Monthly Archives: February 2014

Review: Peril at End House

Peril at End House
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poirot and the faithful Hastings are on holiday when they run into a young woman living in a ramshackle old family house who claims that someone’s making attempts on her life. Her friends aren’t sure if she’s telling the truth, but Poirot decides to dig deeper.

This is a short, but fun read with a twist at the end. Definitely recommended.

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Review: From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers
From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If, like me, you’ve ever wondered how the heck a goose got to be in charge of telling stories to kids and a stork got to be in charge of delivering babies (not to mention how these animals became associated with women and women’s work and voices), this is the book for you.

Warner tells a compelling tale in this volume that encompasses hundreds of years and postulates that fairy tales have a hidden tale of their own about how women came to be valued for their silence rather than their voices, for their docility rather than their intelligence, and how their sexuality came to be feared and seen as a thing to control at all times. Nobody who has ever seen or read “The Stepford Wives” will be shocked to learn that medieval tales and woodcuts exist of a dread Dr. Lustucru who hammered the heads of willful wives at his smithy to render them compliant.

Particularly examined are tales of absent mothers (“Cinderella”), of beastly bridegrooms/brides (“Beauty and the Beast,”) of the fear and taboo of incestuous desire (“Donkeyskin”), and of women’s voices being silenced (“The Little Mermaid.”)

If you are interested in women’s studies and/or fairy tales, I can’t recommend this one enough.

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Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Retired detective Hercule Poirot travels with his valet aboard a luxury train upon which an American heiress is murdered. But who did it–a gang of thieves who made off with her rubies? Her estranged husband? The estranged husband’s spurned mistress? Or someone else? Poirot, with the unexpected help of a newly rich young Englishwoman, must figure it out and bring the guilty party to justice.

This was a fun read, and I was genuinely surprised at the reveal.

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Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A country doctor is called in when an old friend, Roger Ackroyd, is found murdered shortly after the suicide of a widow who had been Ackroyd’s lover. Was the widow being blackmailed? Who would benefit from Ackroyd’s murder? And what of the doctor’s odd new neighbor, a little mustachioed Belgian with a vegetable garden who is rumored to be a retired detective?

This book is an exhilarating ride with a truly surprising twist ending. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it. Highly recommended.

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Review: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember poses an interesting question: How have humans (and other life forms) survived the ravages of ice ages, greenhouse/icehouse periods, plagues, etc.? Unfortunately, it’s ultimately a superficial work, reading rather like a bunch of io9 articles strung together. There is definitely interesting information here, but I would have loved to see a bit more depth on some of these topics.

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Review: The Big Four

The Big Four
The Big Four by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poirot and Hastings take on a global crime syndicate in this adventure, which is pretty different from their usual milieu of inheritance murders and society thefts. It’s too big a narrative for these two, and the strain does show a bit.

Suspending one’s disbelief can only go so far. Poirot seems to be not just an analytical genius, but positively omniscient here, as well as ridiculously wealthy; Hastings is somehow both cleverer and dumber than usual.

That being said, I’m pretty sure that Ian Fleming borrowed some of these plot points for his James Bond novels: super-villains out to conquer the world; a master of disguise; a hideout inside a hollowed-out mountain; an atomic threat to global security.

Overall, I’d say this was not Poirot’s finest adventure.

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Review: The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-45

The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-45
The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-45 by Tony Rennell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Forget “Hogan’s Heroes,” forget “The Great Escape”: the real story of what Allied POWs endured has seldom been heard until now. The Last Escape is a fascinating and chilling read which tells of the forced marches and terrible conditions suffered by Allied prisoners in the last days of the war.

The authors, one of whom is a former POW of the Iraq War, display remarkable sensitivity in the handling of the former prisoners’ stories and present them in a compellingly readable way. Maps and appendices help to put the events into context.

It’s heartbreaking to read some of these stories, and one can only imagine the strength of the men who have to live with the memories of these times. The Last Escape also serves as a sobering reminder that we have to do better by the brave few who are willing to fight this country’s wars.

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