Saturday, March 28, 2020

REVIEW: Booking the Crook

Booking the Crook
Author: Laurie Cass

Mrrrr.

That's Eddie-speak for...I love this series!

Librarian Minnie Hamilton, her rescue cat Eddie, and a whole cast of characters in Chilson, MI are on the case once again in Booking the Crook, the 7th book in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Minnie has a lot on her plate....wedding plans for two people she loves, another new library director, winter driving for the bookmobile....and, of course, murder.

I have been a devout reader of this series ever since I fell in love with Eddie in book 1. This is the first time I've listened to an audio book version....and hearing Eddie make his Mrrr commentary and demands just made the story even better! Narrated by Erin Bennett, the audio is just over 9 hours long. I listened to the story during my commutes to work....while working in the garden....and while cooking/baking, folding laundry, etc. It was a perfect story to enjoy while getting things done! Kept a smile on my face....and kept the adulting all done on time! Perfect!

I love the characters in this series....the setting....the mix of humor with the mystery. It's just a fun series to read. It's not absolutely vital to read the books in order....there aren't really any major spoilers for prior stories. But, to get the full character building and backgrounds, it's probably best to start with book 1 and go in order.

Another lovely visit to Chilson! I have a review copy of the new book, Gone With the Whisker, all ready to read! I can't wait to find out what Eddie's up to this time! Gone With the Whisker comes out March 31, 2020!


Friday, March 27, 2020

REVIEW: Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake
Author: Elizabeth Enright

I'm not sure how I missed this sweet children's adventure story, but I'm glad I happened across it by chance on my library's digital site! This is such a fun story!

Gone Away Lake was first published in 1957. Apparently it was out of print for awhile, but has been re-released. I listened to the audio book version. Narrated by Colleen Delany, the audio is just over 5.5 hours long....a good listening length for kids and adults! I enjoyed this story on my commute to work.

Portia is 11 and her little brother Foster is 6. Their parents are going to Europe for an extended stay, so they get to travel alone by train for their annual visit with their cousin, Julian. The trip is exciting and the kids have all sorts of adventures. The best part -- they discover an old summer resort, long abandoned after the lake area turned into a swamp. An elderly brother and sister still reside in one of the houses and happily tell the children the story of the former resort on what they now call Gone-Away Lake.

This is definitely a tale from an era gone by....times when middle class families could have summer homes and kids spent a month in summer away from it all....an era where parents would let their kids travel by train alone. The three kids have excellent adventures in the woods....experience a little bit of danger....meet new friends....and learn some lessons along the way. Fun story!

I was so happy to learn that there is a second book -- Return to Gone Away! I felt the ending of this story was a little abrupt. I wanted to know what happened next! I guess I'm not the only one, as Elizabeth Enright published the second book in 1961.

This story is a little bit dated, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment one little bit. The story is sweet and fun! Very entertaining. The tale is age appropriate for middle grade students, but entertaining for adults, too.

I'm glad the story continues! I have the second audio book checked out of my local library and ready to go. This is the first book by Elizabeth Enright that I have read. She wrote many books for children. I'm definitely going to read more of her books! I love it when I chance upon a new-to-me author that I really enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

REVIEW: Dead Voices

Dead Voices
Author: Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces....so jumped right on this second book in the series. After surviving evil scarecrows and The Smiling Man, Ollie, Cocoa and Brian are trying to put their lives back together. A ski trip seems the perfect get-away to help them get back on track. But Mount Hemlock turns out to be a hauntingly horrific place.

I have to be honest and say that I didn't enjoy this second story as much as I did Small Spaces. I'm not saying I didn't like it...I did. I just didn't love it. The first book kept my attention and was truly creepy. This second story just seemed a bit forced and less atmospheric. Still enjoyable...but just not as creepy cool as Small Spaces. I'm not going to delve into the plot, as it's too easy to accidentally spoil things. I will just sum it up in a few words -- ghosts, the voices of the dead, dark secrets and danger. Again. These poor kids can't even go on a fun ski trip without evil showing up to ruin things.

This is a great ghost story for kids. It's creepy, but not scary enough to cause nightmares or freakouts. Totally age appropriate. I like the characters, and the premise is excellent. I just missed the perfect atmospheric, yet age appropriate, scary vibe of the first book.

I hope Arden writes more in this series, or at least more stories like this. Very enjoyable -- even for an adult! I listened to the audio book version of this story. Narrated by Renee Dorian, the audio is just under 5.5 hours long. A nice listening length for kids or adults. This story was great to listen to on my commute to work. Dorian gives a good performance. She reads at a steady pace, and has excellent voice acting skills.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

REVIEW: Junkyard Dogs

Junkyard Dogs
Author: Craig Johnson

I love the Walt Longmire series! And I enjoyed the recent television series as well. Usually, I find myself a one-or-the-other type person when it comes to books or film/television adaptations. But, with Longmire I was able to separate both versions and enjoy both as related, but independent from each other. I think it is the characters -- even with the changes made for television -- that made that possible for me. Johnson wrote some wonderful characters for this series. Coupled with awesome casting for the show, it brought the concept alive on the small screen without destroying it (although they did make some pretty sweeping changes).

Junkyard Dogs is the 6th book in the Longmire series. It's property developer vs junk man in Absaroka County. What starts with a severed thumb in a cooler ends up with murder and dark secrets. I love how Craig Johnson mixes humor and western justice in this series. I'm never disappointed!

I listened to the audio book version of this story on my commutes to and from work. Perfect! As usual George Guidall gave a great performance as narrator. His voice is wonderful and he has excellent acting skills. Awesome listening experience! The audio is just over 7.5 hours long, so it is a manageable listening length. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book. Good production value, Guidall reads at a steady pace and has an easily understandable voice, and there is no background hiss or other problems to cause hearing issues for those with hearing loss.  I throw that in as sometimes it's a problem for me with some audio books....so I figure others with hearing loss must have the same issue at times.

