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14) Oscar Wilde -- The Picture of Dorian Grey
Lots of reviews and critiques out there already, so I'll simply say that I liked it.

15) Gladys Mitchell -- Watson's Choice

28th Mrs Bradley mystery. Mrs Bradley is invited to a weekend country house party thrown to celebrate the Sherlock Holmes anniversary. Naturally, someone provides a real life mystery, complete with a real live Hound of the Baskervilles. The plot wanders a bit, but it's still a lot of fun if you're a Holmes fan. I suspect that it will be less fun if you're not, as the book is stuffed with Holmes references and jokes.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

16) Mary Stewart -- Stormy Petrel

Romantic suspense set on a remote Scottish Island. the story's fairly simple, and the appeal is in watching the interplay of the characters, and the evocative descriptions of the island and its way of life. It has mixed reviews, and I can see why; but I liked it a lot.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

17) EM Forster -- Where Angels Fear To Tread

There are plenty of other reviews, so I will only note that I liked part of the novel, but it didn't quite gel for me even though I like this sort of social satire. I don't regret the time spent reading it but am not inclined to re-read. It's out of copyright in some countries, and thus available on public domain sites.


18) Agatha Christie -- Death on the Nile (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. Heiress steals friend's fiancee, friend starts blatantly stalking, even unto the honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Heiress is found murdered, and as the husband points out, the ex-friend has an obvious motive. The one problem is that she couldn't possibly have done it. Nor could any of the other people the heiress has provided with motives. The abridged audiobook has been well edited for the plot, but does by necessity skimp on the character development and social observation. There's also an unabridged audio edition, read by David Suchet, which I've not yet listened to.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

19) T Baggins -- Fifteen Shades of Gay (for Pay)

Contemporary m/m romance, and yes, the title's riffing off That Book. What it isn't is a rip-off of That Book. It's a thoughtful and well-written look at men coming to terms with their sexuality, seen through the eyes of a young actor who takes on male escort work to pay for his sister's chemotherapy, even though he's straight. The blurb for the book tells you all you need to know about the plot, and there's little point in rehashing it. It's a plot that has the potential to be very cliched, but Baggins shows what a skilled writer can do with the concept, and the book is a joy to read.

It's an m/m romance, so of course the POV character isn't straight after all. But this isn't a gay-for-you story. There's a solidly laid foundation for a character who is in deep denial about his bisexuality, and has good reason to be that way. It's Andrew's story, so we see his character grow and change the most; but there are also good portrayals of men who aren't in denial to themselves, but are closeted to their family and have different ways of coping with that. Perhaps it edges over into fairytale territory with how quickly Andrew comes to accept having gay sex without accepting that he's bi, but the story's good enough to carry it.

Be warned that it has the potential to be triggery for readers who've had to deal with cancer. Baggins doesn't dwell on the reality of living with cancer in a loved one, but doesn't gloss over it either -- the one that got me was the comment about neighbours who insist on showing their neighbourliness by just popping in to see how you are even though they're not well themselves, and infectious. But with that one caveat, thoroughly recommended.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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Taking advantage of the Christmas break to (very slowly) catch up on the book log. Alas, it's long enough since I read these books that for most of them I can't write anything in depth about them.

10) Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle

Big ebook bundle, previously reviewed.

11) Agatha Christie -- Death in the clouds (audiobook) )
12) Maria Dahvana Headley -- Queen of Kings )
13) Wilkie Collins -- The Woman in White )
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It's the return of the book log! Not a particularly detailed book log, since it's a long time since February... But here are such thoughts as I can remember about what I read way back then.

