Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Hallowe'en Party

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie
Pocket Books, 1986 (originally published 1969); 255 pages

Thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds is found drowned in the apple-bobbing tub at a Halloween party after she claims to have witnessed a murder when she was younger. Because Joyce was known to exaggerate events to make herself seem more important and because mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver attended the party and Joyce wanted to impress the famous writer. While most people assume that Joyce was killed by a sociopathic tramp, Ariadne believes that she might have been murdered because of her claim to have witnessed a murder. Ariadne takes her theory to Hercule Poirot, who takes the case.

Hallowe'en Party is one of Christie's later novels, which I don't consider to be nearly as good as her work from the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. The plot meanders through so many irrelevant details, seemingly not in an effort to create red herrings, but for no good reason whatsoever. Christie also seems to use the novel as a vehicle for discussion of the British justice system in the mid-twentieth century, as many of the characters either lament the lack of justice since hanging was done away with or try to explain all criminals as being merely misunderstood and coming from a bad childhood.

In terms of the conclusion, parts of the "big reveal" for which Poirot is so famous don't make any sense with the rest of the story--there is not one bit of evidence concerning the actions of two characters in relation to a subplot, yet somehow Poirot guessed correctly.

On the whole, Hallowe'en Party is unsatisfying as a mystery, and doesn't even have enough of Christie's creative spark to carry the illogical plot or the annoying M. Poirot. The only highlight is Christie's excellent descriptive passages of characters and settings.

Rating: 3.8

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books for 2013

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I have exactly three books on this list, and one of them may be wishful thinking. There are few living authors whose work I admire enough to keep track of publication dates, and the dead authors I admire don't have new publications (unfortunately). Also, my efforts to become better educated mean I'm reading less modern fluff. So here's my very short list for 2013:

1. Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde (US release): This is the second book in the Chronicles of Kazam series, following The Last Dragonslayer, and although it's already out in UK, I'm looking forward to the US release so I can get it from the library.

2. The next book in the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King: I have absolutely no proof that another MR book will be published next year, but considering that there's been one book per year 2009-2012, I'm hopeful.

3. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: This is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series, which chronicles the exploits of the eponymous 10-year-old chemist and detective. I won an advance copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, so I'm reading this 2013 release in 2012.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: The Peterkin Papers

The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893 (originally published 1880); 120 pages

Note: The Peterkin Papers is available free for Kindle.  You don't need a Kindle to read it; just check out Amazon's Kindle Cloud Reader at  (You will need an Amazon account.)

The Peterkins are a rather unusual family living somewhere in New England (Massachusetts, I think, as Boston is mentioned with some regularity).  The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin and their children, Agamemnon, Elizabeth Eliza, Solomon John, and the three little boys (with their ubiquitous India-rubber boots).  The family is always having humorous adventures and problems while trying to accomplish simple tasks of daily living.

I enjoyed The Peterkin Papers very much, although I didn't find them as laugh-out-loud funny now as I did when I read them in elementary school.  The book, which is a collection of short stories, is intended for children, and although it's over 100 years old, I think today's children will still see the humor in the situations in which the Peterkins find themselves.  The book also provides a window into how people lived in the late 1800s.  My only criticism is that as an adult, I realize that as silly as the Peterkins are, it's a wonder they manage to stay alive.

Friday, November 23, 2012

As part of my volunteer work at a local research library, I work with newspapers from the late twentieth century.  In a paper from 1978, I found an article describing three-legged pantyhose, with a picture similar to this:

The idea is that when you get a run in one leg, you can put on the spare leg, thus making your pantyhose last longer.  My only question is, what do you do with the spare leg before you need it?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Perelandra

Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
Simon & Schuster, 1996 (originally published 1943); 222 pages

In the second book of C. S. Lewis' space trilogy, Ransom continues his adventures, traveling this time to Perelandra (Venus) to prevent the Venusian Eve from falling into sin.  Weston appears on the scene, possessed by the Devil, to tempt the Lady.

