Review of by Miss Pym Disposes (1946) by Josephine Tey

Bottom line: A quirky novel with a murder. A good read for fans of the Golden Age mystery era who are looking to add some more authors to their list.

Rating: Recommended if you are a fan of Golden Age mysteries.

Blurb:

Miss Lucy Pym, a popular English psychologist, is guest lecturer at a physical training college. The year’s term is nearly over, and Miss Pym — inquisitive and observant — detects a furtiveness in the behavior of one student during a final exam. She prevents the girl from cheating by destroying her crib notes. But Miss Pym’s cover-up of one crime precipitates another — a fatal “accident” that only her psychological theories can prove was really murder.

Review:

Reading something by Josephine Tey has been on my “to be read” list for a while – I’m a huge fan of other Golden Age mystery authors and she is ranked up there with Sayers, Christie, Allingham and Marsh (see a recommended reading list for those authors here). Tey has several standalone novels (as opposed to a series), so I picked this one because it was a) at my library and b) set in a college (I have a soft spot for the academic world).

It’s been a few days since I read this now, and I’m still trying to decide if I liked it. It is very different from a standard murder mystery, in fact, if I hadn’t read the blurb (which I think gives away too much), I wouldn’t have realized I was reading a murder mystery. You’re more than two thirds of the way through the book before anything unpleasant happens.

However, despite that, it was an enjoyable read. Miss Pym, the heroine, is a quirky but fun character, and the occasional humorous non sequitur reminded me a little bit of Douglas Adams humor. The setting in a women’s college and some of the themes throughout the book reminded me quite strongly of Gaudy Night (published in 1935 – just over a decade earlier), though it didn’t feel like a knockoff, just familiar.

As I said earlier, I’m not entirely sure that I liked it. I would certainly rank it below the other four authors previously mentioned. It didn’t follow the normal conventions of a mystery, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take some recalibrating. I think I would read more Josephine Tey, but I’m in no hurry to run out and get another one. If we can borrow from the collegiate world, I would consider this a Golden Age 201 course – after you’ve taken Golden Age 101 (Sayers, Christie and so on) and want to pursue the subject, this would be a good next step. 

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

Review of the Lord Peter & Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Bottom line: Great mysteries, great characters, great writing. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

Gaudy Night is my all-time favorite book. Not just mystery, but book. The other three books in this series are all very, very good (though I’d rate Have His Carcase a bit below the other three – it’s slow in places). The depth of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, combined with their interactions, feel more real than any other characters I’ve read. It feels more like being in a room with two people you know well than reading a story about fictional creations.

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Five Free Kindle E-book Classic Mysteries Written in the 1800s

I think it’s interesting to read some of the earliest mysteries and science fiction and see what has changed in the genres over the centuries. Some are as enthralling as the day they were published and some….not so much. Here are five free Kindle e-book mysteries from some of the writers who popularized the genre and inspired those who came later. Barnes and Noble links are included, but they are $0.99 as of 7/2/2013.

The Cask of Amontillado (1846) – Edgar Allan Poe  (short story) – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started this, but I ended up liking it. It’s a REALLY short story. I think it could have benefitted from explaining what the offence was that had been committed against the narrator, but it’s a creepy (in a good way) short read from the perspective of the perpetrator. More of a thriller than a mystery.

The Woman in White (1859) – Wilkie Collins  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Of the five books here, I found this one to be the most of a slog. It’s long, and there is a lot of  “women are to be pretty and helpless”, but if you can get past that it’s a well thought out plot, and the way the amateur detective goes about uncovering the evidence seemed pretty believable. The main perpetrator reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s perpetrator in The Man In the Brown Suit, but I don’t know if that was an homage or coincidental on her part.

Crime and Punishment (1866) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Parts of this book drag a bit, but it was an interesting look at Russian life during that time. The names can get a bit confusing (not because they’re Russian, but because each person has several different names, all used interchangeably depending on the person speaking). It’s different from many mysteries in that we get the point of view of the killer, but there is definitely murder, and detectives, and uncovering of evidence, and then resolution. It was a little uncomfortable to witness the effect the crime has on the killer’s mind, but definitely fascinating. Plus, there’s the advantage of being able to say “oh, you know, just reading a little Dostoyevsky”  to anyone you want to impress. Fair warning: It’s REALLY long.

The Leavenworth Case (1878) – Anna Katharine GreenAmazon, Barnes & Noble

The first novel of of one of the earliest mystery writers in America (at least according to Wikipedia). It has many elements of what I usually think of as the typical English mystery – a murder of a wealthy person in a locked house, secrets of those who may stand to gain from his death, a side of romance, unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and ending with the detective eliciting a confession from the guilty party. Some of the language feels a bit dated, and there are a few typos, but definitely worth a read.

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes #2) (1890) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it’s free! Fantastical elements in a story that stretches back in time and halfway across the world. Holmes and Watson are in fine form, despite the distraction of a fair lady…

Bonus: Not free, you’ll have to shell out $0.99 for this book, but if you want to read about Holmes from the beginning, there is:

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes Vol.1) (1887) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read any of these books? Still enjoyable despite the 100 – 150 years they’ve been around?

A Handful of Agatha Christie Mystery Recommendations

Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. That being said, most of her books are of the “read it and forget it” type of mystery. I think her talents tend more towards great storytelling/clever murder ideas (which she does better than just about anybody) than exceptional literary skill. You can go into just about any thrift store or library and pick up an Agatha Christie, knowing that odds are good it will be a really fun ride. As with many mystery writers, I find that once I’ve read one of her stories and know the solution, I’m not generally interested in rereading that book. However, these books below are some of my favorites, and I’ve enjoyed them over and over again. So, consider the following as “Strongly Recommended” and in no particular order:

Side note: for those of you who like to start from the beginning, or just want to try before you buy, check out my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first novel, and available for free on Kindle or free Kindle reader apps.