5) Gladys Mitchell -- Tom Brown's Body

Another mystery for Mrs Bradley to solve. This one involves the murder of a junior master at a boy's school. Mr Conway was unpopular with both boys and teachers alike, for a variety of reasons. A lot of fun, with some sharp social observation. It was first published in 1949, which has some bearing on one of the minor plot threads. One of the boys is Jewish, and subject to anti-Semitic bullying. He does engage in some stereotypical behaviour, but Mitchell, through her lead character, observes that the behaviour is in response to the bullying and not the other way around. I get the impression from this and other books that Mitchell had a low opinion of racists.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

6) Fiona Glass -- Gleams of a remoter World

LGBT paranormal mystery, where the mystery is long in the past, and the investigator is a ghost hunter. There's a romance sub-plot, but the emphasis here is on the mystery. I can't write a sensible review of this one because I've left it so long, but I stayed up far too late to finish it, and it will be no hardship to read it again at some point in order to review it properly. You can find the blurb and the first chapter on the book's page at at the publisher's website.

at amazon UK
at Amazon US

7) Dick Francis - Under Orders

Another entertaining thriller set in the world of horse racing. This one features jockey turned private detective Sid Halley, pursuing leads in the murky world of online betting.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

8) Mary Stewart -- Thornyhold

Romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart, published in 1988, but set in the 1940s and 1950s. Young Geillis, known as Jilly has had a quietly miserable childhood, followed by leaving university early to look after her newly widowed father. Her future as a jobless spinster with no savings and no inheritance to speak of might have been bleak after his death, save for her older cousin and namesake leaving her Thornyhold -- Cousin Geillis's woodland cottage.

Jilly finds that her cousin has left her enough money to live on if she's careful, together with all of Thornyhold's contents. Those contents include the still room -- and Cousin Geillis's reputation as a witch. There is nothing but good in that reputation, but Jilly is still drawn into strange occurrences, some of which have an obvious rational explanation but which still leave her unsettled.

She's even more unsettled when she meets a handsome neighbour -- and then life becomes very odd indeed...

Highly enjoyable period romantic suspense, with well-drawn characters and just a touch of magic left even when the explanations are done. Definitely one I'll enjoy re-reading.

at Amazon UK
at AmazonUS

9) Agatha Christie -- The Secret Adversary

First of the Tommy and Tuppence books. It's shortly after the end of the Great War, and a pair of bright young things are finding peacetime both rather boring and rather financially restrictive. They decide to advertise themselves as "The young Adventurers", in the hope of finding a job. There follow many adventures in pursuit of a missing document, served with a large helping of fun and an even larger helping of red herrings. The politics are somewhat eyebrow-raising, but a reflection of the time when the book was written. I didn't find this as appealing as the Marple and Poirot stories, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours. It's still in print, but also now out of copyright in some countries and thus available on various public domain sites.

at Amazon UK
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Abridged on three CDs, and read by Nigel Anthony. A famous Poirot story, but one I'd never read before. Beautifully pulled off, although I suspect it suffers a little from the abridgement. Even with the abridgement issues, I loved this. And that's all I'm going to say about it.

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Three of Christie's short stories, adapted into half hour radio plays and updated to a modern (at the time of broadcast in 2002) setting. I found this volume rather disappointing, and thought that the adaptation of "Philomel Cottage" was very poor. I wasn't familiar with the stories, and wasn't sure what was supposed to have happened at the end of Philomel Cottage. Having looked up the story online, I found that my impression of what happened was quite different to the original text story. Having re-listened to the last few minutes, in case I'd simply misunderstood -- no, it still gave the impression of the ending having been re-written.

Magnolia Blossom has been updated, but I think has not been greatly changed, going by the plot summaries I've found online.

Swan Song has been significantly re-written, but in a way that preserves the basic point of the plot. I suspect that the modernisation is going to annoy a lot of readers, but for me it worked well.

In hindsight, I'd have probably enjoyed this CD set more if Philomel Cottage had been last rather than first of the three plays. It annoyed me so much that it rather put me off the other two. I'm in two minds as to whether the set would have worked better for someone who was already familiar with the stories - I think I would have got on better with Philomel Cottage had I already known the story, but that the alterations to Swan Song might have been irritating. Overall, I don't really regret spending the time to listen to this set, but I'm glad I only paid remainder price for it. and am disinclined to listen to it again.

