Rebecca

A book I would like to rename “Becky with the Good Hair.”

Rebecca is a quasi-classic. I read it for book club and several of the other members had read it when they were in school. I had not. Because I knew it was suspenseful, I went ahead and read the wikipedia plot summary ahead of time. I am a person who doesn’t mind spoilers or knowing how things turn out, obviously. (Yes, I sometimes flip ahead to read the last few pages of a book too.) It helps me concentrate on things other than the plot, like the crafting of the story and the characters and the mood.

Rebecca, the book, made me SO ANGRY. First, it’s three separate types of book: the romance at the top, the psychological thriller in the middle, and then a more straightforward mystery at the end. PICK ONE. Second, the unnamed narrator is very ill-treated by ever single other character in the book – I mean, the author doesn’t even give her a name, which is to illustrate how mousy she is, but then why does anyone take any interest in her at all? But it totally undermines the romance at the beginning when her husband, Maxim, seems to love her, knows she’s out of her depth coming to Manderley, and then gives her absolutely no support? And because Daphne Du Maurier wants to drive home what a mousey non-entity she is, the narrator never takes the initiative on anything, preferring to let the staff do what they want or doing things the way Rebecca, Maxim’s dead first wife, did them. By the end of the book, I just didn’t care.

But we had interesting discussions at book club, talking about whenever Maxim really loves her, how the house represents Rebecca and her influence over the story, and how effectively creepy Mrs Danvers is despite not actually being in the book that much. So while I didn’t like Rebecca, I do appreciate the discussion it spawned and I’m glad I read it in a way that I got to talk about it with other smart people afterwards.

A further step in anxiety and mystery

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious series; they are not stand-alone books with three separate mysteries. The puzzle is spread across all three books in the series, and while there are smaller mysteries solved in the first two books, all the big answers are presumably going to be answered in the third and final book, due to be released in January 2020.

Stevie is a junior in high school attending Ellingham Academy, a prestigious private school in the Vermont Mountains. Ellingham was a prosperous industrialist whose wife and daughter were kidnapped in the 1930s. Stevie starts out working to solve that mystery: who did it, what happened to his daughter Alice who was never found. But that investigation triggers events in her own, current time period. The story is told both in the present time and as a string of events in the 1930s. The chapters are well marked so you know where you are in the two threads of the larger mystery.

Personally, Stevie’s anxiety speaks to me. It is part of her character, but that’s it: it’s just part of her character. It absolutely affects who she is and how she does things, but it’s not fetishized or presented as a problem to be solved. Writing anxious characters like that, who take their meds regularly and have therapists, normalizes them and makes it ok.

I’m still all in on this series and look forward to the next book coming out in January.

Continuing Spooky Season

Truly Devious is the first book in a YA mystery series. Be forewarned that only two of the planned three books are out (the last one is scheduled for release in January 2020).

Stevie (short for Stephanie) Bell is a new student to the Ellingham Academy, a boarding school in Vermont that was founded in the 1930s. Shortly after the founding, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and possibly killed. A culprit was found, but no one believes that he did it. Stevie wants to be the real Sherlock Holmes, and her mission at Ellingham Academy (in the present time) is to solve the mystery.

The past mystery is nicely mysterious, the setting of a secluded school without parents is handled in the best hothouse-for-bizarreness way, there’s a romance story that is very much not the point, and while there is also a current murder, it does get solved. So even though the past mystery is going to take three books to solve (probably), there is a sense of resolution and completeness to this book.

I enjoyed Truly Devious and have put the second book in the series on my hold list at the library.

A short review of a mystery that was… fine

The Chatelet Apprentice is a fine first mystery novel, doing a good job of introducing the characters, setting the scene of mid-1700s Paris (Paris is important because it puts our detective into glancing contact with King Louis XV), and generally easing you into a new mystery series.

That said, I had a terribly hard time getting into this book. It was a slow read the whole way through, and while it wasn’t bad, it was maybe more laid back than I wanted? I don’t know. It is translated from the French, and so, since it was written for the French market, maybe moves at a different pace? Or maybe I’m just not used to reading cozy mysteries and as a result am not used to them anymore.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a new mystery series or fiction books about historical France, try out The Chatelet Apprentice.

