agatha christie

What I'm Reading: 1.8.19

What I'm Reading: 1.8.19

Metafictional madness, snarky reimagined classics, time-traveling historians, lots of classic mysteries, and more new books to start the New Year.

Book-Movie Match-Up: Agatha Christie

Book-Movie Match-Up: Agatha Christie

Book or movie? With so many Christie adaptations and books to choose from, we’ve rounded up the cinematic cream of the crop and the stories that give the most mystery mileage.

Library Chicken Update CABIN-EXTRAVAGANZA 2017 : THE PREQUEL

Library Chicken Update CABIN-EXTRAVAGANZA 2017, THE PREQUEL

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

CABIN-EXTRAVANGANZA, THE PREQUEL: Every July we pack up the cars for our annual family trip to Boone, NC (chosen because it is roughly halfway between Atlanta and my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Virginia Beach), where we stay in a rental “cabin” that, with three levels, a hot tub, excellent wifi, and an assortment of widescreen TVs, bears zero resemblance to any of the actual cabins I camped in during my outdoorsy youth. However, it is built of logs and there’s a nice fire pit in the back (not to mention a boulder-filled creek with a very convenient swimming hole) so I guess it’s sort of cabin-ish. Boone is a great little college town (Go Appalachian State Apps!), with unique restaurants, fun and funky shopping opportunities, and an assortment of great outdoor activities, so as soon as we’ve unloaded, we head inside the cabin and do our best NEVER TO GO OUTSIDE AGAIN. The family’s goals are to catch up on what’s been happening in our various lives, play board games from the truly impressive collection we’ve built up over the years, and nap as much as possible. MY goal is to read as many books as I can, even while being distracted by my loving family and their attempts to engage me in conversation and so-called bonding activities. As you can imagine, during the week prior to the cabin trip there is a flurry of last-minute housecleaning, packing, and frantic calls to make sure we remembered to get someone to take care of the pets. Meanwhile, I’m upstairs reading all the books that have to go back to the library and in the process not quite finishing the Library Chicken Update I was supposed to turn in before we left.

 

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard by Laura Bates

I’ve been trying to read more about our prison system, and in particular I am interested in education behind bars, both in terms of the men and women who choose to do that work, and the effects on the inmates who participate. Professor Laura Bates spent years teaching Shakespeare to maximum security inmates. Her memoir of that time exposes a world that few of us ever see, but I was surprised by her choice to focus almost exclusively on one particular student, Larry Newton, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole while still a juvenile. Bates has clearly been deeply affected by Newton, who she describes as extraordinarily talented and insightful, and there’s some fascinating stuff here, but I became impatient with her concentration on Newton’s story and their relationship and was disappointed not to learn more about her broader experience with the dozens of inmates she worked with over the years.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead wrote this memoir of the time that a magazine staked him to play in the World Series of Poker several years before his novel, The Underground Railroad, won the Pulitzer Prize (and everything else), and gee, I sure hope he’s feeling better these days. His writing is smart and funny, but the tone of this memoir—written in his persona as a native of “the Republic of Anhedonia”—is cynical half-joking despair that never lets up. Ha? It’s hard for me to laugh when I’m worried about whether the author is eating and sleeping okay and whether someone is regularly checking up on him.
(LC Score: +1) 

 

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Tommy and Tuppence mystery #4—and my favorite so far (with one left to go). Tuppence, now a grandmother, gets suspicious when an elderly woman seemingly disappears from an old folks’ home. This one is by far the best-plotted of Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence novels (yeah, okay, maybe there are some plotlines that don’t quite get wrapped up but what’s a loose end or two between friends?) and of course I always enjoy hanging out with the Beresfords.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Old English Peep Show by Peter Dickinson

This is Dickinson’s second mystery novel starring the fabulously named Inspector James Pribble and I think I’m hooked. In 1960’s England, Pribble is sent to the country estate of a famous and wealthy family to explore the suicide of an old retainer, but all is not as it seems, especially since a large chunk of the estate has been converted into an Olde Englande theme park experience. With man-eating lions, which just you know isn’t going to end well. (Insert your favorite Jurassic Park quote here.)
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

You know, I have loved books that everyone else hated and hated books that everyone else loved, so I get that reading is subjective. I generally try to be as positive as possible even when I didn’t particularly enjoy a specific book, and when it comes to official fanfic—like this “New Hercule Poirot mystery!”—my expectations are not high. But in this case, I kinda feel like I read it so you guys don’t have to. (In fairness to Hannah, I thought her Poirot was okay, it was the rest of the book that didn’t work for me.) (LC Score: +1)

