Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Behind again!

How can I possibly be three reviews behind again? I'd say, 'Answers on a postcard' but no one sends those any more...

Anyhow, without further mutterings, I'll start with my first book for the Back to the Classics challenge. I decided to start with an easy one, 'Mystery/Detective/Crime Classic' and my choice for that was The 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie.

Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way to St. Marymead on the late afternoon train when she witnesses a murder on a train going the other way - a man strangling a woman. She reports it but the police can find no evidence of a murder and put it down to an elderly woman being woolly-minded and mistaken. Miss Marple is the only one who knows that her friend doesn't make mistakes like that and starts to look into the situation. Pinpointing where she thinks the killing took place and thus a large house that might be involved, Miss Marple engages a friend, Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to help. Lucy is a Domestic Goddess type who goes around being a temporary housekeeper to those in need of assistance. A sensible, level-headed woman who gets a position at the house to see what's what. The family is called Crackenthorpe and the situation is a real can of worms with a miserly, elderly head of the household who lives with his daughter, but who also has three sons who're waiting for their father to die as they need his money. But how is all this connected to what Mrs. McGillicuddy saw on the train? Well, I'd seen the excellent Joan Hickson version of this on TV, but 'years' ago and had no memory of who'd done the deed, so the book was really completely new to me other than I did remember Lucy the up-market housekeeper and the two young boys who liven proceedings up. Not that it needs much livening up as there's heaps going on in this and it's an absolute joy to read. A gem. Lovely humour running right through and my favourite bits are always Miss Marple's observations on people being like someone in her village who did some awful thing or was dishonest in a mean-spirited way and how you never can tell 'what' people will do. There was no question of me giving this anything other than 5 stars on Goodreads. Joyous.

Next up, Future Crimes: Mysteries and Detection Through Time and Space edited by Mike Ashley. This was a free book courtesy of The British Library publishing people in exchange for a fair review.

This is an anthology where science fiction and crime fiction meet. Ten stories combine some kind of crime with things like time travel, space exploration, alien visitations and so on. Authors include John Brunner, Eric Frank Russell, Anne McCaffrey, P.D. James, E.C Tubb. I found the writing always to be superb, it's par for the course in vintage short stories I find. The stories themselves varied a bit, that's normal, but I would say it was more so in this one. Several stories I thought were excellent and they then went from there to average and even down to DNF... which was the Anne McCaffrey story: that surprised me, I just got bogged down in it. For me the best story in the collection was Legwork by Eric Frank Russell. This is a police procedural where the police are chasing an alien. The problem being that said alien has the ability to mentally change how people view him. So he can be anybody, all he has to do is persuade people looking at him that he looks a certain way. Of course, that could make the alien rather confident, over-confident perhaps, he might not take into account the dogged determination of a police force determined to catch him. 'Great' story, very nicely written and quite quirky, not read anything quite like this before. Nonentity by E.C. Tubb was also excellent. This was one of those 'people stranded in one place and being picked off by one of them' tales. This time it's not a hotel snowed in or an island or whatever, it's a small escape pod intended for 5 but holding 7. Their space ship has been destroyed by some kind of terrorists and these 7 are the only survivors who managed to escape. Very edge of the seat this one, claustrophobic, tense, very good. The third story I loved was The Absoloutely Perfect Murder by Miriam Allen deFord, an author unknown to me. It's 2146 and time travel holidays have just become a thing. Chap wants rid of his wife so uses all his savings to get a trip back in time, not to kill her, but to make sure her parents never meet and she is never concieved. I hope you're not thinking this'll all work out for him...

All in all not the best of the British Library anthologies I've read but those three stories and a few others that weren't bad made it well worth a read.

Lastly, a novella recommended by other bloggers, including Sam and Tracy, All Systems Red, the first in the 'Murderbot' sci-fi series by Martha Wells.

