Sunday, January 15, 2012

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired " Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey", by Margaret Powell

Fascinating social history. This wonderful memoir was so well written, and gave an incredible look into what being a kitchenmaid and then a cook in grand houses in between-the-wars England was really like. The humiliations and depravations were many, but Powell's clear writing gives a bigger picture of what it was like to see the end of an era of upstairs/downstairs, and her unusual clarity of thought and original ideas made her as interesting as the greater picture she painted.  

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Wildly creative if depressing followup to Bacigalupi's Prinz-winning knockout Ship Breaker. This isn't a sequel- could totallly stand on its own- the only link between the books is the ravaged future America and the half-man called Tool. In this one, clearly set in and near a ruined Washington DC, war refugees Mahlia and Mouse are separated when he is kidnapped to become part of a troop of child soldiers, and Mahlia must choose whether to try to run or to try to save him. Brutal and very very dark, this was a haunting and brilliant book based on current events (child soldiers in Africa) that was drawn so clearly it seems inevitable.

The List of Adrian Messenger, by Phillip MacDonald

Fantastic classic English mystery, 1959, inheritance plot but very clever set up.

The Baker Street Letters, by Michael Robertson

Very clever and charming book! When lawyers and brothers Reggie and Nigel take over the lease to use a business space at 221B Baker Street, they unknowingly sign an agreement to handle mail that arrives for Sherlock Holmes. Nigel begins to get concerened about some letters, and the mystery leads them to Los Angeles to uncover a Chinatown kind of crime. Fun and really original and damned well done.

Murder Never Forgets, by Diana O'Hehir

Pretty awful mystery- an Egyptologist with Alzheimer's and his marginally employed daughter solve a series of murders at his retirement home - ???? Yeah.  

The Rasp, by Phillip MacDonald

Very good Anthony Gethryn country house murder mystery.

An English Murder, by Cyril Hare

Pretty classic and well done English country house murder- champagne and snow and an inheritance plot. Me likey.

Holidays in Heck, by P.J. O'Rourke

Unpleasant book by the increasingly unlikeable P.J. O'Rourke. Holidays in Hell was a hell of a funny book, Holidays in Heck, he comes across and the right-wing asshat that he is. Oh well.

Past Perfect, by Leila Sales

Really fun YA with an unfathomably unrelated and awful cover. The book was pretty good actually, Chelsea is spending another summer working at a Colonial history re-enactment village, like Williamsburg, and the teen employees there are at war with the Civil War re-enactors across the street. Chelsea is torn between team loyalty, and her new feelings for Dan, one of the enemy.

Murder at the Villa Byzantine, by R.T. Raichev

Another well plotted classic style Country House mystery by the charming Bulgarian Raichev. I think his fantasy world is much like mine. Have a bit of an odd writer crush on him.

Queen of Heartrs, by Martha Brooks

Well crafted but very slow historical fiction set in a tuberculosis sanitorium in WWII Manitoba, Canada. When 15 year old Marie-Claire and her siblings become ill, she has no idea that she will spend the next 2 years of her life fighting for her life. This was good, but I don't think it has real teen appeal, and was pretty slow.

Green for Danger, by Christianna Brand

FANTASTIC medical mystery set in a WWII hospital. Brand is an author I found in that Country House mystery anthology, and I am so glad. This was also apparently adapted into a successful movie, and I want to see that now. Will be looking for more books by her!

Wild Abandon, by Joe Dunthorne

Well, I read this because of great reviews about it, but it didn't really work for me. A failed commune in Wales, troubled families, a child waiting for the end of the world, rampant drug use and paranoia sounds like my kind of book, but just wasn't.

All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art, by Molly Stevens

A detailed but rather disappointing cookbook. Not enough pictures. I need pictures in a cookbook.

The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Pretty terrible YA. Set in 1996, the book is based on the ludicrous premise that annoying character Emma's new computer can access Facebook 15 years in the future. Not liking what she sees for herself and her best friend Josh, she blithy proceeds to screw with the future in a way that Doc Brown would seriously disapprove of. This is because she is a selfish and thoughtless bitch. Josh is kind of dumb. The book was bad.
This is how Doc Brown would look at these chuckleheads.

Fairieality, by the House of Elward

Pretty but silly coffee-table book about fairy couture. I had hoped it would be much more like Fairy Houses Everywhere, which was beautiful and whimsical and inspiring, but this was just beautiful and whimsical. However, as Meatloaf will always remind us, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

The Burglar in the Closet, by Lawrence Block

Ok Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. Not nearly as enjoyable as The Burglar in the Rye, with it's charming nod to Salinger's privacy, but still a fun read.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Burglar in the Rye, by Lawrence Block

Wildly charming mystery. It is hard to make a criminal a sympathetic protagonist, but Bernie is just so funny, and I LOVED the whole tribute to Salinger thing and the smacks at Joyce Carol Oates. Great fun read.

Monday, January 2, 2012

English Country House Murders, edited by Thomas Godfrey

This was a fantastic collection of short stories spanning the decades of the great English Country House Mystery genre, with contributions from just about all of the greats. So well edited, the choices from the obvious authors were unusual ones, and real treats, but for me ther great finds were the authors I was unfamiliar with. Country House Mysteries are one of my greatest escapist treats, so this whole book was for me like having a wonderful box of chocolates.
My favorite stories are starred below.