 

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

ARRGH. I loved loved LOVED the beginning of this book. Our heroine, Lou, is a Chinese-American psychopomp (essentially a freelance exorcist) in an 1870s San Francisco populated by ghosts, assorted undead, and sentient bears. Tanzer, you had me at the bears, but when you threw in SENTIENT SEA-LIONS (!!!) I immediately logged into the library system and put everything else you’ve ever written on hold. Unfortunately, the beginning just sets the stage and the main plot has Lou leaving San Francisco behind (the sea-lions, Lou, how could you leave the sea-lions?) to investigate why Chinese men are going missing in Colorado. And yes, there’s a Mysterious Sanatorium and other supernatural things to come, but I just didn’t find it as interesting as the initial set-up. Plus, once we got into the main plot I started having major issues with story and characterization. Mostly I just desperately wanted to go back to San Francisco. (Dear Ms. Tanzer, I will happily read an entire series of Lou’s psychopomp adventures in San Francisco—and please can she have a special sea-lion buddy?) Anyway, I’m still going to look for Tanzer’s other novels, but this one broke my heart a bit as it went from 'My New Favorite That I Must Tell Everyone About' to 'Flawed But With Some Great Ideas.' 
(LC Score: +1)

 

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

This is the second Lauren Beukes novel I’ve read (after the equally excellent Zoo City) and I would just like to say that she is amazing. Moxyland is a near-future modern-cyberpunk tale of the corporate-ocracy told by four alternating narrators (one of whom is an art student who allows herself to become, via a sort of nanotech tattoo, a literal walking advertisement for a soda company). It is original and energetic and I couldn’t put it down. Now I just need to work up the courage to read her most recent novels: The Shining Girls (about a serial killer targeting bright young women throughout time) and Broken Monsters (about murders where human bodies are seemingly fused to animal bodies). (Beukes is great and I really want to read her latest books but all the reviews talk about their “brutal and disturbing violence” and I’m kind of a wimp and keep chickening out.)
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan 

After Fagan’s end-of-the-world story The Sunlight Pilgrims I expected this earlier novel to also be science fiction, but there’s nothing otherworldly or futuristic here—it’s the story of a 15-year-old Scottish girl who’s been in and out of foster care and who is now in a group home waiting to see if she’ll be charged with murder. The storyline is bleak and violent, but surprisingly I didn’t find it a particularly bleak or depressing read, in part because Fagan allows the humanity of her protagonist to shine through and even leaves us with a tiny smidgen of hope.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s retells The Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope and the twelve maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return. Short and entertaining (if a bit grim, topic-wise), and would make a great high school side-by-side read with the original.
(LC Score: +1)

 

 

 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

I have loved everything I’ve read by Helen Oyeyemi (White is for Witching, Mr. Fox, What is Not Yours is Not Yours) and this novel was no exception, but I struggled a bit getting through it. This was my second attempt and even with a running start I got stuck for a couple of week about a third of the way through. I hasten to add that this is a me problem, not a problem with the book. In this, her version of the “wicked stepmother” story, Oyeyemi deals with uncomfortable issues of race and parenting that made it a challenging read at times, though well worth it.
(LC Score: +1)

 

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This guide shares tips and techniques that the Goldstones have learned after years of hosting a series of book clubs for upper elementary and middle school students. I’ve found it a helpful resource when thinking about how to begin discussing literary analysis with middle-grade readers, and I picked it up for a reread to get ready for the middle school literature this fall. (Though clearly I’ve been hanging out with Amy too much, because every time the Goldstones talk about teaching the kids to be “book detectives” who find the meaning hidden within each book by the author, I think to myself, “The Post-Structuralists might have a bone to pick with you about that.”) HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED (despite those wacky post-structuralists).
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Great Brain is Back by John D. Fitzgerald

While working on a recent Summer Reading post I discovered that there was an 8th Great Brain novel I hadn’t read, published after Fitzgerald’s death, and of course I had to find a copy. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a necessary addition to the series; posthumously published works are hit or miss to begin with, and in this particular case, I really struggle with the character of Tom (the Great Brain) as he gets older. From a parental perspective, Tom does some terrible things to his siblings and friends (which, I have to say, did not bother me at all when I read and reread these books growing up), and in his first adventure here he ends up cheating his brother and taking a loss because he can’t stand the idea that little brother J.D. might actually have gotten the better of him this one time. As Tom enters teenagerhood that behavior stops being funny and clever and just-maybe-acceptable and starts to look a wee bit sociopathic. (I was comforted to read that the author, John D. Fitzgerald, also struggled with this as the characters aged, feeling that it was past time for Tom to mature and permanently reform, while the publisher insisted on his adventures continuing just the same as always.) Please do continue to pass along the original Great Brain books to any upper elementary readers in your vicinity, but I think it’s okay if you give this last one a miss.
(LC Score: +1)

