bookish posts reviews

Recovery reading: mystery round-up

As previously mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries recently–so much so that I’m just going to go ahead and do a quick post on all the others I read or reread during January.

I started off with Agatha Christie, who I can usually count on to be engaging and whose books I have read enough times that it didn’t really matter if I was napping or loopy. Therefore, I zipped through: Death in the Clouds (not her strongest mystery in terms of characters, which she’s seldom interested in anyway), Nemesis (I love Miss Marple, but the attitudes towards sexual assault in this one are, uh, not great), The Mysterious Affair at Styles (ah, lil baby Poirot, before she had really figured out his characterization), and Towards Zero (actually one of her strongest mysteries in terms of writing–and fascinating for its depiction of gaslighting). PHEW! I pretty much just picked whatever was available on Overdrive at that moment and had mixed success but really no regrets.

Then I moved on to Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January books. I’d read the first one already and started the second (Fever Season) but set it down. I finished it and read Graveyard Dust and then decided that while they’re good, the plot was taking too long to get going for my current state, and the atmosphere was a little too bleak. I may come back to them at some point, we’ll see!

Wanting something a bit lighter, I then picked up the first in Charlene Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series–Real Murders–and really liked it. While I think the first book is by far the strongest, I did read most of the series, except for one that was checked out and another that was all about babies (A Fool and His Honey) and therefore not what I wanted to read at that moment. They’re light and competent enough, which made them perfect for zipping through. It is interesting that Harris kind of writes herself into a corner at one point and then just up and kills off a character to write herself out of it. Also, apparently there are some Hallmark adaptations?! I am curious, but uncommitted.

I also reread Murder is Bad Manners, the second in Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong series of middle grade murder mysteries and A TRUE DELIGHT. It was the only one available on Overdrive and I only own the first book! Alas.

Then I asked for recommendations on Twitter, having run out of ideas on my own, and got some good ones. Kate suggested the Sarah Caudwell books I talked about last time, and Charlotte mentioned the Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman. I had read those–or at least, as many of them as I wanted to–but I hadn’t read her standalone A Nun in the Closet which I devoured late one night when I couldn’t sleep. It was extremely charming, and surprisingly thoughtful, and altogether lovely. I also tried her two books about Madame Karitska, The Clairvoyant Countess and Kaleidoscope, and liked them fine. A Nun in the Closet is definitely still my favorite. I’m kind of laughing just thinking about it.

I finished up with a reread of a couple of the Vicky Bliss books by Elizabeth Peters–Borrower of the Night and Street of Five Moons, whose cover always misleads me into thinking it takes place in Egypt instead of Italy. I like the Vicky books just fine, and I appreciate all the Lord Peter Wimsey homages, BUT I do get fairly tired of Vicky’s insistence on the trials of being tall, whereas short women are always evil and charm all the men in the story into thinking they’re so frail and helpless and feminine. Can’t we just agree that the patriarchy is terrible for everyone and leave it at that? Signed, a small woman who resents being talked down to.

All in all, the mystery reading was probably the highlight of my recovery period. It was kind of the perfect genre for being engrossed in without too much emotional complication. I’m back to work tomorrow, but I might still be on a mystery kick for a while, so if you have favorites, let me know!


A year ago: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Two years ago: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Three years ago: Fifteen favorite heroines

bookish posts reviews

The Reluctant Listener: Code Name Verity


Warning! Contains spoilers for Code Name Verity.

cnv usA few years ago, when I would have categorized myself as very much NOT an audiobook listener, I was tempted into listening to the audiobook for Code Name Verity. Because, well, Code Name Verity, plus several people I trust said it was very well done. And it was and is. I’ve just finished listening to it again, and cried buckets of tears as usual.

Part of the reason I’m often wary of audiobooks is that I tend to hear a narrator’s voice while reading, and if the audiobook narrator doesn’t match up with that imagined voice, the whole thing doesn’t work. (I stopped listening to a Dorothy Sayers audiobook after about two minutes because the voice for Lord Peter was just so very, VERY wrong.) In this case, the voice casting for both Julie and Maddie is wonderful; both narrators actually reflect where the characters come from, and both are excellent at narration. Morven Christie as Julie is especially–well, memorable doesn’t quite cut it. She makes Julie come alive. Clear and funny and then sometimes fraying into sorrow, anger, tiredness. Plus, she does all the accents and languages so well!