Click below to see list of recommendations:

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Review of Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) (Hercule Poirot Book 1) Free Kindle E-Book

Bottom line: A classic Golden Age mystery, by the Queen of mystery, although not her greatest work. The first time the world was introduced to the Hercule Poirot – the funny little man with the egg shaped head and impressive mustache.

Update: As of 7/1/2013 this book is no longer free.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are looking for a free mystery, you want to try an Agatha Christie, or you are a Christie fan and want to see where it all began.

Blurb:

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot makes his debut in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” The mystery of the novel is the one of who poisoned wealthy heiress Emily Inglethorp and how did the killer get in and out of her locked bedroom. The suspects are many and Poirot must use Holmesian deduction to discover the killer. Mystery fans will delight in the first installment of Agatha Christie’s famous series of Poirot mystery novels.

Review:

This is Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot mystery, and also her first novel. It was fun to see Poirot introduced to the world for the first time, along with his trusty sidekick, Captain Hastings. However, it was the first time for me to reread this book in a long while, and what struck me was how much it felt like a pilot episode of a tv show. If I’m trying a new show, I always watch the pilot first, and if there are even a few things I like about it, I’ll try the next episode. Often it feels like characters have little depth to them, and the action and dialogue haven’t quite melded into the right style yet.

That’s how I felt about this book – the plot twists felt a little contrived, and the characters (Hastings especially) felt a little one-sided compared to Christie’s later books. It’s still an enjoyable read, and an interesting mystery, I just didn’t think it was as good as some of her other books. However, given the dearth of free e-book mysteries, this is a good way to try out one of (if not the) most popular writers of all time. But if you liked it, even a bit, you must try some of her later books.

Available:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Harry Potter Series Now Available in E-book Formats…

…but they’re not going to make it easy for you.

If you want to get the e-books ($7.99 for the first three, $9.99 for the last four) you can find them on most sites that sell e-books (including Amazon and B&N), but to complete the purchase, you get routed to the “Pottermore” shop where you have to set up an account to finally get your book.

On the plus side when you buy any of all of these books, you can download it to just about any device out there – Kindle, Nook, iPhone/iPad, home computers, etc. On the downside, you have to go through the rigamarole mentioned above. Granted, none of this should take very long, but I hate having to set up accounts to buy things. As long as I’m giving you my money in exchange for your product, why should I have to register myself in addition to all the personal details you get when I put in my credit card info? Also, as a Kindle user myself, I love the “one click buy” button. I find what I want, click a button, and it magically shows up on my Kindle a few seconds later. You can’t get any easier than that.

Another downside is the price. I don’t buy many books (paper books or e-books), but I finally broke down and bought the Harry Potter series a few months ago from Barnes & Noble. I paid on average less than $6 per book – and they would have cost a lot more to produce than an e-book.

I’m glad that these books are now available (legally) for e-readers.I respect Rowling for getting the most money she can for her work. But I won’t be buying them anytime soon.

Anyone bought the e-books? Are they worth it?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (1987) (Dirk Gently Book 1)

Bottom line: Not up to Douglas Adams’s usual standard. Worth a try if you’re a big fan of his other work.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are a Douglas Adams fan

Blurb:

There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.

Review:

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to. From the blurb and the title, I had expected a mystery/sci fi/fantasy mashup, and written by Douglas Adams, to boot! I (obviously) love both the mystery and sci fi/fantasy genres, and I’m a big fan of Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (read the books (great), listened to the radio drama (fantastic), and seen the movie (meh)) so I thought that if ever there was a book for me, it would be this one.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. There was kind of a mystery, but not really, and while it has the hallmarks of a Douglas Adams – quirky characters, non sequiturs of plot and dialogue, hapless creatures from other planets, etc. – it just didn’t work for me. The story seemed very disjointed and it felt like the first half to two thirds of the book was intro material. I kept waiting for him to get to the point and bring it all together. There were some hysterically funny, snort out loud on the commuter train kind of moments (yes, I’m that girl), but there weren’t very many of them.

All in all, I’m glad I gave it a try, but I won’t be reading it again. There’s another book in the series out, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, but I don’t see myself reaching for it anytime soon.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Cover Her Face by P.D. James (1962) (Adam Dalgliesh Book 1)

Bottom line: I liked this story, although I would have preferred to get to know the detective better. A traditional murder mystery set in an English country house, it was a fun introduction to P.D. James.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

On the same day as the St Cedd’s church fete in the grounds of her home, Martingale, Mrs Maxie learns of her son Stephen’s engagement. By the next morning, her new parlourmaid, Sally Jupp, is dead. Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh investigates murder in the Elizabethan manor house.

Review:

This is P.D. James’s debut novel. It is a good example of a traditional murder mystery – a murder happens near the beginning of the story, people living in this house all seem to have had motives and means, and at the end, the detective gathers the household and explains how the clues led him/her to the murderer, who is —-!

I thought her detective was intriguing. You catch glimpses of what makes him interesting and effective as a detective, but you don’t spend a lot of time with him. I would have liked to see more of the story unfold from his point of view instead of some of the suspects. I’m hoping that the later books in the series will show more of his character.

The other elements of the mystery were well done – the suspects had enough depth to them that they were interesting as more than just Suspect A, Suspect B, etc. and the murder was one of those that seems more complicated than it is due to an unrelated factor which muddies the waters. One thing I particularly appreciated was that enough clues were presented for you to guess the murderer, and none of the clues seemed like they were shown with the sole intent to throw you off the track. I’m probably going to read more of her books, but given that I didn’t get a chance to become very attached to the detective, I won’t rush out to get them right away.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.