Murder at Christmas

December already . . .  And so many wonderfully seasonal books out there to keep you cozy on a frosty winter’s night. For example, one of literature’s most beloved detectives stars in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which I haven’t even read yet (gasp)! But I will be starting it shortly – I just have to wrap up Crimson Snow, first.
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I read a lot of mixed reviews for Crimson Snow (which is a collection of stories), so I really hemmed and hawed about adding it to my collection. But I am so glad I picked up a copy, because the stories are everything I hoped they would be. They are all set in the past, which makes them interesting from a historical perspective, and because they are short stories, you can sit down and read one from start to finish in a relatively short sitting. And in the Christmas season, where there is so much to do and so much going on, you might only have a few minutes at a time to sit down with a book.
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All the stories in Crimson Snow are murder mysteries, but with protagonists who are not as well known as Albert Campion, Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. Nevertheless, the stories are quaint and enjoyable, with neat and tidy endings. Also, Martin Edwards’  introduction to each story is full of interesting tidbits about the author or the history of the particular story – so it’s educational, too!

Another great Christmas read is Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon. This is a full-length novel, also set is the past, having been originally published in 1937. It’s actually quite creepy at times, with all the loose ends tied up nicely at the end, and there are multiple murders to keep you guessing throughout.
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I’m sure you all have your Christmas reading well in hand at this point. But just in case anyone out there needs some additional ideas, I hope these have helped. Merry Christmas!

A bookish retrospective

Hello, and happy new year! I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are also amazed by how quickly 2016 went by. It happens every year, so I don’t know why it is such a surprise each time, but…I can’t believe it!

Every year people write about all the books they’ve read, and I was always left wondering how I would fit in on the spectrum of volumes read per year. So in 2016 I kept a list, and I managed to get 26 books read this year! That number has made me especially skeptical of those who read over 100 books a year. Unless their job is to read and review books, of course. But for anyone with a full-time job to read over 100 books a year, I have to wonder.

2016 Reading Highlights

  • I discovered a new series this year: A Victorian Bookshop Mystery series by Kate Parker. They are obviously fluffy reads, but I love that they are set in Victorian England; the protagonist is the proprietor of a bookstore; there’s a cat, murder, intrigue and romance. What’s not to love?! A wonderfully entertaining escape from reality.

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  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. I enjoyed this novel about a descendant of the Brontë family, and I was especially impressed by the author’s insightful comments about the Brontë girls and how events in the lives of the other sisters seem to have ended up in Charlotte’s best-selling work, Jane Eyre.

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  • As some of my posts this year indicated, I re-read some books that I haven’t looked at in years. Re-reading books is always enjoyable, because it’s like visiting with old friends. I read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I think I will try to tackle The Moonstone this year, which I haven’t cracked open in close to 20 years.
  • I renewed my acquaintance with Agatha Christie. I read lots of her books in high school, but hadn’t picked one up in years! So after following @agathachristie on Twitter and reading about The Bibulous Bibliobiuli‘s challenge to read all of Christie’s works last year, I thought I would re-visit those classics, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I try to pay equal attention to M. Poirot and Miss Marple.

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Who knows what this new year will hold? If I could make a wish, it would be for the space to build some shelves that can hold all the books in my home. Aside from that, I can’t wait to read more M. L. Longworth books, find out what happens in the newest Birder Murder installation (being released in May), and meet more new books, as well as re-visit some old familiar ones. Oh, and let’s not forget the next illustrated Harry Potter book, due out in October!

On that note, I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year! All the very best in 2017 – may your tea always be hot and your bookshelves always full.  🙂

Beautiful, delicious, French mysteries

Thanks to a very positive review by Dolce Bellezza, I discovered a wonderful series that fits perfectly into my ‘quirky and unusual fiction’ category for book recommendations. The author is M. L. Longworth, and the books take place in the south of France. One of the protagonists loves good food and wine, so along with vivid descriptions of one of the world’s most beautiful areas, we are treated to delicious menus and vintages as well.
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The first book in the series is Death at the Château Bremont and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read from cover to cover. Cafés in Aix-en-Provence, two murders, a chateau in the country, a vineyard, and a trip to Cannes give the reader a literary vacation and a refreshing break from everyday life. I can’t wait to read the next ones!

