Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

The Sittaford Mystery

The Sittaford Mystery - Agatha Christie

Between this and The Secret of Chimneys, I’m starting to get the impression that Christie was on a crusade to single-handedly take down the “policemen in detective novels are stupid” trope. Once again, we have a murder mystery where the police are competent and on top of things and aren’t completely outshone by the amateur detectives. And I’m all for it. Should I be murdered for being too sarcastic and/or pedantic at the wrong moment (the most likely motive, IMO), I’d like to think intelligent, competent homicide detectives will see I get justice. And if I could get Emily Trefusis in my corner too, well! Watch out, hypothetical murderer! Your hypothetical days as a hypothetical non-prison inmate are numbered! Hypothetically.

The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys - Agatha Christie

This is one of Christie’s earlier works, first published in 1925. It’s got pretty much everything: blackmail, a missing diamond, political intrigue, master criminals, secret passages, murder, kidnapping—everything. The plot is convoluted, ridiculous, and some threads are left dangling. It’s also utterly entertaining, especially if you’re in the mood for something ridiculous and you picture the cast of the Clue movie in all the roles. At least, that was my experience.

 

I adored Anthony and Virginia, and Superintendent Battle too, though he didn’t get much page time and spent most of it being inscrutable. I’d love to see a big or small screen adaptation that follows the book and doesn’t shoehorn Miss Marple in there. Battle doesn’t need her help.

 

‘Detective stories are mostly bunkum,’ said Battle unemotionally. ‘But they amuse people,’ he added, as an afterthought. ‘And they’re useful sometimes.’

‘In what way?’ asked Anthony curiously.

‘They encourage the universal idea that the police are stupid. When we get an amateur crime, such as a murder, that’s very useful indeed.’

Parker Pyne Investigates

Parker Pyne Investigates - Agatha Christie

This is a collection of twelve short stories, all pretty enjoyable, if somewhat disconcerting. Mr. Parker Pyne is one terrifying individual with some rather questionable views on women, marriage, and how to achieve happiness (lying, assault, and kidnapping are all acceptable methods according to him). I was entertained, but I was not in the least surprised that no Mrs. Parker Pyne is ever alluded to. ;)

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? - Agatha Christie

Not Christie’s best work. It’s mildly entertaining, but there came a point about halfway through when I started wishing Frankie and Bobby would just call in the police and go home. I’m not used to wishing my amateur sleuths would find different hobbies. :|

OBSIDIO

Obsidio - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

I really enjoyed this end to the series, but not as much as the other two books. The reason for this is, quite simply, most of the suspense was gone due to Kaufman and Kristoff tipping their hand too early (like, back-in-book-one early), so the tension died a quick death and the nonstop action kind of turned into a slog. But at least Ella called AIDAN out in a blistering paragraph that included the phrase “[insert masturbatory literary allusion here]”. Oh yeah, AIDAN. Ella’s got your number, pal!

 

I have thoughts and I want to purge them (long, rambly thoughts), but they’re super spoilery so I’ll hide them under a tag.

 

 

The reader learns at the end of Illuminae that Kady and Ezra make it out alive. And that’s fine. Book two introduced new characters whose fates were uncertain, so there’s still plenty of tension and suspense. Then partway through book three the reader learns Nik is the analyst who transcribed most of the video transcripts, including some that he couldn’t have if he and Ezra had died when their Chimera was shot down (and OMG the stupid parachute thing was soooooo telegraphed). So the reader knows Nik lives, and what could have been some awesome natural drama when Kady thinks they’re dead turned into painfully manufactured drama. Blerg.

 

After the analyst reveal, the only characters left with uncertain fates are Ella (though I thought it was strongly implied she’s one of the Illuminae Group’s hackers, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Biggles II is immortal), Hanna (who lives at least long enough to illustrate a few comic panels), and the couple du jour, Rhys and Asha. (And, of course, all the periphery characters and faceless masses that the massive death tolls of the previous two books taught the reader not to get attached to.) Though they were main characters, I didn’t get as attached to Rhys and Asha as I did to the other couples, probably because they got a fraction of the page time and I’d already spent two books thinking of Asha as the dead cousin. Basically, K&K threw too many frogs in the cauldron and screwed up the magic formula. I mean, if they can make me not hate the idea of shipping a spoiled princess and her drug dealer, something’s gone wrong if they can’t make me ship young lovers torn apart by circumstances and reunited years later on the other side of the known universe. (“What are the odds???” she asked sarcastically and rhetorically.)