I generally don't like Christian science fiction or fantasy that creates a world where God has a different name--it strikes me as irreverent at best and blasphemous at worst, and more than a little idolatrous.  But Perelandra works for me, because Lewis uses our real universe and our real God instead of creating a sorry shadow of God.  He also doesn't encounter the problem of having to create "another Jesus" to bring salvation to his fictional world, because the Lady of Perelandra withstands temptation.

I'm not sure that Lewis' vision of life on Earth had Adam and Eve not sinned is particularly accurate, but as Lewis himself said in another of his works, "No one is allowed to know what would have happened."  So really, his guess is as good as mine.  Besides, it's not as if Genesis is overly descriptive of life before the Fall. I suppose it is a kindness, really, that God didn't describe in great detail everything we as a race gave up so that we could pursue the illusion of freedom, a freedom that makes us slaves.

Otherwise, I found a lot to love in Perelandra.  It's a very theological book, and I revel in theology, so it just works for me.  Although a lot of the book focuses on temptation and sin, I loved the subtext of the revelous joy that comes from serving God, no matter how great or small the task He lays before us.

Rating: 4.9/5.0

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books/Authors for which I'm Thankful

Several of the book bloggers I follow (not all of whom are listed on the sidebar--I need to update that at some point) participate in Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  It looked like a lot of fun, so I just had to join in.

To be honest, I'm thankful for all the books I've ever read, ever will read, ever will want to read, ever published, and all the authors and editors and publishers and translators who work so hard to make the books.  But that's rather more than ten, so here's the short list:

1. The Bible: I'm thankful that God inspired people to write stuff down for us rather than leaving us to our own doomed devices.

2. C. S. Lewis: Let's see, he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, the Space Trilogy, the Four Loves, more essays than I can count.  Essentially, the man was brilliant.

3. Jasper Fforde: I think Fforde is the only author about whom I can say "I've read everything he's ever had published."  Or at least I can say that until his next book comes out, which I will request from my library three to six months early so I can get one of the first copies.  Seriously, Jasper Fforde is funny, witty, genius, and totally worth reading if you like absurdist sci-fi/fantasy alternate history meta-fiction.

4. I Capture the Castle: Written by Dodie Smith of 101 Dalmatians fame, this is one of my absolute favorite books

5. The Lord of the Rings: I first read LotR in fifth grade, and I've been rather obsessed ever since.

6. Arthur Conan Doyle: I read TONS of mysteries as a kid (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown), but I credit Sherlock Holmes with my life-long mystery novel and TV crime show obsession.

7. Connie Willis: Four words: Time-travelling Oxford historians.

8. M. F. K. Fisher: Brilliant American food writer who spent much of her life in France.  This quote from one of her essays more or less defines my theory of hospitality and cooking:
... but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.
9. Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"

10. Dorothy L. Sayers: I love Lord Peter and that's all there is to it.  (It does help that he's wealthy and has excellent taste in books.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: The Richest Woman in America

The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach
Doubleday, 2012 (bound galley); 276 pages

Note: I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Before picking up this book, I had never heard of Hetty Green, who inherited and invested her way to an estate that at the time of her death in 1916, was worth over $2 billion in today's money.  She did this at a time when women were not supposed to be involved in business and certainly not in Wall Street.  Green's favored strategy was buy low, sell high, and she also made her money go farther by living a plain and frugal life at a time when people with comparable wealth were living extravagantly.

Throughout the book, Wallach uses an odd mix of formal and conversational language, as if she couldn't decide whether her audience should be academic or popular.  She goes into great detail on trivial aspects of Green's life, while glossing over major events.  In areas where there is little information on Green's life, Wallach brings in anecdotes of the period, but does not connect these anecdotes to Green in a clear or meaningful way.  Her writing style is extremely passive.  There are a few typographical errors, but since I received a bound galley rather than a final copy of the book, I hope these have been corrected in the final version.  A major flaw is that black people are nearly always referred to as "colored" or "Negro," even in passages written by Wallach that are not quotes from the period.  Even though these were common and accepted terms in the nineteenth century, they should not be used for what appears to be no good reason in a modern work.