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Abridged on three CDs, and read by Jenny Funnell. This is a standalone mystery without any of Christie's regular characters. It features a pair of bright young things who become suspicious about the circumstances of an accident and decide to investigate. Naturally, they don't take their suspicions to the police, and in various other ways prove themselves too stupid to live, including walking into really obvious traps. None of which actually matters, because it's very amusing watching them being too stupid to live. Christie very gently sends up her characters while keeping them sympathetic. The dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, but I had a lot of fun picking my way through the red herrings. Not her best work, but still an enjoyable way to pass three hours.

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47) Agatha Christie - A pocket full of rye

City businessman Rex Fortescue has a nice cup of tea at the office, and dies of poisoning. The peculiar points to this are the poison used, and the fact that the dead man's pocket had grains of rye amongst the contents. Inspector Neele sets about investigating the dead man's household, which provides a good selection of potential suspects. Alas, one of the best suspects is next on the murderer's list, and then there's a third death.

Miss Marple doesn't appear until nearly half way through the book. Her interest in the matter is the housemaid who was murdered, who happened to be one of the many girls Miss Marple has trained as a maid over the years. When she arrives to provide information on the girl's background, Inspector Neele recognises her as someone who has a great deal of common sense and the ability to get people who wouldn't dream of talking to a policeman to reveal secrets to her. The resulting interplay between Neele's investigation and Miss Marple's investigation is most entertaining. Neele's no fool, even if he's happy to play one in public, but it's Miss Marple's experience of human behaviour that allows them to unravel who, how and why.

Well plotted, with one or two twists on the resolution of the red herrings which make them interesting little tales in their own right, rather than just a distraction from the true identity of the murderer.

LibraryThing entry
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42) Agatha Christie -- A Murder Is Announced

Miss Marple novel. A murder is announced at the home of Miss Blacklock, by way of an ad in the local paper announcing the time and place. It's assumed by Miss Blacklock's household that it's some sort of unpleasant joke, and by everyone else in Chipping Cleghorn that it's announcing a murder mystery party. A large contingent contrive to drop in at the time announced -- only to see a real attempted murder and suicide. But was it suicide, or was the young man who shot at Miss Blacklock simply a cat's paw for someone else who then disposed of him?

Beautifully constructed mystery, with the clues all there but skillfully disguised, in a lovely study of English village life soon after the end of the Second World War.

LibraryThing entry
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32) Agatha Christie -- The Body in the Library

Miss Marple novel with, yes, a body in the library. The library in question belongs to an old friend of Miss Marple, but the dead blonde doesn't. Unfortunately for Colonel Bantry, it's far too delicious a piece of tittle-tattle for the villagers to believe that the Colonel has never seen the girl before, and Mrs Bantry is well aware that her husband will be broken by the gossip if the real murderer isn't found, even if the police believe him to be innocent. So her immediate reaction is to call in her friend Miss Marple for help.

The victim is soon identified, along with several people who might have had a motive to kill her. But those with strong motives have strong alibis, and those with weak alibis have weak motives. Adding to the confusion is the second murder of a young girl. Miss Marple has good reason to find the solution, both to clear the names of the innocent -- and to prevent a third murder.

AS usual with Christie, many of the characters are cardboard, but very skillfully painted cardboard, with real motivations and consistent characterisations. One of the final elements really does seem to come out of nowhere, but the groundwork for it has been carefully laid. This is a beautifully constructed mystery, with all the clues you need, mixed in with a whole shoal of convincing red herrings.

The strength of Christie's books is always her dissection of human behaviour, but here she's particularly good at showing the dark side of the interest in gossip that Miss Marple uses to bring justice for the dead.

