Luckily September has the tools to save Fairyland.
September is a strong character, and the friends she makes add to the story. She faces real problems and has to find courage within herself. This is a great novel for children and young-at-heart readers who enjoy fairy tales, fantasy, and whimsical writing.
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Source: Purchased an e-version
Read: March 2012
Public broadcasting currently shows Midsummer Murders, the long-running British detective show. Based on the books by Caroline Graham, the series is set in the fictional, and rather deadly, county of Midsomer.
The second episode of Midsomer Murders (and the first I saw) was based on the novel Written in Blood. It features DCI Barnaby and quirky cast of potential suspects.
The Midsomer Worthy’s Writer’s Circle invites a yearly speaker, and they usually can’t get anyone famous or successful to attend. So when best-selling author Max Jennings agrees to speak, they’re mostly excited. The circle’s secretary, Gerald Hadleigh, is furious, as he never wanted to invite Jennings in the first place.
When Hadleigh is found dead the morning after Jennings speaks to the writers, Barnaby is called in to investigate. Almost everyone in the group has something to to hide, whether embarrassing or sinister. He has to sift through everyone’s secrets and the past to find the murderer.
The TV version ups the ante a bit, adding in an additional murder. Most of the major subplots are brought to the small screen, although the book goes into most of them in more depth. The show is satisfying, using two one-hour episodes to dig into the lives of the potential suspects. Not surprisingly, the novel goes deeper into the lives of the characters, and the subplot with Sue is especially rewarding in the book.
Both the books and TV show are fun, perfect for fans of mysteries set in the English countryside. Barnaby is a likable character both on-screen and in the books. His family is important in both mediums, although his wife and daughter are less entwined in the mysteries in the novels. His sergeant, Troy, is nicer on-screen, which works well for the viewing public.
In addition to Written in Blood, I read several other novels in the Inspector Barnaby series: The Killings At Badger’s Drift, Faithful Until Death, A Place of Safety, and A Ghost in the Machine. All are solidly written and would make good reads for fans of cozy mysteries.
Title: Written in Blood
Author: Caroline Graham
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2012
Timeless starts up about two years after the end of Heartless. Alexia and her husband are still living in Lord Akeldama’s second-best closet to allow them to participate in their daughter, Prudence’s, upbringing with her adoptive vampire father. Life is normal for everyone, well, as normal as living with a toddler able to steal the magic of others temporary turn into, for example, a toddler vampire or tiny werewolf, can be.
But trouble is brewing, and Alexia is summoned to Alexandria. Why does the most powerful vampire in the world want to see Lady Maccon? And will the Egyptians know how to properly prepare tea?
Timeless brings the Parasol Protectorate series to a satisfying close while leaving enough room in the writing-sandbox for the new YA series involving Prudence. Major plot threads, like Alexia’s father, are resolved. Prudence is a delightful addition to the story, bringing humor to the story. Some of the supporting characters, like Biffy and Floote the Butler, play bigger roles to good effect.
Author: Gail Carriger.
Source: Purchased (E-book)
Read: February 2012
In 1860, three-year-old Saville Kent disappeared from his nursery. He was found later that day in the bottom of a privy. His throat was cut. His murder horrified the English, and his case was major news for the next few years.
The public vilified various members of the Kent household, becoming armchair detectives willing to announce their opinions in public forums like the newspaper and in personal letters to the police, despite first hand knowledge of the case. (A modern comparison: comments on online news sites.)
There were only eight detectives at Scotland Yard in 1860, and one of the best was sent to investigate Saville’s murder: Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Arriving two weeks after the murder, Whicher played catch-up, looking into the personal lives of the Kent Family, much to the shock of the general public. Working class detectives like Whicher were supposed to honor their betters, not investigate their dirty laundry.
The first mystery novels, such as Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, appeared at this time and echo the real life murder of poor little Saville Kent. Kate Summerscale weaves these novels, along with letters by writers such as Charles Dickens, and newspaper accounts, into her narrative.
The impact of Saville’s murder on those around him, such as his nursery-maid, add poignancy and show how an unsolved murder effects the innocent as well as the victim. Lives were damaged if not ruined by this case, including Mr. Whicher’s career. Eventually someone confesses, vindicating Inspector Whicher and finally allowing the innocent to reclaim what they could of their lives.
Summerscale’s writing is strong and weaves multiples sources into a compelling and cohesive narrative. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher will make you question if justice was every fully served.
Title: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
Author: by Kate Summerscale
Read: February 2012
Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast is the first Harry Hole novel translated into English, although it’s actually the third in the series. While each Harry Hole novel stands alone, there’s a major plot thread that weaves through The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil’s Star.