On to the next book, Hell is Empty!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

REVIEW: The Wolf In Underpants Freezes His Buns Off

The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off
Author: Wilfrid Lupano, Mayana Itoïz (Illustrator)

The Wolf in Underpants is back! He's acting a bit cranky and the other forest animals are a bit worried. All the wolf will say is "They're freezing!'' The animals are confused....what is freezing? His toes? His ears? Everyone scrambles to warm up the wolf before his former bad disposition comes back!

Another very cute story starring the fuzzy wolf in underpants. This one has a nice lesson as well as humor. This would be a perfect bed time story, for independent reading, or just for fun! I enjoyed this story just as much as the first book this cute series.

The illustrations are colorful and have little things going on in the background for kids to "find'' as they read or have the story read to them.

I turn to children's stories when I need to relax. This one did the trick....I had a big smile on my face the whole time. Cute pictures and just a nice innocent story. It was very calming after a really busy day!

**I voluntarily read an advance review copy of this book from Lerner Publishing. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. No wolves were chilled or angered during the writing of this review.**


Monday, March 23, 2020

REVIEW: The Wolf in Underpants

The Wolf in Underpants
Authors: Wilfred Lupano, Mayana Itoïz (Illustrator)

All the animals in the forest are afraid of the wolf. He's scary....big teeth, crazed eyes, mean disposition. But just wait til they see him in person......      He's got......

Underpants.

Cute children's story with full color, very cute illustrations. There's nothing like a comfy pair of underpants to make all things right with the world....even for a scary wolf.

Very enjoyable story! Kids would love this for story time, independent reading, or just for fun! :) As an adult, I just needed a cute story to make me smile.....and it worked! There's nothing like a funny children's story to unburden one's mind!

The illustrations are cute with little things going on in the background that will be fun for kids to "find'' while reading or listening to this book.

Totally rad underpants too. I need to find my husband a stripey pair like that! :)







Sunday, March 22, 2020

REVIEW: The Dark Horse

The Dark Horse
Author: Craig Johnson

The Walt Longmire series is one of my favorites. I love the characters, the setting, the plots....I just enjoy the books. I also loved (and miss) the television series. The casting was perfect! There were huge changes in some characters and plots between the books and the television adaptation, but that's ok. I enjoyed both as separate, but related, Longmire stories.

The Dark Horse is the 5th book in the series. Walt Longmire knows something isn't right with a case he's investigating. A man locked his wife's horses in their barn and lit it on fire. So, the wife allegedly got a gun and shot him in the head six times. But....the facts just aren't lining up. The case is even from another county, but Longmire decides to go undercover to do some digging around. It's difficult to go undercover in a small town that only has about 40 residents.....but he wants to know what actually happened. on the ranch that night before a possibly innocent woman goes to prison for murder.

I love how the Longmire books combine rural and tribal life, law enforcement investigation, and humor to form awesome modern western tales. Vic Moretti is my favorite character. Vic is foul-mouthed, tough and very protective of her boss. She's a skilled deputy, but also a sexy woman who doesn't take any crap from anybody. I love her relationship with Walt and the way she deals with people. Awesome character! Henry Standing Bear comes up a close second to Vic. He has been Walt's friends since they were in school together. They also served in Vietnam together. Their relationship is an incredibly close one. Henry is complex....very spiritual, very loyal and rough & tumble when he has to be.

I enjoyed The Dark Horse. The plot was engaging and interesting. There were some excellent twists and side plots. Great story! I listened to the audio book version (Recorded Books), narrated by George Guidall. Guidall gave an excellent performance as usual. The Recorded Books version I got from my local library also includes a lengthy interview with author Craig Johnson. It was so interesting to hear him talk about his writing, characters and life!

On to the next book -- Junkyard Dogs!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

REVIEW: The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys
Author: Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys was published in 1925. It was Christie's 5th and last book released by her first publisher, The Bodley Head. She wanted out of her contract with them....and frankly, I think this book was a bit of a rush job to finish out that contract. It introduces Superintendent Battle and a handful of other characters that appear in later stories (especially The Seven Dials published in 1929) and the international thriller/mystery plot is interesting enough. But for me, this story just lacks the Christie pizazz that shines in most of her other works.

The basics: Anthony Cade is sent on a rather interesting adventure by a friend. James McGrath has in his possession a memoir that is rumored to contain some rather juicy tidbits about a small Balkan nation, Herzoslovakia, and its former royal family. The nation was recently ravaged by revolution. A faction that seeks to restore the monarchy desperately wants to prevent publication of the memoir. What starts out as a mission to take the manuscript to a publisher and collect £1,000 quickly becomes much more complicated. Add in some indiscreet letters that need to be returned to an English woman, foreign assassins, political intrigue and murder...and you get a pretty complex mess that Cade must navigate to succeed in his mission.

I love Agatha Christie. She has been my favorite writer since I was 9 and read my first Poirot novel. But.....this story......I had a hard time finishing it. The plot requires a complete suspension of reality...and in places, the pacing was just so slow that I lost interest. I found the ending lackluster....and some ending plot points just seemed ridiculous. Some I can overlook because the tale is almost 100 years old. What seems cliche to me in 2020 was new and exciting when Christie wrote this story. And, I can also admit that I prefer Christie's more famous detectives such as Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot to her other main characters like Superintendent Battle. Battle is an awesome detective....but he really isn't all that developed in this novel. Cade takes the forefront with Battle sleuthing around behind the scenes and popping in occasionally.

I get the distinct feeling that Christie published a trunk novel to finish out her publishing contract. The plot is ridiculous. The pacing is off. The characters are ho-hum. And the story is just.....ridiculous. It did not age well. But.....any author who writes as many books as Christie is definitely allowed to have a clunker or two. And -- this is just my opinion. Others may feel differently. But, I really get the impression that Christie dusted off a previously written manuscript she never intended to publish, shined it up a bit, and plunked it on her publisher's desk so she could put her experiences with The Bodley Head firmly behind her. Because....her next published novel was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, touted as one of the best murder mystery novels ever written.

