The ups and downs of 2017

Hello, and happy new year! I hope 2017 was full of literary joys and adventures for all of you, and I hope 2018 continues to delight and surprise us.

Throughout the year I read several new books that were not really ‘new,’ in that although I had not read them before, they were from series I enjoy, such as M. L. Longworth installments or Agatha Christie novels. They were not exactly new, but delightful all the same.

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M. L. Longworth books

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My Agatha Christie collection so far…

Others were books I found through rabbit holes that one so easily falls into when looking at Amazon suggestions and reviews. One such gem was The Relic Master. I have mentioned it in a previous blog post, and I can’t recommend it enough. A healthy dose of history, mystery, some action, and a little romance, made for an edition to my collection where I was sorry to reach its end.

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The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

Another unexpected surprise was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but it far surpassed the ones I had. Murder, devious plots, mistaken identity and a little romance make this another one that was hard to put down.

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Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

And speaking of books from the past, I re-read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It’s probably been twenty years since I first read it, and I have to say, I really liked it! I am an unabashed Wilkie Collins fan, and this confirmed my high regard of his work. At over 500  pages, it looks like it could be a bit of a slog, but it went very quickly with lots and lots of mystery and intrigue, and of course some romance as well. If you haven’t read it (or The Woman in White, my all-time favourite) I can highly recommend it.

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The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I also read a few books this year that were a little underwhelming, the most notable of which was The Circle by Dave Eggers. It was actually just the end that I disliked. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, but I will say that the protagonist’s final actions were thoroughly unsatisfactory, in my humble opinion. Which leads me to another story I didn’t love, and that was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I am glad I have finally read it, but it wasn’t a story that resonated with me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well written or engrossing, both of which it was. It just wasn’t my favourite.

I could go on and on, but I try to keep my posts from rambling, so I will sign off for now. If you would like to see all the books I read in 2017 (a whopping 38), please click on the link below.

Books for 2017

A very happy and healthy new year to each and every one of you. May your year be full of love, laughter, and wonderful BOOKS!

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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!

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!

The Cat Who . . . warms your heart

Has anyone out there read The Cat Who . . . series by Lilian Jackson Braun? I have to admit that these books are my guilty pleasure. They first came to my attention in 2010, although the first one was written in 1966. And that is partly why I was drawn to them – they are glimpses into the past. The series’ main character, Qwilleran, is a newspaper man in the first few books, and I loved reading about the typewriters and pencils that filled the room where the journalists churned out all their stories. Such a place is so far removed from the computers and digital layouts of today, that that alone is interesting enough to keep me reading. But then came the cats, hence the guilty pleasure. Qwilleran ends up adopting two cats, one each in the first two books of the series. And that first cat has a sixth sense… Or does he?
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There is a gap of 18 years between the third book (1968) and the fourth (1986), and from then on they came out very regularly until 2007. Reading through the developments of electronic library catalogues and cell phones, cats who help solve murder mysteries, and a little town “400 miles north of everywhere,” is what makes these books such a joy to read. They warm the heart and they don’t require too much from the reader. I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a quirky read, or who needs something to calm the soul and bring a smile.
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Great Detective Fiction

As winter approaches, time spent indoors with a good book and a cup of something hot becomes more and more appealing. Something to aim for at the end of the day, even. But maybe you don’t know what to read. Perhaps you’ve read all the books from your Amazon wish list and those hours on the couch under a blanket are making you anxious because you don’t have any books waiting (unlikely for a book lover, I know).

Well, be anxious no more! I have just the thing for a chilly winter’s eve: great detective novels from the early 20th century. Do you enjoy Agatha Christie? Then you will surely like the works by these award-winning mystery writers.

John Dickson Carr – Master of the “locked room mystery” where the detective solves an impossible-seeming crime, his books are easy and delightful to read. Dr. Fell is the main detective in the books he wrote under this name, although there are a few other titles with a different detective figure. Carr is perhaps best known for The Hollow Man, published in 1935 (US title- The Three Coffins).  Carter Dickson was a pseudonym, and books under this name have Sir Henry Merrivale as the detective. Carr was prolific, and his work The Crooked Hinge (1938) is often cited as a classic of great detective fiction.

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Ngaio Marsh – More murder, mystery and detection from the 1930s make these books a fun way to spend an evening. Marsh’s first novel was published in 1934, and Death in a White Tie (1938) is one of my favorites. She wrote eight books in the 1930s, but went on writing until the early 1980s. The main detective figure in Marsh’s mysteries is British CID detective Roderick Alleyn.

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Dorothy L. Sayers – As with the others listed in this post, books by Dorothy Sayers are pure entertainment, with interesting historical aspects for the history-lover as well. Whose Body? was one of her most popular, released in 1923, although the bulk of her mysteries were written in the ’30s.  (Five Red Herrings- 1931, Have His Carcase- 1932, The Nine Tailors- 1934 and several others). Lord Peter Wimsey is her main detective figure; she and Ngaio Marsh were both “Queens of Crime” along with Agatha Christie.

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