Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wheel Spins

The Wheel Spins, by Ethel White

This was another (temporary) freebie from Amazon, downloaded on the strength of its classification as mystery/suspense and the fact that it served as the basis for an early Alfred Hitchcock film (The Lady Vanishes).  My verdict: it's not the most fast-paced or challenging of mysteries, but it was certainly compelling enough that I wanted to keep reading to the end.  Particularly if you like the older style of mysteries and writing in general, I'd give it a rating of "good" and recommend it.

More specific observations:

  • It took longer than I expected, based on the blurb I read, for the action to move onto the train. 
  • The first description of the Misses Flood-Porter makes the fifties seem more like the sixties.  Maybe this is a sign of changing times.  This novel was written in the 1930s, and back then, someone in her fifties might well have looked ten years older than the average modern woman in her fifties appears.  Also, the Flood-Porters are described as smokers.  Which brings me to my next point...
  • Cigarettes!  At some point, I noticed that everyone was smoking.  It's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but these old books do have people smoking all the time.  Phew.  I'm glad I don't have to be cooped up in a confined space with clouds of cigarette smoke. 
  • In reference to my last blog entry, there are quite a few typos in this copy of the book.  For example:  "With a guilty glance at her husband's back she drew out of her hag a limp leather case."  Ew.  Please don't draw limp leather cases out of hags.  It's gross.  Even worse than the typos, though, are the very frequent formatting issues-- the large spaces between paragraphs.  Clearly, they aren't meant to there, as they usually interrupt chains of thought or conversations.  Most of the time, I could ignore them, but they are distracting, and sometimes lead you to believe you're coming up to a change of scene or other pause in the story, when you're not.
  • "'This is my large son,' she said, trying to hide her pride."  Is she really saying her son is "large"?  I thought he was still almost a baby... Is this a typo? 
  • Some of the characters seem to swap places in my level of approbation.  Iris goes from bad to good over the course of the novel, while some of the others (the vicar's wife, for instance) fall somewhat from favor. 
  • This book makes train travel seem much less appealing than books usually do.  The train is constantly described as crowded, lurching, and stuffy.  (Incidentally, I've never been on a real train-- nothing more than open-air transportation around an amusement park.)
  • I guessed fairly early into the story (by my own standards, at least) where Miss Froy was and how the guilty parties had effected her disappearance.  I didn't figure out why she was "disappeared", though.  (When I read the explanation, I felt I ought to have known that, too.)
  • Ethel White must have been a dog person. 
  • There's a lot of reference to national pride and trust in one's countrymen.  I guess it only makes sense, under the circumstances.  
  • The phrase "under the seal of the apple" is unfamiliar.  While getting the backstory on an adulterous couple, we read that "after a few meetings in London, under the seal of the apple, he swept her away with him on a passionate adventure."  Is this a reference to the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
  • There are plenty of times when you just want to shake the characters.  One example:  Iris talks about some of her suspicions right in front of a character whom she has every reason to suspect of being involved in the plot.  I guess she's under the impression that time is running out, but still!  That's just stupid.  
  • I was struck by how often the term "free agent" crops up in this novel.  (Also, there was reference to "the psychological moment"; that phrase feels very early-20th-century to me.) 
  • At one point, Hare reflects on the fact that "he could not give her that essential sock on the jaw" to break her out of... hysteria, I guess, though she wasn't screaming or flailing about or laughing crazily like characters usually are when they get that slap across the face.  Anyway, it made me wonder what it is about that "essential sock on the jaw".   Do people still believe that's an appropriate reaction to someone going into hysterics, or was that a thing of the past?  How did the notion originate?  It seems to me like it wouldn't do any real good-- just shock someone out of making a fuss for that moment-- but maybe I'm wrong.
  • I believe I counted at least three references to oil on the sea or other body of water.  Yick.  What's with all the oily water?
  • I thought the sleepwalking bit was odd.  I don't know how else it should have been resolved, but... It was strange.  
  • Miss Froy strikes me as a unique character-- the youthful, girlish, middle-aged spinster.  She and her family felt vaguely L.M. Montgomery-ish to me, and of course that's a compliment, coming from me.  
  • Now that I've read the book, I'm curious to see Hitchcock's adaptation. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