As someone who read both Nemesis and The Devil’s Star before reading The Redbreast, I knew how the major plot thread ends, but I didn’t know the reader sees the event happen on the page, and knows the solution the whole time even though the characters (including Hole) are in the dark. This is just one of the many reasons I love these novels.
In The Redbreast, Harry Hole has been promoted to Inspector and transfered to an out-of-the-way desk job after almost causing a diplomatic disaster when the US President visited Oslo. Hole discovers a very expensive rifle was smuggled into Norway, and he’s also assigned to keep tabs on Neo-Nazi events in Norway.
The mystery flashes back to events during World War II, following a Norwegian solider fighting for Germany against the Russians. The story lines eventually converge, but only after a ton of twists, turns, and heartache.
The Redbreast is great for fans of Stieg Larsson and Scandinavian crime fiction.
Title: The Redbreast
Author: Jo Nesbo
Source: Public Library
Read: January 2011
One evening, after searching through the movies on-demand to find something that interested both my movie-watching companion and me, we settled on the film adaptation of The Oxford Murders, starring Elijah Wood and John Hurt. While I liked the movie, I had a few quibbles with it and thought it made some jumps not based in logic or weren’t believable on screen.
It wasn’t until the end credits rolled that I realized the film is based on a novel written by Guillermo Martinez. Since my local library has the book in their collection I knew The Oxford Murders would make an excellent second book for my fifty-two books in one-year challenge.
In The Oxford Murders, a twenty-two year old Argentinean (American in the film) receives a scholarship to study moths at Oxford. His academic advisor recommends he take a room with the widow of her former academic advisor, and so he does. His landlady, a former Enigma code breaker, lives in Oxford with her granddaughter. She’s obsessed with Scrabble and makes him feel welcome. The granddaughter, Beth, and the narrator are attracted to each other but this is never acted upon.
The narrator slowly builds a life in Oxford, working with his advisor and making a few friends through tennis. Then he comes home one day after hitting up the bank so he can pay rent. Professor Seldom, a well-known mathematician and long-time friend of the household, is also arriving at the house. They find the landlady murdered.
Seldom tells police he received a note earlier in the day that read “the first of the series”, and gave him the address of his friend (but no name). There was a circle drawn on the bottom of the note.
More notes appeared, all attached to murders and containing the next symbol in the series. Can Seldom and the narrator decipher the series in time to stop the killer?
Reading a book after seeing is such a strange endeavor since a filmmaker’s view of the story can differ so much any given reader’s interpretation. In this particular case, I knew the end solution, which definitely ratcheted down the suspense. However, it allowed me to appreciate how closely the film mirrored the events of the book while also being more logical. Some of the things I didn’t find believable on screen, like any sort of sexual longing Beth and the protagonist, felt natural in the book. The main character also isn’t obsessed with Professor Seldom, which felt a little too stalkerish and obsessive in the film. While disturbing, the narrator’s whole life isn’t thrown asunder by the murders in the novel, and he continues his education.
The mathematical elements were a nice addition to the story, although sometimes these elements were explained for the sake of the reader and this bogged the story down. In real life, two mathematicians aren’t going to take the time to explain basic mathematical concepts to each other. Rather, they’d talk in mathematical shorthand unique to their field. As a reader I was willing to overlook this because I appreciated the originality of the story and appreciated using mathematics and higher thought to create a serial killer.
Title: The Oxford Murders
Author: Guillermo Martinez
Source: Public Library
Read: January 2011
American Gods kicks off with the protagonist, Shadow, finishing his last few days in jail. He practices coin tricks, and thinks about how much he loves his wife, Laura. He’s getting out of jail in a few days with a job waiting, and of course Laura.
So when the prison warden calls Shadow into his office to tell him that Laura died in a car accident, Shadow’s world shatters. Released from prison early to attend the funeral, Shadow meets a man, Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, which he eventually convinces Shadow to take. Now Shadow is the errand boy for a god in the middle of a war between the old gods (think Norse mythology, Egyptian gods, and traditional stories) and new gods (like Media, and what gods could be created based on what our current society values).
As a fan of stories that transplant traditional folk tales and legends into modern settings, this is a natural book for me to read and appreciate. What we as a society believe and worship (whether in an organized fashion or through other means, like what we spend our free time or money consuming) is a fascinating, and multi-faceted, subject. American Gods touches on these concepts while also telling an engaging story.
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source: Local Bookstore
Date read: January 2011