Throwback Thursday: 2013

I have started migrating a lot of posts and other bookish stuff over here from other places, including my challenge lists for the last 7 years, starting with 2013. They are currently in one of two places: Booklikes or Goodreads. With the Booklikes instability, I feel like I need to get whatever I want to save over here before it is too late.

So, over on the sidebar of the blog, you can see a widget that will ultimately house the more or less complete record of my reading since 2013 – it’s currently a work in progress. I say “more or less” because I’ve never been all that diligent about making sure that I keep my challenge completely up to date. But even a good record is better than no record at all.

So, for Throwback Thursday, I’ll be selecting some older posts or book updates to repost over here. Today, I’m going all the way back to 2013!

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Published on September 10, 2013
Read: November 2013

What I wrote then: This was my favorite book of November. I really recommend it. It is a historical fiction set in Iceland in the 1800’s, and is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman who has been convicted of murder and is scheduled for execution. There is no place to house her, so she is sent out to a farm to live out her final days before execution.

Hannah Kent based the book on the true story of the last woman who was executed in Iceland in 1830. There is no happy ending, of course, but the book is well-worth reading. It is a bleak tale, but is well-written and compelling.

What I think now: I stand by this recommendation and I still remember this book. It has stayed with me.

Title: Death and the Girl Next Door
Author: Darynda Jones
Published October 2, 2012
Read July, 2013
What I wrote then
: A decent beginning to a new series.

Stronger at the start than at the end. I enjoyed the characters a lot, I really liked Brooklyn and Glitch. The family dynamic with the grandparents was delightful. No DLT.

I am not, however, a huge fan of angel stories so I’m not sure if this will be sustainable for me. The ending, with the reveal of the Sanctuary, which is a bit too cultish, and the whole demon possession thing didn’t really work for me.

I snagged this one for 2.99 during a sale period. It was definitely worth the $3.00 I paid for it, and I will read the sequel. I hear really good things about Darynda Jones’s adult series, so maybe I’ll try that one next and see how they compare.

What I think now: I have never read another book by Jones, so I guess I wasn’t that interested.

Title: How To Lead A Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Published on February 21, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: A stand-alone! This is an Oliver Twist’esque tale with a snappy and brilliant protagonist named Flick. The grownups are all venal hypocrites, the students manipulated jackasses. Over all, though, it was an entertaining read.

Surprise ending. Nice.

What I think now: I barely remember this book, but I do remember that it was a fun read.

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Published April 2, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: Are there really people like this in the world? Because I may be from a small town, but frankly, there wasn’t a single character in this book who wasn’t a self-absorbed, materialistic, pain in the ass. It’s a fantastic read, very involving, but they all suck. Except the detective. He actually seemed pretty nice.

What I think now: This was one book in a long trend of authors writing about awful people with no redeeming characteristics, started by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl. I’m over the trend and have forgotten everything about this book except that I hated nearly everyone in it.

Cat Among the Pigeons

I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan – back in 2019, I finally finished reading all 66 of her full length novels: Poirot, Marple, the Beresfords, and all of the other one off, two off, three off or four off characters as well. And, as I mentioned yesterday, during this stressful time of stay-at-home orders and viral spread and economic dislocation, I seem to be gravitating in the direction of comfort reads.

I think that all readers have a different set of comfort reads. For me, children’s literature, especially classic British children’s literature, Golden Age Mystery, especially Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Patricia Wentworth, and certain favorite series to reread (especially Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series, for some odd reason) are my go-to comfort reads. Because of that, I’ve been dipping in and out of Agatha Christie, sort of semi-randomly choosing books from my shelves.

I also set my Christie collection as my zoom background, which puzzles my coworkers and makes me happy every time we zoom.

Over the weekend, I reread Cat Among the Pigeons. This book was originally published in 1959, after Ordeal by Innocence and before The Pale Horse. It is the 28th full-length Poirot book, out of approximately 33 (excluding short story compilations & plays).

I own the relatively boring Berkeley mass market paperback edition, which was published in 2005 (you can see it on the top shelf, left hand side, of the photo above). I own a few of these – both my copy of The Sittaford Mystery and The Seven Dials Mystery come from the same line. There are no recurring characters in this book aside from Poirot – neither Ariadne Oliver nor Arthur Hastings make an appearance here.

Christie is often criticized for weak characterizations. As someone who has read every single one of her full-length mysteries, I feel like this criticism is often unfair, and that, to the contrary, Christie had a knack for brief but effective character sketches. Her books have a lot of characters, which may be one of the reasons that this belief exists, but it has been my experience that each book contains at least one, and often more than one, really interesting and engaging character. In my opinion, she is especially good with women. In Cat Among the Pigeons, there are two side characters that I just love – Miss Bulstrode and Julia Upjohn.

It was quite an impressive room, and Miss Bulstrode was rather more than quite an impressive woman. She was tall, and rather noble looking, with well-dressed grey hair, grey eyes with plenty of humour in them, and a firm mouth. The success of her school (and Meadowbank was one of the most successful schools in England) was entirely due to the personality of its Headmistress. It was a very expensive school, but that was not really the point. It could be put better by saying that though you paid through the nose, you got what you paid for.

The mystery here is a bit of an oddity – it is one of Christie’s rare books that combines a bit of her international thriller plots with a straight-up mystery. Her thrillers tend to be markedly weaker than her mysteries, but, in this case, I feel like her plot really works. The book is set in a famous British girl’s school – Meadowbank – where Miss Bulstrode is the headmistress. There are some murders, of course, and there is also a side plot related to a revolution in Ramat, a fictional Middle-eastern country similar to Saudi Arabia.

Poirot enters the story very late, at around the three-quarters mark, when Julia Upjohn, one of the students, makes a startling discovery and turns to him for help.