To Err is Easier & Cheaper

Just last night, I was thinking about the typos I keep finding in e-books.  Some books are worse than others for typos-- and some aren't any worse than paper books I've read-- but plenty of them are worse, and it can be pretty annoying.  At the least, it disrupts the flow of the story (and takes you out of the story); at worst, it's downright insulting.  Perfect timing, because this morning I came across a brief article about that very issue-- "'E' Stands for 'Errors'"

The reasons behind the errors boil down to this:  it's faster, easier, and cheaper for the publisher to conduct its business in a way that leaves errors in an e-book (even after they've been corrected for paper versions of the same text).  If you're frequently frustrated by the errors in e-books, that's an irritating message, but it's not exactly surprising.

I think what makes it even more aggravating is that publishers insist on charging so much for e-books-- often even more than they charge for the "dead tree" version.  Also, because of the nature of e-books, it would be so easy to go back and fix the original file before taking it to market.  I mean, any fool with access to a computer and a word processing program could do it!  I regularly take the time to go back and correct typos in my own silly little blogs, when I spot them.  In effect, I'm putting more effort into my blogs that hardly anyone ever reads than these big publishing houses do for something for which they charge good money.

The book designer/typesetter/author quoted in the article hopefully suggests that "maybe this [the comparative lack of attention to typos in e-books] will change as e-books gain more market share".  Yes, most likely.  However, I think that leads us to another aspect of the issue-- namely, that publishers aren't very happy with the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers.

Suddenly, it's becoming more feasible for authors to bypass publishing houses altogether by self-publishing and still reaching an increasingly wider audience.  For that and a variety of other reasons, I think publishers are afraid of e-books.  Why else do they charge as much (if not more) for the e-book version than for the paper version of the same book?  Some try to argue that the cost of materials for a physical book are minuscule, but I'm not buying it.  You have to pay for the manufacturing process, too-- upkeep of the printing machinery-- paychecks for those responsible for keeping it running-- storage space for unsold books-- not to mention the expenses of distribution.  Do they seriously expect us to believe that with all of that taken into account, it's not significantly cheaper to process and "ship" a digital file?

No, I think publishers want to keep e-books down as long as they can, but they have to balance that instinctive fear and even hatred with their awareness of certain (seemingly inevitable) realities.  E-books are here, and they're only growing in popularity, so publishers need to keep up with the times and try to get a piece of the e-pie by selling digital copies that must cost them nearly nothing to "produce" (since they're using the author's original files-- not even bothering to fix up the formatting and typographical errors).

Not happy with your typo-riddled e-book?  Well, that's too bad... but I guess that's just the way it is.  E-books just aren't as nice as good old-fashioned paper, are they?  And look, it's actually a couple dollars cheaper for this thoroughly proofread paperback...

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Ring, by Koji Suzuki

I've seen the (American remake of) the movie, of course, as anyone even vaguely interested in horror movies will have done by now, considering that it came out nearly a decade ago.  I don't remember the finer points of the film, but from what I do recall (and based on a brief conversation with my youngest sister, K, who probably has a better memory of both the novel and the book than I do), I feel safe saying that this is an example where the movie was better than the book.  (There.  Is that long-winded enough for you?  ;o))

My biggest complaint about the book is simply that it's not very well written.  It is a translation, so possibly it's better in the original Japanese, but honestly, I don't see how it could be that much better.  Also, there's not much of a feeling of horror, which is a bit problematic in a horror novel.  I won't deny that there are occasional moments-- the first drive up to Pacific Land is full of foreboding, for instance-- but more than horror you get dread.  ("Oh  no!  These characters I care about only mildly may die horribly... in a few days.  Possibly.")  Dread can be powerful, but when it's dragged out too long, it's just tiring.  There were too few shocks to the system.  So much of the story seemed better on film than in words.  Of course, with this kind of subject, it's probably a lot harder to write it than to just show it...  For example, in the movie, the "video" was naturally quick and easy to show.  (Well, everything but the sensation of smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling things, like they do in the book.  I can't recall if that was mentioned in the movie at all...)  But in the book, it took pages to describe the series of scenes.  It wasn't nearly as effective.

