Book Review: And Then There Were None

Egads, don’t look up the original British title.

The Book

And Then There Were None
Author: Agatha Christie
1939
Amazon Link

This is somewhat cozy. It’s probably your prototypical mystery, in fact, because you have a closed house and a limited number of potential perps. Beyond your typical murder mystery stuff, this is a pretty normal book that shouldn’t contain anything to really spook anyone.

Non-Spoiler Review

This was my first Agatha Christie novel, and I’m glad it was my first! I enjoyed it more than I usually enjoy murder mysteries. I definitely enjoyed it more than Sherlock Holmes, that’s for sure.

I think the best part of And Then There Were None was the almost gothic setting. While the setting had the modern feel of being in the 1920’s or 1930’s (the book was written in the 30’s), there was a very distinct feeling of dread throughout. There was something haunting about the house and the island the characters were on, beyond the whole murder mystery bit about why the 10 vacationers were slowly dropping like flies.

I’m not sure if there was a book about this premise before, but the general idea is pretty much given away by the poem in the introduction: 10 little soldier boys (or, in this case, vacationers) come to an island at the behest of mysterious Mr. Owen. From there, characters begin to die in the manners prescribed by the poem. The paranoia sets in, and it continues to grow as the characters remain trapped on Soldier Island.

As far as the mystery part goes, I’m strangely good at picking out the murderer after first introductions. However, I will say that Christie had me there for a while after she did something (Spoiler: she “killed” off my suspect) to throw me off. At the same time, I feel like I didn’t have all the information at that critical part and there’s no way I could have suspected anything else as long as the narrator seemed reliable. Even after the questionable event, the palpable psychological tension was ever present.

The ending, thus, was still somewhat of a surprise to me even though I’d picked out the killer. The book did keep me interested from start to finish, and because of that I was pretty well pleased.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I’m reading the Oliver Twist inspired Bent Heavens!

Book Review: Jefferson and His Time, Volume 1

This book, first in its series and often titled “Jefferson The Virginian”, is the first in a 6-volume monstrosity written by Dumas Malone over the course of thirty years. This was written in 48, and the final volume was written in 81. I think it reasonable for me to read biographies of more presidents than just Andrew Jackson, so here we go.

The Book

Jefferson and His Time, Volume 1: Jefferson The Virginian
Author: Dumas Malone
1948
Amazon Link

Fair warning, the book does a really, REALLY bad job explaining this guy’s relationship with slavery. It’s probably a product of the time in which the book was written, but you know. You know it’s not a good thing to sweep the sins under the rug. I wonder if Malone’s view on Jefferson changes over the course of his life and as he writes more of these books; if you’ve read them, let me know in the comments!

Who Cares About Spoilers? Here’s a Review!

This book is about a young Jefferson, how he developed his political philosophy, wrote the declaration, and performed as governor of Virginia. Sounds cool enough.

But, after being such a big fan of Jackson who – by 14 – was a severely injured orphan and a prisoner of war, Jefferson is so boring. He was a smart boy with extravagant resources that allowed him to ride his family’s riches to become famous. He was so dull as a young man. He just went to school, did well, eventually became a governor, and happened to be good at writing. Sure, he developed a sense of state rights, but it was so dull.

During my reading of Remini’s 3-volume Jackson bio, I said I’d never find a biography in which the author had a bigger, more raging hard-on for their subject than he.

I WAS SO WRONG.

Malone had nothing bad to say of Jefferson and, when forced to approach things like his running from the British and getting reprimanded by the Virginia state government, Malone claimed Jefferson right and *everyone else* wrong. He spoke extensively about Jefferson being anti-slavery, but he never talked about where Jefferson’s money came from (slavery). He always forgave Jefferson for cheating on his wife and how he treated the women enslaved to him. He claims Jefferson always just, non-partisan, and “a man of ‘insert good trait here'” with regularity. Malone’s writing is so brokenly pro-Jefferson that it’s obvious even to one who’s only mildly familiar with Jefferson.

