Well, I guess I’d better give up the disclaimer about what I think of these. They’re harmless, easy fun, concerned with setting up a puzzle and then working it out, with lots of red herrings and interesting people along the way. Nothing ground breaking, but comfortable.
This one did give me a little bit of unease because of the swishy, blatantly queer couple who were a walking, talking pair of stereotypes. At least they were harmless, but Marsh wrote about them rather unpleasantly and nobody thought any good of them. At least Alleyn, as I imagine him, wouldn’t be an ass to them in person about it, but would respect their relationship (as long as he thought it was real, not just theatrics and melodrama). I suppose I am getting to like him, though I think I’m building on him in my own mind more than Marsh is in the text.
This one only slightly breaks the trend — there’s no reconstruction, though the group do gather together again to talk it over, which is pretty close.
The statement I spotted in another review that Nigel Bathgate does nothing and could he please be murdered now is sadly accurate. The one point I liked was when Alleyn rings up and tells him to act as if he’s talking to Angela. That was a bit amusing.
This is my third Ngaio Marsh novel and I still have somewhat mixed feelings. I’m not into her detective character at all — there’s been too little personality and depth, just a lot of surface shine — and the structure is now formulaic. Set-up for a murder with many potential motives -> murder which is very awkward for lots of people -> Alleyn investigates without explaining much to anyone -> Alleyn has a reconstruction done -> this flushes out the murderer, who incriminates himself without need for a trial, and who is the least suspected person -> an epilogue in which Alleyn explains everything.
I have got the next three books now, though. There’s something relaxing and easy about these, even a little compulsive, perhaps because I don’t care much for the characters and so for me, there are no high stakes. Generally the plots are full of coincidence, misdirection, and meta-nods at the genre (“if this were a murder story, you would suspect the least obvious one, of course!”).
I think you could pretty much class these as cozy mysteries.
Time for Stacking the Shelves, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! It hasn’t been that busy a week, really, though I went to the library twice, so it looks substantial. It was mostly a non-fiction week, it seems, but there were a couple of fiction books sprinkled in, and both my review copies from this week are fiction.
I really need to read the other Raksura books, but I am pretty excited about the Martha Wells one. Such glee when I spotted it on Edelweiss! I love her work.
I found this a bit more engaging than the first book, and more plausible besides in the way the murder is worked out, but I’m still not sure what I think of Marsh’s work, or perhaps specifically Alleyn. I haven’t got a handle on him at all; I can never quite tell what he’s meant to be thinking, what he’ll do, and whether he thinks it’s awful fun or perfectly awful, except when we’re directly told. Perhaps the alternating, alienating POVs of him and then Bathgate don’t help there. For all that they’re supposed to be friends, I can’t for the life of me understand why.
Still, I cared more about the mystery in this one, and read it all in one go. And I’ve ordered the second omnibus, because I sense that this ambivalence might go on a while. We’ll see, I suppose.
Love the idea of this one, hosted here. The idea is to share a couple of the books that have been waiting on your shelves for a while, as opposed to something like Stacking the Shelves, where you share books you’ve just picked up. So here’s three I’ve picked for this week.
Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge
A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution.
I’ve had this on my list for ages, since the first book by Frances Hardinge I read (which was A Face Like Glass, and absolutely excellent). I’ve nearly picked it up so many times since, but I keep wanting to pick the right time so I really get to savour it.
The Beacon at Alexandria, Gillian Bradshaw
In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctor at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.
I wouldn’t be sure about that “finding her destiny” part, normally, but I tend to trust Gillian Bradshaw — I’ve really enjoyed most of her work that I’ve read so far. She seems to do a lot of work on her settings, although as I think on it, she tends to focus more on male characters.
The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Vol. 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands includes many of the best known Ursula K. Le Guin nonrealistic stories (such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” “Semley’s Necklace,” and “She Unnames Them”) which have shaped the way many readers see the world. She gives voice to the voiceless, hope to the outsider, and speaks truth to power—all the time maintaining her independence and sense of humor.
Companion volume Where on Earth explores Le Guin’s satirical, risky, political and experimental earthbound stories. Both volumes include new introductions by the author.
I’m looking forward to both volumes of this, but particularly to volume two. Ursula Le Guin has been a huge influence on me and this sounds like a pretty definitive collection. I’ve probably read a lot of them before, though not all. If you’ve never read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, I definitely recommend that one if you’re okay with discomforting ethical dilemmas.
I’m not wildly enthused about Ngaio Marsh and Inspector Alleyn, at this point. It’s a smooth enough read, but the murder is a little haphazardly imagined: some elements of it suggest premeditation, while others suggest a crime of opportunity, but it has to be one or the other or it just doesn’t work. Too much depends on opportunity — the availability of the weapon, the position of the murdered man, the way the murder game turns out — and yet the rest of it smacks of pre-meditation: the bizarre way the murderer sneaks downstairs to do it, planning out what gloves to use, arranging an alibi… And then there’s the whole mess of the Russian secret society plot. Just… what?!
