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two by marsh

Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie, and John Dickinson Carr, occupy a special place in my childhood history of reading. Sometime in between The Hobbit and Foundation, I went on what can only be described as a British mystery reading spree and attempted to read everything these people had ever written. Along with,of course, everything Arthur Conan Doyle had ever written. Ngaio Marsh, though she had the smallest number of books (and, well, is technically a New Zealander), outshines everyone on pure quality of her writing.
Two of my favourites are Vintage Murder and Death of a Peer, and, as I wend my way through my library, I picked them up to read during our recent snow storm.
Vintage Murder is an early, and fun, book in the Roderick Alleyn series. This one takes place as he is travelling through New Zealand and recovering from some unspecified operation. It is early in the canon as he is not yet married or dreaming of his future wife. There is a rugby-hooligan type incident on a train that ends with a bruised backside on one of the characters and a theft before the main murder even occurs. This book has a number of characters, and following every movement of each person can get baffling at times; however, Marsh never makes the reader feel as if Alleyn knows something special or has super-powers, merely that his powers of deduction are sharp and that all of the information is there that is necessary to solve the mystery along with him.
It is interesting to note that the translations of the book all mention the murder weapon, but lose the pun inherent in the original title.
Death of a Peer, though, contains at its heart one of Marsh’s best creations, the Lamprey family. Dotty, eccentric, lovable, they form the center of a locked room mystery–and distract the reader from the horror of the crime itself. They nearly distract the detectives as well, but as Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn can always be relied upon to re-center himself, the distraction does not prove fatal and all of the clues are neatly laid out in the narrative itself. One of the characters even appears in a later book (Night at the Vulcan) and the quiet romance is dealt with deftly. Very well-plotted, very “British”, very enjoyable.

If you enjoy Christie, or even more recent incarnations such as Anne Perry, Ngaio Marsh would be well worth giving a try.

The past few days have been a mess. Today, I made a mess. A burnt, smokey, stuck to the sides of the muffin-tin mess. I got distracted by the content I was helping a friend write for her website, and I had forgotten several things about the oven in our flat. The first, it’s convection, which means I need to subtract time and temperature from the recipes I thought I knew by heart; second, well, things had been going pear-shaped in general so I should have been more attentive in general, and third…. let’s just say that with constantly converting temperature, weight, ingredients, and general culture, well, I was bound to slip up somewhere.
The plus was, of course, I had to snap out of my malaise and figure out what to do with twelve well-toasted muffins.

Well, beside throwing them away. The chocolate I had added to them was lovely, and it seemed a shame to waste anything that was actually edible. So, on my way to my husband’s work to rewrite my C.V. again (but this time somewhere with a printer), I carried in my hands—-muffin middles. Unattractive they may be, but they taste lovely, and I’m sure it’s that chocolate that finally allowed me to get through rewriting my CV in what is apparently known as a “skills” format. All I know is that I need a job. Although I LOVE writing content and reviews, I’m currently doing it for free (or bartering for free books or horseback riding), and well, I’d like to rejoin the workforce, thank you.
So here’s hoping the muffin middles did the trick, and I’m on my way to gainful employment.
(I feel I should say that I couldn’t take a picture of the middles. So, instead, I treated myself to a second look at the cupcakes we had at our wedding. Mmmm. They tasted and looked good.)

Well, I have had my second UK riding lesson, and I have to say that this one went much better. Of course, once again, it decided to rain just while I was trying to walk to and from the bus stops, but it was only rain and not the sleet that greeted my last week, so things were looking up, all told.
My last lesson had been a bit complicated by my being completely out of shape,and the instructor announcing that he was quitting to find a better job later that week. He was nice enough, but I felt awkward and embarrassed to be *making* him do something that he quite clearly did not want to do. Also, ummm, I didn’t know the guy at all and felt just a tiny bit weirded out to be told that he was quitting because he had gotten “too intense.” (I had no idea what that even meant.)
But enough about the last lesson, this one was much more fun–and not just because the trainer told me I was tall and skinny.
For the record, *tall* is a very unusual way to describe me–I barely hit 5’4” when I stand very very tall and the skinny bit, while complimentary and possible at times in my life, is unlikely to be true after 2 months off of any exercise and my first English Christmas.
I decided that it was my magic black full-seats, though, and moved on. This lesson, we worked a bit on me, and a bit on the horse. Her name was Jenny (so, yes, easy for me to remember), and she was a typical riding school horse. *She* knew the proper way to do something, but she also knew an easier way, and getting the proper way out of her required some diligence and tact (and one whomping kick with an outside leg).
She was a love though and really helped emphasize the very weird habit I have of looking to the inside when I’m riding in a small space. I was all by myself in the ring, but I was acting as if I had to constantly look across the arena for others, instead of looking where we were going. After Jenny neatly reminded me of this fact by almost jumping the mounting block, we got along very well and worked on some jumping.
I had a great time jumping! I really need to work on my show jumping skills (I love cross-country and dressage, but show jumping has ALWAYS been where I have issues. Ummm, because I don’t like fences I can completely destroy?) So, we worked on me supporting her up to the base of the fence. Because she’s not all that scopey, I had to really convince her she could make it over, and then help balance her on the other side. Mostly, it involved me really rocking her back around the corner–almost like balancing on a skateboard when you want to turn–we had to make sure that the energy was balanced a bit behind us so we came around the corner lightly and straight.
By the end, we had a nice little rhythm going, and we took several nice fences. I’m very excited for my lesson next week. Ideally, I would like to ride more than once a week, but I need to find some way of supporting the habit first. Or, maybe, a share situation where I could get fitter and help someone out with a horse as well, who knows. Either way, I’m glad I’ve started riding again. I missed it. And, I’m actually glad I’m riding the bus. It’s really given me a way to learn my way around Manchester… And, I appreciated that the same group of little-old-ladies was on the bus this week and wanted to know ALL about my previous lesson.