Part of this is, inevitably, due to the time of the writing. Jefferson was in favor in the post-WWII years, and Malone would have been influenced by that. As you read, this sort of timeline should be considered because Malone’s focus is thus drastically different than we’d expect from a modern edition.

Subject’s so boring, though, that I don’t think I can keep going with the next one.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

Back to some modern zeitgeist trash with Gilded Wolves!

Book Review: Oliver Twist

I have a soft spot in my heart for Dickens. Not for any good reason – no, no, it’s because I was Ebenezer Scrooge in our 4th-grade rendition of A Christmas Carol.

Most of the time, I find Dickens quite dull and to follow a very prescribed formula. Somehow I always forget it, then I pick up another of his books expecting something different. This time, I won’t be fooled: I’ll go in expecting a story of historical and cultural importance, but also something that will bore me out of my skull.

The Book

Oliver Tiwst
Author: Charles Dickens
1816
Project Gutenberg Link

You can get this from Gutenberg with ease. If you’d rather not the illustrated version, they have another edition without the pictures available. I listened to this on audiobook because I learned my lesson when dragging through A Tale of Two Cities.

Non-Spoiler Review

Upon starting this book, I made the stunning realization that I’d experienced this story before. A Disney movie that came out before I was born, Oliver and Company, was essentially the same story as this. Of course there were differences, especially in the character and quality of Fagin and his crew, but the overall plot had a lot of similarities. The more I read, the more I realized that I already knew a lot of Oliver Twist. I think this helped keep me engaged, because I knew something better was coming.

Because the middle third or so was dullllll. Right up from when Sikes is first introduced up through when the Dodger got into trouble I just had the hardest time paying attention. All the story about the adults had all the excitement of dishwater. The exposition was great because it introduced Oliver, his world, the political message, and got you drawn in. The book picked up again, though, right at that typical Dickensian moment that you don’t think you can go any longer. At that moment where publishers brandished the whip and said, “FINISH IT OR WE CUT OFF YOUR FUNDS.”

And so the ending picked up while on its way to the inevitable conclusion. The book did wrap up nicely. I also liked the political insight into Victorian politics, economics, and changing class structures. The baby farms, themselves, were interesting. I think reading this would have helped me understand what was going on at the farms in Through the Nethergate. The historicity of the book was really what made me think this book was rather legit.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

Time for a history book because I haven’t done them enough recently! Malone’s Jefferson and His Time: Book 1 is up for grabs!

Book Review: Cold Mourning

Once again, diving into my library’s “available now” reserves. We’ll see if this worked out any better than the last one.

The Book

Cold Mourning
Author: Brenda Chapman
2014
Amazon Link

There isn’t anything in this book you wouldn’t expect from a murder mystery. You have buddy cops, some murder, some innuendo and bad-people-stuff on screen, but you get what you expect.

Though, this is probably the first Canadian book I’ve read without any reference or similarity to that bear story whatsoever, so I’m going to go ahead and give her kudos for that.

Non-Spoiler Review

I’m not a huge fan of mystery, but this was “available now” on my library’s ebook page. I did not go in expecting to like this, but went in with the attitude of, “well, it’s available.”

I’ll go ahead and say that I didn’t know who was the murderer until the perp was revealed. That’s a good thing.

I probably shouldn’t have watched the <i>South Park</i> episode “Informative Murder Porn” before reading this book. All I could think of, the whole time, was about people who enjoy the spousal/domestic murder stuff. Perhaps because of that or my general opinion of spousal/domestic murder as entertainment, I was sorely disappointed.

The final clue that “brought it all together” was too convenient. It made the vast majority of the book not feel important, since it was really that one convenient clue that did the work. Rather than seeming a genius, I think the final solution made Stonechild – who up until that point had seemed reasonable and underutilized by her police force – seem more lucky than skilled. I was disappointed by that.

