new DVDs, reader's advisory

New DVDs – May 2019

The following films have been added to our collection during the month of May.
MPAA ratings follow each title in parentheses, with (NR) denoting the film is not rated.  If a language other than English follows the film title, the film will be in that language with optional English subtitles.

Arctic (PG-13)
Capernaum (Arabic)(R)
Destroyer (R)
Dragged Across Concrete (R)
The Hole in the Ground (R)
The Prodigy (R)
Serenity (R)
Triple Threat (R)
The Vanishing (R)

Updated 5/15/19

new DVDs, reader's advisory

New DVDs – April 2019

The following films have been added to our collection during the month of April.
MPAA ratings follow each title in parentheses, with (NR) denoting the film is not rated.  If a language other than English follows the film title, the film will be in that language with optional English subtitles.

Aquaman (PG-13)
Baaghi 2 (Hindi)(NR)
A Bag of Marbles (French)(NR)
Becoming Astrid (Swedish and Danish)(NR)
Berlin, I Love You (R)
Bumblebee (PG-13)
Columbus (NR)
Escape at Dannemora (NR)
First Reformed (R)
Glass (PG-13)
Here and Now (R)
Holmes & Watson (PG-13)
If Beale Street Could Talk (R)
The Invisibles (German)(NR)
Jonathan (TV-MA)
King of Thieves (R)
Love on Safari (TV-G)
Mirai (PG)
The Mule (R)
On the Basis of Sex (PG-13)
Replicas (PG-13)
Rust Creek (R)
Second Act (PG-13)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG)
Stan & Ollie (PG)
Thugs of Hindostan (Hindi)(NR)
Vice (R)
Welcome to Marwen (PG-13)

Updated 4/30/19

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels – March 2019

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Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group on The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Rating:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group rated the book between a 3.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.79.

Rationale for Selection:
“The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations. Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.”

“Paulo Coelho, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, is one of the bestselling and most influential authors in the world. His books have sold more than 165 million copies worldwide, have been released in 170 countries, and been translated into 80 languages.”

“Originally written in Portuguese, The Alchemist holds the record as the most translated book by a living author, published in 80 languages including Xhosa, Vietnamese, Hebrew, and Persian.”

“The book spent more than six years on the New York Times bestseller list.”

“THE GREAT AMERICAN READ was an eight-part series that explored and celebrated the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey)” and The Alchemist was on this list.

Last year, members voted for which novel they would like to read in March. They could choose The Woman in the Window or The Alchemist.  The Alchemist was the overwhelming winner for Books and Bagels using an anonymous paper ballot.

Review:
The discussion was fantastic! Members stayed longer to continue to discuss their thoughts on The Alchemist.  Members had various points of view and different interpretations about the novel. Both the facilitator and one member, unbeknownst to each other, likened the discussion to the poem, The Blind Men and The Elephant:

I.
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant 
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation 
Might satisfy his mind.

II.
The First approached the Elephant, 
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, 
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant 
Is very like a wall!”

III.
The Second, feeling of the tusk, 
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? 
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant 
Is very like a spear!”

IV.
The Third approached the animal, 
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, 
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant 
Is very like a snake!”

V.
The Fourth reached out his eager hand, 
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like 
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T is clear enough the Elephant 
Is very like a tree!”

VI.
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, 
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; 
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant 
Is very like a fan!”

VII.
The Sixth no sooner had begun 
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail 
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant 
Is very like a rope!”

