The Filigree Ball

The Filigree BallThe Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1903
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

 

I just finished this book and I have to forgo sleep to get this review down so I don’t forget any details overnight.

5 star read.  My first this year, I think.  Absolutely amazing story from start to finish, but oh man!  The finish!

I’ve been enjoying Anna Katherine Green’s books since first discovering her The Mayor’s Wife; I was entranced by how such an old story could rivet me, the reader, with what would have had to have been the birth of many tropes we get jaded about it today’s mysteries.

I admit to buying this one with some hesitancy though.   I assumed, by the title, that the mystery would involve a grand ball, someone being killed during a waltz, or over dinner, or perhaps just after an illicit assignation in the garden behind the ballroom.

HA!  I could not have been more wrong!  From start to finish, I had a creepy house with a history of death in the library, always by the same mysterious means; a house considered haunted by its history if not its actual ghosts.  Dark, abandoned mid-wedding, when the last body was found, right down to leaving the food on the tables and the cake on the floor where it was dropped during the stampede to escape the house’s curse.  It’s all very gothic.

Then there’s the bride, dead by seemingly her own hand, just a fortnight after her marriage, but surrounded by inconsistencies that make murder a possibility. Her heartbroken husband and her distraught sister, both of whom have shaky alibis and strange reactions to the events as they unfold, making them look more suspicious than bereaved.

Then there’s the narrator, who at times I swear foreshadows the Noir genre, with his quiet investigations on the side, to try to prove his theory that more was going on than met the eye.  His dedication to doing so to save the woman, who is, throughout the book, put upon a pedestal of all that is perfect in woman: beautiful, proud, self-sacrificing, suffering with utmost dignity.   Alas, we were missing just a bottle of whiskey and possibly the use of “Dame” in the narrative and we could have credited AKG with the first noir mystery.

The puzzle pieces come together, disjointedly, as our nameless narrator plod through, putting clues together, ferreting out further information and even chasing one witness to Tampa, Florida.

And the ending, omg the ending was so good.  So well crafted, and such a sucker punch.

The books perfection might have been heightened, in my opinion, by the exclusion of the final chapter, chapter 27.  It’s truly extraneous to the book in all ways except for those readers who want their loose ends tied up in a HEA bow.  I did not mind it, I would not have missed its absence either.

Truly, one of the best mysteries I’ve read in ages, vintage or otherwise.  I’d happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good vintage mystery (with the caveat to expect a few offhand and cheerful references to the casual racism that was part of the times in which this book was written.)

 

I read this because I’ve been meaning to for the last few weeks anyway, but also because the new Halloween Bingo 2021 square Vintage Mysteries is one of the re-vamped squares that has lifted its restrictions on what constitutes a qualifying mystery.  As AKG predates the Golden Age, it wouldn’t have necessarily qualified before.  I’ll be using it for Vintage Mysteries but if anyone else is interested, it would also qualify for Gothic, and I think, given the questions concerning all the murders that take place in the book, it would also work for Locked Room

Pride and Prejudice: The complete novel, with nineteen letters from the characters’ correspondence, written and folded by hand

Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by HandPride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand
by Jane Austen
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9781452184579
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Literature
Publisher: Chronicle Books

The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand


Fingers crossed, my binging might be at an end; after my last book , I had a sudden desire to re-read Pride and Prejudice and when I went to my shelves to grab a copy (it being amongst the titles I have no willpower to refuse whenever I see one in the shops), I saw this one waiting for me.  Perfect.

Of course, Pride and Prejudice, is a 5-star read for me, once and always, but this edition gets 5 stars for the format.  Since my discovery of Griffin & Sabine, I’ve been a sucker for books with physical bits that are part of the story, and truly, my thoughts when purchasing this went no further than ‘ooh! letters!’.  But upon opening it, I read the introduction by Barbara Heller and realised this isn’t just a novelty, but a tremendous amount of effort went into creating the letters themselves as accurately as possible.  Not just hand-written, but hand-written in replica’s of period letters, each character being assigned a distinctive hand; Heller then found the Society of Scribes of New York, and members wrote each letter with pen and ink, using the imperfections inherit in handwriting to achieve perfection.

The folding, addressing and postage too were all painstakingly researched and replicated, involving advice and instruction from the treasurer of the Midland (GB) Postal History Society.

All efforts to avoid anachronisms were made, and the only variation from true authenticity are the few (2?) pivotal letters where Austen herself only quotes them partially.  Here, as Heller states in the introduction, and in the Appendix, where she has notes on each letter individually, some compromise had to be made.  As it would do no good to only include the part of the letter quoted in the text, Heller consulted various sources, and from the summaries given in the text, attempted to recreate what the original letter might have been.  Here, I think, she only partially succeeds, as there was just no matching the tones exactly, but she made up for this by keeping these ad libs as brief as possible so as not to interfere with the authenticity any more than strictly necessary.

MT made the comment that the book looked unwieldy to read, and I agree that some might find the way the text block is broken up by the glassine envelopes, making the book feel ‘crunchy’ might annoy or turn off some readers, but I frankly loved it.  It made the feel of the book somehow ‘more’, like a scrapbook of an adventurous life, perhaps.

So, a novelty, definitely, but a novelty done with authenticity and every effort at verisimilitude.  Definitely not something that would enhance every title, but the importance of letter-writing to Austen’s works makes it a perfect fit.  This is definitely an edition I’d give to any Austen fan who enjoys something just a little more from their favorite titles.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the WorldThe Grandest Bookshop in the World
by Amelia Mellor
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9781925972955
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Pages: 302
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Affirm Press

Pearl and Vally Cole live in a bookshop. And not just any bookshop. In 1893, Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne is the grandest bookshop in the world, brimming with every curiosity imaginable. Each day brings fresh delights for the siblings: voice-changing sweets, talking parrots, a new story written just for them by their eccentric father.