I wasn’t fond of any character aside from Stonechild. I think part of this was because Chapman set up pretty much every character as a suspect, which meant their worst attributes were focused on. Still, by the end, I didn’t really care who was the killer even though I also didn’t follow the trail of clues myself.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I’ve been reading modern trash for enough weeks in a row. Time for a classic: Oliver Twist!

Book Review: Lord of the Flies

This book is on the Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die list that I’ve been working on. It came available at the library, so I snatched it up.

The Book

Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
1954
Amazon Link

This book is a classic, so you probably know a little bit about it already. I like to read some classic books just to make sure I’m not some sort of barbarian, and this book has long been on my list of things to finish.

Non-Spoiler Review

This is one of those books that my weird high school didn’t read. After having imbibed this, though, I’m very much on board with having high schoolers read it. It’s really fun, has characters of the age high schoolers would be interested, is somewhat more intense than a book parents would want a kid to read without guidance, and is literarily sound. It has great analogies about human society and government, and I guess there is some analogy to WWII (though I don’t think it’s as pronounced or purposeful as some analysts do). I thought there was a lot to do with the barbarism vs. civilization trope of warfare and societal advancement.

I felt for Piggy. I loved Piggy. That kid was the only one on the whole stupid island who was worth a damn, and yet they treated him like garbage. The whole time he was around, I thought of the quote from one of my favorite movies, The Flight of the Phoenix:

“It’s almost mid-day and he’s still working. He’s right about one thing, though. The little men with the slide rules and computers are going to inherit the earth. It’s kind of sad that Dorfman won’t be there to see it, but then I guess he doesn’t need to see it. He already knows it.”

Shiver, man! Piggy was like that. He was one of the “little men” with a brain and no chance in the anti-nerd age where bullying was king (bullying has changed now, but it’s often the little men with the computers who do it). To me, that kind of goes along with the main message of the book: don’t be awful. Don’t be mean. If you do resort to barbarism and meanness, you lose an essential element of humanity that makes you less than an animal. Even poor protagonist Ralph figured that out.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is at long last up next!

Book Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice

I enjoyed The Alienist, and this looked to be similar: a forward-thinking doctor, even one who mostly just deals with corpses, works to solve murders or other ungainly crimes. This, however, is set in a different time period and place, and I think it could be entertaining. As it is set in the 18th rather than 19th century, medicine is even more of a mystery to the people. Heroic medicine is in play, and I was intrigued by the possibility that the titular “Anatomist” may come against people who think his ways against God.

The Book

The Anatomist’s Apprentice
Author: Tessa Harris
2012
Amazon Link

Fair warning: this book can be really, really gruesome. It’s not all the time, but it does happen often enough that someone sensitive to gore would find issue. There are some steamier scenes, but they’re not that bad. Violence does occur against women and children, but it is a relevant part of the plot and does not necessarily serve only as “motivation for a male character.”

But then I saw it was supposed to have Theodore Roosevelt as a character.

Y’all know I’m a complete and total sucker for presidents.  I had to read this thing.  I checked that audiobook out, regardless of any regret I may later feel.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book was fine. I thought a lot of the clues and mystery elements were interesting, but the “let’s go dig up a body and do a post-mortem partially for the gruesome explanations!” was a little… weird? Some of the autopsies, as well, just didn’t seem necessary or they found things that should have been obvious in the first place.

The interesting part, to me, was the historical bits. I enjoyed listening to the author’s take on 18th century medicine and practice, even if I don’t know enough about that history to tell if it was accurate. I’m pretty sure the main character wasn’t a real person, but the story surrounding him was cool. It didn’t seem like the American Revolution was affecting him much despite it going on at the time, but I think that might be saved for a later book.

The plotline as a whole did keep moving, and it held my attention well enough that I didn’t stop in the middle of the book. Even when it got a bit gruesome (there was a death of a 12-year-old in it, and it was very not good), I was able to keep going.