 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier written by Alan Moore, art by Keith O’Neill

This Week In Comics (Part 1): Previously on Library Chicken, I reported on Scream for Jeeves, a Lovecraft-Wodehouse crossover. One might think that we had covered all the Cthulu/Jeeves mash-ups available, but not so! In Black Dossier, a collection of League histories from its earliest 17th century incarnation onwards, one short story has Bertie Wooster telling us about the time Lovecraftian monsters attacked his Aunt Dahlia’s home, Brinkley Court. (SPOILER: Gussie Fink-Nottle’s brain gets removed, but no one notices.) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for those who are unfamiliar, is a group of Victorian heroes, including Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Allan Quartermain, and Dr. Jeckyll, documented in a series of comic books by Alan Moore and Keith O’Neill. (There was also a truly awful movie adaptation that you should feel free to ignore.) This graphic novel brings some of the characters forward to 1958 (when, in this universe, Britain is just coming out of its 1984 Big Brother era) in a framing story where they must steal the files containing the history of the League. WARNING: I love the concept and all the literary references, but Black Dossier and the other comics in the series would qualify for a hard R-rating (violence and <ahem> quite a bit of sexual content) and are definitely NOT for kids.
(LC Score: +1) 

 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl & the Great Lakes Avengers

This Week in Comics (Part 2): This Squirrel Girl collection, made up of material from before the current run of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, consists of a few miscellaneous appearances plus her adventures with the Great Lakes Avengers, most of which spoof Marvel Comics and their occasional grimdark tone. WARNING: While the GLA issues can be funny and entertaining, they are also cynical, violent, occasionally mean-spirited, and sometimes come awfully close to being outright offensive (all the while playing it up with cute little comments like “Look how offensive we’re being! Oh, that’s terrible! We’re going to get letters!” so that we can be sure to appreciate how clever and ironic they are). Plus: Deadpool guest-stars! Despite the incredibly adorable cover, these comics have a very different tone and spirit from the current run and are definitely NOT appropriate for young SG fans.
(LC Score: +1)

Library Chicken Score for 7/18/17: 14
Running Score: 72

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for THE CABIN:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (a mystery within a mystery)

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette, did NOT love This One Is Mine

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (squabbling adult siblings, my favorite)

The Vacationers by Emma Straub (more squabbling family members—on vacation!)


Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (7.11.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Somehow we’ve made it to the middle of July, which means that school starts in less than a month for those kids in my house who attend traditional high school. (The one homeschooler remaining doesn’t start back until September, so I imagine he’ll spend the month of August lazing around and playing loud video games and generally being obnoxious to his siblings while they try to do homework.) I need to get serious about breaking out of this reading slump if I’m going to get one last burst of summer reading in—though that’s hard to do when I’m busy going to the movies (Wonder Woman! Cars 3! Baby Driver! The new Spiderman! Wonder Woman again!) all the time. I’ll just have to bring Jeeves and Wooster along to read in the theater while I’m waiting for the coming-soon trailers (The Big Sick! Dunkirk! The new Thor!) to start.

 

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and the Tie That Binds by P.G. Wodehouse

The Cat-Nappers by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and Wooster #7 through 10. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best Jeeves and Wooster novels come from the middle of the 10-book sequence (beginning, I’d argue, with my personal all-time favorite, The Code of the Woosters). By the time we get to The Cat-Nappers, Wodehouse has lost some steam, though I think we can forgive him given that this 10th Jeeves and Wooster novel was published in 1974, when he was 92 years old. So while the last few novels are maybe only for hard-core fans, I still thoroughly enjoyed going through the whole sequence, mostly because I got very attached to Bertie and his lovable dopiness.  
(LC Score: 0 for Stiff Upper Lip and Tie That Binds, off my own shelves; +1 for Cat-Nappers)

 

