26 April 2006

Mystery author # 14: Patricia Wentworth

This time around I read three books for the review. Patricia Wentworth wrote about the same number of non-series mysteries/thrillers as she did Miss Silver books, but all I managed to get my hands on are Miss Silver stories, so the author review is based on them alone. (Typically, I came across some at the flea market on the weekend after I wrote the book reviews, but I’ll review them independently when I feel like reading them).

Title: Grey Mask
Series detective: Miss Maud Silver
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1928
Type of mystery: General crime
Type of investigator: Amateurs and private detective
Setting & time: London, England, 1920’s
Some themes: Blackmail, kidnapping, theft, murder

Story: Charles Moray returns to England four years after his fiancé, Margaret Langton, jilted him, a week before their wedding. He discovers that she is a member of a secret society and that some of its members are planning to cause an heiress, Margot Standing, to lose her inheritance. If she makes trouble or they can't pull off the scheme with treachery, they intend to kill her. Charles, who still loves Margaret, believes she knows nothing about the plot, but is still reluctant to go to the police because he isn't sure. So he goes to Miss Maud Silver, a middle-age woman who offers her services as a private detective. When Margaret rescues Margot, who has got wind of the plot and run away from her cousin whom the criminals intend to have the inheritance, it becomes clear to Charles that she is not really a criminal, and along with Miss Silver they begin to investigate the case and try to expose the mysterious Grey Mask who controls the secret society.

Review: A light and entertaining mystery with a thriller element and a comic touch. Some of the characters are over the top, especially Margot and Freddy, while others are convincingly realistic. The story is only so-so. The secret society thing is not really a good plot for a mystery to revolve around (much better for a thriller), the villain is visible a mile off and the ending leaves too many loose threads.

Miss Silver is not fully developed here and does not really appear that much in the story. We find out nothing about her background except clues from her surroundings and behaviour, and she is so totally wrong on a couple of occasions that it is obvious that Wentworth is playing some kind of game with both her and the reader. Until I read the next book I really thought she was meant to be a comic, bumbling kind of sleuth. She is instrumental in unravelling some of the truth, but the mystery really solves itself when the villain is forced to reveal himself because circumstances call for it. No-one seems to have suspected him at all (except the perspicacious reader). This is cheating. In a mystery like this, that has both amateur and professional sleuths working on the case, they should be allowed to solve it, rather than have the solution dropped in their laps, even if they were put in danger when it happened.

Rating: A so-so mystery, remarkable only for being the first Miss Silver story. 2 stars.


Title: The Case is Closed
Series detective: Miss Maud Silver
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1937
Type of mystery: Murder, howdunnit
Type of investigator: Amateurs and private detective
Setting & time: London, England, 1930’s
Some themes: Love, conspiracy

Story: Hilary Carew watches her cousin Marion die by degrees from mental anguish because of her husband’s jail sentence for murder. Geoffrey had been found guilty of murdering his uncle, who had disinherited him the day before the murder. He is considered lucky to have escaped the death sentence and has already served one year of his jail term. A chance meeting on a train with the wife of the uncle’s former housekeeper convinces Hilary, who had always believed that Geoffrey was innocent, that there is something fishy going on and so she begins an investigation. Soon she realises she is in danger and seeks the aid of her former fiancé, Henry, who calls in Miss Silver. Together the threesome delve into the case and seek out witnesses who were not called at the trial, and Hilary hounds the former housekeeper, who is a nervous wreck and too afraid of her husband, who is involved somehow, to tell the truth.

Review: This is a well-developed mystery-thriller. The plucky, likeable and hot-headed young heroine is brave and foolhardy, and it’s easy to see how her supercilious ex-boyfriend came to think her an airhead. Henry is one of those characters who are terribly irritating and utterly sympathetic at the same time. In his case, he is saved from being an arrogant, superior stuffed shirt by his obvious love for Hilary and his efforts to uncover the truth, even if it means admitting he was wrong (he thinks Geoffrey is guilty). Miss Silver is not much more developed in this installation than in the first, but she is less comic and more focused than in Grey Mask. The solution to the crime is here a team effort, every one of the three members (Miss Silver, Hilary and Henry) making valuable contributions that come together to make a solution.