VIII.
And so these men of Indostan 
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion 
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, 
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL.
So, oft in theologic wars 
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance 
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Needless to say, we all got something very different out of the novel.  Three members loved The Bible references and two of these members plan to recommend The Alchemist to their bible study groups.  One member felt it was an interesting religious self-help book.  One member thought it was a deeply philosophical book. One member thought it was a fairy story and another member thought it was a fairy tale.  Many members felt it was a parable or fable about finding your personal destiny with which the universe conspires to help. A few members thought it addressed metaphysical principles, New Age principles, and Western esotericism.  One member thought the book had inspiring principles which would be better served by a younger reading audience. One member is still waiting to be inspired. One member felt that many other self-help books do a much better job addressing the principles covered in the book.  One member, just didn’t get it. One member enjoyed the book, but was disappointed in the ending.
(Spoiler Alert!) She was surprised that Santiago found real gold at the end; she felt that the true treasure obtained was love and enthusiasm for living. The facilitator told the group that this novel is beloved in many different countries by a wide variety of religious beliefs—we later discussed why this might be the case.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Most members in the discussion group read the 25th Anniversary edition of The Alchemist.  The facilitator read the 20th Anniversary edition which included A Reader’s Guide, a Map of Santiago’s Journey, and An Interview with Paulo Coelho. The facilitator used the questions in A Reader’s Guide to conduct the discussion and highly recommends the 20th Anniversary edition for book facilitation purposes. The discussion highlights revolved around the questions presented in the 20th Anniversary edition.
  • The group discussed the Prologue and the alternative story of Narcissus which gives the reader clues as to the themes and relationships the reader should watch for in the Santiago story.  The group agreed that there is an element of narcissism in the pursuit of one’s Personal Legend.
  • We discussed the natural elements in the story and connections we as humans have with nature.  We talked about the healing properties of nature. We discussed Stanford University’s mindfulness studies and how nature and mindfulness can be used to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • We discussed the one-tenth payment asked for by the gypsy woman and the old man.  We discussed the difference between the payments and the meaning of the up-front payment.  We discussed the sacrifices that Santiago makes in order to pursue his dream, additionally, we talked about how those sacrifices can teach us other skills and attributes along the way.  As we move through barriers and dangers we acquire wonderful traits (great treasures) such as determination, courage, confidence, and unconditional love.
  • We discussed the old man’s premise that people believe “the world’s greatest lie—that we all lose control of our own lives and must then be controlled by fate.”  We talked about how people in pursuit of their dreams are so often knocked down that they come to believe life is all luck and fate; they give up control and stop trying to pursue their destiny.  Santiago throughout the story is constantly asked to give up things he has acquired to pursue his destiny. At one point, Santiago has the choice of having a comfortable life with Fatima and being an honored counselor at the oasis or continuing to pursue his dream.  The Alchemist assists him by telling him what would happen to him four years down the road if he chooses this comfortable path. The Alchemist assures him that “true love” (unconditional love) will wait as he pursues his dream. When Santiago finally chooses to pursue his destiny “he immediately felt peace in his heart.” (p. 121)
  • The group discussed who they thought the old man, Melchizedek, and the Alchemist were and if they were the same being.  We agreed that they were symbolic of strangers/mysterious people who enter our lives and offer us help and guidance. As we pursue our quest, we are all assisted by strangers on our journey.
  • Paulo Coelho once said “alchemy is all about pursuing our spiritual quest in the physical world as it was given to us.  It is the art of transmuting the reality into something sacred, of mixing the sacred and the profane.” The facilitator asked the following question from the list of questions in the back of the book, “With this in mind, can you define your Personal Legend?”  The facilitator followed up with this question by stating that it is fine if no one wants to answer the question, but the facilitator thought the group should be aware that this was one of the major points the author was attempting to make. One member talked about a conference she attended for retired people and the speaker asked members to make two columns on a sheet of paper; on one column, they attendees listed their dreams and in the second column, attendees listed how those dreams were achieved.  The purpose of the exercise was to see that often our dreams are realized, but not always in the ways we expect.
  • We talked about which is more important, the dream or its fulfillment.
  • We compared and contrasted the Englishman’s search for the alchemist to Santiago’s search for a treasure.  Much of the contrast deals with the difference between learning about the physical world & its interactions and spiritual pursuits.
  • In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes about a universal language and so, the group briefly discussed what the author implies.  The Universal Language is part of the Soul of the World, requiring no spoken words and is a part of pure love.
  • Everyone agreed it is possible to attain more than one treasure in their personal quest of their ultimate calling.  
  • We discussed the intimacy between the spiritual and material worlds and the connections between alchemy and evolution.  Coelho uses alchemy as an analogy to show how the physical and spiritual world are connected. Just as raw metal (lead) is purified and transformed into a pure metal (gold); the human heart is also transformed/purified into “pure love” and a pure faith. (p. 150-151)
  • We discussed the story the alchemist tells Santiago about a Roman citizen who was visited in a dream by an angel telling him that his son’s words would be remembered for generations to come.  We talked about the lesson Coelho is teaching us; dreams aren’t always what they seem and we may interpreted the dream differently than the actual reality of how the dream is fulfilled.
  • We discussed the ending.  Earlier the alchemist told Santiago, “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”  We talked about how this simple lesson saved Santiago’s life. Members shared their like and dislike of the conclusion of the fable—we basically had two camps; members who enjoyed the ending and members who disliked the ending.

