Penguin Books is reissuing Roald Dahl’s “not an autobiography” memories of youth. It reads exactly like one of his fantastic children’s books, and in particular it is easy to see the inspiration for my favorite — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — in many of the stories. It is consistently funny and engaging and fascinating in its ability to demonstrate the development of one of my favorite childhood authors. Since his childhood began in 1916, the descriptions of what life was like (operations without much anesthetic, the typical (and ridiculously cruel IMHO) boarding school experience, and complications of international travel) are plentiful and eye-opening. All in all a very fun (and fast) read.
Looking at some background on Dahl, I’m surprised at all the vitriole — he’s been accused of racism, profanity, and sexual innuendo. The examples given were ridiculous. I despair.
Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 3.5/5
Book two in the Captain Sam Wyndham series. Sam is a white Scotland Yard Calcutta police import with a pesky Opium habit. In this book he investigates the murder of the forward thinking heir of Sambalpore — one of the Indian “native states” not formally part of British India. Accompanied by his trusty (and well-educated and far more sympathetic character) sidekick Surrender-not, they unravel the knots of displeasure that might have led to this murder (and a few others as well).
These books always include a lot of interesting history and culture focussed on lesser known parts of what after all is a huge and populous country. It’s always just enough to get me to look up additional detail. Most interesting to me in this one — the whole concept of the “native states” and the Council of Princes the Viceroy was trying to put together; Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu; and the use of elephants as a means of execution. There are also many references to the spoken and unspoken rules regarding the roles and interactions between different castes, ethnicities, and colors.
The writing is good — very crisp and clear — and I like the characters. My only complaint might be that I honestly don’t see the point of his even having an opium addiction. It doesn’t really play into the stories at all, and he doesn’t (thankfully) make stupid mistakes because of it. I believe it is to make him more human but really the story would be exactly the same without it.
Thanks to NetGalley and Berkeley Publishing Group for an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Book to be released on Nov. 6, 2018.
Writing: 3 Plot: 4 Characters: 3.5
A thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery by the author of the Gaslight cozy mystery series. The second in the Counterfeit Lady series (I seem to have missed the first), this series centers on Elizabeth Miles, a “reformed” grifter who is making her way in New York polite society in the 1920s. In this episode, she is moved to help a new friend who was twice widowed and found herself penniless — her second husband having managed to go through all of her money as well as his own in a short amount of time. The plot twists in fun and surprising ways, leveraging an eclectic set of characters including ministers who are not what they seem, society matrons, and Elizabeth’s slightly unsavory (but utterly charming and oddly moral) pals from her grifting days. Nice historical touches covering the suffragist movement (not suffragette which they find demeaning), the social rules of etiquette as extracted from Mrs. Edith B. Ordway’s The Etiquette of Today, and the origin of safe deposit boxes. Interesting discussions on the rules of law, the roots of civilization, and how to determine what is morally appropriate in a situation.