This being a howdunnit, we are told in broad hints almost from the beginning who the villains are, and the story then revolves around breaking their alibis and finding out how they carried out the crime. My only complaint is that there are too many bleeping coincidences. Hilary meeting Mrs. Mercer on the train is a likely coincidence, but her running into Mr. Mercer at the pub, he and his crony finding her and attempting murder without first checking if it's really her, her stumbling into the Mercer’s cottage in the dark and later spotting Mrs. Mercer in a window five floors up, is pushing it a bit too far. I would be inclined to accept the pub and the cottage, but Hilary must have the sight of an eagle to see that Mrs. Mercer looks worried from five floors away.

Rating: A dark and enjoyable mystery-thriller that suffers slightly from too many coincidences. 3 stars.


Title: Latter End
Series detective: Miss Maud Silver
No. in series: 11
Year of publication: 1947
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Private detective and police
Setting & time:Rural England, 1940’s (post-war)
Some themes: Love, family, poison

Story: Lois, the gold-digging wife of Jimmy Latter, has made everyone’s life miserable since she moved into Latter End. She has managed to split up a group of people who have lived together like a family for more than two decades, by lies and clever management of her loving husband. When she dies from an overdose of morphia, two days after finally managing to antagonize Jimmy, suspicion falls on him, on Minnie, the former governess who has lived with the family like one of them for 25 years, and on Julia, Jimmy’s young stepsister. Jimmy, who had consulted Miss Silver when someone was sneaking an emetic into Lois’ food, making her think someone was trying to poison her, calls her in to investigate and she proves to be invaluable help to the police who are treating the case as an ordinary murder and suspect Jimmy because of his argument with Lois. The solution proves to be quite a bit more complicated than they ever thought possible, and Miss Silver unravels all with her painstaking investigation and nearly flawless reasoning.

Review: Here is one of those murder stories where you only have a small number of suspects and you really don’t want any of them to be guilty. This of course adds to the suspense and makes the story into a nail-biter. The solution should have been obvious to me because I recently read another story that has a similar solution, but I must admit that I was in the dark until late in the story when an unmistakable clue popped up shortly before Miss Silver revealed the solution.

Lois is a wonderfully devious villainess and Jimmy is the very image of a devoted husband who is blind to her faults. Minnie is over the top: helpless, meek, mild and grateful for all that is done for her, never wishing to make any trouble and getting stepped on by Lois. In fact, she is one side of the coin that has Miss Silver on the other, and perhaps she is made the way she is in order to contrast with her clever go-ahead counterpart. Miss Silver is finally a developed character, which is not surprising, this being book 11 in the series. She shows herself to be adept at police management, and is careful to make them think they are in control of the investigation.

This is a good puzzle story which gives the reader much to think about. But, like with the previous Wentworth books I reviewed, there is a complaint. There is a somnambulism scene. A silly, unnecessary one. I think Wilkie Collins can have had no idea of what he started when he used that device in The Moonstone. This loses the story a half star.

Rating: A suspenseful puzzle-plot story with a (perhaps) surprising) ending. 3+ stars.


Author review:
Wentworth is one of the British Golden Era writers, and her popularity is best shown by the fact that her books have not been out of print since they were first published. All three books that I read had romantic elements to spice things up, and the back cover blurbs of several others suggest that this is a common element in her novels. Her style is light and firmly in the cosy tradition and reminds me a bit of Georgette Heyer (in her mysteries).

The very first thing I thought when Miss Silver was described in Grey Mask was that she reminded me strongly of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, in that both looked harmless and unremarkable and were avid knitters. But of course it’s Miss Marple who reminds one of Miss Silver, as the latter predates the former by 2 years. In the subsequent Miss Silver books we discover that they have similar backgrounds: both are gentlewomen, born in Victorian times and raised with Victorian sensibilities and tastes, worked as governesses, love knitting and have numerous cousins and siblings who all love them. I’m not accusing either author of stealing ideas from the other, but I think it’s remarkable how they both took a specific type of person, the unremarkable governess type whom no-one expects anything much of, to use as a sleuth in their books. And of course the two ladies use different detection methods: Miss Marple looks at personality types and draws parallels, while Miss Silver uses more conventional sleuthing methods combined with clever reasoning. Miss Silver is a somewhat humorous figure, the author seems not to be able to resist making gentle fun of her, in the way she describes her mannerisms and way of speaking. Perhaps she is trying to show the reader how the characters in the stories see Miss Silver, this unremarkable but unexpectedly intelligent woman.

