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Moonlight Reader

Welcome to 2019! 

Currently reading

Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy
Rachel Cusk, Olivia Manning
Partners in Crime: A Tommy and Tuppence Collection
Agatha Christie
Our Spoons Came from Woolworths
Emily Gould, Barbara Comyns

TBR Thursday: January 17, 2019

I'm behind on my reviews and blogging, but here we are for TBR Thursday!


Last week, I read:


Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers; The Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsey; Arrow's Flight and Arrow's Fall by Mercedes Lackey, The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth, both A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle, and The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie. (No wonder I am behind in my posts - that's 8 books. Holy cow).


This week's plans:


Partners in Crime: A Tommy and Tuppence Collection - Agatha Christie  N or M? - Agatha Christie 


Looking ahead to next week, I am planning to work on the Tommy and Tuppence books that I've not read: Partners in Crime and N or M. I'm not psyched about these, mostly because I think that Christie's "thrillers" are her weakest books and these are both within that general wheelhouse. But, I'm going to complete her backlist, so here we go!


Our Spoons Came from Woolworths - Emily Gould,Barbara Comyns  Death of an Airman - Christopher St. John Sprigg 


I also have a couple of library books that I plan to read, including Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, which is next up, and Death of Airman by Christopher Sprigg, from the BLCC series.


The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey  Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy - Rachel Cusk,Olivia Manning 


Finally, I'm putting The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey and The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning on my list of immediate reads! I already own both of them. The Balkan Trilogy is (obviously) a three book bundle published by NYRB classics - I own the kindle edition (it's over 900 pages long). And I have an old edition of The Franchise Affair that I picked up at the UBS with a different cover - I'll post a picture at some point.


Excellent Women by Barbara Pym has been pushed back to next week, for a BL buddy read! Join us if you can - use the tag pymalong!


I've also started working on my first Project Night Night charity quilt, and I should have a finished quilt to show you next week. For now, here's a preview!


The fabric pull:



The pieced & basted quilt:



Happy reading, everyone!


Agatha Christie completion update

I'm catching up a few reading projects, so I thought I would go through and identify which of the very few full-length Christie mysteries I have left:


Why Didn't They Ask Evans

N or M

Death Comes As The End

Destination Unknown

The Pale Horse

By The Pricking of My Thumbs


Postern of Fate

Sleeping Murder


That's actually more than I thought, although I am aware that some of them are true clunkers - I've heard nothing good about Postern of Fate.


I also have several of the short story collections left, including Harley Quin & Parker Pyne.


I also haven't read the books she published under the Mary Westamacott name, which are a bit difficult to find, but are by no means unobtainable. 


Giant's Bread

Unfinished Portrait

Absent in Spring

The Rose and the Yew Tree

A Daughter's A Daughter

The Burden


And I definitely want to track down the three Detection Club stories:


The Floating Admiral

Ask a Policeman

Six Against the Yard



A surprisingly enjoyable later Christie

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

I went into The Pale Horse without much hope that I would enjoy it - I'm down to the last 8 (now 7) Christie novels, and I'm reserving the ones that I thought would be the best bets for enjoyment to the end.


The Pale Horse was published in 1961, between A Cat Among the Pigeons and The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side. It's not a book that shows up on the best - or worst - lists of Christie mysteries, so I knew almost nothing about it.


My first pleasant surprise occurred on page 8, when Ariadne Oliver makes an appearance. Fangirrrrrrl moment ensues:



I also had it in my head that this was one of Agatha's rare (and mostly unsuccessful) international thrillers. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that this is just a straight up mystery, and one with a really solid twist, actually. 


The mystery itself is both implausible and fairly silly, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it a whole heckuva lot. I liked it better than Destination Unknown, although I still think that They Came from Baghdad was a tiny bit more fun.

My beautiful boy Jack

I'm feeling sad because my gorgeous boy, Jackson, has been diagnosed with brain cancer. He's 13 1/2 years old, and is at the outer limit of the lifespan for Golden Retriever. He's the biggest, sweetest baby of a dog and I'm going to devastated to say goodbye.