Rating: 3.3/5.0

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Harcourt, 2012 (originally published 2010); 287 pages

Jennifer Strange is a fifteen-year-old orphan in a world where the parentless are used as indentured servants.  Jennifer manages an employment agency for wizards in the absence of the actual manager, but her staff has trouble finding work because magical power is fading and the wizards can't perform all the duties of which they used to be capable.  Then a few wizards with the ability to see the future predict the last dragon in the Ununited Kingdoms* (Fforde's alternate Britain) will be killed within the week.  Magic begins to return, for unknown reasons, as fear of a border war between two kingdoms becomes more and more likely.  (The last dragon's land holdings border two rival nations who plan to fight for control of the dragon's lands as soon as he's dead.)

On the whole, The Last Dragonslayer is another solid work from Jasper Fforde, but I'm probably biased because I think Fforde is BRILLANT.  It's not nearly as over-the-top as Thursday Next or Nursery Crimes, but not nearly as serious as Shades of Grey.  However, aspects of this alternate Britain don't really make much sense.  Fforde never explains why magic is weakening, or why orphans have almost no legal rights, or how the Ununited Kingdoms ended up disunited in the first place--were they always that way, or did a bigger country split up?  Also, the ending is a bit abrupt, but I think writing good endings is one of Fforde's weak points anyway.

Rating: 3.9/5.0

*This should, grammatically, be the Disunited Kingdoms, but that wouldn't fit with the acronym UK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Perelandra and the Will of God

I'm currently rereading Lewis' space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) because I haven't read them since fifth grade, when I was looking for another Narnia and this wasn't it.  I'm liking the books a lot better this time around.  Perelandra is still mostly just the characters sitting around and talking, but I understand the theological implications now that I didn't understand when I was 10.  At one point when the Lady (the Venusian Eve) is being tempted to sin for the first time by Weston (a Terran who is under the control of Satan), the Lady says of God:

"To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere."

I'm having a bit of trouble deciding exactly what Lewis meant by this, since I can see three possible meanings (and there may be more):

  1. Lewis meant that no path is actually outside of the will of God, because everything that happens is either performed or permitted by God
  2. Lewis meant that walking away from the will of God in one's life is like walking into a black pit of nothingness because without God everything is nothing
  3. Lewis meant that both of the above statements are true, because God allows man to choose, but if man chooses to reject God, then he also chooses the nothing over the something
I'm not familiar enough with Lewis' theological leanings to know if he agreed or disagreed with any of the three options, so some research is probably in my future.  This is probably just a minor semantic query and I'm probably reading way too much into one sentence, but I'm really curious to know what Lewis meant.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Welcome to my humble blog!  This is intended to be primarily a book blog, although I do plan on having occasional posts on other subjects.  I'm Thalia, pseudonymously named after the Greek Muse of comedy and the Grace of feasts and cooking.  I love cooking and making people laugh, so it's really an apropos choice.

My training is in history and library science, although I'm currently waiting tables and working two volunteer gigs.  I officially finish grad school next month, although I completed all my coursework back in April (don't ask).  If you know of anyone who needs a librarian or historian, my rates are affordable.  I accept cash, check, money order, Visa, Master Card, Discover, or chocolate. :)  I live in a major-ish city in the Midwest United States, which I love dearly and hope to find a job here so I don't have to move.

I'm an avid reader, although I haven't had time to read as much lately as I'd like.  I'm looking forward to 2013, during which time I plan on reading numerous classics of Western civilization and becoming a better-educated person.  I like the educational theories of Charlotte Mason and classical education and plan on using these principles on myself because I read a lot of entertaining but poorly-written books and I'd like to read more classics.

A link to my commonplace book and personal library catalog can be found on the right sidebar.  I use LibraryThing for all my cataloging needs (I'm known as casvelyn over there), although I'm also on Goodreads.