Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Your Mission (Should you choose to accept it!)

Get to know another Bookfest member today. Blog surfing? Surf one of the other member's blogs. Find out who you are reading with.

I just found Alaina's book blog (linked to the right here) which I previously didn't know existed. (Sneaky, sneaky! Or not.) At any rate, it's fun to know the others. Try.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Mysterious Affair At Styles, by Agatha Christie

Got it yesterday, sat up late to finish reading it, loved it, loved it. But then, I am already a big fan of Agatha Christie's writing, so perhaps it would be more helpful to break this review up into two parts, to wit, A.C. in general, and this book in particular.

I love reading books by A.C. Despite the proliferation of her books (usually a good sign that the author has long run dry of creativity and is simply churning out books to keep the money flowing in), she maintains a strong showing, with good quality narrative, witty dialogue, and fairly fresh characters and plots. True, you do get to recognise a few familiar stock characters (the plucky young girl, the aimless young man who turns out to be really a decent chap, the gruff old soldier type), but you like them anyway because they really work. I think my favourite A.C. books are The Secret of Chimneys, and all the Tommy and Tuppence stories.

I am almost always completely blindsided by the final twist that leads to the unraveling of the whodunnit. Perhaps, with a bit of thoughtful deduction, I might put the clues together to better purpose and hit a bit closer to the truth on my own. But I am always so engrossed toward the end of the book that my one goal is to readreadREAD as fast as possible so as to uncover the mystery. Hence, surprise.

The books span quite an era, from pre-war Britain to the postmodern '60s. It's interesting to read about quiet little village life, bustling London life, and everything in between. Train schedules, servants, and local vicarages play a prominent role in most of these stories, which is quaint and charming.

As far as this book goes, while I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I certainly wouldn't consider it one of her strongest. There were a couple of things that struck me as either sloppy, rushed, or careless in the plot. For one thing, the spy angle kind of dropped off the plot, once that sensation had played merry havoc with the characters. In fact, there was the alleged spy himself, giving evidence at the London trial months later, none the worse for wear, we presume. That seemed a bit anticlimactic. For another thing, the lag in plot time between the initial events and the London trial seemed rather forced. There we were, a few months later, with not even asterisks to show for all the time lapsed. For another thing, it seemed rather odd that the intrigue with Mrs. Raikes was such an inscrutable rabbit trail to the detectives the whole time. If the WHOLE VILLAGE knew what was really going on, you'd think that Poirot or Hastings might have happened to catch a bit of the village gossip on their own, instead of getting it all second-hand from the servants. In fact, the villagers really come into the story very little.

For the final thing, which is the only reason the Hercule Poirot stories are not my favourites, you simply don't have enough information to unravel the mystery because that annoying H.P. insists on keeping things to himself. Supposedly he does this to teach his rather slow friend Hastings his little grey method, but stolid Hastings himself is enough to drive me crazy. 'I could see he knew the answer, but my wonded pride forbade me from pressing him further.' Yeah, well, the silent treatment hurts most the one practising it. Hang the pride, just TELL me already!!

But the mystery was solidly done, and I was properly flabbergasted at the end, having gamely followed up all the rabbit trails and red herrings the author so temptingly dangled before me. No, wait, some of the things I saw through, but only because Hastings made such a big deal over it. As soon as Hastings gets an idea in his head, I can pretty much dismiss it out of hand.

Another thing I love about the A.C. books, which also came off well in this one, is the handling of relationships. There generally is a love affair or two, and with few exceptions these things generally come off well in the end, with generally well-behaved principals in the meantime. These are very clean, wholesome books.

Fun stuff!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

This book is weird. I'm quite certain that I don't understand all the analogies/the allegory. I'm quite certain that Wangerin is likely more of a genius that I'm quite ready to deal with. He is certainly fascinating. I hesitate to say that this book is a "classic battle of good and evil" although it is that. But to say so makes it sound simple and it was a bit more complex than one sentence can give it credit for.

This book tells the story of Chauntecleer, a rooster, who is battling against Wyrm, an evil creature who is buried in the center of the earth. Wyrm desires to escape his confines and eradicate the "Keepers" of the earth. The "Keepers", I assume, are the animals under Chauntecleer's dominion. These Keepers have been placed upon the earth by a god who pretty much gave up on the planet and had half a hope that his Keepers would manage to protect the earth from Wyrm (since the god was too discouraged to do so).

In order to not spoil the ending, there is a Christ-figure in this book (who starts out as one of the most annoying characters in the entire book). Plenty of parallels and analogies can be found between these pages. I was curious about Wangerin and his religion/philosophy after having read this. Turns out, he is a Lutheran pastor and professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana. If you want to know more about him, (which I am going to assume you will), click here. You might be familiar with some of his other works. I'm not quite certain why the god in this book is mentioned as having left the earth pretty much alone. I'm using little "g" on purpose even though it's a big "G" in the book. I didn't agree with some of the attributes Wangerin seemed to want to give to the god.

This isn't as clear an allegory as, say, Narnia. I'm confused by the importance of particular aspects of the story. For example - exactly who/what does Pertelote represent? Is the a representative of the Holy Spirit? I'm not certain who Chauntecleer is supposed to be. At times I thought his role was that of Mundo Cani Dog. I'm very curious for everyone's thoughts on this book. It's very intriguing.

I started off hating this book. I found it crass at times and rude at others. I wasn't fond of Chauntecleer or anyone else for that matter. If I had a gun and opportunity, I would have taken Mundo Cani Dog out of the picture all together! However, by the end, when the story concluded to some degree, I found it mystifying and was ready to recommend this read to just about everyone I know if merely to help me better understand it. I found this book in the juvenile fiction section of our library and, quite frankly, I would not have put it there myself. I definitely think this lands in the 16 yrs. + pile. It can be a bit vulgar. However, if you pick up this book and read it to the end, I think you'll find reason enough to like it.