For right now, he's hanging in there. I'm hoping to get another summer with him, but I'm also ready to be the human he needs and to make the decision that is right for him when the time comes.



This was taken last night.


These are from his youth, before he became an old man





Reading progress update: I've read 8 out of 213 pages.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie



Yes, I really must yell!

Reading progress update: I've read 35%.

Chinese Shawl - Patricia Wentworth

Tanis Lyle is a piece of work.

Reading progress update: I've read 42 out of 198 pages.

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay

We have jumped right into the action! 3 girls disappear from a school picnic with no warning or explanation.

Reading progress update: I've read 24%.

Murder Must Advertise - Dorothy L. Sayers

This is a much better book than Five Red Herrings. It's effervescent and comic, and Peter Wimsey makes a heck of an ad man! 

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (The Time Quintet #1) - Anna Quindlen, Madeleine L'Engle

I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time again because I am also going to reread the remainder of the Murry/O'Keefe series and I am one of those people who needs to begin at the beginning. I don't have anything to add to this review, except that I remain in awe of Madeleine L'Engle's extraordinary humanity. She was a remarkable woman, and I'm not sure that we deserved her.


Rereading the book inspired me to rewatch the movie, as well. Maybe this weekend!


Review from 3/24/18:


I decided to reread after seeing the new Ava DuVernay adaptation with my daughter. I read the book as a child of the 1970's - probably a bit more than decade or so after the initial 1963 publication, around 1977, when I was 11. I fell in love with the book then, seeing much of myself in Meg Murry, the ordinary, often grumpy, young woman. I revisited L'Engle in 2015, and found that, while some of her books had not held up with reread, many of them did. 


This book is part of my personal canon, one of the books that shaped my childhood and had a part in making me who I am today.

A Wrinkle in Time is a bit of a period piece, to be sure. Girls today are stronger, more self-aware, more cognizant of the pressures of an often sexist society, and more willing to buck convention in order to be authentic to themselves. Not all girls, of course, but some girls. Our culture, today, at least struggles to understand these pressures and to acknowledge that they exist, even if we often fail to genuinely confront them.

The DuVernay adaptation succeeds in a way that, after reading alot of L'Engle, and a fair amount about L'Engle, I believe that she would appreciate. Casting Meg Murry as a biracial young woman was an inspired decision, the relocation of the plot to a more diverse location in California, the addition of Charles Wallace as an adopted child, to me really work to illuminate some of the themes that L'Engle was writing about - alienation and dangers of extreme social conformity in particular. 

There are parts of the book that are quite different from the movie, of course. In the book, the Murry's have two additional children, a set of male twins who are effortlessly socially competent. They are capable of fulfilling society's expectations with little work. Meg, on the other hand, is prickly, defensive, occasionally angry, and fearsomely intelligent - all things which 1963 America couldn't really cope with in girls. Heck, we still struggle with girls who are prickly, defensive, occasionally angry and fearsomely intelligent. 

A Wrinkle in Time shines light into dark places. For that alone, it's worth reading.

Proposed buddy read

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Themis-Athena, Murder By Death & I are planning a Buddy Read of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women to tentatively begin on Friday, January 25.


Plot summary: 


Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.


Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and died of breast cancer in 1980 and Excellent Women was originally published in 1952.


According to Wikipedia:


"several strong themes link the works in the Pym canon, which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, and comedies of manners, studying the social activities connected with the Anglican church (Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular.) (Pym attended several churches during her lifetime, including St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, where she served on the Parish Church Council.)


Pym closely examines many aspects of women's and men's relations, including unrequited feelings of women for men, based on her own experience. Pym was also one of the first popular novelists to write sympathetically about unambiguously gay characters (most notably in A Glass of Blessings).  She portrayed the layers of community and figures in the church seen through church functions. The dialogue is often deeply ironic. A tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died."


In 2013, The Telegraph published an interesting piece for Pym's centenary, which can be found here.


If any of this sounds interesting, feel free to join us!


Participants (so far):


Moonlight Reader


Murder By Death



The Better To See You My Dear

Person of Interest



Honorary participate: Mike Finn


Let's use "pymalong" and "excellent women" to tag our posts!