When Pearl and Vally learn that Pa has risked the Arcade – and himself – in a shocking deal with the mysterious Obscurosmith, the siblings hatch a plan. Soon they are swept into a dangerous game with impossibly high stakes: defeat seven challenges by the stroke of midnight and both the Arcade and their father will be restored. But if they fail Pearl and Vally won’t just lose Pa – they’ll forget that he and the Arcade ever existed.


A friend told me about this book 6+ months ago, as a gift idea for my 10 year old niece, mentioning it was a story I’d enjoy too.  I forgot about it until she reminded me back in October, so when, just a few weeks later, I saw it at one of my schools’ book fairs, I bought it for a Christmas present, thinking niece and I could read it together, since I’d be spending Christmas with her and her family.

Then, Christmas got cancelled and the book was packed up to ship up to her along with the rest of the presents.  I figured I’d get to it one of these days.

Turns out I would; a package arrived at our house 5 days after Christmas, from an online bookseller, containing this book – I never ordered it and there’s NO information in the package about who sent it.  Mysteries.  The Good Kind.

Anyway, I got to read the book and oh, what an enchanting story it is.  Firmly written for middle grade kids, but magical enough to capture this adult’s imagination.  Two children, who live above the Grandest Bookstore in the World** have 28 hours to solve 7 challenges or else their beloved dad and their bookstore will cease to exist.

There are shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jumanji, and on a deeper level Faust, but nothing ever too heavy for a 10 year old to handle.  Everything is couched in adventure and the heavier theme behind the Faustian roots of the story are confronted honestly without dwelling on them.  It really is a most wonderfully done story.

** Coles Book Arcade was a real place in Melbourne in the late 1800’s and it really was the Grandest Bookshop in the World.  While all the parts the author uses in the book (the tea room, the lolly shop, the fernery, etc.) didn’t all exist at the same time, they did all exist.  For those interested, I highly recommend this article from The Guardian, written by the author of this book, which you can find here.

Persuasion

PersuasionPersuasion
by Jane Austen
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781435127432
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Pages: 228
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Barnes and Noble

 

This was my “comfort read” for the Summer Book Bingo.  It’s a re-read, so there’s not much more for me to say than I’ve said before.  It’s Austen.  It’s brilliant.

I refrained from 5 stars only because it starts a bit slow and it’s not Pride & Prejudice, the standards by which I judge all my regency.  😉

A Christmas Carol / A Christmas Tree

Let me start by saying that the four star rating is a combination rating for both stories.  A Christmas Carol was definitely a 5 star read.  It’s brilliantly written and, as I discovered with the audio edition, surprisingly funny.  I found this beautifully illustrated hardcover edition at a library sale for 20 cents.  I got a real steal.

My absolute favourite quote:

“You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?” said Scrooge. “And it comes to the same thing.”

“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

This seems an apt quote for our times as well as his.

This book also includes A Christmas Tree.  This was a story I loved in spirit but in deed, it’s a slog.  It took me forever.  It’s rambling and it’s not always easy to comprehend.  It’s Charles Dickens, the stream-of-consciousness version.  I love how he viewed the Christmas tree, but man was I glad to finally see the backside of this story.  3 stars.

Persuasion

PersuasionPersuasion
by Jane Austen
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781435127432
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Pages: 228
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Barnes and Noble

 

Well, this is where I wish I paid more attention in my English Lit. classes.  Then I could use this review to wax lyrical (or at least literate) about the exposition, the rising action, the climax and the ultimate resolution of Anne Elliot’s story in Persuasion.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention in class (or attend class very often) so here I am floundering for a way to adequately discuss one of Jane Austen’s finest.  (Does this make me a cautionary tale?)

I’m going to start by saying I still like Pride & Prejudice better.  I’ve heard many people describe Persuasion as Austen’s most mature work – which makes sense because it was also her last – and I can definitely see the truth in that.  But Persuasion lacks the humour, the lightness, of her earlier works, although it still retains all of the bite.

If Miss Austen wrote from life she lacked any positive parental role models.  In every book of hers I’ve read, at least one parent was vapid, shallow, vain, neurotic, dyspeptic, a hypochondriac or a combination of any of the aforementioned.  I’d argue it’s the single uniting factor in all her work (although I’ve yet to read her juvenilia or Sanditon).  Anne Elliot gets the rawest deal of all of JA’s MC’s – her family has no affection for her at all.  She is the Cinderella in their lives: useful only for propping them up when they’re down, being the person applied to for attentiveness, while never receiving any attention or affection in return.

Thank goodness for Lady Russell; only Lady Russell persuaded Anne to cut off her engagement to the man she loved 8 1/2 years ago because his prospects were not guaranteed.  Now that man is back and he’s rich.  He might also be a tiny bit bitter about having his heart broken all those years ago.

I enjoyed the story; I definitely liked it more than Emma (sorry mom) and probably more than Northanger Abbey.  Maybe.  It’s a more staid, more serious work than the others.  What little frivolity there is ends in disaster and is used to illustrate a defect in character.  As I prefer characters who ‘dearly love to laugh’, Elizabeth Bennett holds pride of place on my favorite Austen list – but Persuasion and Anne Elliot aren’t far behind.

 

(NB: While the edition information is correct for this review, the cover is not.  And I hate not having the correct cover on my reviews.)