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

Which brings us to the “extra” Jeeves and Wooster novel, an homage to Wodehouse (officially sanctioned by his estate) by novelist Sebastian Faulks. As I’ve mentioned before, I find that these kinds of books can be hit or miss (mostly miss), but Faulks gets a lot of things right. While he can’t match the sparkling brilliance of Wodehouse at the top of his form (who can?), he clearly appreciates Bertie and gets that while Bertie may be an upper-class twit, he is also cheerful, friendly, open-minded, and endlessly obliging and generous to aunts, old school chums, and ex-fiancees. In this last adventure, Bertie and Jeeves end up switching roles, with Jeeves pretending to be a Lord and Bertie masquerading as a gentleman’s gentleman—as to be expected, hijinks ensue—but the most important thing (SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!) is that after more failed and accidental engagements than one would care to count, Bertie finally meets The Right Girl. It’s a sweet ending to a series that celebrated farce but never became mean-spirited or cynical. (BONUS HEADCANON: The future Mrs. Wooster works in publishing, so clearly she must have met Harriet Vane, and I’m sure the two of them hit it off. And then, given that Lord Peter and Bertie are both old Etonians and Oxford alumni and must have mutual friends, Wimsey-Wooster dinner parties undoubtedly followed. With Jeeves and Bunter butlering in the background. THIS MAKES ME VERY HAPPY.)  
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

Scream for Jeeves by P.H. Cannon

Okay, maybe I’ll sneak in just one more Jeeves and Wooster homage—after all, if you see a book advertised as a Lovecraft-Wodehouse crossover, you pretty much HAVE to read that book, right? This very slim volume takes three Lovecraft stories (I had to look up the references, as I’m not as up on Lovecraft as I am on Wodehouse) and plugs in Jeeves and Bertie, behaving pretty much as you would expect. It’s cleverly done and gave me the giggles but I think you need to be a big fan of both authors to make it worth your while.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie

Tommy and Tuppence #2. The Beresfords, now a young married couple, take over a private detective agency and entertain themselves by solving mysteries in the style of their favorite fictional sleuths, including (because Agatha was meta before meta was cool) Hercule Poirot. And a whole bunch of other detectives I’ve never heard of. It’s a fun collection, though I was slightly disconcerted by the number of attractive young women who drop dead immediately after encountering Tommy and Tuppence. I also winced a bit at the very end when Tuppence cheerfully gives up detecting because she’s got a new calling: Mother-To-Be. That said, the Beresfords are awesome and you’ll have to excuse me now because I have to think up a good way for them to get invited to the Wimsey-Wooster dinners.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa

Have I mentioned that I love novels that are about adult children coming together and returning to the old hometown to deal with a death or other major family issue, A.K.A. Getting the Fam Back Together? I first heard of this one while making a list of authors from Georgia that I wanted to check out. Here, the three adult children of recently deceased “Mudear” (a nickname for “mother dear”) return to their small Georgia hometown to arrange her funeral and deal with the personal fallout from their relationship with this neglectful and emotionally abusive woman. I have a hard time with abusive mothers in fiction, but Ansa gives Mudear her own voice and the opportunity for rebuttal throughout, making it clear that she’s more complicated than simply being the villain of the piece.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

And I think we’ve established that I love epistolary novels (BRING THEM ALL TO ME). This is an epistolary novel To The Extreme, a beautifully designed book that includes an actual sealed letter bound in the text for the reader to open. It’s also a post-apocalyptic novel of sorts, with two narratives that mirror each other: Zadock Thomas’s story set in 1843, and his descendant Zeke Thomas’s story set in a “post-Collapse” 2143, both revolving around a mysterious letter. I really enjoyed reading this book. I also think it is flawed in some interesting ways—in my opinion, the narrative collapses under the weight of the puzzle it has created. A good read, though, and certainly worth picking up to admire the artwork and how it’s put together.  
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

Bone Vol. 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe written by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson

Dial H Vol. 2: Exchange written by China Mieville

This Week in Comics: The Bone series was a big hit in my house when my kids were younger, so I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while, and of course I’m always up for a Squirrel Girl adventure (in this standalone graphic novel she accidentally clones herself and you know that never ends well). I wanted to finish the Dial H series since I had read the first volume earlier, and believe it or not volume two got even weirder—I don’t think I ever really figured out what was going on, though I enjoyed the introduction of a Sidekick-Dial to go with the Hero-Dial.  
(LC Score: +3)

 

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A lot of great-looking books went back to the library this week because of (1) the previously mentioned reading slump, and (2) I’m clearing the decks for our upcoming Annual Family Vacation to North Carolina, where I sit on the back porch reading all day while my family tries (in vain, mostly) to get me to participate in bonding activities like board games and conversation. Gotta return all the books that would come due while we’re gone so I can get a brand new stack of books to carry out to the back porch.
(LC Score: -6, RETURNED UNREAD)

 

Library Chicken Score for 7/11/17: 1  
Running Score: 58

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie (Tommy and Tuppence age gracefully!)