So, even though I did not like this novel, I have to smile and salute Christie. I can just see her plonking down this manuscript, waving, and walking out the door. :) Well played, Agatha, well played.

I listened to the audio book version of this novel (Audio Partners), narrated by Hugh Fraser. Fraser reads at a nice even pace and gives a great performance.

Friday, March 20, 2020

REVIEW: The Early Cases of Hercule Poirot

The Early Cases of Hercule Poirot
Author: Agatha Christie

This book gathers 25 early Hercule Poirot short stories. Christie wrote these tales while on a around-the-world tour leading up to the British Empire Exposition. For those who want more information, a book about the 10-month tour in 1922, The Grand Tour, gives details of the trip, the people who traveled with Christie, and some of the sites/events that the group encountered. :)

I read the print version of this book while listening to the stories on audio. Poirot stories tend to contain a lot of French, so I decided to read and listen. That way I got to enjoy Poirot's French pronounced correctly...not the garbled mess I make of it in my head while reading silently. The audio book is narrated by Charles Armstrong. Armstrong reads at a nice pace and his voice is pleasant. He's not David Suchet....but does a fine job reading Poirot.

I enjoyed these stories. Most are very short, so other than the main characters -- Poirot, Hastings and Inspector Japp -- there really isn't much character development. But that's ok....the most important things are Poirot's investigations and his little grey cells. And those items are in these stories in abundance! Christie was quite skilled at fitting a nice little mystery into just a few pages.

I did have one problem with this collection. Some of the stories within are the original versions of tales that were later expanded and re-written into longer novellas. One such story, Christmas Adventure, was first published as a short story in 1923, but was later expanded into novella length in 1960. The expanded version changed character names and some plot modifications were made. This anthology is supposed to be the early stories about Hercule Poirot, but instead of including the original Christmas Adventure, the book includes the longer revamped version of the story, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. I'm on a quest to read all of Christie's works in publication order.....so this change really tweeked my reading goal OCD. I got sucked down a rabbit hole chasing after Christmas Adventure. It was published as an ebook in 2014, but is now unavailable to purchase. It was included in one UK anthology in the 90's....which was published under another name (The Harlequin Tea Set) in the US....and the US version did not include Christmas Adventure. So finally I had to give up.....until I can purchase a used copy of the UK anthology (While the Light Lasts and Other Stories). I made due with The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.....with only slight harrumphing.

I enjoyed the fact that the audio book gave the original publication date for each story at the beginning. And there wasn't a single story in the book that I didn't enjoy reading (even the pudding *smile*)

Great collection of Poirot mysteries! I had never read any of these stories before, so it was just awesome to read something "new'' by my favorite author!!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

REVIEW: The Lemesurier Inheritance (Agatha Christie)


The Lemesurier Inheritance
Author: Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot short story was first published in the UK on December 19, 1923 in Sketch Magazine. Publication in the US followed in 1925 (Blue Book Magazine). It is the last of the stories that Christie penned while on a 10-month around-the-world trip in 1922 leading up to the British Empire Exposition.

This story flashes back to the early days of Poirot and Hastings' friendship just after WWI. The story follows a string of deaths in the Lemesurier family, culminating in a visit to Poirot by the Matriarch of the family. Mrs. Lemesurier states that there are rumors of a family curse on the eldest sons. It seems the eldest sons in the family always die young and the estate passes to a younger son. She is afraid for her oldest son as he seems to be having a lot of near fatal accidents. She doesn't believe in the curse....but her husband seems to be obsessed with it. Poirot agrees to take the case. Can he prevent the boy's death? Or is it an unavoidable curse?

Surprisingly enough, this Poirot short was not adapted for television. The long-running television series, Agatha Christie's Poirot, skipped this one. But I did read that the story is referenced in The Labors of Hercules, a 90-minute Poirot television movie that aired in 2014. Suchet did narrate an audio book version of The Lemesurier Inheritance, so he can still state that he performed in a version of every Poirot story, even if the television show skipped this one. 

I'm trying to figure out why the television series skipped this story. It would have required some editing to adapt for television. Maybe that's the reason? It covers the entirety of the years of Hastings and Poirot's friendship, making it difficult to adapt to film. The actors in the television series had aged since the beginning of the series. And the story would have required significant editing to make the plot work without jumping back in time and working forward.  But, the obsessed reader in me really doesn't understand why they didn't make the effort....they did some pretty major changes in several of the stories to fit them into a hour episode. Why skip this one? They could have easily flashed back in the history of the family and left a younger Poirot/Hastings out of the mix entirely. Just seems a bit odd that they made such efforts to do all of the other stories....even some that were very short and simple....but skipped this one entirely? I haven't seen the Labors of Hercules movie yet, so I'm not sure how much of the plot they worked into it.....but why skip an entire story? This tale is a bit bizarre, but not so strange that it deserved to be left out of the television series. The series did skip over some short stories that were later re-worked into longer versions, opting to film the later versions (The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, Murder in the Mews and a few others). But only one short story was skipped completely -- this one. Hmmmm. Putting a character named Lemesurier into another film (The Labors of Hercules) is more of a homage than a real portrayal of the story.

But....I will withhold judgment until I actually watch the movie The Labors of Hercules. If the plot of this story isn't in there somewhere....I will be really disappointed. Why film all the rest.....and skip this one story??? Seems a bit odd.....    (Another Poirot story not included in the television show is Black Coffee. But....that particular work was actually a play that was later adapted into a novel in 1998. Suchet did a live reading performance of the play for a theater company....so he did effectively perform every Hercule Poirot story Christie wrote in one form or another.)