Resources:

To view Paulo Coelho’s blog, click here.


Oprah Winfrey interviews Paulo Coelho


Documentary about Paulo Coelho


Start at 1:03 to get a summary of Paulo Coelho’s top 10 Rules for Success.
These rules resonated with the members in the discussion group. 1) Don’t Be a Part-Time Dreamer, 2) Live In the Moment, 3) Discover Yourself, 4) Pay Attention to Life, 5) Take Risks, 6) Find Your Personal Legend, 7) Nurture Innocence, 8) Find Enthusiasm, 9) Treasure Everything, 10) Dive Into the Universe

For books and movie in our collection by Paulo Coelho, please click here.

Read-a-Likes:

The Alchemist

new DVDs, reader's advisory

New DVDs – March 2019

The following films have been added to our collection during the month of March.
MPAA ratings follow each title in parentheses, with (NR) denoting the film is not rated.  If a language other than English follows the film title, the film will be in that language with optional English subtitles.

Ben is Back (R)
The Bookshop (PG)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (R)
Creed II (PG-13)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (PG-13)
The Favourite (R)
Green Book (PG-13)
Instant Family (PG-13)
Mary Queen of Scots (R)
The Mercy (PG-13)
Mortal Engines (PG-13)
1945 (Hungarian)(NR)
Nobody’s Fool (2018)(R)
Once Upon a Prince (TV-G)
The Possession of Hannah Grace (R)
Robin Hood (2018)(PG-13)
Royal Matchmaker (TV-G)
Sanju (Hindi)(TV-MA)

Updated 3/27/19

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – February 2019

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group on
Varina by Charles Frazier

Rating:
The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 1.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.65.

Review:
Charles Frazier grew up in the South and felt like after Cold Mountain, he did not want to return to the Civil War era. Yet, he felt the subject matter continues to be relevant; we are a country that still hasn’t healed and still hasn’t made peace with the past.  Charles Frazier had no interest in writing about or learning more about Jefferson Davis, but he was interested in the little known Varina Davis.  He thought she was interesting because she said publicly that the right side won.  It was interesting to him that this woman who had benefited so greatly from the plantation in Mississippi was still evolving in her thinking up to her death in 1906.  She became friends with Julia Grant and they wanted to be seen together in New York as symbols of reconciliation.  Charles Frazier said in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, “She would have days when she would say something incredibly retrograde, and then she would say something so positive and progressive. She was struggling with what had become of her life, being on the wrong side of history…It’s only the greatest heroes in history, who are able to totally rise above the values of their culture.  She certainly wasn’t. But she was trying.”

As always, the discussion was stimulating and interesting.  Several members increased their ratings based on the discussion.  Overall, members felt like they had to work too hard to enjoy the novel.  One member thought it would have been helpful to have a timeline in the front of the book—this would assist the reader in tracking the story of Varina.  Most members really enjoyed the fugitive story section (the escape of Varina and her children from Richmond).  This story was an educational technique to introduce readers to the tumultuous and chaotic South right after the fall of Richmond.

All group members were impressed with the talented writing of Charles Frazier.  They found his prose lyrical and moving.  They enjoyed his descriptive writing.  Some members thought his writing style was exquisite, but felt the novel was too lengthy and jumped around too much.  So, while sentences were beautifully constructed; it was too hard to follow.