I also thought the ending was very weird, and I’m not sure the person “whodunit” was a good, satisfying solution. The love interest and romance parts of the story absolutely boggled my mind, and I didn’t understand why they were included at all. Whenever the story tended toward a smut angle, it just didn’t make sense. You have this gruesome autopsy-on-rotten-corpses bit adjacent to sexy times? The genres just didn’t blend, in my opinion, and I’m not sure the romance was well-done. A lot of the tension in the romance was predicated on the era’s social norms, but the norms weren’t felt strongly enough until after the romantic problem had ensued.

If you want a medical history mystery, I would suggest reading The Alienist instead. If you want a historical romance, read a Jane Austen.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I might finish The Ten Thousand Doors of January… but then again I might not. As a spoiler, I’m having a hard time paying attention, and I keep setting it down.

Book Review: The Life of Plants in a Changing Environment

I read Upadhyay’s earlier installation, The Secrets of Plants in the Environment, and I learned a lot from the chapters. As I said last time, that first book was very science-focused, and it felt something like a textbook. That doesn’t phase me, though: if you’re looking for information regarding plants, the above linked book is a great place to start.

And, as you probably expect, it means that this follow up is probably going to interest me as well!

The Book

The Life of Plants in a Changing Environment
Author: Rishikesh Upadhyay
2022
Amazon Link

Don’t worry: this book won’t have the same high price for a hardcover forever. Right now, that’s all the publisher is offering, but that’s likely because this (like its predecessor) probably serves as a textbook somewhere. I have assurances from Upadhyay that the e-book will be coming soon, probably this summer, and that will be more reasonably priced.

This book is with a slightly larger publishing house than the last edition (this one is Cambridge Scholars). As a result, this might not quite be “indie”, per se, but congrats! This is a big step, and I hope Upadhyay does well in the future. Like I said above, this has a textbook-like feel in many places, but it is well referenced and is chock full of interesting information.

Non-Spoiler Review

The theme of global warming and the effects of human manipulation of the environment intertwine every facet and chapter of this book. Upadhyay does a great job combining the work of many disparate authors into a comprehensive volume that, when read all together, paints a picture of desperate need for research and, as soon as feasible, human action and intervention.

His earlier book, The Secrets of Plants in the Environment, sets up a lot of the information presented here (especially regarding reactive oxygen species). If you’re not as familiar with plant biology (or biology at all!), the biggest detriment of this book is that it is best enjoyed when read with a sufficient amount of background knowledge. It’s a good thing, though, that Secrets provides much of the background you may need if you don’t already have that information.

However, even if you don’t have a good understanding of molecular biology or the various effects of different factors on plants, this book will still provide you with a kick to the gut: the environment is changing and, as a result, plants everywhere are at risk. Upadhyay goes through some of the more well-known elements of climate change, such as temperature and rain levels, but then goes into other human-generated environmental issues. Did you know that microplastics (tiny fragments of polymers, often even ones used in agriculture) can be found in an enormous range of soils, and that their effects on plants aren’t yet well understood? I hadn’t thought about how the American practice of using black plastic to cover the ground could potentially cause long-term effects on our plants!

Something I was interested in, as well, was the interaction of plants with heavy metals. During college, I had a technical writing course in which our group had to write a proposal in a field none of us were well-versed. We chose to work on a proposal for phytoremediation with heavy metals. Though nothing came of our 2010 classwork, I was astonished to see a lot of the same words in this paper. I felt way more knowledgeable when reading the chapters on how plants and metals interact, and I was thrilled to know that humans are working toward solving challenges in the environment.

This book felt incredibly well-researched, much like secrets, and it obviously took an enormous amount of effort to write. Though each of the chapters were written by different authors, there was a consistent tone throughout that I believe Upadhyay probably had a lot to do with. (Only one chapter stuck out for its tone: in Chapter 9, which was a fascinating chapter about magnetism and magnetic nanoparticles, the author clearly had a more author-focused approach than the other chapters). This book contained many great and interesting areas of plant research active today, and it’s a great addition to Upadhyay’s bibliography.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I’m going to be releasing some of the posts I’m behind on! I never got around to the catchup I needed to do from when my computer got fixed. 🙂

Book Review: How to Fight Presidents

I’ve followed Dan O’Brien since his days at Cracked dot com (now a virus factory, but, whatever), and I thought he was one of the more awkward and funny columnists.