TBR Thursday: January 10, 2019

On my TBR cart for next week


A Wrinkle in Time (The Time Quintet #1) - Anna Quindlen,Madeleine L'Engle 


A Wrinkle in Time is my current read - I am about 25% finished. This is a reread of a book that I own in paperback, and is a beloved favorite from my childhood. I'm rebooting my L'Engleverse Read for 2019.


Excellent Women - Barbara Pym 


I have never read Barbara Pym before, although I have been meaning to for a long time. I checked this one out of my local library - it's the Plume edition. Once I finish my reread of A Wrinkle in Time, this is next.



Murder Must Advertise - Dorothy L. Sayers 


This is standing between me and Gaudy Night, so I'm reading it, although the plot summary is less than entrancing, and it apparently contains 100% less Harriet Vane, which is disappointing.


Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay 


I just picked up this one for my Century of Women reading project. I am also thinking that it will fit into the Back to the Classics challenge, sliding it at just over 50 years old (published in 1967). I need to read something that qualifies as a tragedy, and the disappearance of three young women would seem to qualify. The plot summary and the reviews are intriguing.




Valdemar read: Arrow's Flight

Arrow's Flight - Mercedes Lackey

Continuing with my Valdemar read, I'm loosely planning on reading two or three books a  month. Arrow's Flight is the second of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy which focuses on Talia, Queen's Own Herald.


This was the Deathly Hallows of Valdemar, involving the longest camping trip of all time. I'm joking a little bit, but most of the book involves Talia and Kris, her training officer, doing rounds on the Borders dispensing queen's justice and overcoming obstacles. It's not particularly action packed, although that's fine with me - I'm not an action driven reader. 


Talia is struggling with controlling her Gift, so a lot of the book is focused on that, and on the moral and ethical dilemmas of using her Gift of mindspeaking. She struggles with trying to figure out when and how it's appropriate to bend others to her will by projection, ultiimately coming to what seems to be a reasonable decision that she will employ the Gift as a weapon in the same way that she would employ her hands in combat.


I enjoyed exploring the world of Valdemar and the Heralds. One of the things that I really do like about Lackey's writing is her very open and easy attitude towards sexuality. The Heralds are, generally, not monogamous and they become involved in healthy, friendly sexual relationships in a way that feels very organic and convincing. Especially for a book published in 1987, this is surprising. There are no "punishments" administered for girls/women who have a healthy and even lusty appetite for sex. It's refreshing. 


The next book in the trilogy is also planned for January - Arrow's Fall.

Welcome to the L'Engleverse: The Young Unicorns

The Young Unicorns - Madeleine L'Engle

A few years ago I started a Madeleine L'Engle project. I read some of her Chronos/Kairos series (which starts with A Wrinkle in Time and focuses on the Murry family) and then I asked for the Austin series for Christmas. I read through this book - so this is a reread for me.


The Young Unicorns is set in New York City, and is told from the perspective of a young man, Josiah Davidson, who has become close to the Austin's since their move away from the small town where their house, Thornhill, is located.


L'Engles books are difficult to describe and difficult to pigeonhole. There are generally strong religious themes, as well as elements of sci fi. Because they were, typically, written for a YA audience, some of the elements haven't worn well and seem extremely dated. In this book, that's true of both the central element of science - something that L'Engle refers to as a "Micro-Ray," which is basically a laser, and, also, the presence of the least threatening "gang" in the history of literature, the Alphabats, who hang around a church.


However, even though those elements of the story are dated, and even laughable at times, I enjoyed The Young Unicorns. I think that L'Engle writes families better than anyone - she perfectly captures the warmth and humanity of a family, but doesn't leave out the conflict. If I had to choose a fictional family to adopt, it would either be a L'Engle family - the Austins and the Murrys are both delightful, or the Weasleys, from Harry Potter. 


Reading The Young Unicorns reminded me why I love her books, flawed though they are - and inspired me to restart, and this time complete, my L'Engle project.