Murder in Japan

I can’t believe that 1) it’s September. What?? I know. It snuck up on me too; and 2) that I haven’t suggested any unusual, quirky reads since July 13. Fortunately, I have just finished reading a new book that fits nicely into that category, and thank goodness there are two more (so far) in the series! So, without further ado, let me introduce you to The Shinobi Mysteries, by Susan Spann:

The Claws of the Cat

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As you know, I don’t do book reviews (there are plenty of other sites out there that do that), but here’s a quick synopsis: It’s 16th-century Japan, and a violent murder must be solved within two days, or innocent people will die. A samurai and Portuguese priest team up to solve the crime, with lots of insight into samurai culture and historic Japan. I highly recommend it. And guess what? There are two more books that follow!

Blade of the Samurai and Flask of the Drunken Master:

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book and can’t wait to start the second one. I know you’ll like them too!

Heart-Warming Murder Mysteries?

Scrolling idly through my Twitter feed, I came across a post from Random House Canada announcing another Isabel Dalhousie mystery being released on July 21. Well! Who is Isabel Dalhousie, and should I know about her mysteries? A quick Google search confirmed that YES, I should know about her. Why? Because she is an amateur detective in Edinburgh. That was all it took (along with quite a few very positive reviews online) for me to add Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club books to my To Read list. And then I realized that his Isabel Dalhousie books join Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, The Cat Who mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun, and the Birder Murder Mysteries by Steve Burrows in my list of books that I would like to read. There’s a theme here, I thought, and decided to share these series with my readers in keeping with my quirky, unusual reading suggestions.

The first series I really embraced as an adult was Elizabeth Peters‘ Amelia Peabody mysteries.
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These books combine everything I’m interested in: Victorian England, Egyptian archaeology and murder mysteries. Who could ask for more? Even though the first book in the series was published in 1975, they are still for sale on Amazon.com and I highly recommend them for light, enjoyable reading with some ancient history as an added bonus.

I have to admit, the Birder Murders by Steve Burrows look delightful, but I have not yet read them! I just purchased A Siege of Bitterns the day before yesterday, and am wrapping up the book I’m currently reading before I start it.
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Again, the books feature an English detective, and with the addition of birding! As someone who delights in nature and loves birds, I can’t wait to read these books, as they also have great reviews.

The Cat Who mysteries do not have an English detective in them, but they do take place in a very quirky fictional town and the protagonist has two wonderful cats who help him solve each book’s mystery.
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These heart-warming books are wonderful for light reading that brings a smile and keeps you turning the pages. For more info on The Cat Who books, check out one of my prior posts: https://bookideas.net/2015/03/12/the-cat-who-warms-your-heart/

Alan Bradley’s youthful amateur detective Flavia de Luce is adorable and precocious, and basically defines the word quirky. Set in 1950s England with a cast of lovable characters, Falvia always finds the culprits with her usual panache.
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One thing I especially enjoy about this series is that Flavia and her family don’t age – or they do very slowly. In the first six books she is eleven years old, and I find that when authors let their characters grow older, they have to discard scenarios or surroundings and events that occurred in the earlier volumes. And if those were the scenarios, surroundings and events that readers enjoyed, then it’s difficult to keep up the level of appeal. All that aside, though, I truly enjoy these books and hope you will pick one up if you haven’t already!

My newest find is Alexander McCall Smith’s amateur Scottish detective, Isabel Dalhousie. However, once I started looking into Ms. Dalhousie, I also stumbled upon the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which sounds like another gem, and yet another series I need to explore!
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Although the settings are Edinburgh (certainly close enough to my fondness for English settings) and Botswana (not very English, but tea is mentioned in the teaser!), the protagonists sound endearing and lovable and I expect to enjoy these treasures over many cups of tea to come.