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What We've Been Reading

R.C. Lewis - Stitching Snow

Amber Recommends:

Seven loyal drones who work in the mines and a hard earned reputation as the best cage fighter in the Station has afforded Essie solitude. For seven years she has worked hard, and has slowly etched out her own small patch on Thanda.

But like all good things….

One night while walking home Essie watches a shuttle streaking from the sky and crash in the flats. An illegal visitor… Essie decides to help get him on his way, lessening the chance government officials will notice him and come sniffing around the Station.

Essie wasn’t just looking for solitude on Thanda; she was hiding, and now someone has found her.

I could not put this book down. Funnily enough it is one of the most original books I have read so far this year. I say funnily, because it is based (very loosely) on the fairy tale “Snow White”. Lewis has re-imagined all the characters, politics and setting, creating a whole new concept for the story while keeping the essentials of the original fairy tale. Interestingly, knowing this book is based on “Snow White”, I could pick out the familiar elements of the story. However if you didn’t know this fact, it would read like a great suspense/action adventure novel which could stand on its own.

This book captured my attention from the start and would not let me go. I would recommend this book for any girl (or open minded boy as there is a strong male lead in it as well) twelve or older. I cannot stress how much I enjoyed reading this book!

Seriously Snow White in outer space with robots sounds like the punch line to a joke, I know, but it really works!

Ben MacIntyre - A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

JB Recommends:

There’s something particularly attractive to me about the murky world of the background/underground of political maneuverings and espionage and intelligence    work in the 20th C. From the 1930s through WWII, and into the Cold War, was perhaps the only period in American history to come close to what we think the Wild West was like. Trenchcoats and fedoras replaced dusters and 10-gallon hats, and the type of handguns differed, but that sensibility of an unruly frontier is very similar. At least it is to me.

I’ve read a number of Ben MacIntyre’s earlier books on WWII spies and enjoyed them immensely and I can unreservedly recommend his next book, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. 

While Philby and the other Cambridge Spies have been buried under thousands of pages of histories, analysis, and psychological autopsy, MacIntyre takes a different aim. He rightly notes that the world doesn’t need yet another biography of the creep. Rather, he comes at this period of time through the lens of the friendships of the people involved, the relationships, and what was hidden from whom and what that meant, and how those friendships affected how it all played out. It is a fascinating book.

And what is most fascinating of all is that we may never really know who was doing what. Here we are, six or seven decades away from the betrayals at the center of the story, and the facts are obscured through governmental policies of secrecy and personal embarrassments. And we just have to live with that. In the meantime, we have MacIntyre’s brilliantly drawn image of the people and the places involved without any numbing recitation of political philosophies. The game is afoot and those playing are masters of their craft. What is most astonishing is not that few suspected Philby of treachery, or that so many could not conceive of it due to his being ‘one of them’, it is that none of them died of alcohol poisoning before they were 30!

All of the Usual Suspects are present: James Jesus Angleton, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess, Ian Fleming, J. Edgar Hoover, and Anthony Blunt, as well as some you may not know about - Klop Ustinov (father of Peter), and Miles Copeland, Jr., a jazz trumpeter from the Deep South who played in the Glen Miller Orchestra, was a war-time spy, ex-CIA agent and ‘espionage fixer’, and whose son Stewart would become a rock drummer (with The Police).

The thread that weaves throughout the book is how everyone liked Philby, how everyone - men and women of all nationalities - loved being in his company and thought of him as a great friend, and MacIntyre, without ever saying it, leaves us to wonder if we, too, could be taken in by this traitor, or if we believe we’d never be fooled like these poor people were. And I think MacIntyre makes it clear that we would have been, without a doubt.

Great book. Vastly entertaining. And very, very sad for all concerned and all touched by this man.

Agatha Christie - Towards Zero

Amber’s project for 2014: My 52 Weeks of Agatha Christie. Here’s her explanation.

First Published: Serialized in May 1944 in Collier's Weekly (A US magazine). 

I Read: Towards Zero. William Morrow, New York, 2011. 

Series: Superintendent Battle

Summary: "...with all the causes and events that bring certain people to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day....All converging towards a given spot...And then, when the time comes -- over the top! Zero Hour. Yes, all of them converging towards zero...." (pg. 4) This is the story in a nutshell; one killer, two wives, three detectives and a house full of guests all hurtling towards the solution to four separate murders.

Review:This is the last book to feature Superintendent Battle as the lead detective, and I think it is a pity he did not find his way into more stories. His solid good sense, plus his sly ability to hide behind the reader's expectations (the expectation being that the police detectives are all bumbling) was fantastic. Unlike Chimneys or Seven Dials, this book is not an over-the-top exercise in suspense. No secret societies, jewel thieves or political machinations to be found anywhere. Instead it begins with a series of small snippets of the main characters' lives and the decisions which lead to their appearance in Gull's Point. This method of story leads naturally to the creation of tension through the whole, for example you are left wondering through almost the entire mystery as to the significance of Angus MacWhirter's suicide attempt or why Mr. Treeves tells an odd story to the group about an unidentified child. The book is a great read and is listed as one Christie's personal favorites. However I think Battle did just a bit better being paired off with the outrageousness of his prior two books - the solid clever straight man to all the crazy events going on around him. But that is just my opinion. 

Now onto a tangent provided by a quote from our book of the week: "I suppose like most young people nowadays, boredom is what you dread most in the world...." (pg. 97). How many dumb thing have happened, do you suppose, because someone was bored and then had a "brain storm"? Some thing to engage their mind in an activity, any activity will do to stop the gnawing existential crisis of nothingness (The Nothing, I learned about that from The Never Ending Story; probably not the take-away they were looking for). Not that I would know anything about this phenomenon at all.....Definitely not the impetus behind an absurd incident featuring whiskey, Neapolitan ice cream and old sci-fi movies. *wink* Perhaps boredom situational, not existential this time (situational boredom - when you're stuck in a boring situation andyou are unable to leave because your parents are stuck there too) might have fueled an outrageous lie told to your second or third cousins (you never see) - confessing that you are really a Martian (shut up, I was seven).

Fortunately with age comes a slightly less ridiculous response to boredom; surprisingly enough not playing computer games or randomly surfing the internet ; they don't have any measurable output and therefore don't relieve the symptoms - cleaning or walking (usually cleaning) does the trick. Which unerringly slingshots me into inspiration for a new quilt or craft project, thus the boredom fades away like smoke and I forget it was ever there. Until the next times that is......

Christie is often credited for saying, "The best time for planning books is while you are doing the dishes.", not the most stimulating of tasks. Perhaps planning a murder over a sink full of suds - the completion of a monotonous/boring task helped Christie's creativity in the long run. Maybe a bit of boredom isn't bad if you know how to deal with it in a constructive way (YouTube is filled with unfortunate examples of what not to do). So while long bouts of boredom are to be dreaded, perhaps a little isn't so bad after all?

Favorite Quote:  

"A little malice...adds a certain savour to life." (pg. 81)

Interesting Note:  Battle's moustache was considered impressive even to Poirot.....

Did you know the word "boredom" was coined by Charles Dickens in his book Bleak House? Or the Monty Python skit Vocational Guidance Councilor is credited with creating the lasting stereo-type that all accountants are boring? Well now you know, and perhaps it will help you win a round in a bar trivia game....

Cheating: Slightly tempted to cheat, but managed to keep my fingers from flipping pages and destroying my chances of getting to the UK!