Books and movies – Jan 2015

My annual attempt to keep some sort of record of Things I Read and Saw and Will Probably Bully Guan Un Into Reading If He Didn’t Recommend Them To Me First.


  • Working Stiff – Judy Melinek and T J Mitchell. Gruesome, funny and fascinating memoir of Judy Melinek’s training as a medical examiner in New York c 2001. I bought it for my mother and she read it out loud to my father in hospital because that is how we roll.
  • The Man in the Queue – Josephine Tey. My first Tey murder mystery, but not my last. It belongs to those gently paced mystery novels which are more novel than mystery. And I am adoring reading old detective novels, for the alluring, elusive (allusive, illusive) glimpses of lost ways of everyday life.
  • The River of No Return – Bee Ridgeway. Time travel Regency romance, plotted for a sequel. The cover is popular/literary, the plot is more time-travel/conspiracy, but the style and tropes are definitely Regency Romance. Just so you know what to expect – I didn’t and probably didn’t do the book justice as a result. Ridgeway did do something I wish there was more of generally: people from other times jumping forward in time to ours. Also, the official language of the time travellers’ guild was medieval Finnish. There were many charming touches and side characters I wanted more of.
  • The Serial Garden – Joan Aiken. So much love. If you haven’t read the Armitage family stories, then it’s like… imagine what life would be like in Midsomer if Rowling’s wizarding world didn’t really bother being secret. I’m now watching Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murders as a deliberate homage to Mr Armitage, and it makes everything delightful. I think “The Land of Saints and Heroes” is my favourite story, but I could be wrong. It vied for charming ending with “The Quince Tree”. There is also an interesting series-effect in that the characters age, but not as fast as time passes, so that children who are in kindergarten when rubber-soled shoes are still worthy of mention have not finished school by the time they are playing around with computers.
  • Black Orchids (“Black Orchids” and “Cordially Invited to Meet Death”) – Rex Stout. I am really, really enjoying the Nero Wolfe novels. Archie Goodwin is such a perfect narrator and foil for Wolfe, the stories are vigorous and fascinating. They are full of lost popular references, wry humour, dashing character sketches…
  • Not Quite Dead Enough (“Not Quite Dead Enough” and “Booby Trap”) – Rex Stout. Speaking (above) of series effects, this is another interesting one. Stout didn’t age his characters noticeably over the 40+ years he wrote them, but the stories were set when written. In this pair, it was the first time I really noticed the changing times. The Second World War has started, Archie Goodwin is a major, and Wolfe’s comfortable household is in disarray. Some intriguing little tweaks of prejudices, too, something Stout could do to excellent effect.
  • A Sword to the Heart – Barbara Cartland. It’s a Cartland. Everyone is extremely silly, the author perpetrates Random acts of Capitalisation, the heroine hyperventilates and is completely incapable of rational thought or extrapolation from circumstances, the lovers may be surrounded by Divine Light at some point, but the covers are darling.
  • Too Many Women – Rex Stout. Archie Goodwin is turned loose among 500 unsuspecting female employees of a large engineering firm, and the ending, while not what he deserves, is exactly what it should be. This felt a little like it began as a pastiche of Sayers’ Death Must Advertise before the characters ran away with it (nothing in this sentence is a bad thing).
  • The Silent Speaker – Rex Stout. Wolfe attempts a revival of “The Dying Detective”, but with far more scenery-chewing even that Holmes.

And the Christmas art books:


  • Big Hero 6 – A great deal of fun, and I did like the design of San Fransokyo.
  • The Imitation Game – I very much enjoyed this, although I’m still hanging out for a movie of Between Silk and Cyanide, and I confess to being rather distracted by Matthew Goode.
  • The Hobbit: Battle of the 5 Armies – Battle elk! But no battle pugs this time. I did fall in love with the ruined merry-go-round in Dale.
  • Into the Woods – I appreciated but didn’t like the musical on stage, so I was prepared for the movie, and loved it this time round. The eclectic aesthetic of it managed to be unified and storybook-like.
  • Birdman – I really like both Tootsie and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Birdman reminded me of all the bits that annoyed me in both films.

6 thoughts on “Books and movies – Jan 2015

  1. oh, so much to enjoy in Josephine Tey’s works!
    The River of No Return sounds great.
    that’s a great comparison for the Armitage family stories – Midsomer with ‘out’ wizards. Joan Aiken is amazing in so many genres and for every age range she’s written for.

    • I am enjoying them, although I keep getting startled by some of the language in it. Stout actually (not unproblematically but quite unabashedly) plays around with issues of race, gender etc. Tey doesn’t, but there are clearly words which were much more popularly acceptable in England at the same time than they were in the States!

      Yay Aiken!

  2. Also the title “Working Stiff” reminded me of Mary Roach author of books such as Stiff, Bonk and Spook. I bet you’d love her Packing For Mars – an entertaining and interesting summary of various sciences that have contributed to space travel.

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