 

The lack of a horror element also threw off the magic formula. Book one had a mutating bio weapon turning ordinary folk into psychotic super humans a la Firefly’s Reapers (Phobos is basically Pax, let's face it). Book two had the psychotropic facehugger aliens. Book three’s self-proclaimed monster is AIDAN, and it just does not cut the mustard. They might as well have brought vials of Phobos or lanima babies onboard the Mao. The outcomes would have been at least scarier, if no less predictable.

 

Also, I’m kind of pissed off that “Greater Good” AIDAN the Serial Mass Murderer got to end the book by announcing its continuing existence. Second chance my ass. It already got a second chance. And what did it do? Save two universes. Okay, fair enough. I can see giving it a third chance off the back of that. And what did it do with chance #3? Murder two people at the first opportunity, followed by the murder of two thousand more once it had refined its technique. It murdered five hundred or so more when it got its fourth chance (sorry, Churchill crew, all’s fair in love and war), so it’s actually on its fifth chance. [Edit: No! It’s on its sixth chance! Its second chance was when it murdered ¾ of the Alexander population.] I hope that pop song malware from book two infects its new servers and corrupts it so badly it spends the rest of its operational life singing about licking some guy’s lollipop. [bleep] you, discount HAL.

 

And lastly, things that bothered me throughout all three books:

 

I have to say that while the cute little YA Author Easter eggs were kind of fun, they were also distracting. The emotional impact of casualty lists and the like was greatly diminished by the compulsion to look for familiar names of living authors.

 

The inexplicable psychic ability to see other (often dead) people’s thoughts displayed by AIDAN and the “analysts” ripped me out of the story every single time.

 

Nothing to do with the writing, but these books stink. Literally. Thanks to the illustrations and stylistic renderings of reports and chat logs and AIDAN’s masturbatory literary allusions, they reek like a stack of newspapers fresh off the press. The ink smell was so strong on Obsidio (the newest one) that it actually gave me headaches and I had to read in short bursts. Ye gods! I almost wish I got ebooks instead!

(show spoiler)

 

GEMINA

Gemina - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

This series is just crazy banana-pants fun. There are so many things in this book that I should hate – the spoiled princess + tattooed bad boy trope, the really unlikely romance under really unlikely circumstances, the horrifying creepy crawly brain-sucking alien thingies – but it all works together so brilliantly, so beautifully, that I want to wax as poetic as AIDAN the purple prose-spouting seed of Skynet. I am sooooooo glad I waited until all three books were out before I started reading this series. If it turns out book three is not the end, I will probably sprain something by shriek-sobbing in glee-despair.

ILLUMINAE

Illuminae - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

A whoooooole bunch of people have reviewed this book in depth, and I don’t think I have much to say that hasn’t been covered already, so I’ll be brief.

 

Illuminae is sort of like Firefly/Serenity had a baby with the slow space chase from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and left it to be raised by The Martian. It’s kind of brilliant. I mostly loved it. I had to take points off for some stylistic choices I found questionable. The incident reports read like entries in a military sci-fi short story contest, and the AI’s inner monologue reads like a naval-gazing white dude bucking for a Pulitzer in literature. I found it a tad annoying after a while. But these were minor glitches in an otherwise engrossing page-turner. I am so glad I already own the rest of the series.

 

On to book two!

The Dinosaur Lords

The Dinosaur Lords: A Novel - Victor Milán

According to George R.R. Martin, this book is “like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” If that’s really the case and not something Martin pulled out of the air without reading the book, maybe I should take A Song of Ice and Fire off my TBR.

 

Milán’s verbose writing style grated on me. Nearly six hundred pages and I feel like nothing much happened. The big battles I was hoping for were few in number and over in the blink of an eye. There was so much boring, repetitive politicking. I probably should have thrown in the towel early on, but I wanted to give it every chance to do justice to that fantastic premise. But damn, was it ever a struggle. If Jurassic Park moved this slowly, Hammond wouldn’t get around to inviting Grant, Sattler, and Malcom to the island until book two.

 

Meh. All of my favorite characters were dinosaurs. I could take or leave the humans (mostly leave). The best thing about this book is the cover art.