The Book

How to Fight Presidents
Author: Daniel O’Brien
2014
Amazon Link

This book is pretty crude and full of cursing (I mean, “Badasses” is part of the subtitle, on the front cover, where children can see it). Think “humor that barely isn’t South Park” sort of crude. While funny, it’s definitely not for everyone. I get into a bit more of that within the review.

On With The Review

This book is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. The vast majority of the chapters delve into intriguing, little-known facts about presidents and present them in a way that gets a chuckle out of me every time. And, yes, it focuses on their battle weaknesses and strengths with advice on how to take them down. If you’ve ever read a Daniel O’Brien article on Cracked or enjoyed John Oliver’s show (O’Brien writes for Oliver), you’ll know the quality of comedy I’m talking about. The book is also pretty well researched; I know it’s not perfect because of the Age of Jackson chapters, which is the historical era I’m most familiar with, but I can appreciate how much effort had to be put forth in order to write a silly book about every dead president (except H.W. because he died after the book was written).

Now, after that glowing review, why is this book 3 stars? Because there are a few chapters and mechanisms that are gallingly awful. Let me expand on the following:

1. Generic toxic masculinity

Everything has to have balls in this book, or give America its balls, or have balls on balls. The more masculine it is, the better it is, even if that “better” is pretty villainous. The constant uberman jokes were threaded throughout, and I think the book suffered for it. Perhaps this was supposed to be tongue in cheek toxicity, but it was not clear enough, and it came off as pretty oblivious at best.

2. Madison

In this chapter, O’Brien presents Madison as “the size of a child.” A 5’4” child. He presented Madison as easy to beat up because of his size. As I read this, however, I thought, “I’m obviously the size of a child then, as is probably about a third of all American adults even in this time of good nutrition.” To me, this equivalency of “short” (and, by association in many cases, womanly) means “weak.”

While that’s bad in and of itself, it also triggered my gender dysphoria, which doesn’t help his case with me personally. This was probably the hardest chapter for me to get over personally, save for the one I’ll write about next, but it was not the one I thought was the worst on an absolute scale.

3. Jackson

You knew I’d have a problem with this. Shut up.

4. Theodore Roosevelt

First off, it was painfully obvious who Daniel O’Brien’s favorite president was. He ignored Roosevelt’s obvious, blatant weakness: the eyes. The glasses. Roosevelt couldn’t see for shit. It was also terrible to have to read over the TR gushing.

5. Taft

A disgusting pile of fat jokes that were horrible to read about. This one alone counted for one of the stars removed. I don’t understand why he thought this was a good path to take with Taft.

6. Kennedy

Kennedy’s section was about his sexual exploits. The chapter presented women as trophies to be owned, not as people. It talked about his (if true) extreme lust, and it did so in an admiring tone that I found rather distasteful.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

I’m reading the next book in the Shadows series! You’ve possibly read my reviews of the YA books Fire’s Hope and Laevatein’s Choice, and there’s a new one out soon: Halo’s Rag Doll! I finally got an ARC, and I’m seriously hoping for great things after that great escalation in book 2.

Also, I guess I’m reading That Inevitable Victorian Thing on the side just because I can. I’m kind of in a steampunk mood.

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend

One of my online friends, Marnie Heenan, suggested this book quite a while ago. The book I present is an English translation of the Italian original.

The Book

My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante
2011
Amazon Link

This book was somehow very intense for me. I think it was because there was a lot of abusive things going on here and the theme of imprisonment by society. It was a bit much given my personal history, and I had to put it down more often than I did normal books. At the same time, I can’t point out anything explicit that was bad… other than I guess child marriage.

On With The Review

This book was well-written and the relationship between main characters Lila and Elena/Lenu was extremely well-developed. It could be frustrating at times, and it definitely makes you mad at the environment/society around them. The uber-masculinity of the men and boys of the rough Neapolitan neighborhood was horrifying, and (deep down) it caused all the strife in the story.