Well, this completes my backtracking to read the early short stories featuring Hercule Poirot. All 25 of them! I'm enjoying my quest to read all of Agatha Christie's writing in publication order! Now I can jump back into the novels. It's time for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd -- one of my favorites!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

REVIEW: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
Author: Agatha Christie

While working my way through Agatha Christie's works in publication order, this particular short story has me facing a conundrum. This tale was first published as Christmas Adventure in Sketch Magazine on December 12, 1923. It was later re-published in an expanded short novella form as The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. The later version expands the plot, changes character names, etc. I wanted to read the original version of the story before delving into the longer 1960's version....but it seems the original story has only been re-published in one UK anthology, While the Light Lasts and Other Stories. In the US this was published as The Harlequin Tea Set and Other stories. BUT....the Harlequin Tea Set collection did not include Christmas Adventure. So each time I search for the UK story collection, the search pulls up Harlequin Tea Set instead.....

ARGH!!!

So I turned to my local library....found an anthology "The Early Cases of Hercule Poirot" which includes all the early Poirot stories. But.....instead of Christmas Adventure (the version published first in 1923)...it includes The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.  Foiled again! So I turned to Amazon...they used to sell an ebook version of Christmas Adventure published in 2014. It now says "unavailable.'' Tried to find the ebook on a UK or Australian site.....all say unavailable.

So, it looks like I am going to have to read the revised, longer edition of this story until I can get my hands on a copy of While The Light Lasts and Other Stories. And so far, I have only been able to find copies on Ebay. 

Really??? LOL I even tried Internet Archive/Open Library. No luck there either.

So....I have put While the Light Lasts and Other Stories at the top of my "must buy a used copy of this ASAP" list...and I'm having pudding.....sigh. I will backtrack at a later date and read the original story.

Now to actually review the story...

Poirot isn't too keen on spending Christmas at an English country house. But after the the promise of modern conveniences (such as radiators and central heating), good food, and a mystery to solve, he travels to Kings Lacey for an old fashioned English holiday......and a stolen ruby in the plum pudding.

I enjoyed this holiday tale immensely (despite its not being the original story). Poirot did some sleuthing, enjoyed the festivities, and in the end, he decided it was quite the enjoyable holiday. Cute story! Interesting mystery! :)

This re-vamped story is also known as "The Theft of the Royal Ruby.'' It was under this name that the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted the story for television (Season 3, Episode 8). While the story is still delightful, I think the adaptation changed some of the best parts of the story and some characters were expanded that may have been better left as side notes. Still an enjoyable episode, but just not quite the same as the original story.

I'm still very curious about the shorter, original version of this story....  I will read and review it as soon as I have chased down a copy. :)

On to the next story -- The Lemesurier Inheiritance!






Tuesday, March 17, 2020

REVIEW: The Woman in the Mirror

The Woman in the Mirror
Author: Rebecca James

In 1947, Alice Miller comes to Winterbourne to be a governess for Cpt. Jonathan de Grey's twins. At first, the situation is idyllic. The isolated mansion on top a cliff by the sea is beautiful...but frightening or even threatening as well. The children's strange affection for her starts to turn dark. And their father slowly turns spiteful and mean. Flash forward several decades....orphan Rachel Wright finally discovers who her parents were and that she is the heir of Winterbourne. Excited that she finally has knowledge she wanted all her life, she discovers the old mansion hides secrets and mysteries that might have been best left alone.

This story is very gothic in feel. Very Victoria Holt-esque. I loved it! The story sucked me right in and I enjoyed every twist and turn. I'm not usually big on plots that skip back and forth in time, but for this sort of tale, it works. This sort of story has been done many times before.....governess finds herself isolated in a dangerous, mysterious situation....and a later resident of the house discovers what happened. But, Rebecca James does a superb job at re-visiting an old, tried and true gothic plot. She never allows the story to fall into melodrama or theatrics. This story is very well written. Great character development. And, some good twists along the way.

This is the first book by Rebecca James that I have read. I will definitely be coming back for more! Very enjoyable read!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from St. Martin's Press. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, March 16, 2020

REVIEW: The Double Clue (Agatha Christie)

The Double Clue
Author: Agatha Christie

The Double Clue is a Hercule Poirot short story first published in the UK (Sketch Magazine) on December 5, 1923. Publication in the US followed in Blue Book Magazine in 1925.

When a valuable rubies and an emerald necklace are stolen during a tea party, Poirot is brought in to help investigate the case. The owner is perplexed. Everyone at his little party were friends and he has no clue which one of them might have helped themselves to his valuables. Poirot must discreetly use his little grey cells to ferret out the culprit.

Another great short Poirot mystery! I am enjoying all these early Poirot short stories. The plots are varied and the characters interesting, even if the short length of the stories prevents detailed character development. When the main drive is the mystery....less developed caricatures work perfectly. Christie was quite skilled at creating an interesting little mystery in just a few pages. Poirot was in fine form in The Double Clue, as usual. Interesting mystery with a couple red herrings thrown in for good measure. Enjoyable read!

The Double Clue was adapted for television by the long-running show Agatha Christie's Poirot (Season 3, Episode 6). David Suchet is fabulous as Poirot as usual! Some significant changes were made to the story though. The bare bones of the story are there....but major changes in plot were made to incorporate a bit of romance for Poirot. The barest thread is present in the original story....but it's admiration and respect, not romance. His feelings for a woman are encapsulated in 2 sentences in the original story. But in adapting it for television, they made it a major plot point and wove the story arc around it. Yuck. I feel like this little plot nuance goes against the character Christie created. Poirot would not seemingly abandon a case that potentially endangers the job of Inspector Japp to spend time with a woman. Plus, he would never leave Hastings to investigate alone. Nope....wouldn't happen. Suchet is fabulous...as is the rest of the cast. My problem is with the script and the plot changes the show's writers made....not with the performance. Good episode.....it just wasn't really the tale that Christie wrote any longer. And Poirot would not do some of the things depicted in the episode, in my opinion.

But back to the original story.....

Interesting mystery! Nice twists. And on to the next -- The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding!