The group spent a fair amount of time discussing the narrative choices of Charles Frazier.  Most members found the narrative confusing and disjointed.  They did not like the way he wrote the novel.  They especially disliked the lack of quotation marks and the stream of consciousness-like writing and the memory flashbacks.  Two members were not bothered by the punctuation.  The facilitator has a special fondness for the “hyphen,” so she loved the punctuation choice.  To her, the use of the hyphens felt like the waxing and waning of memories—they are random and they come and go—they are not linear or formal.

Surprisingly, the members who gave the novel low marks were still interested in pursuing more information about Varina Davis.  So, the author did a good job in sparking interest in the story of a relatively unknown woman. One member stated that she considers a historical novel a worthy read if the novel causes her to want to learn more about the subject matter or the characters presented.

The facilitator really connected with the writing of Charles Frazier.  She read the novel in four sittings and thought that the back and forth nature of memories felt just like the way people remember events.  Memories are not linear but they move and shift. The facilitator thought that any author that can fully connect a reader with characters from the past is worth their weight in gold.

Discussion Highlights:

  • We discussed Varina Howell’s upbringing and her parents. We discussed the expectations and the choices women had in the 1800’s.
  • We discussed Varina’s marriage with Jefferson Davis. We talked about their differing personalities and how this affected their marriage. We discussed Varina’s strength of character to insist on in being named in her husband’s will.
  • The novel Varina has been compared to Gone With the Wind. The group talked about how the novels are similar.  The group thought that Frazier depicted The Fall of Richmond much like Mitchell depicted The Burning of Atlanta. In some ways, Varina is like Scarlett — they both are strong woman and survivors.  They both naively dream about their debutante past—without realizing this structure was built on slavery. We discussed Varina’s hopes and dreams and contrasted this with the life that was forced upon her — similar to Scarlett’s trajectory.
  • We discussed Varina’s view of slavery as depicted by Charles Frazier and we discussed how this view evolved over the course of the novel. In an interview, Frazier talks about why he was intrigued with Varina Davis—she was born in the South and lived with slavery all around; as she lived into old age she seemed to wrestle with her past and her complicity and this is definitely addressed in the novel.
  • The groups spent a good deal of time talking about Varina’s complicity and views. From p. 101 – “Varina has never made any claim of personal high ground. She grew up where and when she did. From earliest memory, owning other people was a given. But she began feeling the strangeness of it about nine or ten—not wrongness or the sin of it, but the strangeness only.”
  • We contrasted the above view with another passage from the novel on p. 39, “Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences. Varina lives that truth every day. If you’ve done terrible things, lived a terribly way, profited from pain in the face of history’s power to judge, then guilt and loss accrue.”  The group discussed Varina’s version of the truth and whether or not her understanding/perception of it has changed over the years.
  • Early in the novel on p. 6, Varina states, “If you haven’t noticed, we’re a furious nation, and war drums beat in our chest. Our leaders proclaim better than they negotiate. The only bright spot is, the right side won.” In light of this quote, the group discussed what they thought Varina would think about today’s removal of the South’s many Civil War statues, including her husband’s.
  • Charles Frazier uses an interesting device to tell Varina’s story; he uses a real life black child, Jimmie Limber, as a character. Jimmie Limber lived with the Davises for several years during the Civil War. When the novel opens we meet Varina Davis in 1906 in Saratoga Springs.  Varina is living at The Retreat (a rehabilitation facility).  She is in the midst of trying to overcome her opium addiction and while there James Blake (Jimmie Limber) comes to find out about his past.  It is a this time, readers are introduced to the adult Jimmie Limber who is a fictional character that Charles Frazier has created to move Varina’s story forward while addressing and gently critiquing her past.  James keeps Varina’s recollections moored in others’ reality.  So, readers are introduced to an unreliable narrator—an older woman with a drug problem.  James Blake interviews Varina over the course of seven Sundays and readers must trace the back and forth nature of memories and recollections.  In light of how the narrative is written, we discussed how Varina and James’ memories reveal their different experiences.  We discussed what insights we gained from each of the characters’ revelations.
  • The novel’s timeline shifts frequently. We discussed whether or not we found this confusing or distracting.  We discussed how this shift reveals the fractured nature of memories, as well as the way the past bleed into the present.

