Uh, what murder? {Third Girl by Agatha Christie}

About Third Girl by Agatha Christie:
Three young women share a London flat. The first is a coolly efficient secretary. The second is an artist. The third interrupts Hercule Poirot’s breakfast confessing that she is a murderer—and then promptly disappears. 

Slowly, Poirot learns of the rumors surrounding the mysterious third girl, her family, and her disappearance. Yet hard evidence is needed before the great detective can pronounce her guilty, innocent, or insane.…

My thoughts

Today was hard, hard day as far as reading my favourite mystery writer Agatha Christie. It hurts my heart to say I didn’t like this one. 

While I loved Hercule Poirot in this and his little grey cells are not at all waning, I was slightly miffed by Ariadne Oliver who did not seem to have her usual common sense. The book starts with a young lady enlisting Poirot’s help proclaiming that she MAY have committed a murder … then she runs off! Investigating a possible murder apparently is much much harder than investigating an actual murder. Oliver messes things up even more recalling only MID-BOOK (!!!!) of a mysterious death in the same building where the proclaimed murderer lived. 

Verdict: All this to say, this is not among my favourites. I say skip this, move to Christie’s better mysteries.

Just breathe {The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola)

When a story needs some breathing room.

About The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola: Michael Kabongo is a British Congolese teacher living in London and living the dream: he’s beloved by his students, popular with his coworkers, and adored by his proud mother who emigrated from the Congo to the UK in search of a better life. But when he suffers a devastating loss, his life is thrown into a tailspin. As he struggles to find a way forward, memories of his fathers’ violent death, the weight of refugeehood, and an increasing sense of dread threaten everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. Longing to start over, Michael decides to spontaneously pack up and go to America, the mythical “land of the free,” where he imagines everything will be better and easier. On this transformative journey, Michael travels everywhere from New York City to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures, with the intention of living the life of his dreams until the money in his bank account runs out.

My two cents

I read JJ Bola’s The Selfless Act of Breathing a while back but having received it well after the publishing date, I unfortunately forgot to post my thoughts here. 

This is a quintessential immigrant story where the struggle to assimilate is very real - I found this quite powerful and emotional. However, Bola’s prose is like verbal acrobatics, sometimes wonderful, at times off putting.

The story of a smart British Congolese teacher, Michael struggles with personal loss, the violence of racism, money problems, the need to connect. I personally disliked how this storytelling bordered on waxing philosophical and lecturing. I think I even rolled my eyes at one point but held judgment until the end. Trying to cram too much into the book really did it a disservice!

Since this is an ARC I hope the editors went in and helped out this book to become much more cohesive and even keeled in its storytelling. 

Verdict: I stuck it out but I honestly think the payoff wasn’t that great. Too verbose and overly dramatic for me. This story needed to breathe.

Disclaimer: Thanks to @simonschusterca for a copy of this book!

Small town, big life {F*ckface by Leah Hampton}

About F*ckface and Other Stories by Leah Hampton: 
F*kface and Other Stories is a brassy, bighearted debut collection of twelve short stories about rurality, corpses, honeybee collapse, and illicit sex in post-coal Appalachia.
The twelve stories in this knockout collection—some comedic, some tragic, many both at once—examine the interdependence between rural denizens and their environment.

A young girl, desperate for a way out of her small town, finds support in an unlikely place. A ranger working along the Blue Ridge Parkway realizes that the dark side of the job, the all too frequent discovery of dead bodies, has taken its toll on her. Haunted by his past, and his future, a tech sergeant reluctantly spends a night with his estranged parents before being deployed to Afghanistan. Nearing fifty and facing new medical problems, a woman wonders if her short stint at the local chemical plant is to blame. A woman takes her husband’s research partner on a day trip to her favorite place on earth, Dollywood, and briefly imagines a different life.

In the vein of Bonnie Jo Campbell and Lee Smith, Leah Hampton writes poignantly and honestly about a legendary place that’s rapidly changing. She takes us deep inside the lives of the women and men of Appalachia while navigating the realities of modern life with wit, bite, and heart.

My two cents

I have a penchant for short story collections so I was happy to get my hands on this debut collection by Leah Hampton. With such great timing, it was like a lovely breath of fresh air during the first lockdown in 2020. It was a relief to have a physical copy of short stories that made me laugh-cry-cringe and everything in between.

There are 12 stories in all, and each offers insight into everyday people's lives in a rapidly changing Appalachia, a region known for its beautiful mountainous landscapes, rich natural resources, yet extreme poverty.

I enjoyed each of these stories -- they are simple, simply told, honest, and some, very raw. I feel that they will resonate with many as the human experience in these stories are wide and varied. While the setting or the circumstances may not be within your own set of experiences, I can guarantee that the emotions they can stir up within you are very much relatable. They'll evoke bittersweet emotions - a mix of sad, tragic, and yes .... even hopeful. 

The stories

F*ckface is about Pretty, a young, very shy girl who works at the local grocery store. She's never imagined working outside of her small town but her more worldly friend triggers her discontent. Pretty finds an unlikely ally in her the person she and her colleagues dubbed as f*ckface.   

Boomer is about Larry, a dedicated firefighter who slowly loses his wife while fighting the greatest fire their area has seen in decades. 

Wireless is about Margaret, whose haunted past propelled her to leave her hometown. Ironically, family brings her back to confront her past and eventually come to terms with it. 

