I Just Can’t Help Myself

OK, I know I said I wasn’t going to do regular book reviews, but it really bothers me to grade a book without saying why I gave it that grade. So, I’m going to do a brief round-up of the unreviewed books on my Books Read in 2011 page.

  • Death in the Air by Agatha Christie, B+
    A notorious moneylender is murdered on a plane. Everyone on board is a suspect, and only Hercule Poirot (asleep at the time of the murder!) can solve the case. I read this so long ago that I don’t remember why I gave it a B+.  I only remember that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as some of the other Poirot mysteries.
  • Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye, B
    This was an amusing story about a goody-goody boy and his troublemaker sister. They die and go to Heck which, as the title explains, is where the bad kids go, because even a bad kid doesn’t deserve to go to Hell quite yet, right? But Heck is darned miserable, too, and if there’s any chance that the kids can escape, they will. This book is clever, fast-paced, and humorous, but it’s not the least bit believable, so you never “fall into” the story and forget you’re reading.
  • Hercule Poirot’s Casebook by Agatha Christie, A+
    I had already read at least half of the stories in this book, so I didn’t read the whole thing. I enjoyed the “new to me” stories. Some were short, some long. Some were great, others mediocre. The selling point of this book is that you get all of the Poirot stories in one place. This is a book I’d like to own someday.
  • A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie, B+
    This book is made especially amusing by Poirot’s explanation of how murder is actually more likely at Christmas (the so-called “time for good cheer”) than other times of year. In this story, a family patriarch requests that all of his estranged family members get together for Christmas, but he doesn’t have exactly a pleasant family reunion in mind. He’s so mean that it’s no surprise when someone kills him. Hercule Poirot is fortunately nearby for the holiday, and he takes up the case. It’s another perfectly acceptable mystery, but not particularly memorable.
  • Mr. Summer’s Story by Patrick Suskind, A-
    When my husband found out that I was reading this book, he said, “You’ll have to blog about this so you can tell how you read the whole thing on the pot.” It’s true. The book belongs to my husband and he left it in the bathroom. I picked it up because it was there, and it was good enough to pick it up the next time I was there, and the next, and the next. It’s a story told by a nameless narrator, recounting the period of his life when a local character, Mr. Summer, had a profound effect on him. The book is charming, nostalgic, and beautifully illustrated by Sempé. The descriptions of the narrator’s childhood piano lessons are absolutely priceless. My only complaint about the book is that you’re never told the whole story about Mr. Summer. I think there should have been just a little bit more of a revelation at the end, hence the minus attached to the “A” grade.
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, B
    This is the story of a girl from a mining village who, along with the other teenage girls in the village, is forced to attend the Princess Academy. There the girls will be taught everything they need to know to be a princess, and at the end of their studies, one of them will be chosen to marry the prince. Honestly, I didn’t particularly like this book. All of the girls except one were so obviously unsuited to be princesses, and the main character was so obviously not headed in that direction. In other words, there was no suspense. Also, most of the events struck me as being extremely unlikely. The very premise is sort of absurd, really. Royalty is almost always snobbish. Can you imagine a prince allowing himself to be wed to a mining girl whose family kept their goats in the house at night for the added warmth? If he had fallen in love with her before he knew that, maybe. But I doubt he’d be interested in falling in love if he knew it in advance. He’d probably just look down on her and all of the other girls. And though the Academy teacher complains that the girls all smell like goats, there is never the obligatory bath scene! Not a single mention of baths! The focus of the story is on the girls’ education, not their appearance. That is so PC but hardly realistic. A princess needs to look (and smell) good, but it isn’t until near the end of the story that the girls finally try on some fancy dresses and get their hair done! So my final verdict is that it’s well-written but utterly unbelievable.
  • Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie, A-
    I read this one too long ago to remember why I gave it an A-. It is, as I recall, about a young woman who inherited a home from her aunt. When her aunt’s death turns out to have been a murder, the woman naturally becomes a suspect. Then, when the woman’s rival in love is also murdered, she’s in big trouble, because she so obviously had motives for both murders. Though all signs point to her, Hercule Poirot never takes anything for granted, and he will not rest until he uncovers the whole truth.
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, B+
    I so wanted to love this book. It is #58 on the Top 100 Children’s Books list. That should have made it nearly a shoo-in. But I was quickly turned off by some bad exposition near the beginning of the book, and the action soon departed from Willoughby Chase, which was by far the most interesting setting in the book. If I had read this book when I was a child, the plight of the two main characters might have resonated with me. It is harder to love certain books when you’re an adult. Anyway, by virtue of being mostly well-written, I give it a B+ grade, but I cannot give it my love.
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One Response to I Just Can’t Help Myself

  1. Pingback: A Year of Poirot | Blue-Footed Musings

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