Resources:

https://charlesfrazier.com/

Charles Frazier was interviewed at Appel Salon (Toronto Public Library)
on November 7, 2018 (If interested, this interview can be accessed on YouTube).

For books and movie in our collection by Charles Frazier, please click here.

For a nonfiction title recommended by Charles Frazier, check out:

Jacket

Read-a-Likes:

Varina

new DVDs, reader's advisory

New DVDs – February 2019

The following films have been added to our collection during the month of February.
MPAA ratings follow each title in parentheses, with (NR) denoting the film is not rated.  If a language other than English follows the film title, the film will be in that language with optional English subtitles.

At Eternity’s Gate (PG-13)
Black ’47 (R)
Bohemian Rhapsody (PG-13)
Boundaries (R)
Boy Erased (R)
The Cloverfield Paradox (PG-13)
Colette (R)
The Front Runner (R)
Getting Grace (PG-13)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (R)
Goldstone (R)
The Happy Prince (R)
The Hunter Killer (R)
Indivisible (PG-13)
Little Women (2018)(PG-13)
Lost Child (NR)
My Dinner with Hervé (TV-MA)
Overlord (R)
The Paper Store (NR)
The Predator (2018)(R)
A Private War (R)
Shoplifters (Japanese)(R)
The Sisters Brothers (R)
A Star is Born (2018)(R)
Widows (R)

Updated 2/27/19

new DVDs, reader's advisory

New DVDs – January 2019

The following films have been added to our collection during the month of January.
MPAA ratings follow each title in parentheses, with (NR) denoting the film is not rated.  If a language other than English follows the film title, the film will be in that language with optional English subtitles.

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (Korean)(NR)
AXL (PG)
Bad Times at the El Royale (R)
Beyond the Clouds (Hindi)(NR)
BlacKkKlansman (R)
First Man (PG-13)
Halloween (2018)(R)
The Hate U Give (PG-13)
Hell Fest (R)
The Hunter Killer (R)
Johnny English Strikes Again (PG)
mid90s (R)
Monsters and Men (R)
Night School (PG-13)
The Nun (R)
The Old Man & the Gun (PG-13)
One Hundred Two Not Out (Hindi)(PG)
Peppermint (R)
A Simple Favor (R)
Three Identical Strangers (PG-13)
Time Freak (PG-13)
Venom (PG-13)
What They Had (R)
White Boy Rick (R)
The Wife (R)

Updated 1/30/18

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – December 2018

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group members rated the book between a 3.5 and 5.0 with one member giving the book a 2.5. The average of the ratings was 3.79.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 3.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.33.

Review:
The novel was 502 pages long, so sadly during the holiday season not all members were able to finish the novel.  Some members thought that the book demanded a lot of time and that there were too many characters and the book was too long. The facilitator promised a shorter book for the 2019-2020 book club season.

Many members enjoyed the cozy British mystery compared to the contemporary mystery.  Members found that the cozy British mystery reminded them of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes novels.  Members definitely would recommend this novel to people who enjoy cozy mysteries written in the vein of Christie.  One member, who has read all of Christie’s books, thought Horowitz followed the pattern and pitch of Christie, but Magpie Murders was his own style—she found this very intriguing. One member felt the book in a way offered a tutorial on murder mysteries.

Overall, members who were able to read the novel in bigger chunks seemed to be more satisfied with novel.  Members found the book very cleverly written and that it generated good discussion even for members who do not read mysteries.  On the whole, members were satisfied with the ending and no one was able to solve the mystery in its entirety.

Two members had read the book previously as it received high recommendations from Book Pages.  These members thought the book was a cut above and very cerebral.  They thought the book accurately portrayed the English community and that the descriptions of the characters were vivid.  One member thought about whether or not the book could have been published as two books.  The members resolved her own inquiry, by stating that she believed for the novel to work it need to be published as two mysteries in one book.