Julia looked at him in an expectant fashion.

“You leave yourself in my hands? Good.” Hercule Poirot closed his eyes. Suddenly he opened them and became brisk. “It seems that this is an occasion when I cannot, as I prefer, remain in my chair. There must be order and method, but in what you tell me, there is no order and method. That is because we have here many threads. But they all converge and meet at one place, Meadowbank. Different people, with different aims, and representing different interests—all converge at Meadowbank. So, I, too, go to Meadowbank. And as for you—where is your mother?”

Christie was very good at creating notable young women, although they are usually in their twenties as opposed to their teens. Julia Upjohn is an exception to this rule, as she is around 15 during the action of the book, but she is really delightful – clever, active, perceptive and ethical. She is really the catalyst who solves the mystery. As Poirot says to her:

And I should very much dislike anything to happen to you, my child. I will admit that I have formed a high opinion of your courage and your resource.” Julia looked pleased but embarrassed.

I recently bought copies of both of John Curran’s books which delve into the information contained in Agatha Christie’s old notebooks.

Typically when I reread a Christie, I pull out the books and turn to the indexes to see what interesting tidbits I can find out about the particular Christie.

The second book, Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making; More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks, devotes several pages to Cat Among the Pigeons. There are over 80 pages in her notebooks related to Cat Among the Pigeons. Christie initially considered both Poirot and Miss Marple as potential detectives.

Miss Marple? Great niece at the school?
Poirot? Mrs. U sits opposite him in a train

I agree with Curran that in many ways, Marple might have made more sense here, given the setting of a girl’s school, although it is Poirot who usually gets involved in mysteries that might involve diplomatic or international elements. Superintendent Battle or Colonel Race might also have been appropriate to the international thriller storyline.

There were also two proposed titles for the book:

Death of a Games Mistress
Cat Among the Pigeons

Obviously, we know which title was picked, although Death of a Games Mistress actually makes it into the story in the conversation between police officers early in the book, after one of the murders.

“Death of a Games Mistress,” said Kelsey, thoughtfully. “Sounds like the title of a thriller on a railway bookstall.”

In addition, Cat Among the Pigeons was a proposed title for the Christie mystery published just prior to this one – Ordeal By Innocence – before it became the title of this mystery.

This isn’t one of Christie’s best mysteries, and it’s not one of her best books, but the setting is a good one, and the characters of Miss Bulstrode and Julia Upjohn make the book well worth reading. In addition, the BBC adaptation of this particular book, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, is one of the best of the late Poirot episodes. It brings in Poirot much earlier, and while we don’t get as much Julia Upjohn, Miss Bulstrode is performed by the inimitable and always fabulous Harriet Walters. It’s worth watching for her alone.

Sunday Post: Booklikes, Goodreads and Bookish Social Media

This last week has had me scrambling a bit – the book site that I am most active on, a rather obscure corner of the internet called Booklikes, let it’s domain briefly expire. The site itself has been left without much in the way of maintenance for a long time now, so I am concerned that it will simply cease to exist at some point, with little to no notice. There is a small but active contingent of around fifty to seventy-five readers over there who are very passionate about books. The social element of Booklikes is wonderful, and realizing (again) that it might disappear meant that I needed to start figuring out an alternative way to keep in touch with my bookish friends in a hurry.

As it turned out, the domain was ultimately renewed. But, the activity caused me to start following as many of the blogs of those friends as I could find, and it has also motivated me to start blogging again over here. I’ve decided to consolidate all of my book blogging on this one site, so while I will continue to focus on women authors prior to 2000, I will be talking about all of the books that I read in this same place. It’s just too much work to keep up with multiple, subject-oriented blogs. There’s going to be an organizational piece that I have to work out, but I’ll get there through the use of pages, categories and tags.

What I read this week:

This was another week for rereading. I have found that with all of the stress of the pandemic world, it’s really hard for me to even want to pick up a new book. I find myself gravitating to old favorites and other comfort reads, and for me, first among comfort reads is Agatha Christie.

I think that it is the fact that, at this point, I know her world so well, so I know that when I pick up a Christie, I’ll get a well-plotted mystery, certain British character archetypes, and a satisfying resolution. There are rarely uncomfortable loose ends in a Christie mystery.

So, this week, I read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, which is a favorite because Ariadne Oliver is in fine fettle in this particular, late Christie, and Cat Among the Pigeons, which is a bit of an odd Christie, successfully hybridizing her international thriller with a straight up murder mystery. Cat Among the Pigeons also features two exceptionally wonderful Christie characters – Miss Bulstrode, headmistress of Meadowbank School, and Julia Upjohn, a daring, perceptive young woman.

I also started rereading the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, and finished The Beekeepers Apprentice and A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I’ve started A Letter of Mary, and am now trying to decide what else to crack open.

What I listened to this week

Someone on Booklikes turned me on to the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, so I’ve been dabbling in the first episodes and really enjoying them. I’m not a huge podcast listener, because I find that it interferes with my reading time or my blogging time or my working time. I can’t divide my mental attention, so unless I’m doing dishes or laundry or something, I really don’t listen to podcasts. Oh,except during I’m driving, of course, but who is driving these days? Not me.

What I watched this week

My “rereading” thing seems to have extended itself to television & movies. I’m rewatching Criminal Minds, a couple of episodes a night, while I do handwork like cross-stitching or embroidery. My mind really can’t cope with prestige television, with complicated, multi-episode story lines.

Non-Bookish stuff

The weather has been gorgeous in the PNW, where I live, so I’ve also been doing tons of yard work. I live on a wooded acre, and winter clean up has been huge this year. There has been yard debris burning and other major trimming and cutting back that needs to be finished. It’s a ton of work.