A mystery in translation

For all of my love of reading books about Paris, they’re usually books written by English-language authors. Not French authors in translation. I found The Nicolas Le Floch Affair – a murder mystery that takes place in 1774, translated from the French – I grabbed it mostly as an intellectual exercise to see how French popular writing is different from English popular writing.

So, how is it different? Well, there is a LOT more attention paid to the food. LOTS. Meals were routinely described, with recipes given in the text of the novel along with complements to the chef. I’m not going to lie – reading this book made me hungry. Clothing, too, was described in more detail. Even though these are police officers, mostly un-fancy, they also did have to go to Versailles to talk to the king, and both their regular wardrobes and court attire were described. In short, between the food and the clothes: atmosphere matters.

The other difference that took time to get over was sentence structure. In English, there is an idea (probably from Hemingway) that shorter and simpler is better. The Nicolas Le Floch Affair had, in contrast, very rambling sentences. They would have been a disaster to diagram. There was definitely an adjustment period.

The mystery itself was fairly standard: a Nicolas’ lover is murdered at the beginning of the book, he stands accused of the crime and has to find the real culprit. It’s the fourth in the series, so there were some references to earlier books that I didn’t get, but they were easy to skip over.

I am considering reading the earlier books, just for more practice. Plus, the historical period is fun. The Nicolas Le Floch Affair is worth your relaxation time.

#actuallyOCD

Someone I love was recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, aka OCD. This is a specific kind of anxiety disorder, less about being neat and tidy, and more about not-so-fun things like sometimes disturbing thoughts randomly popping into your head and being convinced something bad is going to happen if you don’t do x. Whatever x happens to be, and it’s specific to the person.

John Green has OCD. (This is a lovely podcast where he talks about it.) Turtles All the Way Down is about a teenaged girl with OCD. So I read this book not from an enjoyment standpoint, but from a help-me-learn-what-it-feels-like-to-have-this standpoint.

For me it did a good job, especially showing Aza’s deterioration because of her refusal to regularly take her medication. (Seriously: TAKE YOUR MEDS, KID. Love, a mom) It’s all handled with a deft and loving touch and explains so, so much.

Turtles All the Way Down helped me, the story was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what living with OCD is actually like.

Sometimes entertainment is good

If you are looking for entertaining brain candy, The Royal Runaway is your book. Princess Thea gets caught up in an international investigation when her fiancé just doesn’t show up at the altar during their wedding. Well, he doesn’t show up at all – they don’t make it to the church. Everyone thinks he’s a cad, she nurses a broken heart, and four months later she’s getting on with things. Until someone starts investigating exactly what happened to her former fiancé.

It’s got old-school James Bond style investigative fun and intrigue and it’s all told from Princess Thea’s point of view so there’s none of that icky misogyny.

Recommended for when you need something to escape from the real world.

Noir, but science fiction

The City & The City is for the Venn diagram of people who like Raymond Chandler and science fiction. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, that involves two cities that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. Sort of. The bureaucracy that governs the two cities is Kafka-esque.

The mystery could stand on its own, but would be way less intriguing without the  odd Eastern European dual-citied setting. It allows for twists and turns and part of the intrigue is figuring out how the two cities coexist. Allow for some mind-twistiness with this one.

Why are all detective stories based in the 1930s?

Murder at the Flamingo was a promising start to a murder mystery series. There’s enough set-up so that you understand who the protagonists are and where they’re coming from. (Maybe too much? It could have done with being slightly faster paced.) But the mystery is still intriguing. I stayed up too late one night because I just wanted to know who did it already.

DeLuca has chronic anxiety – not something you normally see in a dapper 1930s detective – and Van Buren is a lovely heiress who’s decided she wants something more from life than being a lady who lunches. She is definitely a bit stereotypical, but I still liked her.

I’ll look for the next one when it comes out.

Is lying always bad?

Is it ever ok to lie to someone?

A little white lie or a big fat lie, either one, I won’t judge you. Sometimes we do things during wartime we can’t or shouldn’t admit to later. Sometimes we’re not allowed.

Sometimes, it’s just a little white lie, to spare your feelings or to make ourselves feel better about why we did something. Sometimes we make up huge stories to hide completely from – well. If we told you that wouldn’t be hiding now would it?

Recommended, though I do prefer the audio version of these books.