A week or so after reading the book, I listened to the abridged audiobook from Macmillan Digital Audio, read by Ian Masters. It's a good abridgement on 3 CDs which manages to retain the necessary plot elements without signalling them too broadly, and Masters does a good job of reading the text. In particular, he manages to read the dialogue for the female characters without the over-exaggerated high pitch used by male actors on a few of the audiobooks I've listened to recently.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 8)

Miss Marple goes to spend a few days with her old friend Carrie Louise, at the request of old friend's sister who is worried that something sinister is happening without being able to pin down why she feels that way. Carrie Louise's first husband set up a "good works" institution in the grounds of his estate prior to his death, which is currently being used to rehabilitate young criminals, and her third and current husband Lewis is one of the trustees of the institution. Several members of the rather complex family structure live with them, which means there are several people with a financial interest in murdering Carrie Louise. Then, of course, there are the juvenile delinquents. However, when murder happens, it's with a twist. Lewis's young assistant has a mental breakdown and has a confrontation with Lewis which climaxes with the young man shooting at him but missing, and at the same time her step-son from her first marriage is murdered elsewhere in the house by a shot which initially goes unnoticed in the immediate aftermath of the altercation between Lewis and his assistant.

Lewis tells the police that earlier that day the murder victim had told him in confidence that someone was trying to poison Carrie Louise -- an obvious motive for someone to seize the opportunity to silence him while everyone was distracted, and an urgent reason for the police to find the killer before anyone else dies. It's up to Miss Marple to unpick the tangle of motives and opportunity at Stonygates.

I worked out who and how almost immediately -- but so excellent was the misdirection that I thought that I must be mistaken. As usual with Christie, once you do know what happened a lot of tiny details suddenly click neatly into place.

One thing I did notice was that Christie through Miss Marple has a lot to say about excusing criminal behaviour because someone had a problem childhood. It's not a problem for me, since it's in character for Miss Marple anyway, but I did feel that it was the author's viewpoint as well as the character's, and for some readers it might feel a bit too much like being lectured. But I enjoyed this book a lot -- and when you finally know the answer, the motivation feels right for that character.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 90 (there was a glitch in earlier numbering, which I've corrected from here on, and in the master list for the year which will be posted soon)

Re-listen of the second CD set taken from The Thirteen Problems, read by the incomparable Joan Hickson. The four short stories on this double CD set are the titular "The Blue Geranium", "The Four Suspects", The Companion" and "A Christmas Tragedy". The format is a group of friends telling each other creepy mysteries after dinner, allowing the others to try to guess the solution, and then revealing the answer. Miss Marple, of course, is able to solve each by her observation of human nature. Superbly read by Hickson, and highly enjoyable, though probably best listened to one or two at a time rather than the whole lot in one sitting.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 55

This is a 2-CD audiobook of the first five stories from the Miss Marple collection "The Thirteen Problems", read by the late, great Joan Hickson, who played Marple on tv in the 80s and 90s. In each story, a small group of friends gathers together each Tuesday night, and spend part of the evening with one member telling the story of a mystery they encountered, and the others trying to work out what actually happened. Miss Marple, of course, is always the one to solve the puzzle, by drawing on parallels she has seen in village life down the years.

Hickson's reading is an absolute joy to listen to, not only because she is Miss Marple for myself and many other fans, but because she is a superb reader. Her reading is perfectly paced, and brings the characters to life. The stories themselves are entertaining enough, although are probably best taken two or three at a time rather than all at once, as otherwise the consistent pattern of the stories could become annoying formulaic rather than pleasurable. I found that I usually worked out roughly what had happened and who had done it, but the exact details of how weren't that easy to spot -- although clear enough in hindsight...

A marvellous way to spend a couple of hours, although I may go out and buy the set with the complete "Thirteen Problems" to replace this set and its companion set "The Blue Geranium and other problems", which don't quite cover the full 13 between them.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 54

This edition is an abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, running time about 3 hours, read by Nigel Anthony. According to LibraryThing, it's the last of four novels featuring Colonel Race.