Sunday, March 15, 2020

REVIEW: The Cornish Mystery (Agatha Christie)

The Cornish Mystery
Author: Agatha Christie

One of my reading goals this year is to enjoy Agatha Christie's works in publication order. Christie has been my favorite author since the age of 9 when I read my first Poirot novel. I have always wanted to read everything she wrote...but never had the time. I decided to dedicate a portion of my reading time in 2020 to finally start this monumental task!

So far, I have read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversary, The Murder on the Links, The Man in the Brown Suit and I'm finishing up The Secret of Chimneys. But, I had to backtrack a bit as I forgot about short stories. Oops! :) I jumped back in her bibliography a bit and started to read the first Hercule Poirot short stories Christie wrote in 1922. She wrote the stories while on a tour of the British empire related to the British Empire Exhibition. The 10-month trip is detailed in a book, The Grand Tour. So....my enjoyable trip through Christie's writing has already added to my TBR pile because once I learned of this book, I bought a copy immediately!

Ok....on to the story I'm reviewing. I do get to the main point eventually....

The Cornish Mystery is a Hercule Poirot short story first published in the UK (Sketch Magazine) on November 28, 1923. US publication followed in Blue Book Magazine in 1925.

Mrs. Pengelley comes to see Poirot. She says she thinks her husband has been trying to poison her. Poirot agrees to investigate, and the case soon becomes much more complicated than a woman being afraid.

Great story! I love how Christie always manages to tell such an interesting tale in only a few pages! :)

The long-running television show, Agatha Christie's Poirot, based an episode on this story (Season 2, episode 5). The episode sticks pretty closely to the original story, but fleshes things out a bit to stretch it to episode length.

On to the next Poirot story -- The Double Clue! :)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

REVIEW: The Little Mermaid (Illustrated)

The Little Mermaid
Author: Hans Christian Anderson
Illustrator: Helen Crawford-White
Translator: Misha Hoekstra


This is a beautiful new edition of a well-known story by Hans Christian Anderson! The illustrations are beautiful. The cover art is gorgeous. And the story is the one I remember from childhood. Just a wonderful reading experience. I'm going to buy a copy for my granddaughter. :)

This book includes the story of The Little Mermaid and also The True-Hearted Tin Soldier. There are lovely illustrations throughout. This book is gorgeous and definitely giftable quality.

These stories would be great bedtime reading for kids, or a shelf staple for book/fairy tale lovers.

I will definitely be looking for more books illustrated by Helen Crawford-White. The art is just beautiful! Great reading and visual experience!

I have a pretty stressful job. I read a lot of children's books as a brain palate cleanser. It really does bring thoughts and feelings down to a calmer spot just to relax with a cup of tea and a sweet, innocent story. This book gave me a wonderful evening of relaxation after a busy, stressful day. :)

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Pushkin Children's Books. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**



Friday, March 13, 2020

REVIEW: Nick and Rudy

Nick and Rudy: A Zombie Apocalypse Christmas Tale
Author: Camille Picott

From the author of one of my favorite zombie book series comes a Christmas tale like no other.

What if the zombie apocalypse came to the North Pole? What if Santa's Elves did something worse than trying to unionize and demand benefits.....what if they all became.....(cue dramatic music stab)....zombies.

While Nick (good ol' saint..bowl full of jelly tummy...blah blah blah) is sitting having a beer with his pal Rudy the Reindeer....talking some smack.....complaining about their old ladies.....tossing back some rather interesting gummy bears to break the monotony....when all hell breaks loose at the north pole. With blood and guts flying, they have to quickly decide what to do. Can they escape?? Or will they be the first victims of the undead elves?

Fun story! Not for kids....just for adult laughs. S & G. I enjoyed it!

I have read Camille Picott's Undead Ultra series (ultra marathon runners in the zombie apocalypse)...and have her Sulan series on my TBR. Love her books! This short story would be great for anybody who loves zombie tales and isn't all that nostalgic about santa and his reindeer. :)

I have another holiday short story by this author that I'm going to read next -- Psycho Gets Her Man. Can't wait to read what the zombie apocalypse brings to Valentine's Day! :) There are 3 books in the Undead Ultra series, plus a prequel story that you can download here and there for free. I highly recommend the series! You don't have to be a serious runner to enjoy them -- I'm a plodder who does 5K runs for fun not a marathoner and I love the Undead Ultra series! And I hear a 4th book is coming out soon!!


Thursday, March 12, 2020

REVIEW: The Colorful Family Table

The Colorful Family Table
Author: Ilene Godofsky Moreno

I collect cookbooks. From a 100-year old cookbook for homemakers that seems to believe lard is a food group all on its own to a vegan gourmet extravaganza that intimidates me, I have a bit of everything. I won this family-friendly vegan cookbook in a Goodreads.com giveaway. When it arrived in my mailbox, it was a cold, wet, snowy day outside...so I sat wrapped up on my couch reading about lovely veggie goodness! mmmmm!

The Colorful Family Table is a collection of plant-based recipes to please both adults and finicky children. I no longer have young children at home, but I do have a teenager who thinks most vegetables come directly from satan. I think some of these recipes might change his mind about eating more vegetables and fruits! From wholesome baked apples to more daring fare like cauli-brocc tots (tater tots made with cauliflower and broccoli), I think he will like quite a few recipes in this book! My husband will absolutely love a lot of these dishes!  (My husband is diabetic and currently on a dirty keto diet to help him regulate his blood sugar/A1C and his weight). Let me  just name off a few: Balsalmic cabbage steaks, cheesy broccoli dumpling stew, stuffing hummus, smoky brussels chips, and meaty stuff zucchini boats....just to name a few!

The book is organized by the seasons, with sprinkles of helpful advice and ideas (like lunch box ideas, little recipes for extras like gravy, garlic sauteed greens, etc) here and there. All of the recipes have lovely full color photographs, and detailed ingredients listings and instructions.