Shakespeare Saved My Life: A Memoir by Laura Bates (teaching Shakespeare in a maximum-security prison)

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (I’m overdue for a reread of this one)

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer (in which I will apparently learn what a ‘psychopomp’ is)


Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (7.4.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. &nbsp;To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments! 

Happy Fourth of July! Today I will be enjoying the traditional re-watch of the musical 1776 and hissing and throwing popcorn at the screen whenever Thomas Jefferson shows up. I might also read a bit. I’m still in a reading slump, meaning that I find it hard to focus on anything and have at least half a dozen partially finished and temporarily (I hope) abandoned books lying around. When I’m feeling like this I have a hard time dealing with any kind of fictional conflict, so when I see it approaching I put down the book and pick up something else—typically a reread and/or something with very low stakes. Bring on the Jeeves and Wooster!

 

Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse

Bertie Wooster Sees It Through by P.G. Wodehouse

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse 

I’ve been reading and rereading Wodehouse for decades, but before now I’ve never tried to read through all ten Jeeves and Wooster novels in chronological order. (Mostly because the joys of Wodehouse are not dependent on “story arc.”) I’m enjoying the experiment, of course, but I’m also finding that it allows me to appreciate Bertie’s voice even more—his verbal tics and repetitions, the way that the story of his winning the Scripture Knowledge prize at school works its way into every single narrative. These are books #4 through #7—three more to go!
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

Tommy and Tuppence #1. Young Tommy and Tuppence, childhood friends just demobbed from their service in The Great War, run into each other in London and (through the usual series of unlikely coincidences) find themselves caught up in a mystery involving the sinking of the Lusitania, Bolshevik spies, and a missing girl named Jane Finn. It’s all utterly ridiculous plot-wise, but great fun, especially if this if your first introduction to the Beresfords. I’ve read it before and remembered The Big Twist, but still enjoy reading it as a romance, even if the mystery is a bit silly.  
(LC Score: 0, Kindle)

 

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Another reread! Inspector Alan Grant, flat on his back after an in-the-line-of-duty accident, revisits the murder of the Princes in the Tower. This novel consistently ranks as one of the best mystery novels ever written and I’ve read it at least a couple of times before, but it’s actually the fifth novel with Inspector Grant. Last year I went back to read the beginning of Tey’s series (the first one is The Man in the Queue) and found that I really enjoyed them (though fair warning: they are typical detective stories, so don’t go in expecting something like the historical conundrums of The Daughter of Time). When I got to The Daughter of Time in the sequence, I wasn’t in the mood for a reread (too many great library books on the stack) and it’s taken me until now to get back to it. One thing that struck me was how much more I enjoyed the book now that I understand more of the historical context, having read more English history in the interim. I also think it makes a great homeschool read, not just because of the history, but because the whole point of the book is to develop your critical thinking skills and look at history (or more specially, historians) with a skeptical eye. It’s a great way to introduce students to the idea that history is written by the winners. Since it helps to have context, it would be a good side-by-side read with for anyone studying that period, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s doing Shakespeare’s Richard III. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.  
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Shockingly, NOT a reread! This YA fantasy is one of the books I’ve been picking up and putting down for a couple of weeks now and I decided to power through. I love the beginning: there’s a modern-day town on the edge of a forest and everything is perfectly normal, except for the unbreakable glass casket in the forest where a horned prince has slept for decades. And a changeling attends high school with our protagonists and every year a couple of tourists get eaten, but yeah, other than that everything’s perfectly normal. This novel has a lot going for it—there’s a great scene where the high schoolers are partying and drinking in the woods around the glass casket like they do every Friday night because of course that’s what teenagers would do—but (and this may be the slump talking) it turns out I’m kinda over Faerie at the moment. I’m also definitely not in the mood for YA teenage kissing, and there’s a LOT of YA teenage kissing in this book. (Diverse kissing, though, so thumbs up for that!) I think it’s a case of wrong book, wrong time for me, but I’d have no hesitation in passing it along to my favorite YA readers.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

So YA fantasy isn’t working for me; let’s head back over to the mystery section. Claire DeWitt is a very unusual private investigator who has been hired to find out what happened to a missing lawyer in post-Katrina New Orleans. I really enjoyed this book. I also am now completely freaked out about ever visiting New Orleans, since Gran vividly depicts it as a lawless violence-ridden Third-World city that you need special skills to survive. (Seriously: my daughter’s freshman chorus trip was to New Orleans and if I had read this book before then I might not have been able to sign the permission slip. Fortunately she and her fellow singers had a great time and all returned unscathed.) Alongside that, there’s an incredible amount of love and respect for the city and its inhabitants here. If anyone out there is from New Orleans please read this and let us know what you think—I’d love to see a reaction from someone who knows the city.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