Several members were frustrated that Horowitz led them so far afield and indeed, he pulled scenarios out of the bag to throw readers off the track.  Nevertheless, Horowitz attempts to calm the reader’s frustration by inserting statements in the novel to encourage the reader to continue.  On p. 145 (cozy mystery) Atticus Pund wrote in his masterwork, The Landscape of Criminal Investigation: “One can think of the truth as eine vertiefung—a sort of deep valley which may not be visible from a distance but which will come upon you quite suddenly.  There are many ways to arrive there. A line of questioning that turns out to be irrelevant still has the power to bring you nearer to your goal.  There are no wasted journeys in the detection a crime.”

Finally, several members who are not fans of mysteries really enjoyed the novel.  They enjoyed trying to solve the puzzles and felt this was a great brain exercise.

Discussion Highlights:

  • In Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz gives occasional commentary comparing literary fiction and popular fiction and the artist’s endeavor in a commercial world. The facilitator posed some general questions regarding these topics. The facilitator created these questions to cover the overall questions about why mysteries are so successful in the publishing world.
  • Using characters, Anthony Horowitz talks about the public’s need for mysteries. He speaks to the obsession the public has for murder mysteries.

The group was asked to comment on these sections of the book:

p. 70 – Susan Ryeland, editor of Cloverleaf books
“…It’s strange when you think about it. There are hundreds and hundreds of murders in books and television. It would be hard for narrative fiction to survive without them.  And yet there are almost none in real life…Why is it that we have such a need for murder mystery and what is it that attracts us—the crime or the solution?  Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?”

p. 159 Detective Inspector Richard Locke
“All these murders on TV…Every night…People have some sort of fixation. And what really annoys me is that it’s nothing like the truth…There are only three motives. Sex, anger and money…And you know how we catch them? We don’t ask them clever questions and work out that they don’t have an alibi, that they weren’t actually where they were meant to be. We catch them on CCTV.  Half the time, they leave their DNA all over the crime scene.  Or they confess. Maybe one day you should publish the truth although I’m telling you, nobody would want to read it.”

The facilitator further responded from the book.  On pages 183-184, Susan Ryeland speaks to the power of mysteries.

The group was asked to offer commentary about this statement from the book:

“In a world of full of uncertainties, is it not inherently satisfying to come to the last page with every i dotted and every t crossed?  …We are surrounded by tensions and ambiguities, which we spend half our life trying to resolve, and we’ll probably be on our own deathbed when we reach that moment when everything makes sense.  Just about every whodunnit provides that pleasure.  It is the reason for their existence.”

The facilitator addressed the comments made in Magpie Murders about the value of mysteries.

Andreas, Ancient Greek scholar, debates Susan regarding the literary value of mysteries on pp. 164-165.

Andreas said, “’I read them because you worked on them and obviously I cared about       you.  But I thought they were crap.’I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to say.

‘They made a lot of money.’

‘Cigarettes make a lot of money.  Toilet paper makes a lot of money.  It doesn’t mean            they’re worth anything.’

‘You can’t say that.’

‘Why not? Alan Conway was laughing at you, Susan.  He was laughing at everyone.  I           know about writing. I teach Homer…He knew what those books were—and he knew        when he was putting them together.  They’re badly written trash!’

‘I don’t agree.  They’re very well written.  Millions of people enjoyed them.’

‘They’re worth nothing! Eighty thousand words to prove that they butler did it?’

‘You’re just being snobbish.’

‘And you’re defending something that you always knew had no value at all.’”

Then the facilitator asked the group whether mysteries have any lasting value to our society.

Melissa Conway, Alan’s ex-wife talks to Susan about her role in getting Alan to write detective fiction.  Melissa loved Alan’s literary work, but it wasn’t getting published.  She convinced Alan to write mysteries because he always had a fascination with tricks and trompe l’oeils.  Melissa helped him to write his first mystery, Atticus Pund Investigates and as his mysteries became publishing sensations, Alan changed and was no longer fulfilled.  Alan hated his main character, the noble, Atticus Pund.  Melissa states on page 198, “Of course, it wasn’t as good as his other work.  It was lighter and completely pointless, but I thought it was beautifully written…”

The facilitator asked the group if they read mysteries or watch mysteries, if so, why do they enjoy about them.