This book could be useful to a vegan or vegetarian household....or for those who like to have an occasional meatless meal....and cooks who just want to add some pizzazz to their veggie dishes. The recipes are varied and all look really good! There are desserts, breakfast foods, lunches, dinners....all sorts of plant-based yumminess! The ingredients are simple.....most can be found at any grocery store. The few that might require a trip to a health food store are basic and not expensive. Nice mix of sweet and savory....and easy to prepare! Nothing intimidating or "weird'' ..... dishes that could easily be served to children, teens and picky adults without any eye rolling or exclamations about "Oh no....another weird vegan thing we have to try! Can we have a pizza delivered later?''  ha ha

This is the first cookbook by Ilene Godofsky Moreno that I have read. She's also published The Colorful Kitchen -- I definitely need to get a copy!

**I won a copy of this book from Goodreads.com. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

REVIEW: Luney Tales

Luney Tales
Author: Bill Bowyer

Luney Tales is a collection of dark short stories. The plots are varied and entertaining....and deliciously twisted. From a daycare center war to suicidal robots, this collection has a little bit of everything demented. Fun read!

I enjoy short story collections. I savor them slowly....one, or maybe two, stories at a time. It took me a few days to work my way through this collection. The tales are not scary....just dark, odd, and creative. Entertaining read!

I do prefer short story collections to have a table of contents...especially in ebook format. It makes it easier to navigate between stories.  There are some editing mistakes as well....none major, but it does catch my eye and pull me out of the story.

All in all, an interesting and entertaining collection of stories. I liked some better than others...but that is the case anytime I read an anthology. My favorite story is the first one in the book -- The Sandbox. A war at a day care center. Kids can be vicious....things like gum and the playground are serious business.

The front cover art is amazing! Definitely eye-catching!

**I received a free copy of this ebook in a Goodreads giveaway. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

REVIEW: Death on the Page

Death on the Page
Author: Essie Lang

Shelby Cox loves co-owning two bookshops with her Aunt Edie. One of the shops is on the mainland in Alexandria, NY and the other is in on nearby Blye Island. The island is a popular tourist location because of historic Blye Castle. I love this cozy series for the setting alone -- can you imagine running a bookshop on an island with a castle? :) Too awesome!

Death on the Page is the 2nd book in this series. A bestselling author comes to visit. Shelby is a bit worried when she finds out that Savannah Page is actually going to be spending the night at the castle. While the committee that oversees the historic landmark has discussed setting up a suite for guests in the castle, Shelby is concerned about problems like damage to the property, liability, etc. 

And she wasn't wrong.

The visiting author is found dead in a secret passage inside the castle. Uh oh. Shelby is soon on the case to do some amateur sleuthing to discover what happened to Savannah Page.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining cozy mystery. I would love, love, love to spend the night in a historic castle! Now, I draw the line at being killed in a secret passage....but everything up to that point, I'm totally willing! I like Shelby and Edie as characters. Edie is a strong personality, but not too overbearing about it. Shelby loves her job, her aunt and Blye Island. The two characters just work well together. I love the setting and the side characters are quirky and enjoyable. The mystery moved at a nice pace with quite a few suspects and twisted developments. All  in all, a very entertaining cozy mystery! I will definitely keep reading this series!

I look forward to the next book!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Crooked Lane. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, March 9, 2020

REVIEW: The Deep

The Deep
Author: Alma Katsu

Annie Hebbley survived the sinking of the Titanic. The event has left her mentally scarred. She lost her memory for a time, and still remembers the strange events on board the doomed ship as it sailed on its ill-fated maiden voyage. Years later, a friend contacts her asking her to come be a nurse aboard Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic. Even though Britannic has been refitted into a hospital ship, Annie still can see the resemblance to the Titanic. Then the same strange bizarre things start to happen....and she sees someone she recognizes...a man who was aboard the Titanic....a man who could not have survived the sinking....

I loved Alma Katsu's book,The Hunger, about the Donner Party, so I knew I would enjoy this one about the Titanic and its sister ship. OMG....this story was so creepy and suspenseful! I enjoy just about anything about the Titanic....but add in some great horror elements....and it's binge read material for me!

This story alternates between Annie's trip on the Titanic in 1912 as a maid, and her journey on the refitted Britannic in 1916. Usually I'm not really a fan of stories that jump back and forth in time, but for this story the time shifts just heightened the suspense. I'm not going to give away anything about the plot.....it would be much better to go into the story not knowing much about what's going to happen other than the tale centers around the Titanic and Britannic.

I LOVE the cover art for this book! I am buying a copy for my keeper shelf because it's just a gorgeous book. Even though I know the ending, I know I will want to re-read this one. My Titanic obsession will require it!

Very suspenseful and entertaining read! I couldn't put it down once I got into the story.....  Alma Katsu has not let me down yet! I added her other books to my TBR stack....must read them all! :) I can't wait to see what her next new novel will bring! Roanoke Island maybe?  She keeps hitting strange historical events that I'm totally obsessed with -- the Donner Party, The Titanic....  Can't wait to see what the next one might be!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Penguin. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. **

Sunday, March 8, 2020

REVIEW: I Know Coffee

I Know Coffee
Harvesting, Blending, Roasting, Brewing, Grinding & Tasting Coffee
Author: Jessica Simms

I will admit it....

I love coffee.

I am a coffee snob.

I am not in any way apologetic about it.

But.....for all that I love my coffee....I really didn't know much about it. Other than my personal likes/dislikes and how to grind and brew it, my knowledge was pretty much nil.

How embarrassing. :) My favorite drink in the world....the thing I never start the day without....and I knew next to nothing about it other than how to work my grinder and brewer.

I enjoyed reading this book! Jessica Simms lays it all out....from where beans are grown, how they are processed and shipped to how to pick the best coffee and brew an awesome cup o'joe....it's all in this book! I loved reading about the different varieties of coffee and where the beans are grown. So interesting! She gives some great tips on brewing coffee the right way and how to blend flavors.

This is a great book for any coffee lover!

Now I guess I need to read a book on my second favorite drink -- tea!