As entertaining as I find Patricia Wentworth’s books, all three I read had some flaw. In one the case solved itself after hard work had been put in by the sleuths to solve it, the second was overloaded with coincidences, and the third had a silly, unnecessary, cheesy scene. But I liked them anyway, especially the latter two, and will continue to read Wentworth’s books, although I will not especially seek them out.

25 April 2006

Bibliophile reviews Every Boy’s Got One (romance)

Author: Meg Cabot
Year published: 2005
Genre: Romance
Setting: Italy, 21st century


The Story: Cartoonist Jane and foreign reporter Cal agree to accompany their eloping friends Holly and Mark to Italy to be their bridesmaid and best man. They take a violent dislike to each other at first sight and when Jane discovers that Cal doesn’t believe in marriage and intends to try to talk his friend out of marrying Holly, she likes him even less. But when a bout of food poisoning almost ruins the wedding plans and Jane and Cal have to rush to Rome to get some papers for the bridal couple, they get to know and understand each other better on the way.

Technique and plot: Like all the other Meg Cabot novels I’ve read, this is an epistolatory story. Jane writes in her diary, Cal writes on his PDA, and they both email back and forth with friends and family. The epistolatory form is Cabot’s specialty and she does it well. Managing to convey different personalities through a few lines of e-mail is no easy task, but she accomplishes it so well that once all the characters have been introduced, you hardly have to read the “from” line to know who is speaking. I do have to nag just a little: I though it was stretching things a bit too far when Jane was transcribing her arguments with Cal as they were happening. I know I would find it rather difficult to keep up a sensible conversation, let alone a heated argument, while doing so (plus who writes that fast?), and so would most people.

One thing that I don’t get is the titles of Cabot’s adult novels: Every Boy’s Got One, The Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl. Not only are they bland in the extreme, they just scream “teen-lit”, and while older teen girls would certainly enjoy reading them (once they get tired of The Princess Diaries), they are in fact written for an older audience.

As is Cabot’s wont, the story is funny, verging on slapstick at times, but still manages to be totally believable (except perhaps for the Nazi housekeeper). The story is shorter, faster and snappier than The Boy Next Door and Boy Meets Girl, the other two books where she chronicles the love lives of the staff of the New York Journal. While the storyline is hardy original, it doesn’t matter because it’s entertaining and very funny.

Rating: A fast and funny romance for the e-mail generation. 3+ stars.

21 April 2006

Mystery author #13: Georges Simenon. Part 2

Title:Maigret in Exile
Original French title: La Maison du juge.
Translator: Eileen Ellenbogen
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 21 (of the novels. If the short stories are included: 42)
Year of publication: 1942
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Rural France, 1930’s? (The story was written during WW2, but since there is no mention of the German occupation of France, I’m guessing pre-war)
Some themes: Love, sexual abuse, adultery, hate

Story: Maigret has done something to displease his superiors and has been sent into a kind of exile in a small town on the northern coast of France where nothing ever happens. He has fallen into a boring routine which is broken when a woman from the next town arrives to tell him that a corpse can be seen through her neighbour’s upstairs window. Maigret goes to investigate, and finds the neighbour, a retired judge, trying to dispose of the corpse, apparently not to hide the crime but because he doesn’t want to be involved. After some investigation the body turns out to be that of a young psychiatrist whom Maigret suspects came to examine the judge’s daughter, who is mentally impaired. Possible suspects are the judge, his estranged wife, his estranged son, a young oyster-fisherman from the village who wants to marry the girl, and the girl herself. What unfolds is a story full of pride, passion and skeletons in several closets.

Review: Here is a story where Maigret is finally fully developed as a character, and a likeable character at that. The judge and his family are all more or less messed up, and the case, simple as it seems at first, is full of unexpected twists and turns.
I don’t know if it’s the translation or if it’s Simenon’s vague wording, but it is rather hard to figure our just what is wrong with the judge’s daughter. At first it seems she’s a nymphomaniac who has fits of some kind (I assume she’s epileptic, but that’s just my interpretation), then it seems she may be mad and prone to fits of violence or delusions, and then finally it turns out she’s what is now called “mentally impaired” but back then would have been called “retarded” or “subnormal.” (She is, by the way, quite respectfully handled by the author and Maigret, but not by all of the other characters).

Rating: A twisty whodunit with enough skeletons in closets to please the most hard-core mystery fan. 3+ stars.