So, I wasn't terribly impressed, but maybe I'd have liked it more if I hadn't already known the story.  (There are at least a few differences between the book and movie, but the basic elements are the same or very close.)  As it was, I really just wanted to finish it so I could start something new.  (Usually a bad sign.)

Spoilery observations/comments:
  • Asakawa is (especially in the earlier parts of the book) kind of a jerk to his wife.  "He wished his wife would act like her name, which meant 'quiet'. The best way to seal a woman's mouth was not to reply."  Gee, what a dreamboat. 
  • More of the romantic Asakawa:  "Although they'd been married for a full three years, he and his wife had a relatively good relationship."  Wow.  You mean they have a "relatively good relationship" after a full three years?  What a great achievement-- not to mention a wonderful advertisement for marriage.  (Ugh. I hate anti-marriage tropes.)
  • I was going to comment on Ryuji's being a psycho and Asakawa's own sickness that allows him to  know of but not do anything about Ryuji's supposed crimes (not to mention his bringing R. into the home where his wife and daughter live)... but then at the end of the book, the author throws in a twist.  Well, I still think R. is a bit of a psycho even to tell A. such things (even if they weren't true)... and it really doesn't change my poor opinion of A. at all, since he believed R.'s stories.
  • "...There are a few people who can actually produce psychic photos.  But there can't be too many paranormals who can actually project images onto a television tube without any equipment whatsoever."  (Yes, I doubt there are "many" (read: any) who can do that.) The parapsychobabble got on my nerves.  Look, it's paranormal horror.  There's no need to explain it; it's unexplainable, and your audience is aware of this.  Just give us the creeps, ok? That's all we're really after.
  • Very occasionally, the particular wording used struck me as odd.  I wonder if it just didn't translate well, or what...  For instance, grown-man Ryuji speaking to grown-man Asakawa: "Imagine being able to go night-night in a place like this."  Night-night?  Um, okay... (Alright, so I tell my dogs they have to take their "night-night walk", but they're dogs, so it's perfectly normal and not at all weird.)
  • This made me laugh:  "The next morning, Sunday, Asakawa dialled Ryuji's number as soon as he woke up. 'Yeah?' answered Ryuji, sounding for all the world like he'd just woken up."  Ha!  Why's A. so shocked that R. sounds (for all the world) like he's just woken up?  Didn't A. just wake up, himself?  A. then should've said something about R. being a lazybones.  It would have made me happy. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dear Coca-Cola

Dear Coca-Cola, by Terry Ravenscroft

Non-spoilery observations, reactions, etc.:
  • I read this one aloud with Donald. 
  • At first, I thought this would be a collection of unwittingly amusing letters written to Coca-Cola by a variety of "regular people".  It turned out to be a collection of rather silly letters (of complaint, recommendation, query, etc.) written to a variety of businesses/corporations by a single (rather silly) man-- Mr. Ravenscroft himself.  
  • Some of the letters are amusing. 
  • Some of the letters take things a little too far (imho) and lead me to roll my eyes and sympathize with the poor men and women tasked with reading and responding to them.  On the one hand, these letters could have been a spot of humor and a little change of pace in what must ordinarily be the somewhat boring grind of responding to the same old same, day in, day out.  On the other hand, they surely have better things to do with their day, and Ravenscroft (who is roughly the same age as one of my grandfathers) comes across a bit more like a teen-aged prankster than a grown man of advanced years. 
  • I feel like a middle-aged fun-squasher, admitting to the feelings described in the bullet-point above.  I think that reaction is the result of reading these letters one right after another... Prolonged exposure wears down my (possibly weak) tolerance for such things.  Still, at least some of it was funny.  Maybe it's better taken in small doses.
  • The author is British, so it was interesting noting which products were familiar and which were not.  (I think I could happily read a [brief] book just about products in foreign countries... I enjoyed wandering around the grocery stores in Sweden, for instance.  But then again, if I'm not in a rush and it's not too crowded, I sometimes enjoy looking around American grocery stores, too.  I am easily entertained.)
  • The last 15% or so of the book seems to be excerpts from the author's other publications and quick reviews from satisfied customers.   (I didn't read through them all, so I can't say for sure.)
  • I'd certainly consider reading more by the same author, though based on the few excerpts I did read, I think I'm more interested in his works of nonfiction (like this one) than those of fiction. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Link: Flashlight Worthy