Parkway is about Priscilla, a park ranger, whose otherwise humdrum outdoor job brings her face to face with the occasional and shocking dead body. 

Twitchell features Iva who suddenly starts bleeding during a pottery class. This gets her started on a series of doctor's appointments which gets her questioning whether a job long ago at the local chemical plant - and economic bane of the town - is the culprit. 

Mingo is about a woman who accompanies her husband to visit her husband's stubborn father in the hospital. She gets much more than she bargains for, but finds herself willing to go along. 
Frogs is about middle-aged siblings, Carolyn and Frank, who try to spice up their mundane lives by joining in a nature walk. Ironically, they find themselves feeling uncomfortable and out of place as the only locals on the walk.

Devil is about tech sergeant Boggs, who visits his deeply religious parents to make amends. Unflinching in their belief, they denounce him as the "devil" they've always known him to be, and he leaves for Afghanistan sadly and tragically no closer to his family.

Queen is about a woman who tries to save her mother's legacy of taking action with her bee colonies.

Meat is about Alison, a young intern at the local dairy, faces small town life (and death) at a funeral after a big fire.

Saint is an homage to a beloved brother, a streams-of-consciousness meandering of precious memories throughout their lives.

Sparkle is about a woman who takes her husband’s friend to Dollywood, and gains insight into what a different life she could have had. 

Verdict: These slice-of-life stories of everyday people in Appalachia will make you laugh and cry, together, and in a good way. Highly recommended! Hampton is definitely one to watch out for!

Disclaimer: I received a copy through the publisher Henry Holt and Co. 

Quarantine reading and why I don't really hate Libby

  • Monday, July 13, 2020

Hi everyone, I know it's been really quiet here. Lots of things have happened personally in the past year with me, and then COVID-19 happened. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and you continue to be so. 
This blog has been always safe haven for me, and reading and the book blogging continues to be a source of comfort for me. I may not be that active in the community but I love following along (lurking) in the conversations that continue out there. I love the fact that a lot of my contemporaries out there are still quite active and still welcoming more people into the wonderful world of books, reading and blogging.

Like many of you, I've turned to reading to help me with the stresses of life. At the beginning of the pandemic, I couldn't for the life of me focus on a book. I have gotten over that hump and now have turned to rereading a lot of books I have on hand, reading books I haven't gotten to, and ... *heaven forbid* reading e-books!

Consider my Goodreads:

I've got a mix of Filipino reads which I either bought myself in the Philippines or was a gift, a bunch of ebooks I borrowed on Libby through the library, two review copies from publishers. And ... I've re-read these two lovelies, which I didn't bother adding to Goodreads:

  • M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman, which I never reviewed on this blog because I loved it so much
  • Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whereby my review is inadequate considering that I consider this to be among my all-time GGM favourites

  • Now, on to Libby. Who's Libby, you may ask? She's my new friend, my new shiny toy, and who I don't hate as much as I did when I started with ebooks. When the quarantine happened, this seriously limited my source of books. Libraries were closed and real books were off limits ... with the exception of what I already had on hand. All but the online choices for books ... ebooks!

    I gave ebooks a whirl early on and never really warmed up to them. I still struggle with reading online because I already spend my entire day working on a computer. But I've learned to compromise. And it's opened up a lot of new reading material to me.

    Libby is an app used by my local library so I can borrow ebooks. I'm still getting used to it but I have borrowed six ebooks thus far. I'm also still forming my opinion about it but so far, yay Libby! 

    Have any of you used Libby? What are your thoughts about this app?

    Of the great equalizer {Educated by Tara Westover}

    Of the great equalizer, education.

    About Educated by Tara Westover: Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling supplies and sleeping with her “head for the hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

    Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or a nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to intervene when her brother became violent or when her father’s Mormon beliefs drifted toward the extreme.

    Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She ultimately taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events such as the Holocaust. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if there was still a way home.

    A riveting account of the struggle for self-invention, Educated is also a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties.

    My two cents

    I don’t know how many times I audibly gasped reading Tara Westover’s autobiography! When people talk of overcoming adversity and challenges, sometimes it’s hard to understand just how it really is. However, in this memoir, Westover doesn’t sugarcoat a thing. She recalls a a traumatic childhood of hard labour, abuse, and neglect in a family dealing with mental illness. Reading all this is tough, but it drives home the point that this is a reality for many of those who live in rural America.

    What makes this particularly ingratiating is that Westover doesn’t seem to have an ounce of self pity as she tells her story. Nor does she seem to bear a grudge on her family members who perpetuated the cycle of abuse, neglect, and simply holding her back.

    Often we talk about the importance of exposure and education to better ourselves. Bill Gates talks about this memoir in glowing terms. Check out his review and a video of his chat with Westover.

    What particularly struck me was when Westover says:
    “I worry that education is becoming a stick that some people use to beat other people into submission or becoming something that people feel arrogant about,” she said. “I think education is really just a process of self-discovery—of developing a sense of self and what you think. I think of [it] as this great mechanism of connecting and equalizing.”

    Verdict: I recommend reading this honest and matter-of-fact storytelling of her journey from illiterate country hick to a life of learning, believing in herself and her innate capabilities. Truly, you can’t keep a good woman down.


    © guiltless readingMaira Gall