  • The group discussed clues that were hidden in plain sight and how skillful Horowitz was in burying those clues.
  • The group discussed at length the many red-herrings Horowitz used to lead the reader astray.
  • We discussed how the author ratcheted up the suspense.
  • We discussed at what point in the book the members began to unravel the mystery.
  • Finally, we discussed the skill necessary to write this novel. We compared and contrasted the Golden Age mystery set in the 1950’s with the Contemporary mystery.  We compared the language, tone, style, pace, and typeface used. We discussed the use of character counterparts in each novel.  We discussed the significance of the anagram.  Also, members stated they would like to know the meaning behind the cover of Magpie Murders.

Resources:

Anthony Horowitz, the author, cleverly uses two different typefaces to assist the reader in distinguishing between the two mysteries. The Cozy Mystery pages are numbered at the bottom of each page and the Contemporary Mystery pages are numbered at the top of each page.

1) Cozy Mystery set in 1950’s (pp. 3-212 and near very end of entire book—Chapter entitled, A Secret Never to be Told (pp. 217-241))

2) Contemporary Mystery—very beginning of book (pp.1-4) continues in middle of book (pp. 5-232) and epilogue entitled, Agios Nikolaos, Crete (pp. 233-236)

(pages correspond to Regular Type Hardcover copy)

Characters in Cozy Mystery:

Sir Magnus Pye: Lord of Pye Hall
Lady Frances Pye: Magnus’s wife
Jack Dartford: Lady Frances Pye’s lover
Frederick (Freddy) Pye: Magnus and Frances’ son
Clarissa Pye: spinster sister of Magnus and local schoolteacher
Dr. Redwing: Local Doctor
Arthur: Artist husband of Dr. Redwing
Dr. Edgar Rennard: Dr. Redwing’s father who has dementia
Mary Blakiston: housekeeper at Pye Hall
Matthew Blakiston: Mary’s estranged husband
Tom Blakiston: one of Mary and Matthew’s sons
Robert Blakiston: one of Mary and Matthew’s sons
Joy Sanderling: Robert’s fiancé
Neville Brent: groundskeeper at Pye Hall
Diana Weaver: local cleaning lady
Jeffrey Weaver: elderly gravedigger
Rev. Robert Osborne: local vicar
Henrietta Osborne: Vicar’s wife
Johnny and Gemma Whitehead: owners of local antique shop
Arthur Reeve: recently burglarized and medal collection missing
Detective Inspector Raymond Chubb: local policeman
Atticus Pund: Poirot-like character for this mystery
James Fraser: Atticus’s sidekick

Characters in Contemporary Murder Mystery (counterparts from Cozy mystery in parentheses):

Susan Ryeland (Atticus Pund): editor, Cloverleaf books
Andreas Pataks: Susan’s professor boyfriend
Charles Clover (Robert Blakiston): CEO and founder of Cloverleaf books
Jemina Humphries: Charles Clover’s secretary
Alan Conway (Sir Magnus Pye): author of Magpie Murders
Sajid Khan and wife: Alan’s lawyer and friend
Rev. Tom Robeson (Rev. Robin Osborne): local vicar
Mark Redmond (Matthew Blakiston): TV and Film producer of Red Herring Productions/possible developing The Atticus Adventures
John White (Johnny Whitehead): hedgefund manager and Alan’s neighbor
Claire Jenkins (Clarissa Pye): Alan’s sister
James Taylor (James Fraser): Alan’s boyfriend
Melissa Conway (Lady Frances Pye): Alan’s ex-wife
Frederick/Freddy Conway (Frederick/Freddy Pye): Alan and Melissa’s son
Detective Superintendent Richard Locke (Detective Inspector Raymond Chubb): detective who helped Melissa and Alan with research for mystery novels

https://www.anthonyhorowitz.com/

 

Read-a-Likes:

Magpie Murders

Anthony Horowitz is well known for creating and writing Foyle’s War and his wife,
Jane Green, is the producer.
Horowitz has also written many screenplays for Midsomer Murders.

For books and DVDs in our collection by Anthony Horowitz, please click here.