Which brings me to another point: the first time I listened to this audiobook, I had read CNV at least twice. I cried buckets of tears, of course. But the audiobook made me cry in several new places. I did not think at the time that this was possible. First, there’s the whole sequence with Georgia Penn, which somehow came so much more to life: that careful dance of words that both are enacting. “I am the soul of verity.” And then, that astonishing moment when Von Linden sings a snippet of Wagner; Christie somehow manages to sing as Julie quoting Von Linden and it’s one of the most eerie things I have ever heard. Audiobooks at their best give new depth to the familiar words, and that’s exactly what this one does.

Lucy Gaskell’s Maddie is also wonderful. Completely different than Julie, more emotional, less considered, her narration fits Maddie so well. She uses pauses, a little hitch of breath and it’s like she’s talking to you. But she’s also fierce, as Maddie is. When she talks about being Von Linden’s mortal enemy, I believe her utterly. And in the bridge scene and its aftermath, I completely believed her pain and sorrow and guilt and–is satisfaction the right word? Not exactly, but her knowledge that she hadn’t let Julie down.

This is still one of my favorite audiobooks ever, an astonishing and beautiful performance. They do make a sensational team.

bookish posts reviews

The Reluctant Listener: An Agatha Christie spree


So, remember how last year I wrote one post about audiobooks and then…didn’t write anything else? I’m going to try to be more conscious about reviewing the audiobooks I listen to this year.

And at the moment, I’m listening to a lot of them because I am really tired of all the CDs I have in the car. It’s dark and cold out, and so the obvious answer is ALL the Agatha Christie.

Towards Zero, read by Hugh Fraser. Audio Partners, 2007.

Not a Poirot or a Miss Marple, though it takes place in the Poirot universe. Superintendent Battle manages to solve the mystery ALL ON HIS OWN! The story is also notable for the fact that Christie manages to be both sympathetic and weirdly snobby about divorce, and for the memorable solution. Also, a romance that comes out of nowhere and left me with…questions.

However, Hugh Fraser is a marvelous reader (this is going to be a theme) and he manages to do all kinds of accents and voices really well; I’ve noticed that men reading female characters tend to make them sound silly. Fraser doesn’t, and he handles the shifts in character adeptly.

Cat Among the Pigeons (Hercule Poirot), read by Hugh Fraser. BBC Audiobooks America, 2002.

As an audiobook, this one is quite enjoyable. Hugh Fraser is an excellent reader, plus I associate his voice with Poirot, which is definitely helpful. He’s also really good at accents, and imitates David Suchet as Poirot so well that I have a weird moment whenever I remember that it’s actually not Suchet at all.

As a book, this one is frustrating, for several reasons. First, to just say it, it’s suuuuper racist. There’s kind of an undertone to most of Christie, but yeah, no this is just blatant. Second, the story as story is odd: everything happens and several characters investigate very ably, and then at the very end, Poirot comes in and solves everything. It reads like it was written as a independent book and then Poirot was shoved in at the last moment. Also, something really sad and tragic happens and everyone just seems to sort of collectively shrug and go on with life.

The Body in the Library (Miss Marple), read by Stephanie Cole. Audio Partners, 2002.

This is one I had read and re-read several times, so the pleasure of it was definitely in the narration and in Miss Marple herself (I do love Miss Marple). The solution comes a bit out of nowhere, if I remember correctly, also I wasn’t super comfortable with the way the disabled character is portrayed. (It doesn’t help that the c-word is used several times.) But by and large–Miss Marple!

Cole does a good job overall. She has a pleasant voice for narration and does Miss Marple and most of the other characters superbly. I did find myself wishing that a few of them had been differentiated a bit more. The main problem, however, is that both of the children who have speaking parts in the story sounded incredibly precocious and snotty. I don’t think this was intentional, but oh dear. Despite finding this annoying, neither child feature prominently enough for it to become a real problem for me.

I have a Tommy & Tuppence audiobook too, but I haven’t tried it yet.