Flashlight Worthy: Handpicked book recommendations on hundreds of topics. 

I just happened upon this website last night, and I've yet to really delve into it, but it seems like an interesting idea.  As the subtitle indicates, this site offers topic-based lists of book recommendations.  There are currently 429 lists-- and at first glance, at least, plenty of variety.  I find myself drawn to quite a few lists, such as the following:
  • Epistolary Novels
  • Run, Zombies Ahead!
  • Nordic Noir
  • These Books Have Gone to the Dogs
  •  Literary Thrillers for the Book Lover
  • Creepy Houses That Must Be Explored
  • Brevity is the Soul of Wit: Rec. Short Story Collections
  • Cold Weather Mysteries
  • Some Books of Dry Humor, Old and New
  • The Top Ten Most Influential Fictional Characters
  • Where Utopia Distorts into Dystopia: Dystopian Novels
Well, that's it.  Just passing along (and bookmarking for my own future use) a link of possible interest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Death at Wentwater Court

Death at Wentwater Court, by Carola Dunn
(audiobook read by Bernadette Dunne)

Hm.  I begin to suspect that I may be too harsh a critic... This was another case of "not bad, but not great... and only mildly good".  It's a very light, fluffy mystery with a romantic subplot (which will clearly be carried over into subsequent books in the series).  The bad guys are very, very bad (irredeemable), and (most of) the good guys are just too good to be true (sickeningly so, at times).  Daisy herself strikes me as a little Mary Sue-ish.  She's "cursed" with one of those faces that inspire confidences, so of course everyone tells her his/her life story with hardly a moment's hesitation.  (If this is going to be a "thing" in this series, it's going to get old fast.  In fact, it was already old, by the middle of this book.)  I'm a bit disappointed; I'd been looking forward to this series (possibly based on the name "Daisy Dalrymple" alone), and now I find it merely "alright".  Still, if you like British-style mysteries set (if not written) between the wars, this is probably worth a look.  I'll likely give another book or two a try in the hope that the author was just finding her feet with this first entry in the series.

As I noted above, I listened to the audiobook version-- and yet again we have the narrator "doing voices".  She was decent on the women's voices, I guess... Though her Annabel got on my nerves, that might've been the character's fault as much as the narrator's whispery rendition.  Overall, I didn't like her intonation, much of the time, with sentences ended on a raised inflection that I think should usually be reserved for questions. Then there was the way she pronounced "pater"-- like "patter" instead of "pay-ter".  Evidently, that is an accepted pronunciation, but I don't approve-- and since it was in the prologue, it started us off on a bad foot.  Oh well.  I'm picky about audiobook narrators, it seems.  (What a shock.)

Side Note:
This was another library check-out.  This was the first time I've tried listening to an audiobook on the Kindle (as opposed to the computer or MP3-player) from start to finish.  If I wasn't careful, I'd return to resume listening only to find that the Kindle had forgotten my place in the audio file-- and it's a true pain to find your place again when you can only skip ahead 30 seconds at a time in an hour-long clip.  (The book was broken into six pieces each of approximately 60-75 minutes.)  At first, I wasn't sure what was going on (and still am not, entirely), because one time the Kindle would remember my spot just fine, then the next time it would have taken me back to the beginning of the clip.  I think I've figured out that to ensure my spot is bookmarked, I have to pause the file, then go back to the home screen of the Kindle before putting the device to sleep.  If I just pause it without returning to the home screen, the Kindle forgets my spot.  It's weird, and I can't figure out why it works that way-- fortunately, I've never had that issue with a regular e-book-- but for whatever reason, that seems to be the situation.  It's not a big deal, so long as I remember to pause and hit the "home" key before shutting down.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

DNF: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, by Linda Berdoll

This one really belongs in a blog titled "I DIDN'T Read This".  That's right, it's my first DNF (Did Not Finish) since I started this blog. 