While trying to explain how very cool it is that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery (which mostly consisted of me naming other books and sighing: The Hero and The Crown! The Tale of Desperaux! The Witch of Blackbird Pond! A Wrinkle in Time!) I also starting blathering on about Coraline, another book of Gaiman’s that was very, very popular in my classroom. To begin with, it had the three magic elements that attract middle school ambivalent readers: it looked short; it looked scary; it looked simple. Of course, all of those things were merely ways into the book. Although it was short, the story it told was complete and felt world-shaping. Although it looked scary, it was really *creepy* (more on that later). And, although it looked simple, the story, and the conversations it prompted in my classroom, proved it was anything but.

My favourite conversation of all was between two of my most-anti-reading girls. After nearly two years with me (and improving their reading levels a LOT), they were now willing to read, but still very picky and demanding about the amount of effort they had to put into the process. These were girls who would rather read a “meh” book that demanded less of them than an excellent book they would have to work at. (Of course, they were also Twilight obsessed, but that’s a different story). Coraline, though, Coraline got passed around the group like some sort of trifecta pick: the teacher liked it, the students liked it, the parents liked it.

Why was that? Well, everyone comes to a book from a different place, but I think these girls liked Coraline because it felt like an adventure. Also, though, because (as I overheard one day… what? teachers are consummate eavesdroppers!)

Dude, Coraline isn’t SCARY. Scary is, like, Nightmare on Elm Street. Scary’s not REAL. Coraline is CREEPY. I kept thinking that if I opened the wrong door at my own house, I’d end up somewhere really not good.

(13 year old girl)

So that was the magic then. These girls never really connected with Harry Potter, Frodo, or Merlin. Their lives were, quite frankly, too fraught with REAL danger to tolerate fantasy danger. But, they did connect with Coraline–the danger she faced, evil adults and world that made no sense, was something they felt was more real. It was creepy not scary. And they loved it.

Now, why they loved the completely unreal and unbelievably perfect Edward and Jacob is fodder for another post.

The first is the book that won it: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. As always, the man’s books are gifts to his readers, but this one was something else.
The second?
His delightfully overwhelmed twitter message, and this fantastic blog post.

Congratulations, you’ve joined quite the group, and you look to fit right in.

I thought I should try and record the books I have read. I’m interested to see how much I actually do re-read. I think it might be as often as every-other book, and I might try and make it every third, instead. It’s not that I have anything against re-reading. In fact, as a teacher, I encouraged and embraced it, but I have found so many new “favourite” authors as an adult that I want to keep exploring.
The year started out with a re-read. On our way from Manchester to Hertfordshire, I spent some time with Nabokov’s Strong Opinions, Robin McKinley’s Chalice, and Trollope’s Barchester Towers. At which point, I ran out of books and had to borrow George Orwell’s essays (already read) and, finally a new book, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World (which is a fun book for the skeptic you may know…). That was the first week of January. After that, I returned to the complete Harry Potter (although I added the new Beedle the Bard), and Tokyo Zero, the Vicky Bliss mysteries (by Elizabeth Peters), and Mercedes Lackey’s Bardic Voices. New books though, include one by Kate Elliot and Iain M Banks’ Matter (and Banks is one of my discovered-as-an-adult-favourites). I’m also in the middle of Mr. Steadfast, which is part of a series started by its more famous companion, The 39 Steps. I’m finding it charmingly anachronistic. There are more than a few references to a job being “more than should be asked of any white man”, but the basic flavour of the book is enjoyable suspense.
Not a bad haul for a month; although I have a sneaking suspicion that I have definitely left some off the list by mistake. There are definitely a LOT of re-reads on that list. For now, I will claim that it is because I am slowly reacquainting myself with my library. It probably also has something to do with wanting to be surrounded by familiar things at the beginning of a new life in a new country. I wonder what the next month will bring.