I can’t say I really cared much about any of the characters. Alleyn seems… weirdly mercurial, but not in a believable way, flipping personalities more often than you’d change clothes. I don’t understand him a bit. And Nigel Bathgate is just too bland: a Watson type of sidekick who makes silly mistakes and can’t figure anything out.
I know I didn’t like Peter Wimsey incredibly much the first time I read Whose Body?, so I’m giving this series more of a chance, but I’m not sure I’ll go beyond the three books I have. So many books, so little time.
What did you recently finish reading? A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh, and Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution, by Richard Fortey. I wasn’t overwhelmed by either, sadly. The mystery in the former didn’t work for me, requiring too much suspension of disbelief due to a muddle of whether the crime was premeditated or opportunistic (it had both elements, but needed to be one or the other). The science in the latter was okay, but Fortey’s personality seemed to get in the way, a bit like someone who really, really wants you to like a book and so shoves it in your face all the time, only with trilobites.
What are you currently reading? Darwin’s Ghost, by Steve Jones, which is an update on The Origin of Species. I wasn’t getting on with it at first, but I seem to have got into the swing of it, now. And Enter A Murderer, by Ngaio Marsh, because I have it and I thought I’d give Marsh a good chance. Oh, and also Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots, by Seanan Mcguire, because superheroes! An author I keep getting recced! Hijinks! It’s fun enough so far.
Oh, and I’ve nearly finished The King of Elfland’s Daughter (love Dunsany’s style) and A Fall of Moondust (Arthur C. Clarke), the latter of which I’m finding somewhat less enjoyable than 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I’m still enjoying it.
What will you read next?
Need to get back to Steven Brust, feeling an itch for Martha Wells’ work, ever present urge to reread The Lord of the Rings… Who knows, though? I also have books from the library by Steven Pinker and David Quammen that look very interesting.
It’s been a busy week! I’ve been saving up for this, since I went to the Hay Literary Festival this week, and wanted to explore some of the many bookshops in Hay (which is, after all, called “the town of books”). I didn’t buy much while I was in Hay, though, ’cause it was raining and I needed the bus back, etc, etc, so I ended up spending the money I saved on other books which I wanted to read/reread.
I haven’t actually read anything by Walter Jon Williams yet, I think, but people I trust have been very enthusiastic about his work, so now I seem to have a backlog. Whoops! Arthur C. Clarke is a classic, of course, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was much more fun that I expected, so I’m looking forward to these. And as for Lord Dunsany, well, I’ve read one of his books and snatched that one as soon as I saw it.
Yep, I am a big fan of Jacqueline Carey’s work (though I know it isn’t for everyone). Most of these are rereads, apart from Saints Astray. I’m not sure what I think of the new covers for the Kushiel books, though. I think the first and third ones look like they’re supposed to be for a vampire book of some kind, which… these definitely are not. I’m very fond of the old covers…
The Glass Sealing was sent to me by the author, very kindly, and A Call to Arms was sent to me after winning it on LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Can’t remember what it’s about, but look forward to finding out…
Last but not least, a new issue of Ms. Marvel is out!
And of course, the entire Hugo Voter Packet, which of course is far too huge to list here.
So what’s everyone else been getting their hands on? Anyone else been to Hay? I was at the Gillian Clarke/Carol Ann Duffy poetry reading, loved it.
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, Brian Switek
My Beloved Brontosaurus is exactly the sort of book I wanted about dinosaurs. Chatty, personal, but still closely focused on the creatures and how they lived (and died). I know a fair bit about dinosaurs thanks to another Coursera course, Dino 101, so not a lot of the information was new to me, but it was interesting to read it in another context, and to read slightly different angles on it. Switek’s enthusiasm for the subject is kind of adorable, and actually made me smile a lot.
In terms of the content, it’s not exactly on the cutting edge, or any kind of exhaustive survey of research on dinosaurs. It picks out interesting facts and theories, discusses some of the historical theories that are of interest or contributed to modern theories, and generally works fine even if you’ve never heard of Torosaurus, didn’t know that the Velociraptor portrayed in Jurassic Park is actually Deinonychus, or couldn’t tell the difference between an ornithischian and a saurischian dinosaur if your life depended on it.
What have you recently finished reading? My Beloved Brontosaurus, by Brian Switek, which is a sort of memoir of involvement with dinosaurs. Switek’s enthusiasm is endearing. Before that, Spillover by David Quammen, which was excellent and makes me want to be an infectious disease researcher. (Yes, I am impressionable. Shush.)
What are you currently reading? The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, and The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff. They’re my current rereads, at any rate; my most current reading-for-the-first-time books are Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), which I’m still not very sure about, and Yendi (Steven Brust), which I have been neglecting horribly. Tomorrow, perhaps?
What will you read next?
Heaven knows! I do need to get round to reading The Islands of Chaldea (Diana Wynne Jones), so quite possibly that; I think the library want it back soon, and it should be a fun read.