Farthing by Jo Walton

A murder has taken place in a country house in 1949 England, getting us comfortably back to the world of Wodehouse and Christie—except that in this version of 1949, England made an early peace with Hitler (as a result of the Hess Mission, which, yes, I will happily read ALL THE BOOKS, fictional and otherwise, about Rudolf Hess and his bizarre flight to Scotland) and so now exists in the shadow of a Third Reich-controlled Europe. The owners of the house and their friends make up the “Farthing Set,” a group of powerful pro-German politicians who helped broker the peace. Things do not end well. I don’t want to say too much, except that it’s a great book and I recommend it, but the book does have a strong political viewpoint and I was surprised to see that some reviewers thought it heavy-handed. I did not, which may be an unfortunate side-effect of the times we are living in. It’s the first book in a trilogy; as soon as I work up the emotional energy I look forward to tackling the next two books. 
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest by Peter Dickinson

In her introduction to Farthing, Walton thanks Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Peter Dickinson for getting her on the right track regarding British mysteries. I had not read Dickinson, but of course I have to check out anyone mentioned in such illustrious company. This is his first novel, written in 1968, and first in a series with Inspector Jim Pribble as our detective. Here’s the setup: During World War II, a (fictional) New Guinea tribe called the Ku were slaughtered by the Japanese. The handful of survivors now share a home in London, along with the anthropologist daughter of the white missionary couple that had lived with them in New Guinea, and their chief is murdered. When I first saw the cover of the library edition, featuring a cartoonish African man, I was...concerned. You might be thinking that all this sounds like a great opportunity for a lot of casual racism and general offensiveness, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The Kus are described as primitive and child-like, definitively alien and Other, and characters more or less continually comment on the blackness of their skin. One character also suggests that the anthropologist, who has been accepted as a member of the tribe, is keeping them as her own private project, a personal “ant farm” that she can tend and watch. That said, Dickinson gives depth to the story and the characters, and the Kus that we meet (the few with speaking parts) come across as distinct individuals. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, but I can tell you that I read it more or less in one sitting and that I’ve got the next one coming. I’m hoping for no more cartoon African covers.  
(LC Score: +1)

 

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu   

The nice thick sequel to The Three Body Problem.  Nope, not this week.  
(LC Score: -1, RETURNED UNREAD)

 

Library Chicken Score for 7/4/17: 3  
Running Score: 57

 

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Ha’penny by Jo Walton (sequel to Farthing)

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (sequel to City of the Dead)

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey (next Alan Grant book) 

The Old English Peep-Show by Peter Dickinson (next Jim Pribble book)


Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (6.27.17)

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

So have you ever had one of those weeks where Everything Is Awful and there’s really No Point in Even Trying Anymore so you might as well give up and binge-watch an entire season of Real Housewives after which you feel vaguely nauseated for the next day or so rendering you completely unable to focus on any of the four or five perfectly nice books you’ve started reading or cope in any way with anything that requires functioning brain cells? Anyone? Or is it just me?

Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

Nothing better than the first three Jeeves and Wooster novels for a reading slump. As usual, Bertie is busy trying to help his old school friends get engaged (or to get out of one of his own frequent accidental engagements) and nothing seems to work out until Jeeves comes in to save the day. The only bad thing I can say about any of the Wodehouse books is that they do occasionally betray their age. Thank You, Jeeves, published in 1934, uses the n-word (without any malice, apparently, but it’s still jarring) to describe a traveling troupe of "minstrels," and a major plot point revolves around Bertie disguising himself in blackface. So that’s fun. Fortunately, my favorite of the three (and perhaps my all-time favorite Wodehouse novel), The Code of the Woosters, is free from random racial slurs, so that I can thoroughly enjoy its delights: Bertie sneering at a cow-creamer! Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts! Gussie Fink-Nottle and a bathtub of newts! Farce involving a policeman’s helmet! Now I need to go re-watch the Fry-Laurie adaptation, which I’m sure is better for my spirit than Real Housewives.
(LC Score: 0, from my own shelves)

 

