Category: Books

What I Read: Thrift Edition

books! booooks! bookies!
books! booooks! bookies!

Since I’ve been on a reading tear lately, I’ve been spending more of my thrifting time looking for books. It’s a goldmine, you guys. This was a recent “haul” from Goodwill, and it all came to under $25. I will confess that I have only started to leaf through the Chateaux of the Loire book, and swoon over its beautiful photos. I plan on giving it a thorough read however, as it appears to address the history and architecture of the area in some detail. I have briefly traveled through the Loire Valley some 13 or 14 years ago, but I only saw a couple of chateaux (Versailles and Amboise). One of my travel bucket list items is a longer trip, with many more stops — Chenonceaux, Chambord, Azay-le-Riday. I’ve been obsessed with French history since I was a child, so seeing some of the real life places I’ve read about countless times is a bit like, well, visiting Disneyland.

Moving on, the Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell book was a stroll through the memory lane of my early/mid 20s. The clothes! The endless ‘which character do you most resemble’ discussions! The Mr. Big obsession! The latter was probably the worst of it. Sometime in my early 20s, I got hung up on a guy who was textbook “he’s just not that into you”, but who kept popping up often enough to leave me wondering “what if”. Needless to say, he totally became my Mr. Big (minus the swanky lifestyle and ex-wives) in my very active imagination. I don’t blame the show for my emotional immaturity … but the whole thing was kind of an ode to emotional immaturity (ahem, I’m looking at you, Carrie). Anyway, the book was a lot of fun, although I wish it contained more in-depth analysis of the characters. And the clothes too. Speaking of which, if you don’t follow the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc, you should.

I also read the (not Christie penned) Poirot novel which was … kinda looney. In the best way (I lost track of the number of plot!twists! but there were a good dozen probably) and in the worst way (if you stopped to think about it, most of those plot twists were totally improbable). It didn’t feel like a typical Christie novel, although I can’t put my finger on why — perhaps the looney plot. (Christie wrote some doozies, but this was like Murder on the Orient Express + And Then There Were None x 1,000.) I also found the narrator/second banana character to be really odd. Dim policemen are a staple of Poirot novels, but such characters are easier to swallow or overlook when they’re not the ones narrating the plot. As it was, I swung back and forth between thinking Catchpool was extraordinarily thick, and thinking he was somehow complicit in the murders and pretending to be thick. Since I love Christie’s novels, I am totally on-board with the idea of her characters (Poirot, Miss Marple, Harley Quinn) being revived by new authors, but this particular iteration was more of a miss than a win for me.

Lastly, I am currently reading Faithful Place. It’s slower going than the other Tana French novels I’ve read. I’m less than a third of the way through, though, so it’s too early to tell if I’m going to love it or hate it. Based on my past experience, I’m probably going to end up being hooked by the story, and then eventually let down by the ending. Side note: do any French protagonists *not* have a complicated and/or mysterious personal life?

No interesting articles this week (sad face) so if you’ve read something good online, share your recc’s in the comments.

What I Read: Vacation Edition

Victoria!
Victoria!

I love “curating” my vacation reading list; it’s one of my favourite things about traveling. In Mexico, I had a fair bit of reading time, what with the kids’ naps and (relatively) early bedtimes. I ended up packing 3 books, which turned out to be at least 1 short of ideal. I ran out of reading material with about 2 days (and a plane ride) to go, but the luggage weight restrictions would have made it impossible for me to lug more stuff with me. This is where something like a Kindle would have come in handy, but I am hopelessly old-fashioned when it comes to books, so never mind.

Part of the reason why I made it through my chosen books quickly is that 2 of them were fast, snappy reads. Cover Her Face is one of the shorter PD James novels; the whodunit was ok, but I wasn’t really fond of any of the characters involved or the way in which the victim (a young, unwed mother) was portrayed, so I speed-read my way through the book to get to the reveal. In retrospect, I felt the murderer was really obvious. To sum up, not my favourite James mystery. The other mystery I brought along was Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood, another Phryne Fisher mystery. I enjoyed the theatre setting, which reminded me of some of my fave Ngaio Marsh novels. The ending was a bit weak, but it was still an enjoyable read overall. Another slim volume, however, which didn’t last me long.

My favourite book of the trip was, hands down, the biography of Queen Victoria by Julia Baird. It was informative and entertaining in equal measure, and my only quibble is that I wish it included more photographs of the royal family. I love historical photographs. After I finished the book, I was dying to read more about Victoria’s extended family so I spent some time surfing Wikipedia on my phone (thank goodness for fast, free WiFi). As soon as I got home, I dug out a couple of books from my library to re-read — Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard and Born To Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia Gelardi. I’ve also been scouring Amazon for more titles to round out my Victorian collection, but have been coming up short. I got a biography of Bertie (King Edward VII) coming my way, but if you guys have other recc’s, let me know.

Speaking of Victoria … the last episode of series 1 of the ITV/PBS show aired the day after I got back from Mexico and, to be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment. I mean, we all knew that Victoria was going to make it through (a) any assassination attempt, and (b) childbirth (she survived both a number of times), so there wasn’t any real tension going on. Nor was there any real development in the Victoria-Albert relationship, which is my current obsession. Having read the Victoria biography, there is SO much material to be mined in that relationship, and I feel like the show is only scratching the surface. Sigh. Anyway, as predicted, the Skerrett/Francatelli romance hit the skids and I will admit that I was a little bit sad about that. On to series 2, please!