**I won an ebook edition of this book from Goodreads. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Saturday, March 7, 2020

REVIEW: Poirot Investigates (Agatha Christie)

Poirot Investigates
Author: Agatha Christie

Poirot Investigates is a collection of short stories featuring the Belgian detective and his powerful, little grey cells. First printed in the UK in 1925, the book included 11 stories. The US edition added three additional stories. I read a US edition from 1970.

These first few Poirot short stories were written in 1922 while Christie was on an around the world tour to publicize the British Empire Exposition. The stories in Poirot Investigates plus 11 more were published in a collection, The Early Cases of Hercule Poirot, published in 1974. The 25 stories were first published in The Sketch magazine in the UK in 1923 and in The Blue Book magazine in the US in 1924/25.

I love these short, entertaining Poirot cases. Because the tales are all so short, they don't feature the twists, complex reveal moments, and character development found in Christie novels....but they still showcase Poirot's amazing wit and Christie's stellar writing. Much like writers today who pen short stories or novellas to bring attention to their books and characters, Christie published these stories to bring attention to her detective fiction. It worked! Poirot books became quite popular. When she published The Man in the Brown Suit in 1924, some readers and reviewers complained because Poirot wasn't in the book!

The stories included in this collection (US edition) are:

The Adventure of the Western Star
The Tragedy at Marston Manor
The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge
The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
The Kidnapped Prime Minister
The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
The Case of the Missing Will
The Veiled Lady
The Lost Mine
The Chocolate Box

My favorite is The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb. The story is about a supposed curse on those who opened a tomb. Poirot investigates to see if the curse is real, or imagined. Since King Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered in 1922 about the time Christie was writing this story, I think she was thinking about the sensational journalism at the time reporting a curse causing deaths of those who had opened and entered the tomb. It made for a great Poirot story!

The long running (and wonderfully awesome) television series Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted each of these stories into episodes. The characters and plots are changed somewhat to lengthen them to fill an hour episode, but most stay very true to the original story.

All in all, a very entertaining short story collection! One must keep in mind the fact that these stories were short on purpose because they were originally printed in magazines. A bit of very smart marketing to get readers hooked on her writing and characters so more novels would sell! :)

Friday, March 6, 2020

REVIEW: The Lost Mine (Agatha Christie)

The Lost Mine
Author: Agatha Christie

This early Hercule Poirot story was first published in the UK (The Sketch magazine) on November 21, 1923. Publication in the US followed in The Blue Book magazine in April 1925.

Poirot relates to Captain Hastings how a murder investigation earned him 14,000 shares in a mine in Burma. Poirot uses the story to not only toot his own horn about his fabulous grey cells...but also to caution Hastings about speculative investments.

I enjoyed this story. Not only was it an interesting short mystery, but it gave some cute insight into Poirot's personality. His bank balance is.... 444 pounds, four, and fourpence. Symmetrical. :) I love reading stories about Poirot's investigations, but I think if I ever met anybody so strangely fastidious I would dislike them immensely. :)

Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted this story for television (Season 2, episode 4). Some major changes were made to the characters, but the basic plot follows the original story. David Suchet does a wonderful job playing Poirot as usual. I think Agatha Christie would have enjoyed his portrayal of her detective....he really seems to fit her descriptions.

I'm enjoying reading all of these early Poirot short stories. For some reason, I always concentrated on Christie's novels, and never read any of her shorter mysteries. Fun to read them now! Always fun to discover a new story by a favorite author!

On to the next story: The Cornish Mystery!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

REVIEW: Night Train to Murder

Night Train to Murder
Author: Simon R. Green

Ishmael Jones is an agent for a secret organization. He, and his partner Penny, are called out to work unusual, often extremely dangerous, cases....mostly because Ishmael is an unusual, often extremely dangerous, person. Well.....not a person exactly. He's an alien disguised as a human. When strange things happen that threaten humanity, The Organization calls on Ishmael. In return, they make sure nobody discovers he isn't quite human.

This time, Ishmael receives a summons from The Organization that isn't quite his normal sort of case. He and Penny are hired to provide extra security for a VIP aboard a late-night train to Bath. The man is the new head of the British Psychic Weapons Division and rumor has it that someone plans to kill him on the train. What could possibly go wrong? A dead VIP, perhaps? And only an hour to find out who killed him.....

I really enjoy this series. I've been a huge Simon R. Green fan ever since I read his Nightside series. Ishmael Jones is the perfect secret agent....an alien hiding in plain sight. He has excellent protection and sleuthing skills. Penny is his perfect partner.....caring, intelligent, and extremely protective of Ishmael.

These stories are short, but always suspenseful, creepy and fun to read. Green packs a lot into a few pages! I enjoyed this newest case, and look forward to the next! Simon R. Green never fails to deliver a great story!

Night Train to Murder is the 8th book in the Ishmael Jones series. Although not completely necessary to read the series in order (there is always a bit of explanation about Jones' background at the start of each tale), the series really should be read in order to get the complete background of the characters and to avoid any spoilers for previous cases. The stories are all relatively short...150 pages or less most of the time. So it wouldn't be too difficult for a new reader to catch up with this series.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Severn House. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

REVIEW: The Adventure of the Clapham Cook (Agatha Christie)

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
Author: Agatha Christie

This early Hercule Poirot short story was first published in the UK in The Sketch magazine on November 14, 1923. US publication followed in The Blue Book magazine in September 1925.

A rather rude woman, Mrs. Todd, comes to see Poirot about her cook. Her cook left a couple days before for her day out, and never returned. While it seems a trivial event of a servant leaving employment with no notice, Poirot decides to investigate anyway. Turns out that it isn't a trivial event at all....