The Murderbot, who narrates the story, is actually a security unit who is half robot, half human. These units get hired out to people exploring other planets, looking for resources or archaeology - that kind of thing - to look after security for them. Murderbot has disabled his governing system, which all sec-units have, making him basically a rogue unit, but the human party he's with don't know this. From the story we gather that humans generally regard these 'bots' as machines that you don't communicate with or consider at all really and Murderbot quite likes it that way. His way to pass the time is watching old TV shows from the archives. Things start to go pear-shaped when he saves a couple of his crew from a native man-eating animal that wasn't supposed to be there. The maps they have aren't right either. They head off to warn/consult another exploring group and... well that would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that this 155 page novella is fast-paced and exciting but most interesting for me was The Murderbot himself. I wasn't quite sure why he was so frightened of interacting with the humans, there's more to that perhaps. He can't understand why he cares about this group so much and doesn't like it one bit. All very interesting, as is the ending. Look forward to reading on in this series and discovering more about the Murderbot's explorations of the galaxy and of his own thoughts and emotions. Again, I can't say I've read anything like this before.

A few more days and January will be behind us. Unbelievable. Hope your reading month has been a good one?


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

You make me curious about all of these. As you may recall I haven't had the best of luck with Agatha C but, I'm not giving up on her yet. This 4:50 on the Paddington sounds really good so perhaps I'll try that one. I'm not a big SF fan but I have tried a couple.

It's so easy to get behind on reviews and the older I get it's kind of taking the fun out of reading at times. I'm (2) reviews behind right now.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Knowing me as you do, it will be no real surprise that the Agatha Christie would be the only one of your selection to interest me this time. I know I will have read this book way back in the dim and distant past, but now I really feel the urge for a re-read coming on. The great lady's name has been mentioned so many times recently, on various blogs and social media sites and she was always my favourite 'go to' writer.

I found myself getting into such a mess with my reviews, (hence my terrible stats on NetGalley, meaning I seldom get allowed to download books which haven't been specifically requested for scheduled Blog Tour Review), that last year I made a pact with myself that I would write up my review from the last book read, before I opened the cover of the next. So far that has worked, although sometimes it is quite a struggle.

I did catch sight of Sam's comment on your last post, where he indicates that after so many years, his Blog is being 'put to bed' for the foreseeable future, as he has fallen out of love with writing reviews. That is exactly how I felt a couple of years back and in all honesty that feeling has never really gone away. I would still write reviews to publish on Goodreads, NetGalley and Amazon, but I wouldn't have the angst of preparing a full length post and the reviews could be considerably cut down versions. Seeing how brave Sam has been with his decision has only inspired me anew!

Anyway, I digress! A great start to your Classics Challenge and I know quite a few people who still send postcards, so you never know!! :)

Cath said...

Diane: I wasn't a huge fan of Agatha Christie's books until about 10 years ago. I always watched 'all' of the TV dramas but the books never seemed to live up to those. I don't know what happened, I think perhaps I found out which the best books were, tried those and haven't looked back. I also read her autobiography which is easily the best one I've read and a couple of her other non-fiction offerings and realised she was a much better writer than I'd realised.

Yes, I have come to the same conclusion that blogging does take some of the actual fun out of reading books. What to do about it is another matter because the real fun of blogging for me is interacting with all you wonderful people who come and comment. And I can't have one without the other!

Cath said...

Yvonne: Yes, there does seem to be a huge amount about AC on social media at the moment. I think some of that might have encouraged me to read The 4.50 From Paddington though I had already decided that I would read one of hers for this classics challenge and I had had this one in mind for a while.

I think quite a few of us bloggers are feeling like Sam. I started this blog in 2007 with huge enthusiasm and it did last for quite a while. And there are still aspects of blogging I love such as chatting with lovely folk like yourself. I know I see you on Twitter but it's not really possible to have this kind of little chat on that forum unless you PM and not everyone likes that. It's a conundrum and no mistake. I tried telling myself that I don't have to review everything I read but looking at last year I see I reviewed all but about half a dozen books, so that worked didn't it? I also feel it gives my brain a good workout to sit and write a few words about the books I read, I could easily vegitate if it weren't for that mental challenge. I don't know to be honest, Yvonne. I have cut back on the number of posts I do, one or sometimes two a week is now more normal, but it's still a problem and I sympathise with others who are struggling.