Title:Maigret Has Scruples
Original French title: Les Scrupules de Maigret
Translator: Robert Eglesfield
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 48 (of the novels. If the short stories are included: 80)
Year of publication: 1958
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Paris, France, 1950’s (?)
Some themes: Love, hate, adultery, psychosis

Story: A man comes to Maigret to tell him that he is sure his wife is trying to poison him and says he wants to police to know this in case something happens to him. A little later the wife comes in and confesses similar fears about the husband. Maigret has forebodings about this and since it is the low season for crime, he is able to put some of his men on the case, which leads to interesting discoveries about both the man and wife. When a poisoning death does occur in their house, it is up to Maigret to unravel what happened and who was responsible.

Review: Here is one of those stories that only work if there is psychosis involved, because a sane person would simply acquire a divorce.

Maigret needs all his powers and knowledge of human nature, plus some “help” from books on psychiatry and psychoanalysis, to unravel a devious plot by a cunning would-be murderer who intends to make the Inspector an accomplice to the crime. Experience and intuition tell Maigret to take the accusations of the couple against each other seriously, but since neither man nor wife will make an official accusation against the other, Maigret can not prevent the crime from taking place. He can only watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds and be ready to clean up afterwards. This bothers him enough to have the couple watched in the hope he or his men will be able to prevent a tragedy from happening. The unfolding of events is slow and tense, and the crime only takes place a chapter or two from the end of the book, so this is more of a “who will do it” rather than a whodunnit. As this is a crime novel, there is never any doubt that there will be a crime, only the how and the who are in doubt.

Rating: A tense psychological crime thriller, a real nail-biter. 4 stars.


Author review:
I rarely discover authors whose books I can read in quick succession without getting tired of their style, characterisation or formulas. Three or four books is usually enough before I need to take a break, but in the case of Simenon I can see myself going on indefinitely. In the four books I have read so far I have detected no recurrent formula. Maigret is a complex and likeable character who doesn’t have any super-annoying traits (unlike some other sleuths I might mention) and doesn’t work with only one sidekick and actually trusts them to make the right decisions (it’s often the dumb sidekick that gets me annoyed with an author). The books have been translated by different translators who have all given the books some of their style, meaning that although Simenon’s style shines through, it does not get monotonous. There is in fact nothing about the stories to annoy me other than a slight over-tendency towards melodrama, which I can easily live with. All in all, I have to say that Simenon is becoming a firm favourite and I will definitely be reading more of his books.

Next up: Patricia Wentworth

19 April 2006

I love second-hand books

There is something slightly mysterious about some of them, especially when they contain inscriptions, margin notes and annotations. Others I just love because they are cheap.

If I bought every book I’m interested in at full price, I would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. Instead, I am saved from financial insolvency by second-hand bookshops and libraries.

I get most of my casual reading copies from those sources, through TitleTrader (incidentally, if you join TT through this link, I get a free trading point ;-)
or from a shop run by the local recycling company and various charities. The books at the charity shop are cheap, some are even free. I can get 18+ second-hand paperbacks there for the price of one new one, or 6-8 for the price of a second hand book from a bookstore. Of course, it is entirely up to chance whether I find anything that’s on my “want to read” list, but I usually find something that interests me.

Once a book has been on the shelves of the charity shop for a certain amount of time, it goes in the “free stuff” section, where I have picked up many books. Often, these unsaleable books include classics that no-one wants to buy because the (hard) covers are dirty and the books smell musty or smoky. Other books just don’t look tempting: they are old, the cover is missing or they are warped and water damaged. Still others just don’t seem to meet with the approval of the person who shelves the donated books and go straight to the “free stuff” section. Often these are paperback romances, thrillers or horror stories that have never reached the bestseller lists, and thus are unlikely to be of interest to many people. I have occasionally found some pretty good reads among these books that I would never have bought but took home with me because they were being given away.

The most recent "treasure" I found in the free stuff area was a paperback copy of John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, in a "like new" condition.

My very favourite find was a beautifully faded hardcover cloth copy of four novels by Christopher Morley, including Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, both of which I had recently read and enjoyed.

17 April 2006

Mystery author #13: Georges Simenon. Part 1

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had never read anything by French author Georges Simenon - who is still the most famous mystery writer of continental Europe - until I read the two following books, especially considering that a number of his books have been translated intro Icelandic.

All in all I have read four of his romans policier. I am splitting the review in two and will discuss the author in the second one. It will be interesting to read these books, as they are translated by different translators and have been published under various English titles.