N or M? by Agatha Christie

I mean no disrespect to Poirot or Miss Marple, but the best sleuths ever created by Agatha Christie were clearly Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Christie must have loved them too, because after first appearing as 20-somethings just after World War I in The Secret Adversary, Christie’s second novel, she returns to them over and over again during her career, so that we see them age along with her until their final appearance as 70-somethings (in Christie’s last-written, though not last-published novel) in Postern of Fate. I picked up N or M?, from the middle of their career, at a library booksale a while back and was glad to have it in hand so as not to completely overdose on Wodehouse. During World War II, Tommy and Tuppence (now middle-aged) are undercover at a boarding house trying to sniff out Fifth Columnists. Frankly, they do a fairly terrible job of it, suspecting the obvious choices while the real culprits go undetected, but I don’t even care because I enjoy hanging out with the Beresfords. Sadly, there are only five Tommy and Tuppence books. I’m not always excited about professional fan-fiction, where a current author contracts with the estate of a deceased author to carry on one of their series, but I NEED more Tommy and Tuppence, so someone should get on that IMMEDIATELY. (NOTE: I would also accept a stand-alone series starring Ariadne Oliver.)
(LC Score: 0, from my own shelves)

 

Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times Vols. 1 & 2 edited by Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood

Leftovers from my stack of Georgia history. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -2)

 

Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle

Nope. In no way do I have the emotional stamina to be reading this one right now. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)

 

Library Chicken Score for 6/27/17: -3
Running Score: 54

 

Umm, did I mention that I may be in a bit of a reading slump? Recovering from a slump requires lots of comfort books so there may be some Georgette Heyer or Dorothy Sayers or Elinor Lipman in my future. Also I’ve got these lined up on the nightstand:

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

The Secret Adversary and Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie (Tommy and Tuppence #1 and 2)

Jeeves in the Morning and The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster #4 and 5) 


Stuff We Like :: 5.19.17

home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.&nbsp;

Can we just all pretend that the whole Anne-with-an-E thing isn’t happening?

 

around the web

There’s some solid advice here: How to read aloud to a child who won’t sit still

I’m totally counting down the days to the new Twin Peaks (and obsessively listening to the soundtrack), so I found this piece on the real-life murder that inspired the original show fascinating.

Another reason to play Library Chicken: People who read books are nicer.

I’m always trying to explain to my kids that the idea of a totally objective history curriculum is impossible because we’re always reading the facts from a subjective place. Maybe this is especially true with U.S. history.

And just a little post-Mother’s Day reminder that motherhood is hard, especially if you are medieval royalty.

This will totally be the best part of your week. (I know I’m blind teasing, but please click on it anyway—you will not be sorry, and no words can capture the joy.)

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: We’re so thrilled to welcome Beverly and Nanette to the blogging team! (And you get to meet Maggie next week!)

one year ago: 9 Books for Latino Book Month

two years ago: How can I help my student focus?

 

reading list

I scored a bunch of cheap Agatha Christies when they were on sale earlier this week, so I’ve been rereading some of those that I haven’t read for years: Five Little Pigs (which struck me as so sad this time around), Sleeping Murder, and Death in the Clouds (which I had forgotten completely and so I got to be very pleased with myself for figuring out who the murderer was using the Least Likely Suspect method).

I’ve got my AP English students reading All the King’s Men this summer, so I’m rereading it myself. It feels like the right time to pull out this complex and nuanced political novel that eschews anything resembling an easy answer.

I totally lost at Library Chicken this week—I had to return two books unread, and everything I actually read was either 1. on my Kindle or 2. an advance copy. I did read a very fun middle grades-ish book called The World’s Greatest Chocolate Covered Pork Chops, though—look for a review in a few weeks.

 

in the kitchen

These tostadas are delicious, whatever they actually want to be.

Officially adding this to our Easy Breakfast file. (My kids will eat anything baked in a mug.)

Not a cookie, but close enough, right?: Cream cheese poundcake with citrus glaze

 

at home

Oooh, the newest season of Sherlock is on Netflix. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

Before we got a dog, I was like, eh, dogs are fine. Now I’m more like “Oh, small furry ruler, how can I serve you today?” 


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.12.17: And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie

The suspense builds over the course of this mystery classic as ten people with spotted pasts realize that they've been lured to a posh but deserted island to be murdered, one by one, by a vigilante who wants them to pay for their crimes and who—they slowly realize—must be one of their number. It's both tense and intense, and don't start it unless you're ready to read it through to the end. (The recent BBC adaptation does a great job capturing the book's atmospheric suspense.) A great book for your high school summer reading list.

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.

Bespoke Book List: Spooky Halloween Readalouds

Great list of spooky books for Halloween readalouds, from home/school/life magazine. #homeschool

Halloween is coming, and we need a good spooky book to read. We loved The Graveyard Book and The Witches. What should we read this year?