Kay said...

4:50 From Paddington is one of my favorite Christie novels. I loved that book the first time I read it and I've reread it more than once. Lucy is a marvel and then Miss Marple, of course, is wonderful. You make me want to read it again, Cath! Ha! And I wouldn't worry about sharing reviews of everything. You could just write a sentence or two or more if you wished. I think we're all at the point of making blogging what we want to make it. And writing reviews as well. ;-)

Lark said...

I'm a fan of Agatha Christie and have been slowly working my way through her books. I haven't read 4:50 From Paddington, yet, but after reading your review I'm moving it to the top of my Christie List. And I've been meaning to read the Murderbot series for like two years now. The books aren't even that long! I don't know why I keep putting them off. This year for sure.

TracyK said...

After I finished reading almost all of the Hercule Poirot mystery novels last year, I had planned to move on to finishing up the Miss Marple mysteries this year. Haven't done anything about that yet, but The 4.50 from Paddington is the one I want to read next, I think.

I am glad you liked All Systems Red enough to move on to the next one in the series. I did enjoy the 2nd one just as much if not more than the first. And have purchased the third one.

I haven't been able to review all the books I read for several years. For some books that makes me unhappy, but mostly I just wish I could figure out how to write shorter reviews (and combine two or three in a post). For me, it is also the intellectual stimulation I get from evaluating what I think of a book, and writing that up, etc, that makes blogging very rewarding. Plus, as you say, having a community to discuss books and other things with.

I will really miss Sam's blog posts. Each blogger provides a unique perspective.

Susan said...

I read ALL SYSTEMS RED last year. It's not my kind of thing at all, but I actually ended up quite enjoying it. I don't know that I would have stuck with it for a whole novel - novella length was perfect for me.

Nan said...

I LOVE the AC book. Makes me want to read it again- very soon!

Cath said...

Kay: I was surprised at how much I liked The 4.50 From Paddington, although I have noticed that the Miss Marple books are my favourite of the AC books. I love Poirot but I love Miss Marple even more I think.

I think your point about us bloggers making blogging 'what we want to make of it' is a very valid one and I need to think hard about it. No way am I going to give it up but the dog needs to wag her tail rather than the tail wagging the dog, as they say. LOL

Cath said...

Lark: Like you I'm also slowly working my way through the AC novels. (Of course! LOL!) I've liked some more than others but the real classics are 'so' good. Yes, do read this one, I'm sure you will love it. Yes the Murderbot books are just novellas, I read book 1 in two sittings and enjoyed it a lot.

Cath said...

Tracy: I hope you do choose The 4.50 FRom Paddington as your next AC, I don't think you'll be sorry. So entertaining.

Good that you liked book 2 of the Murderbot series as much if not more than book 1. I don't own book 2 yet but will buy it soon. I'm very intrigued to learn what happens to him next.

As to reviews, I now do posts with several shorter reviews included. Unless I have a lot to say about a certain book then I find that works well for me. I also love communicating with all of you and yes, picking up recs from you all that I would not have come across otherwise or maybe not think to read. That's very valuable to me. And you all have such enthusiasm!

I'll miss Sam too. Exactly, you're right about the unique perspectives, I love how everyone's so different and does their posts differently and so on. It all adds to the spice of life. :-)

Cath said...

Susan: Don't you just love how blogging makes you try books that are not at all your thing but you end up loving the book? That's so great! I thought the length of the Murderbot book was perfect too. Honestly, I think a few 600 pagers would not harm for being cut back to that length too. LOL

Nan: Yes, that was one of the best AC's I've read. I'm hoping that one will appear on TV soon as one of the channels is currently repeating the Jane Hickson Miss Marples.

Jo said...

I still send postcards. During the first lockdown, I used to send them to friends even the ones that lived opposite me. It was a way of just brightening peoples days. You have reminded me to send some more.