July through December, 2010

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing to cover books that I read after I started rating them, and noting down when I read them, but before I started writing at-the-time reviews of them. This post covers books I read in the second half of 2010.

The Mysterious Affair at StylesThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #1
Publisher: John Lane
Released: October 1, 1920
Pages: 296
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Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorpe, and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary--from the heiress's fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary. Making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case. The key to the success of this style of detective novel, writes Elizabeth George in her Introduction, lies in how the author deals with both the clues and the red herrings, and it has to be said that no one bettered Agatha Christie at this game.

I found The Mysterious affair at Styles to be one of the more enjoyable Christie-books. It’s a nice, classic, Christie-mystery.

Diamonds Are ForeverDiamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming
Series: James Bond (Original Series) #4
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Released: March 26, 1956
Pages: 230
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"Listen, Bond," said Tiffany Case. "It’d take more than Crabmeat Ravigotte to get me into bed with a man. In any event, since it’s your check, I’m going to have caviar, and what the English call 'cutlets,' and some pink champagne. I don’t often date a good-looking Englishman and the dinner’s going to live up to the occasion."

Meet Tiffany Case, a cold, gorgeous, devil-may-care blonde; the kind of girl you could get into a lot of trouble with—if you wanted. She stands between James Bond and the leaders of a diamond-smuggling ring that stretches from Africa via London to the States. Bond uses her to infiltrate this gang, but once in America the hunter becomes the hunted. Bond is in real danger until help comes from an unlikely quarter, the ice-maiden herself …

I’ve started grading the Bond-books very much on a curve, and by that standard Diamonds are Forever doesn’t do that badly. Lightweight tabloid spy-story fun, slightly less problematic when it comes to gender and race than some of the other books.

The Meaning of LiffThe Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams, John Lloyd
Series: The Meaning of Liff #1
Publisher: Macmillan
Released: November 1, 1983
Pages: 191
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In life and, indeed, in liff, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist. This text uses place names to describe some of these meanings.

Meaning of Liff is a collection of words you didn’t know that you needed… probably because you don’t need them. But it’s a collection of strange words which all describe something well known, or easy to understand, but hard to describe with words. Just like this book. It’s hard to describe, but it’s fun, and probably better suited to reading a little of now and then, rather than like a regular book.

Last Chance to SeeLast Chance to See by Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine
Publisher: Pan Books
Released: January 1, 1990
Pages: 256
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"Very funny and moving...The glimpses of rare fauna seem to have enlarged [Adams'] thinking, enlivened his world; and so might the animals do for us all, if we were to help them live."
Join bestselling author Douglas Adams and zooligist Mark Carwardine as they take off around the world in search of exotic, endangered creatures. Hilarious and poignant--as only Douglas Adams can be--LAST CHANCE TO SEE is an entertaining and arresting odyssey through the Earth's magnificent wildlife galaxy.

This is probably one of the best books I know of that no one has read. The Hitchhiker’s series is undoubtedly great, and this book is different, but it’s just as fantastic in a different way. It’s a travel-memoir in which Douglas Adams travels to see species that are in danger of going extinct, describing both his journey and the animals. It’s funny, thoughtful, at times properly heartbreaking and feels incredibly real: the emotions of Adams really comes through in the text.

This is a book I’ve gifted several times, and one of those books I think everyone should read for many reasons. It has the obvious conservationism message, but it also a great travel-diary in it’s own right. It’s as funny as you’d expect a book by Douglas Adams to be, and really brings out a different side of his writing from what shines through in his fiction. Go read it!

David CopperfieldDavid Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Publisher: Bradbury and Evans
Released: January 1, 1950
Pages: 882
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David Copperfield is the story of a young man's adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone; his brilliant, but ultimately unworthy school-friend James Steerforth; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble, yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora Spenlow; and the magnificently impecunious Wilkins Micawber, one of literature's great comic creations. In David Copperfield - the novel he described as his 'favourite child' - Dickens drew revealingly on his own experiences to create one of the most exuberant and enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy and comedy in equal measure. This edition uses the text of the first volume publication of 1850, and includes updated suggestions for further reading, original illustrations by 'Phiz', a revised chronology and expanded notes. In his new introduction, Jeremy Tambling discusses the novel's autobiographical elements, and its central themes of memory and identity.

I loved David Copperfield. For a long time this was my favourite book. It kept me company on my relatively long commute to and from my first summer internship, and I enjoyed it immensely. I got really immersed in the book, and, for such an old book, it has aged really well. This is a well-justified classic, and of the “You have to read these classics” I believe this is one of the ones that people should get around to first.

The Murder on the LinksThe Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #2
Publisher: The Bodley Head
Released: May 1, 1923
Pages: 228
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A millionaire dies...

'One can see by his face that he was stabbed in the back' said Poirot.

But the strangest feature of the case was where they found the body - in an open grave!

Hercule Poirot had answered an appeal for help - but he was too late!

MURDER - bizarre and baffling - had come to the Villa Genevieve.

I think this is supposed to be one of the seminal Christies, though it wasn’t one of my favourites. As far as a Christie-book can be ordinary, I think this is it. Still, an ordinary Christie book is still nothing to be scoffed at.

The Fry ChroniclesThe Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Series: Memoir #2
Publisher: Penguin
Released: September 13, 2010
Pages: 438
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Thirteen years ago, Moab Is My Washpot, Stephen Fry's autobiography of his early years, was published to rave reviews and was a huge best seller. In the years since, Stephen Fry has moved into a completely new stratosphere, both as a public figure, and a private man. Now he is not just a multi-award-winning comedian and actor, but also an author, director, and presenter.

The Fry Chronicles is the continuation of the Stephen Fry biography, and this one goes past the very troublesome childhood years into the days of meeting Hugh Laurie, Sandi Toksvig, and getting in with the rest of the show-business gang. It’s a very good autobiography, and met my high expectations.

Poirot InvestigatesPoirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #3
Publisher: The Bodley Head
Released: March 1, 1924
Pages: 265
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The very first collection of superb short stories featuring Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings…

First there was the mystery of the film star and the diamond… then came the ‘suicide’ that was murder… the mystery of the absurdly cheap flat… a suspicious death in a locked gun-room… a million dollar bond robbery… the curse of a pharaoh’s tomb… a jewel robbery by the sea… the abduction of a Prime Minister… the disappearance of a banker… a phone call from a dying man… and, finally, the mystery of the missing will.

Poirot Investigates is a collection of Poirot short stories. I never found these collections to be quite as satisfying as the full books, but, as with so many of my non-favourite Christie books, they’re still Christie books, and still good.

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