The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side - Agatha Christie

This was a reread - Obsidian Blue and I did a buddy read of this one back in 2016. I remember that I enjoyed it, although I think I enjoyed it more this time around. I find that to be a pretty consistent theme with Christie - my expectations are really high going in, and then I'm pleasantly surprised but not Murder of Roger Ackroyd gobsmacked so I underrate it my mind. 


When I go back to read them again, though, I am usually much more impressed, which was the case here. Miss Marple has aged quite a bit by this 9th book in the series, and took a fall which resulted in her being subjected to the indignity of a home nurse who talks to her as though she is a toddler. She also has a new housemaid, Cherry, who is a delight. She's not a very good housemaid, but she gossips and cheers up Miss Marple immeasurably. At the end of the day, Miss Marple decides that a cheery smile and a warm attitude is worth more than spic-and-span floors. I agree with her there, as the state of my floors would demonstrate.


Inspector Craddock features prominently, as does Dolly Bantry, who has moved out of Gossington Hall after the death of Colonel Bantry. She remains singularly obsessed with herbaceous borders, which is the most English thing I can think of.


There are some similarities between this one and both They Do It With Mirrors and Ordeal By Innocence - there is a wealthy, self-centered woman with a motherhood complex at the center of all three of them. Christie has used this trope before - woman who isn't really suited to being a mother, because of social pressures that place motherhood as an essential element of womanhood, buys herself a few children that she really doesn't want. She then either grows bored with them after a time and passes them off to someone else, as in this case, or she destroys them by neglecting their needs in some specific way.


Both the victim and the murderer were fascinating in different ways, and while they were both extreme examples of a certain type of person, they were also believable. Overall, I enjoyed this much more on the reread.

Reading progress update: I've read 35 out of 351 pages.

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side - Agatha Christie

This is a reread of a book that I don't really remember. Miss Marple seems to be a bit angsty over her age and the condition of her health in these early pages.


I'm planning on rereading most of her series, although I am going to skip around a bit. I've read the earlier books several times and have a much clearer recollection of them than I do of this one, They Do It With Mirrors,& Bertram's Hotel. I've also never read Nemesis or The Sleeping Murder, so I'll be knocking those out in 2018.

Puppet for a Corpse by Dorothy Simpson

Puppet for a Corpse - Dorothy Simpson

I picked up one of these Luke Thanet books for a couple of bucks at the UBS before Christmas - I am always looking for new classic mystery series, and this looked like a decent option.


This is the third book in the series I've read at this point. I read the 6th book, Dead on Arrival, first, and then I bought the second and third books because they must have been on sale, as I got them both for under $3.00 each, and the price has now increased to $6.50, which is more than I'm willing to spend. I read the second book, Six Feet Under, at the end of December, and then read this one yesterday. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the series at this point.


The books are set in Kent, England, in the fictional town of Sturrenden (interestingly, Thanet is the name of a district in Kent). Inspector Thanet is a bit cerebral, and is more-or-less happily married to Joan, with two children. His marriage takes up quite a lot of screen time, as he is grappling with Joan going back to work now that the kids are a bit older, and he doesn't like not having his meals served hot and ready at his beck and call when he gets home.


Puppet for a Corpse was originally published in 1983, although it has a bit more regressive of a feel than the eighties - when I looked up the publication date I was surprised that it wasn't the early seventies, given the interactions between Luke and Joan. I graduated from high school in 1984, and there was never any expectation between myself and any man I have ever been involved in that I would be his domestic servant. On the other hand, I suppose Luke and Joan are closer to the ages of my parents than they are to my age, and Thanet's attitude was pretty much the same as my dad's attitude was when my mom went to work after my brother and I had graduated from high school. 


In terms of the mystery, I've read enough of these older police procedurals to have had an inkling of what had likely happened, although I didn't quite figure it out. There isn't a lot to them- it takes me about 90 minutes to read one from beginning to end. I'll keep my eye out for them at my library/UBS, and would consider buying more if they went back on sale, but overall, they are in the "take it or leave it" subcategory of mystery fiction.


This books fits well into my Century of Women Authors, though, fulfilling year 1983.