The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge

After the awesomeness that was Cuckoo Song, I was fully expecting to love The Lie Tree. I did not. I hyped myself up, and set myself up for disappointment. Not bitter disappointment. More a general listless deflated feeling. Woe is me.

 

The story is interesting and the writing is good. Hardinge is definitely still bucking for that Queen of Metaphor title (for good or ill this time), and the characters are all delightfully horrid. There are reflections on Victorian feminism and classism and Darwinism vs Creationism and plenty of other food for thought. And at the core of the plot is a decent murder mystery with a supernatural element, which is usually right up my alley. So why am I deflated?

 

This . . . book . . . is . . . so . . . sloooooooooooooow.

 

A third of the book goes by before the death alluded to in the description finally happens. Even then it takes a few chapters for the pace to pick up and the interesting stuff to start. By now we’re at the 150-page mark in a 410-page book, and it still plods in places. Taking all the pros and cons together, it was just okay and it bored me into putting it down several times. My current win/loss record with Frances Hardinge books is 1:1. I’ve got more in the bookcase, so hopefully my record improves.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

There was something magical about an island – the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world – an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.

Oh, Dame Agatha, you foreshadowing minx!

 

This was a re-read (re-re-re-re-re-read, more like). I don’t feel the need to review this one in depth, but I will say this: If you read this book and liked it, read it again. Come for the mystery, stay for the masterful psychological manipulation that becomes apparent only when you know who the killer is. It’s a mind trip, y’all.

Life with a Non-Bookworm

Hubby: How are you going with those Jim Henson books?

 

Me: I finished them.

 

Hubby: What? ALL of them?

 

Me: Yeah. All three.

 

Hubby: Holy crap, you need a hobby!

 

Me:

 

Hubby: . . . Oh. I guess that is a hobby. Never mind.

Between Us

Between Us - Clare Atkins

This book. I have feelings. They’re conflicting.

 

On the one hand, this book is well-written. The three POV characters all have distinct voices. The mix of prose and verse is interesting and is used quite cleverly, in my opinion. It tackles important issues like racism and the deplorable state of immigration in Australia. It’s sad, it’s poignant, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s relevant, it’s disturbing, it’s thought-provoking.

 

And it made me really, really uncomfortable.

 

Anahita is a great character. She’s smart. She’s a rebel. She loves loud, ugly music and science. She’s got undiagnosed PTSD and dreams of the simple freedoms people take for granted.

 

Jono is a great character. He’s dealing with his parents’ divorce, depression, and his casually racist friends who call him Nip because he’s half Vietnamese and they thought he was Japanese and racial slurs make such endearing nicknames.

 

Kenny is a great character. He’s a legal immigrant from Vietnam who tries his best to fit in and be Aussie enough to gain acceptance. He’s working a job he hates to provide for Jono, and it’s killing his soul and bringing out the very worst in him.

 

That all sounds pretty compelling, right? And it is!

 

On the other hand . . .

 

*sigh*

 

Something really bothered me about it.

 

Between Us seeks to confront the Australian attitude toward and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and the inhumanity of the detention centers, and that’s a good thing—it needs confronting—but it does so at the heavy expense of Anahita, who has to experience a metric ton of messed-up shite in order to convey the author’s message. It’s obvious Atkins did a ton of research and approached the character with a great deal of care and sensitivity, and Ana does feel like a fully-realized character, but I can’t help feeling this is yet another well-meaning book that exploits the pain of marginalized people to raise awareness and teach a lesson. Would I feel differently if Atkins was an Iranian Muslim? Yeah, probably. As a Vietnamese-Australian, she brought Jono and Kenny to life in a way that someone without her cultural background probably could not. Their stories were hers to tell. I’m not sure Anahita’s was. And therein lies the root of my conflict.

Endymion Spring

Endymion Spring - Matthew Skelton

I think I bought this off a bargain book table sometime around 2007. I’d never heard of it or the author before or since. I’d say it’s more Middle Grade than YA, though it’s a bit slow and uneventful for a MG audience. Blake, the main character, is bland and not at all memorable. His little sister, nicknamed Duck (I actually can’t remember if anyone ever says her real name) is less bland and unmemorable, but she’s also kind of (really) insufferable. Oxford and the Bodleian Library make for an interesting setting, and the parts of the story set in the 1400s make a decent short story by themselves, but the novel as a whole is unremarkable. The writing isn’t bad (brief, random, sudden POV shifts notwithstanding), and it’s mildly entertaining. It’s a quick, easy read, but not one I can recommend with any amount of enthusiasm.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer - Leigh Bardugo

What if Wonder Woman’s first foray into the mortal realm had nothing to do with Steve Trevor? What if she was an untested teenager, the weakest of the Amazons, struggling to prove herself? And what if you didn’t even miss good ol’ Steve because the focus on empowerment and positive female relationships enduring really big hardships was so lovely and refreshing? IT WOULD BE FREAKING AMAZING, THAT’S WHAT.