I loved scary stories, the kind that are best read under the covers with a flashlight, when I was growing up. I still love them. But my kids? Not so much. So it’s a pleasure to share some of my favorite spooky stories with other people who like a few goosebumps with their readalouds. Just keep in mind that these books all have genuinely scary moments in them and share them with your younger readers accordingly.

The Dollhouse Murders
By Betty Ren Wright
And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie

I always recommend The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright because it was one of the first books I read as a kid that really scared the pants off me. For months, I would be afraid to peek inside my own dollhouse because I was convinced the little people inside would have moved around during the night. Twelve-year-old Amy discovers a haunted dollhouse in the attic of her family’s old home, and the dolls’ mysterious behavior spurs her to investigate a family tragedy.

One of my new favorite scary stories is Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, the first in his Lockwood & Co. series. Lucy Carlyle, who has the ability to hear the dead, joins forces with stolid George and mysterious Anthony at the Lockwood & Co. psychic investigative agency, where they—along with other, much more impressive agencies—battle the epidemic of ghosts that’s been plaguing London for half a century. There are some seriously scary bits as the kids face down malicious specters, the characters are delightful, and the action is pretty much non-stop.

For slow-building, atmospheric horror, you can’t beat Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a mystery-horror tale in which ten people are summoned to a mysterious island house to face justice for past crimes. As guest after guest is murdered, following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme, the paranoia and hysteria among the remaining guests rise to a fever pitch.

 

The Time of the Ghost
By Diana Wynne Jones
Which Witch?
By Eva Ibbotson
Doom Stone, The
By Paul Zindel

The narrator of Diana Wynne Jones’s The Time of the Ghost doesn’t know who she is or how she become a formless, voiceless spirit. All she knows is that she is one of four sisters and that something horrible has happened. As she follows the four sisters around, trying to figure out which one she is, she witnesses their abusive, neglectful upbringing and a curious game the sisters invent, which may be the key to the darkness that lies ahead. But can the ghostly narrator do anything to prevent the terrible accident she knows is coming? And can she ever return to her own body? Grimmer and darker than some of Diana Wynne Jones’ other work, The Time of the Ghost is so compelling because of the relationship between the four sisters.

If you want something a little lighter but with plenty of spooky scenes, pick up Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson. The dark and terrible sorcerer Arriman must find an equally dark and terrible wife to give him an heir so that he can finally retire, so he holds a competition for witches. There’s much gruesome magic, a wife-murdering ghost, and an evil enchantress who collects the teeth of her victims, but there’s also the yearning-to-be-evil-because-she-loves-Arriman-so-much white witch Belladonna and plenty of humor to keep things from getting too bleak.

Sometimes you want a Halloween story that’s just action-packed, and The Doom Stone by Paul Zindel is a good bet for that. Jackson heads to Stonehenge to hang out with his cool anthropologist aunt, who’s helping the British army investigate a terrifying beast on a murder spree around the countryside. When the beast attacks his aunt and she has to be hospitalized, Jackson and his new friend Alma are the only ones who can solve the mystery and stop the beast.

 

The Witches of Worm
By Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Prince of Mist
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of those genuinely creepy children’s books that sticks with you. Jessica finds a miserable hairless kitten in an old cave, and despite her instant dislike of the cat, she brings it home to take care of. But the cat—whom Jessica names Worm—starts talking to Jessica, convincing her to do all kinds of terrible things. The cat must be a witch’s cat—but, then, where’s the witch?

A ghost story where the main characters are haunted by the Irish potato famine may seem a bit of stretch, but Black Harvest by Ann Pilling is genuinely spooky and one of those forgotten 1980s children’s books that deserves to be better known. Colin and Prill’s family, including their Eustace-Scrubb-ish cousin, expect a jolly Irish holiday, but there’s a strange stench of decay that never goes away—and Prill sees strange figures at night—and all the food starts spoiling—and people start getting sick.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a classic for a good reason: You can never be certain whether the narrating parson’s-daughter-turned-country-governess is truly the victim of vengeful spirits or whether she’s slowly and absolutely losing her mind. There’s such darkness in either interpretation, but it’s the unknown-ness of it all that’s truly terrifying.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote one of my favorite grown-up books (The Shadow of the Wind, in case you're curious), so I was delighted to discover that he also wrote a deliciously spooky young adult novel called The Prince of Mist. Max’s family moves to the seaside to escape the war, but they quickly come to believe that their new home is haunted by the spirit of the previous owner’s son, who drowned in the sea. With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia begin to explore the mystery of that death, discovering a horrifying entity called the Prince of Mist who has returned to collect on an old debt.