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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I’ve got a new review up at bookgeeks on David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero. It was a difficult review to write. The first time I read the book, I found myself distracted (and occasionally confused) by Peace’s oblique writing style. The second time around, I had an easier time of it, but the book still seemed to fall apart in my hands.
I don’t want to repeat the review…(bookgeeks is a cool site to visit!), but I think it’s interesting how books are labelled. When I originally picked Tokyo up, it was at least partially because it had been labelled as crime fiction, and, although there is a crime at the heart of it, that really has little to do with the experience of reading the book. It’s almost like calling Huckleberry Finn crime fiction–sure there’s a few crimes, but that’s not the point…Still enjoyable, though. (Both of them)

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So, I’ve just spent two fun days pretending that I owned an e-reader. I converted some books I owned to a file that my little XO (the OLPC laptop) could handle and cheerfully sat on the couch reading away. I can tell you that the four hours I spent reading two books far exceeded my tries at the Kindle and at the Sony E-Reader in both length and pleasure. It’s not that I have anything, at all, against the idea of e-books, although I would always be leery of dragging anything electronic to the beach, but there are a few…advances…that I need to see before I embrace to e-book as something that will serve as a real replacement for my physical library.
First, I need the e-book catalogues to have more depth to them. Some of the books I own, I own because I cannot depend on finding another copy. They are not necessarily rare (as in expensive), but they are difficult to find. If I’m going to adopt an e-book reader, I want to be able to find all of those wonderful books as well.
Second? Well, I’ve played with the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader. I was impressed with the e-ink technology. But, as someone who reads quickly, I really struggled with how often I had to refresh/change the page and how long it took for a new page to load. The e-reader also had a strange response to being set in portrait mode–it skipped back a section so that the last sentence you *had* been reading was suddenly in the middle of the new page. Needless to say, that drove me nuts. And, it didn’t solve my problem of having to load new pages every thirty seconds.
And last? for now? I’m not sure how I feel about DRM. I am all for artists, writers, creators, and those who bring their works to the public, getting paid. I would, however, be very, very, very annoyed if a book I had bought suddenly stopped *working* because of an argument between a publisher and a distributor. Or, simply because my e-reader died for some reason.

I did love reading my books on my XO. It was great to trot from room to room in the house with both the books and somewhere to type notes on them. The XO is light and has a great battery life, and, because it loaded the entire book at once, I didn’t need to wait for it load–I just scrolled down.

I’m all for e-books. I would love for entire libraries to be so portable that they are available for everyone, everywhere. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Read Full Post »


So, I’ve just spent two fun days pretending that I owned an e-reader. I converted some books I owned to a file that my little XO (the OLPC laptop) could handle and cheerfully sat on the couch reading away. I can tell you that the four hours I spent reading two books far exceeded my tries at the Kindle and at the Sony E-Reader in both length and pleasure. It’s not that I have anything, at all, against the idea of e-books, although I would always be leery of dragging anything electronic to the beach, but there are a few…advances…that I need to see before I embrace to e-book as something that will serve as a real replacement for my physical library.
First, I need the e-book catalogues to have more depth to them. Some of the books I own, I own because I cannot depend on finding another copy. They are not necessarily rare (as in expensive), but they are difficult to find. If I’m going to adopt an e-book reader, I want to be able to find all of those wonderful books as well.
Second? Well, I’ve played with the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader. I was impressed with the e-ink technology. But, as someone who reads quickly, I really struggled with how often I had to refresh/change the page and how long it took for a new page to load. The e-reader also had a strange response to being set in portrait mode–it skipped back a section so that the last sentence you *had* been reading was suddenly in the middle of the new page. Needless to say, that drove me nuts. And, it didn’t solve my problem of having to load new pages every thirty seconds.
And last? for now? I’m not sure how I feel about DRM. I am all for artists, writers, creators, and those who bring their works to the public, getting paid. I would, however, be very, very, very annoyed if a book I had bought suddenly stopped *working* because of an argument between a publisher and a distributor. Or, simply because my e-reader died for some reason.

I did love reading my books on my XO. It was great to trot from room to room in the house with both the books and somewhere to type notes on them. The XO is light and has a great battery life, and, because it loaded the entire book at once, I didn’t need to wait for it load–I just scrolled down.

I’m all for e-books. I would love for entire libraries to be so portable that they are available for everyone, everywhere. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Read Full Post »

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