I probably should've known better from the title alone.  (Oh, the embarrassment.)  However, I was looking for books that looked even marginally interesting in the local library's e-book collection, and for whatever reason (I like Pride and Prejudice; I was curious), I decided to give it a try.  This proved to be a poor decision.

Only a few pages in, I began to have second thoughts.  I glanced over some customer reviews to help me decide whether or not to continue, and the answer was clear:  this was not worth my time. 

Here are some spoilery things that I learned either from my few pages of reading or from customer reviews on Amazon:
  • The writing is awful.  The author clearly tried to sound like Jane Austen, "howbeit" did a very poor job. (The first page or so was almost unreadable.)
  • Apparently, there are way-too-explicit love-making scenes between Darcy and Elizabeth, which is kind of gross to think about.  I don't know why, but I feel one shouldn't think of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy doing much more than kissing and... well, discreetly fading to black when things begin to heat up. I thought I could handle a romantic sequel to P&P, but upon reflection, I find that I do not want to picture Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth getting down and dirty.  *shuddersquirm*
  • Everyone behaves unforgivably "out of character".  The most egregious example I saw mentioned was that Mr. Bingley-- Mr. Bingley, I tell you-- cheats on poor Jane and conceives a love child.  Oh!  The very thought of it!  I have such tremblings-- such flutterings all over me-- such spasms in my side, and pains in my head, and such beatings at my heart!  Mr. Bingley would never do such a thing.  It is impossible
Anyway.  I gave up on the book. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Play Dead

Play Dead, by Anne Frasier

(It feels like a disproportionately large number of the titles I read lately contain the words "dead" or "death".  This is what comes of reading mysteries, horror/thrillers, and the Sookie Stackhouse series...)

I'm going to pick this one apart and list the things I didn't like (which seems to be my usual method on this blog), but honestly, despite imperfections, I found the novel enjoyable enough-- especially considering it was free on Amazon.  (It's not free at the moment.  Check every week or so, because the list of freebies changes frequently.)

(with slight spoilers)

•  The cursing.  It certainly wasn't the worst I've read for cursing, but... I'm probably in the minority, but I don't feel it adds much to a book.  Possibly there are occasions where it's useful, but most of the time, it's more of a distraction than anything else.  (Incidentally, the cursing reminded me that, though I wasn't crazy about The Girl in the Green Raincoat over all, at least I don't remember it having much/any foul language.)  Anyway, regarding  what I deem to be "unnecessary" cursing-- it's not a total deal-breaker, but it is something I take unfavorable note of.  There were times when it was probably merited here, for the characters and the situations, but I still would've toned it down a shade or two.

•  The Yankee vs. Southerner angle.  Meh.  A little mention of it is ok, but... it's not the most comfortable subject to read about, as a Southerner.  This bothers me mainly because there's plenty of prejudice against Southerners-- and negative stereotypes of Southerners-- so to get only the "backward Southerners are stuck in the past and hate this poor, innocent Northerner just because he's from... Ohio" point of view is somewhat irksome.  I'm very thankful that at least not every character was painted as being "anti-Yankee".  Since it was mostly limited to two marginal characters, this is a very small nit-pick.  (Still, Ohio?  I tend not to think of Ohio as "Yankeeland"...)

•  The love spell?  (The "mojo" or whatever it is that Flora uses?)  Yuck.  Possibly the grossest, creepiest thing in the whole book.  

•  David's "interactions" with Flora... :o/  I really wish the dude had had more self-respect than to call a prostitute then keep up a kinda-sorta relationship with her just because she was convenient.  Related:  "Or were they just two smart but extremely messed-up people clinging to each other for comfort? Yep."  Um... smart?  Ok, whatever you say, brainiac.