A year ago, a group of people sat down to dinner around a table in the Luxembourg table. One of them was dead by cyanide at the end of the evening, apparently a suicide. But Rosemary's husband tells a friend that he has come to believe that she was murdered, and has set a trap for the murderer in the form of a remembrance dinner on the anniversary of her death. It's a trap that will be sprung in the worst possible way, leaving his friend Colonel Race to tease out the clues -- before a third murder is committed.

In a series of flashbacks, Christie shows how each of the people around the table that night had a motive for murdering Rosemary, including her husband. As the action moves forward to the anniversary dinner and its aftermath, each character study is developed further, shedding new light on people's behaviour but often only changing their motive rather than removing it. Race has a problem on his hands -- there is an abundance of suspects for each murder, but any individual suspect really only has all three of method, motive and opportunity for one of the murders. And yet the murders are clearly linked...

The solution to the mystery is simple in hindsight, but well concealed by the array of convincing motives on offer. And even when Colonel Race finally understands the pattern of events, the suspense continues, because the pattern points to one more murder that must take place.

The mystery is an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, and the book is by and large well read by Anthony. I did find his reading of female characters' dialogue slightly irritating, as he used a slightly falsetto voice which simply sounded silly to me and thus pulled me out of the story slightly. But it's an enjoyable audiobook that I'll be happy to listen to again.

LibraryThing entry
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Read by Hugh Fraser
ISBN 978-0230747371 (also 978-1405088626)

Abridged by Kati Nicholl, 3 CD set, running time approx 3 hours

Poirot has retired, and is taking his leisure in a seaside town, determined not to take on any new cases. But when a pretty young woman by the nickname of Nick tells him about a series of near-fatal accidents that have befallen her, he cannot resist temptation. The accidents are clearly not accidents, and the young lady must be protected. He is determined to unmask the killer before one of the accidents proves fatal. Alas, the killer strikes again -- but strikes down Nick's cousin, who had the misfortune to be wearing Nick's distinctive wrap. Now Poirot'spersonal pride is at stake, and there is still Nick to protect...

Red herrings and side plots abound, but Poirot gets there in the end. It's a beautifully constructed book, with the answer right in front of the reader from early in the book, concealed by some artful misdirection. The audiobook is read by Hugh Fraser. who plays Hastings in the tv series. Fraser is generally a good reader, but I found his portrayal of Poirot rather off-putting. He uses a very strong accent that in comparison with Suchet's performance sounds like an overplayed stereotype. Of course, part of the problem here is that Suchet *is* Poirot for me, and anything else would sound wrong -- and my subconscious attention is drawn to it because Hastings sounds right.

In spite of which, I enjoyed this 3 CD set a lot. The story has been abridged well, and I enjoy listening to Hugh Fraser. I happened to pick this up in The Works for four pounds, and think that it was superb value for money at that price. List price is 13 pounds, although the online shops are listing it for less. I might think twice about paying full price for others in the series because of my issue with Fraser's portrayal of Poirot, but I wouldn't have considered it a waste of money. One minor point with the cheap version offered in The Works -- it's a very simple case with only one spindle for the 3 CDs, so you have to lift the first discs out to get at the later discs, with an additional risk of scratching one eventually. It's also available in download.

at Play.com
at the Book Depository
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Enjoyable but not outstanding Poirot novel, narrated by Hastings. American actress Jane Wilkinson is desperate to be free of her husband, Lord Edgware, so that she can marry a different and more desirable English lord. Lord Mark One conveniently dies of a knife wound to the base of the skull, but the ungrieving widow by chance has an impeccable alibi, and there are other people with a motive for murder, and perhaps for framing Lady Edgware. Poirot does eventually untangle the truth, but not before there are more deaths, and a lot of false paths followed.

LibraryThing entry
Books, audiobooks and DVDs at Play
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise


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