Title: Maigret meets a Milord. Originally published in English as Lock 14. Another alternative title (different translation) is The Crime at Lock 14
Original French title: Le Charretier de la ‘Providence’
Translator: Robert Baldick
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 2 (possibly). Several Maigret books were published in the same year and may have been written in a different order from the publication)
Year of publication: 1931
Type of mystery: Murder, whydunnit
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Rural France, 1930’s
Some themes: False identity, alcoholism, hidden pasts

SPOILER WARNING
Everything from this point on may be considered a spoiler if you prefer not to have any hint about the solution of the mystery. If you don’t mind knowing whodunnit, then read on.

Story:
The body of a well-dressed woman is found in a stable by an inn that serves the crews of boats passing through a nearby canal lock. She was the wife of a retired British officer (the Milord of the title) who travels along the canals of France in his yacht, leading a drunken, dissolute life. Maigret is surprised when none of the people aboard the yacht show much emotion at the woman’s death, and he has four suspects to choose from. But the woman had not been aboard the yacht for a couple of days before she died, and horse hair in her hair and resin on her dress suggest she was aboard a horse-drawn barge before she died. The only such barge near the lock the night she died is the Providence, which yields three more suspects. When another member of the yacht’s crew is murdered, Maigret decides to follow his instincts and go after his most likely suspect, with surprising results.

Review:
First the title. The story is not really a whodunnit if you understand French (or have a dictionary you are not afraid to use), as the original title is a definite clue to the identity of the killer. I would rather call it a whydunnit. However, the English title has clearly been chosen to bring in a whodunnit element, which adds something that is missing from the French edition. A good example of how a translation can add something to the original.

The descriptions of weather and landscapes are very atmospheric and you really feel the wet when reading about Maigret’s bicycle rides through the rain and his poking around in damp corners.

I am not sure whether Simenon is playing with the idea of the English stiff upper lip in his portrayal of the Englishman, or if the character would have been just as apparently emotionless belonging to any other nationality, but from clues in another of his books I am tempted to think the Milord is a proper French stereotype of an English gentleman. He is lifted above the stereotype by having Maigret notice cracks in his impeccable demeanour.

Maigret himself is a bit of a mystery here. His fondness for his pipe and his patience and painstaking exactness are his most noticeable traits here, but since he develops a more distinctive character in the second book I read, I will put it down to the typical drawn-out characterisation used by many series authors.

I have already mentioned my annoyance at authors who can not bring themselves to allow their murderers to be executed. Well, here is another one, although I must say if Simenon felt any sympathy for his killer, he certainly gave him a death much more painful than the guillotine (terrifying but quick), as his demise is both drawn-out and painful. I guess he wanted the guy to pay for his crimes, but not suffer the ignominy of a trial and execution.

A note on the translation: The translation is good, but occasionally the wording is a bit stiff. As I have already read Simenon translations by three other translators, none of which had this stiffness, I am putting the blame on the translator and not the author. However, he does solve a couple of translation problems quite well.

Rating: An atmospheric and somewhat over-melodramatic whydunnit. 3 stars.


Title:A Man’s Head. Also published as A Battle of Nerves, The Patience of Maigret and Maigret's War of Nerves
Original French title: La Tête d’um homme.
Translator: Geoffrey Sainsbury
Series detective: Inspector Maigret
No. in series: 5 (see note on order in the previous review)
Year of publication: 1931
Type of mystery: Murder, howdunnit, whydunnit
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Paris, France, 1930’s
Some themes: False conviction, blackmail, suicide

SPOILER WARNING

Story:
Maigret puts his career on the line when he arranges the escape of a death row prisoner he believes is innocent of the double murder he was convicted of. The man is kept under surveillance by the police in the hope that Maigret is right in believing he knows the real murderer and is covering up for him for some reason. The killer actually introduces himself to Maigret and taunts him, saying that the clues in the case were faked and that he will never understand the motives and never catch the killer. This makes Maigret curious, and he starts investigating the man, trying to connect him with the man who was convicted of the murders, the victims and the heir of one of the victims, but to no avail. The killer, who is a cold, clever man but obviously somewhat self-destructive, continues to taunt Maigret who keeps his cool, but is secretly affected by the man’s references to the blandness of his career and domestic life. However, he does not allow his concentration to waver and begins a psychological war with the man.