•  Elise's relationship with her daughter is frustrating.  The bratty teenager who wants nothing to do with her mother.  The weak parent, afraid to assert herself.  It's not a pleasant dynamic-- but fortunately things have begun to improve between them by the end of the novel.

•  "Finding my way around in the tunnels was a little like playing Monopoly, only with bigger pieces."  ...Huh?  But isn't Monopoly just going around and around the square game-board?  Nothing at all maze-like, so far as I can recall... 

•  I could've done without the mortuary insight.  (This is from notes I wrote while reading, and I have already forgotten what the "mortuary insights" were-- some details of what they do to prepare bodies for burial, I think.  This is one of those times I am thankful for my sieve-like memory. (g)) 

•  If I'm going to read about "witchcraft", I prefer the fantastical kind-- Harry Potter style-- to this "realistic" kind.  I would've liked Elise even better (though I do like her as she is) if she didn't believe in any of it... or decided once and for all that it wasn't going to be part of her life, going forward... but it was such a big part of the character, I knew we wouldn't see her turn away from it.  *shrug*

(just observations / reactions) 

•  "Root doctor".  Apparently it's the pc/preferred alternative to "witch doctor".  First I've heard of it, but then again, I don't really move in the root-doctor/witch-doctor circle... ;o)

•  "...the doors and window trim painted blue to repel evil spirits."  Hm.  Interesting, considering that I think I know of one or two local homes with blue-painted trim.  (Or at least they did in the past... Not sure if they still do.)  I always thought those people just had (really) bad taste in house paint, but now I wonder if there was more to it than that... (Kind of creepy to think that people actually believe this stuff... Makes the whole novel creepier.)

•  We hear a lot about how this story is set in Savannah, Georgia-- reminiscent of the frequent mention of BALTIMORE BALTIMORE BALTIMORE in The Girl in the Green Raincoat-- but this book does a much better job of giving you the feel of the place-- or this author's version of Savannah, at least.

•  That said... this book makes Savannah seem pretty weird-- like another New Orleans.  I wonder what people who live in Savannah would think of Frasier's presentation of their city.  I've come across a series of murder mysteries set in Mobile.  Now I'm curious to read one just to see how that author paints the (semi)local color... (I suspect I wouldn't like all of it.  But then when do I ever like all of a book?  (g))

•  I'm surprised by the number of people who seem to find this book scary/creepy.  There were a few eerie moments, but I didn't find any of it that creepy.  There wasn't even that much suspense...

I figured out the killer's identity a little before it was revealed, but not so early that the book was dull.  It was always clear that it wasn't going to be... let's say "the Prime Suspect"-- and then when the killer is thinking about how s/he went into the tunnels from his/her house (or something like that), the killer's identity becomes obvious.  However, I'm a little confused about how this woman could so easily haul around male bodies for miles... I guess none of the ones she intentionally killed and then moved around were described as being large men.  Most (all?) were young, in fact, and possibly slight-figured.  Plus she was using the tunnels, so she could wheel them around most of the way...  I guess it's plausible.

Verdict:  It's not Book of the Year quality, but still definitely readable.  I liked the main characters (Elise and David) and was happy to see some of the relationships work out as I'd hoped.  Some aspects of the story were predictable, but not so much so that I didn't enjoy reading to see how they would resolve themselves.  I'll be happy to try another book by this author.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, by P.G. Wodehouse

(I almost forgot that we'd finished this, we'd been reading it for so long.) 

What is there to say about this book?  It was your typical formulaic yet perennially amusing Wodehouse, but it felt like Jeeves was absent throughout almost the whole story, so if you're a fan of Jeeves or scenes of Jeeves/Wooster interaction, you may find this one somewhat lacking.  It doesn't stand out as a special favorite, but let's be honest-- even non-special-favorite Wodehouse is notably superior to most of the junk churned out these days.  (IMHO.)

It strikes me that I've never read any Wodehouse solo.  Wodehouse is so perfect for reading aloud that it almost seems a shame to read it silently to yourself.  I'll have to try, sometime, though.  I wonder if I'll find it quite as funny on my own...