Lila was always better, smarter, prettier, bolder, and healthier than Elena, but her home situation was so much worse. Elena did well in school but, if given the opportunity, Lila was always going to be better. But Lila didn’t have the opportunity, and it was pretty depressing to watch both girls feel bad in different ways. Bad because their fathers, brothers, and boyfriends were horrible to them and stilted their growth into well-rounded humans.

Honestly, this book is a depressing version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but with a lot more and better relationship building. In fact, the relationship between Lila and Elena reminded me a lot of another favorite relationship of mine: Catra and Adora in She-Ra: The Princesses of Power.

I felt, the whole time, that at least Elena was a lesbian. She talks about how much she likes Lila’s body, her mind, her soul, and talks about her more viscerally than many straight men in their books. But they’re never lesbians – and I just found that both astounding and… I dunno, I didn’t like that they never admit it or are. It just felt wrong, somehow.

Anyway, I don’t know if I can read the subsequent books because, even though they’re unabashedly feminist, I can feel myself raging quite a bit. As Lila is married and the author has no worries about indulging in sexual themes, I feel myself drawn away. Given the violence all these people espouse, I bet rape is coming, and that burns my dog hide enough that this one’s probably enough for me.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

I’m audiobook reading Aurora Rising because I’ve got some “mindless monkey work” to do at work right now, but I’m also reading How to Fight Presidents because it was written by a guy I followed back when Cracked dot com (not leaving you a link to that now-sketchy site) was good.

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This will knock out another book on the Amazon’s 100 Books To Read Before You Die list that I’ve been working on. The only thing I knew about this book going in is my mom doesn’t like it, which implied some sort of sex scene.

The Book

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
1943
Amazon Link

As a sort of forewarning, this book – like I feared when I realized my mom doesn’t like it – does include some sexy bits. There is an attempted rape included, and no: it doesn’t add much to the book other than to show the time and place as horrifying. It does and doesn’t affect the rest of the book after, and honestly I could see a version without the scene being pretty much the same book. If an attempted rape scene will disturb you too much, know that when you’re getting to that part, you can skip it and not lose out.

On With The Review

This book was, in my opinion, pretty okay. I can see how poor, urban, northern whites might like it because it may speak to them, but to me it was like… wtf are they going on about?

First off, I grew up poor. Growing up cash-poor and land-rich is a very different animal from being urban poor, since eating is rarely a problem: struggling to get the ground to give you that food, however, is what I’m used to. Watching city folks struggle the way they do in this story made me feel like “What the fuck they complaining about?” because they had the benefits of a school nearby and what felt like much greater ability to get out and rise up in the world. The distances which they had to travel to improve themselves were always within a walk – not within a drive.

The time period, however, was interesting. It was long enough ago that high school was very much not guaranteed to be available. There were no free or reduced lunches, nothing to help them in that way.

But I just… I just couldn’t see a plot. The main struggle was “get to college”, and it just felt like the most roundabout discussion of how Francie managed to do so. Fine, it was all well and good the way the story turned out, but some pieces just felt so out of place. Like the love interest, Lee: I didn’t get the point of that besides making the later love interest, Ben, seem like a consolation prize. I just. didn’t. get these people.

Then, at the end of the book, I sat down and gave it a think:

There was no *honor*. There was no chivalry. There was no greater good outside their own little, personal struggles.

They weren’t *southern*. Without that greater sense of responsibility and honor, their struggle didn’t quite ring home to me. Once I realized this was part of my issue, I was able to soften myself and look through a friendlier lens toward their problems. I thought about how to look at it through a Catholic immigrant lens, and that made it more interesting. The social structure of these people was very different, and while it made it hard for me, it probably expanded my thoughts nonetheless.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

A friend of min suggested Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I’ve gotten that read, so it’s coming soon, but I’ll be catching up to what I’ve read before you know it!