[Fun fact: did you know that Victoria ordered that all men in the British army should grow mustachios because she loved the way Albert’s looked? Talk about queenly prerogative — though not without precedent. Peter the Great of Russia went around cutting off the traditional long beards of his (male) courtiers as part of a campaign to “westernize” his court.]

Moving on to things I read online, this Reddit thread discussing an article criticizing the minimalist movement was probably more thought-provoking than the article itself (which, as pointed out by commenters, missed the distinction between minimalism as a lifestyle versus minimalism as an aesthetic).

I also spent some time this week re-reading Anne Helen Petersen’s Classic Hollywood Scandals archives on Hairpin. If you’ve never read them before, do yourself a favour and savour her excellent writing and analysis.

Happy Friday!

What I Read: Detective Fiction Edition

As the title suggests, I’ve been on a detective fiction kick lately. One of my all time favourite mystery novelists is P.D. James, so I’ve been supplementing my home library with those Adam Dalgliesh mysteries I didn’t already have (they are easy to thrift), and re-reading them in the process. The most recent were Devices and Desires, A Taste for Death, and Shroud for a Nightingale. I liked the last one the best of the three; it’s one of James’ older novels and its setting (a nursing school) and plot reminded me of latter day Agatha Christie. What I love about James mysteries is how she delves into the psychology of each character; her books are a mix of police procedural and cozy English mystery featuring a small (but not too small) cast of suspects. The writing is always superb. Adam Dalgliesh is perhaps my favourite fictional police detective, and the supporting recurring characters (including a female detective) are also well drawn.

Because I love P.D. James so much, I got suckered into buying a collection of her short stories, supposedly never before published (The Mistletoe Murders). Well, 3 of the 4 were not; one, I definitely read before. I should have known from the description that the volume would be slim, but I was still disappointed by just how little there was to read, considering the $25 price (for the hardcover). The stories themselves were good, but I definitely don’t recommend buying the book. Thrift a few Dalgliesh novels instead.

I also tried a new-to-me mystery author, Tana French. Her books are buzzy enough, but since I rarely pay attention to new releases, I’d never come across them before. I read In the Woods (the first in her Dublin series of police mysteries) and Broken Harbour (the fourth book in the series). I liked the latter much better, although both were enjoyable. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you need to read the entire series in order; I was able to read Broken Harbour without feeling like I missed anything of substance from not having read Books 2 and 3. With that said, I enjoyed these less than the P.D. James novels. Largely, it comes down to the “flavour” of the mysteries, if you will. Both of French’s books had a very, very small pool of potential suspects, which made them less about  “whodunit” and more about “whydunit”. I prefer more emphasis on the former; James strikes a better balance, in my opinion, although her stories are now obviously more dated (she died in 2005, I think).

My other complaint about French’s books was that some of the critical characters’ psychology struck me as a bit implausible, or perhaps not sufficiently well set up. As far as In the Woods was concerned, the psycho villain was immediately obvious and rather overdone. The fact that one of the central mysteries in the story was not resolved at the end of the book also bugged me, although not as much as some people (according to Goodreads). In Broken Harbour, the “bad guy” was less obvious and the psychology more interesting, but there were still a lot of things I found really implausible. None were bad enough to make me stop reading, mind you. I devoured both books very, very quickly. Let’s just say that I was less than fully satisfied at the end. Would still recommend, but would suggest borrowing them from the library.

Which brings me to a good point. I have a lot of mysteries in my home library, and some of you may wonder why. After all, once you’ve discovered the plot twist at the end of the story, isn’t all the fun gone? Not necessarily. I re-read my favourite mystery novels (Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, PD James, Colin Dexter, etc.) every few years, and always enjoy them. The plots tend to be familiar after a while, but with a sufficiently interesting cast of characters, I tend to forget precisely the details of the ending so there is still a thrill to be had. Robert Galbraith is a good example of a contemporary mystery writer whose books I will happily re-read at some point. (Not yet; not enough time has passed since I read them the first time.) Tana French, on the other hand … probably not. On a re-read, the whodunit would be too obvious, I think.

And with that, let’s move on to some interesting articles. Did you know that people used to wake up in the middle of the night before going back to bed again? This article on first and second sleep lays it all out in fascinating detail. I can’t imagine paying social visits at midnight as a matter of course, but then again I also can’t imagine having to go to bed at 5PM or whatever.

The Fashion Law wrapped up its series on the Anti-Marketing laws of luxury with part 4.

This post on dressing for your face — yes, you read that right — was truly eye-opening. I was very skeptical at first, but the accompanying photos kinda sold me on the author’s basic premise: every face has a type (Classic, Romantic, Gamine, etc.) and the person looks best when their clothes match that style (as opposed to, say, their body type). I recognized some of that struggle in myself; various styles look fine on my body (hourglass/slight pear) but I probably look and feel best in things that match my face type (Dramatic Classic, I think). Anyway, I’ve been reading up on the whole face/body type thing (and seasonal colour analysis) and thinking about my style from that perspective. If you’re familiar with these concepts, I would love to hear from you.