 

The story takes place in unspecified modern times (based on the level of technology). By chance or fate, Diana crosses paths with Alia, an unwitting walking apocalypse, and sets out to stop the war Alia’s mere existence is going to cause. There’s action aplenty, social issues, growing pains, poignant self-discovery, meddling gods, man-made monsters, the obligatory Diana-in-a-fancy-dress scene, a teensy bit of romance, and a whole lot of kickassery. All of that (and more!) added together = a really good time. I could blame insomnia for last night’s lack of sleep, but in reality I had a serious case of just-one-more-chapter-itis that persisted straight through the final chapter.

 

If you’re worried about jumping in with insufficient Wonder Woman/DC knowledge, don’t be. I had no idea what to expect from this novel going in. I’ve never picked up a Wonder Woman comic and my knowledge of the character is gleaned from the Linda Carter TV series, various animated productions, and the DC cinematic universe. But my quasi-ignorance wasn’t an issue, as this book seems largely independent from all past and current iterations of the character. Some of her backstory matches up with some of the comics, but you don’t have to have read every (or any) WW issue and crossover to get what’s going on.

 

If you are a fan of the comics, I have no idea if Bardugo’s take on the character will float your boat, but it floated mine all the way to Themyscira. (I was turned away at the boundary, though, on account of being a whiny, non-badass mortal who didn’t die in battle calling on the name of a goddess. Alas.)

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal: The Novelization - Jim Henson;A.C.H. Smith

Full disclosure: At least one full star of my rating is because this was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid and my nostalgic love for it in all forms is strong. If I make an attempt to be objective, I have to admit that the book is a tad on the dry side, and some of the descriptions seem out of place and serve little purpose. Aside from that, the story benefits a great deal from being told in novel form.

 

You know that bone-dry “Jen is the chosen one” expositional voice-over at the start of the movie? Not here! Those confusing rituals of the Skeksis and Mystics (actually called urRu and never referred to as Mystics in the book)? Explained! All that Skeksis political positioning following the death of the emperor? Also explained in greater detail with a clear delineation of factions! I don’t know how many people care about Skeksis politics, but all of that palace intrigue in the movie makes a hell of a lot more sense to me now, so I’m glad it’s covered. My next viewing of the movie will be enhanced as a result of reading the book.

 

This hardcover includes the extensive editorial notes Jim Henson sent Smith after reading the novel’s first draft. While interesting, this section is super dry. Don’t go in unless you’re well hydrated. Also included are a bunch of Brian Froud’s conceptual sketches strewn randomly throughout the book instead of all together at the back in a civilized appendix. Someone in the layout department at Archaia thinks interrupting the story with sketches of usually unrelated subjects is a great idea, apparently.

 

In closing: Fizzgig Forever. ♥

 

Jim Henson's Labyrinth

Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Novelization - A.C.H. Smith, Brian Froud, Jim Henson

I think this is one of those “if you love the movie, you’ll love the book” things. In fact, I don’t think I’d recommend reading the book without seeing the movie first. Several times. A.C.H. Smith tries his damnedest (and does pretty well), but some things about Labyrinth just defy description in print. You’re better off going into this with as much visual reference as possible.

 

As someone who has seen Labyrinth many, many times, I found the book to be an enjoyable if somewhat fickle companion. On the one hand, it gives you interesting insight into things like why Sarah starts out as such an annoying, overwrought drama llama. On the other hand, it also does things like drag out the nightmarish Firey scene for nearly two whole chapters. (Ugh! I freaking hate the Firey scene! *shudder*)

 

This hardcover edition also includes some delightful concept art by Brian Froud and pre-production notes scanned straight from one of Jim Henson’s notebooks. They make for an interesting look into the minds of two creative geniuses. Did you know Jim Henson had messy handwriting? He totally did. I feel better about my own barely legible scribbling now.

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The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie