Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book has been reviewed extensively – 37,000+ reviews on Goodreads – so, briefly, I enjoyed it. It’s not perfect, but the ending was, for me, unexpected. And that is one criterion for a good read.

Maybe I haven’t read enough fantasy, but this book reminded me of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which was fantastic and very original. I recommend Night Circus to someone who is looking for a magical experience without too much logic or character development.

For a sampling of the mixed reactions reviewers have had to this book, read on. Olivia Laing writing for The Observer compared the book to an “eminently intriguing cabinet of curiosities” with an intricate but unmoored setting and colorful but clockwork characters.” Laura Miller writing for Salon appreciated the “aesthetic fantasia with all the trimmings” but not the plot itself. Stacey D’Erasmo writing in the New York Times observed that “True magic is dangerous, and there is little of that sort of propulsive danger in these pages; where it does occur is surprising, and oddly marginalized.”

These comments may be absolutely true, but it doesn’t make the book unreadable or unenjoyable. I do not regret the time I spent reading it.

The Night Circus won an Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2012. The novel spent seven weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, reaching number two on the hardcover fiction list.

The film and TV rights to The Night Circus has been optioned, and a film is reportedly (Wikpedia) being produced. A writer was hired in February 2012 to write the screenplay. What has happened since then? Apparently, this process can take forever or never. So read the book instead.


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The Golden Calf by Helene Tursten

The twisted crimes Huss investigated in the previous books began to irritate me. It felt that each book in the series might be an entry of the encyclopedia of sex crimes. But, with this new book, I missed that theme. This book was predictable, with a deus ex machina ending. That the complicated, interwoven mystery could be wrapped in one stroke by a (stereotyped) black, female FBI agent was forced and totally out of place. What was the point of all the trips to Paris and elsewhere when the FBI could step in and tie it all up in one scene? A call to the FBI in the first chapter would have made the whole book unnecessary.

Speaking of out of place, the subplot with the woman, her son, and the mystery father felt cut and pasted. Keeping the resolution of this thread raises the question – is this a setup for the next book?

I didn’t find the plot compelling or the ending satisfactory. Here’s hoping Tursten does better next time.

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As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

Thank you, NetGalley!!! for this early copy of Flavia’s latest adventure, due to be published on January 8. Flavia goes to Canada to attend her late mother’s alma mater, Miss Bodycote’s Female

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but compared to the previous entries in this series, it just isn’t up to snuff. Important elements from the other books are missing. I am hoping for better from the next book. Chimney Sweepers is the sixth in the series, and, according to Wikipedia, Bradley originally had a six-book deal. Is this the end? I hope not.

Still, I would not recommend this book to anyone who has not read any of the other Flavia de Luce books. Begin at the beginning.

Flavia is “banished,” on her own, without her loyal allies back home. She has limited access to her chemistry lab. She receives only one letter from Buckshaw and that is from Dogger, the caretaker, not her father, not her sisters, and not from her aunt. We really never get to know the headmistress or the teachers. Everyone keeps warning Flavia not to trust anyone. (Has Bradley been watching XFiles? Trust no one? Really?)

Although Bradley vividly depicts the school, there isn’t much sense of Toronto. I miss the village, Flavia’s crumbling mansion, and Gladys.

And for a girl who is supposed to be attending classes, Flavia doesn’t really ever appear to attend one. Too busy chasing clues.

The story began to lag, and then things wrapped up. Not everything, though. Flavia leaves some threads still dangling when, SPOILER ALERT!!! Flavia goes back to England.

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Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham is one of the “Queens of Crime” from the Golden Age of classic murder mystery novels, accompanied by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. This Golden Age is generally placed during the 1920s and 1930s. These ladies created enduring characters and elevated mysteries to literature.

Look to the Lady was first published January 1931, in the United Kingdom and in the United States as The Gyrth Chalice Mystery. It is the third novel in the series featuring Albert Campion and his butler/valet/bodyguard Magersfontein Lugg.

This is the first Campion book I have read. It is very humor – if you like your humor dry and British. Campion and Lugg reminded me not only of Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but also of Jeeves and Wooster. It was a fun read, light on the carnage and heavy on the mirth. I haven’t run out to get more Campion books – I already have a stupefying pile of books to read – but I wouldn’t say no to another one.

Val Gyrth, heir to the Gyrth family, is homeless and wandering the streets. After a mysterious chain of events, he is rescued by Albert Campion. A conspiracy of art collectors and criminals hopes to steal the treasure Van Gyrth’s family is charged with protecting, and Campion has been charged with preventing this theft and discovering the mastermind behind the enterprise.

The solution involves gypsies, the supernatural, family secrets, royalty, forgers, murders, and a secret room. In between, Campion demonstrates a dry sense of humor, a penchant for aliases, a taste for the best in life, and a talent for solving mysteries.

Allingham supposedly created the character as a parody of Sayers’ detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Campion appeared in 19 novels and over 20 short stories.

Albert Campion is his pseudonym. We know that he was born in 1900 into a prominent aristocratic family. He was educated at Rugby and the (fictitious) St. Ignatius’ College, Cambridge. Ingenious, resourceful and well-educated, in his 20s he assumed the name Campion and began a life as an adventurer and detective.

Campion is thin, blond, wears horn-rimmed glasses, and is often described as affable, inoffensive and bland, with a deceptively blank and unintelligent expression. He is, nonetheless, a man of authority and action. In some stories, he lives in a flat above a police station at Number 17A, Bottle Street in Piccadilly, London.

In 1989, Look to the Lady was adapted, following the original closely, for television by the BBC and starred Peter Davison (Dr. Who) as Campion and Gordon Jackson (Mr. Hudson in Upstairs, Downstairs) as Professor Cairey. The Campion books became a series of eight programs. The series was later shown in the US by PBS.

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