Review:
This is not a whodunnit, but both a whydunnit and howdunnit, although I did have the nagging suspicion through much of the story that the taunter would turn out to be someone who was unconnected with the case except as an observer and was simply enjoying leading the police investigation astray. But Simenon played fair with the reader, or as fair as you can in as story where the crime is not really solved by detective work (although that plays a part). As far as I could see, all Maigret had was circumstantial evidence, no physical evidence at all (except against the innocent man who was convicted), and had the villain won the war of nerves, he would have walked out of court a free man.

Here Maigret’s personality has taken on a definite shape. We get to know a bit about what he looks like and his personality is well-defined. So is that of his antagonist, a ruthless man who has not been able to use his great intelligence for anything useful due to circumstances of birth and lack of money, and has turned sociopathic. It would have been easy to draw him as a sympathetic character, except Simenon is careful to show that he is not only ruthless but a cruel control freak with a God complex who enjoys humiliating others. Maigret shows a similar ruthlessness when it comes to saving his job and solving the case, but is never cruel, only slightly inconsiderate to other people’s feelings and comfort. You almost get the feeling that Simenon is trying to show you what Maigret might have become had he been born with the villain’s disadvantages in life (poor, fatherless) instead of being the product of a firmly middle-class background. Indeed, Maigret’s social background is one of the things the villain taunts him with, and the one thing that gets to him.

The war of nerves is funny at times, at other times tense, and the suspense builds up slowly until it reaches the climax. The denouement is almost anticlimactic, but only almost.

Rating: An interesting psychological crime thriller. 4 stars.

13 April 2006

Bibliophile reviews Volga, Volga: A voyage down the great river (travel)

Author: Lesley Chamberlain
Year published: 1996
Genre: Travelogue

Chamberlain, a former reporter, returns to post-Communist Russia to travel down the Volga. She writes of her journey, people she meets and places she visits, and enriches the travelogue with history, literature and legends connected with the river.

Review: The author obviously has a rather uneasy relationship with Russia and her people. Even though she speaks the language, she finds it hard to understand them: their thinking processes are alien to her and she finds their behaviour contradictory, but she loves the country and its literature and searches for understanding through literary texts, history, legends and the landscape. Trying to understand and analyse the Russian soul proves to be harder than she expected, and she ends up alienated and suffering from culture shock.
The writing is straightforward, journalistic and matter of fact, with an occasional poetic burst.

Rating: An uneasy voyage down one of the world’s famous rivers, among people who haven’t quite come to terms with the end of Communism. 3+ stars.

11 April 2006

Bibliophile reviews The Barbie Chronicles: A living doll turns forty

Editor: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Year published: 1999
Pages: 240
Genre: social history

Like millions of other girls across the world, I had a Barbie when I was little. I think she was a Superstar. She came in a hot pink gown with spaghetti straps, had rigid bent arms with a scary hole through one hand for a huge ring that quickly got lost, and similar huge earrings, the removal of which left gaping holes that obliterated her earlobes. Before long, one arm was broken off at the elbow – I don’t remember how it happened, but I may well have been trying to unbend her unnaturally angled arm. After my brother broke the pin that attached her head to her torso by hitting her hard with his He-Man action figure, she was never the same, and one day she was gone. I never missed her. I certainly never felt I was expected to become a Barbie Superstar. I never even wanted to be blonde, let alone have DD breasts. As an adult I discovered that the pretty doll with the vacant stare and impossibly thick hair I had had as a child was a controversial figure.

This collection of essays covers some of that controversy, but it also has essays by Barbie’s fans and people who see her as an interesting social phenomenon rather than as a dangerous role model or positive image for girls. There is even some poetry. The essays will give everyone, both fans and enemies, something to think about.

Rating: A collection of essays about the doll everyone seems to have an opinion about. Not rated.

07 April 2006

What kind of reader are you?

I didn't really need this survey to know I'm an eclectic reader, but it was interesting to see the questions.

06 April 2006

Reader’s block

Ever pick up one book after another, read a chapter, then put it down and start on another, over and over? Ever want to read something, but none of your own books will do and there’s nothing interesting at the library? Ever pick up a book and then decide to watch TV, vacuum the floors, do laundry or go for a walk instead? In short: Have you ever had reader’s block?

That’s me right now. Reviewing will resume once I feel like reading again.

Edit:
Until then, here are some of my old reviews, including the original 52 Books reading project (so far only the fiction - I'm working on the rest).