I liked this story. It definitely kept my attention from start to finish as I wondered what had happened to the missing cook. Poirot does make some rather rude comments about servants and their "class'' of people...insinuating lack of common sense or intelligence. I found that annoying. While this story was written almost 100 years ago, it's still true today that the wealthy sometimes assume that poorer people, or those in trade jobs or more menial work, are somehow "lesser'' than they are. That wasn't true 100 years ago....and it isn't true today. (But then again, we non-wealthy folks joke about upper class twits....and that's the same thought pattern in reverse. Human nature.)

All in all, an entertaining short mystery. I'm enjoying these early Poirot stories! Surprised that in all the years I read Christie's novels, I never read any of the short stories. It's fun to read something "new'' by my favorite author...so I guess I should be glad I overlooked them!

Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet as Poirot adapted this story for television -- the long-running show's first episode, in fact! Season 1, episode 1 was first shown on January 8, 1989.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

REVIEW: You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone
Authors: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

I fell in love with the writing of these two authors after reading The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl. Mostly because the stories they weave give me the chills. I continually find myself thinking "Holy crap....this could actually HAPPEN to someone.''  Most of the time when I read thrillers I am safely cocooned in my BS/believability cushion....yeah right, she would do exactly what she shouldn't have done....sure the killer would be right there.....yeah the cops would miss that. You know....the plot doubts that keep me free from freak-outs while reading seriously scary stuff. It's my blanket while reading horror and dark psychologically twisty tales.

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen took my blanket! I want my blanket back!

This story totally sucked me in. The main character makes a couple decisions out of kindness....and her world spirals completely out of control.

Shay really has nobody. But, she's all about data anyway. As a market researcher she sees everything in facts and percentages. And as a 31 year old woman alone....she knows what her percentages mean. Then she sees a woman commit suicide in a train station. There was nothing she could do, but she feels terrible. The woman seemed so....empty. Shay leaves flowers at the woman's apartment and goes to the memorial....those actions put her on the radar of a strange group of women, Strong women. Focused women. Retaliation. Revenge. Whatever. They. Want.  Shay finds herself sucked into the vortex of the Moore sisters. Can she escape?

Shay is the narrator for most of this story. But you also get peeks into the Moore's heads and other side characters as the plot progresses. It really grew into a mix of cult and gang mentality....yikes! I live in a town with a cult that has been outed on several news programs and books and movies/documentaries for being abusive/controlling/scary.....and they target people who are alone, disenfranchised, easy to dupe with just a little fake attention. And once they have them.....they indoctrinate them and slowly gain control over every little portion of their lives. All control. All manipulation. And severe retaliation if they refuse to comply or try to leave. That's why I found this story believable and chilling. I've seen how intelligent people are pulled into circumstances that they normally wouldn't be drawn to.....it's all clever manipulation and deviant personalities in charge.

Loved it!! They got me again!

(I really would like my safety blanket returned, girls. Seriously. I have a Joe Hill book on my TBR and I can't possibly read it without my BS blanket. Give it back!)

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from St Martins Press. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, March 2, 2020

REVIEW: The Man in the Brown Suit (Agatha Christie)

The Man in the Brown Suit
Author: Agatha Christie

The first time I read this early novel by Agatha Christie was in the 1980s. I saw the title listed in the front of one of my Poirot paperbacks and wanted to read it. Back then, with no internet for ebooks or digital library sites, this meant a trek across town to the very small library in my hometown. Of course, they did not have the book. Plenty of Poirot and Marple....but no Brown Suit. I remember having to request an inter-library loan....a waiting period of another week...then another trek across town (I don't remember if I walked or rode my bike....but I did one or the other. My dad was not one for providing what he called "frivolous rides''...unless it was for homework or required pursuits, I had to use self-propelling transportation....feet or pedals.) I remember this particular book quest because the librarian did not want to check the book out to me. I waited all those days for the inter-library loan to arrive, walked the long trek to the library AGAIN, and then the librarian told me I couldn't check the book out. My father was not with me. I was 12...and the book was firmly in the adult section of the library. I had to get parental consent to even check the book out. I was allowed to use the phone...I fully expected my father to yell. Frivolous phone calls while he was working (He ran his insurance business from home) and all that. But no....he was sympathetic. I was shocked when he got in his car, drove across town, and wrote out a note for their file that I was allowed to check out any book in the library at any time, adult section or not, with his full permission. He signed it with a flourish, thanked the surprised librarian, and even gave me a ride home....with my book. Memories like that make me very thankful for the internet because now when I want to read a book, even ones long out of print, I can almost always ferret up a copy instantly. And, when that fails, I can easily order a copy online....and wait pleasantly for it to appear in my mailbox in a few days. No more multiple 4-mile treks on a bike. :)

Flash forward several decades, and I'm reading my way though all of Christie's writing in publication order. The second I picked up my ancient 1970s paperback copy of this book, I smiled, remembering the bike treks, the phone calls, the parental permission I had to have just to read this book back in 1980. Nostalgia. :)

The main character in the book, Anne Beddingfeld, has quite the adventure of her own! She sees a murder in the subway station, finds a clue written on a tiny piece of paper, and off she goes for some sleuthing. Turns out the mystery involves more than one dead body....and a boat headed for Africa. Lots of danger, intrigue, romance, and excitement!

The Man in the Brown suit introduces Colonel Race. Race is also in several other Christie novels -- Cards on the Table, Sparkling Cyanide, and Death on the Nile. The book was published in 1924. Some of the characters, the setting, and some events were inspired by Christie's 10-month around the world trip in 1922 to promote the upcoming British Empire Exhibition. I never knew until this year that the character of Sir Eustace Pedler in the book was inspired by the man who headed up that trip -- Major E. A. Belcher. The book is even dedicated to him: to E.A.B. -- in memory of a journey, some lion stories, and a request that I should someday write the "Mystery of the Mill House.''  She penned all of the Hercule Poirot early short stories while on this trip. I was so excited to learn something new about my favorite author that I bought a book about her adventures on this trip: The Grand Tour! I can't wait to read it! :)

This book is more of a thriller or romantic adventure story, rather than Christie's usual mystery. Several reviews at the time she published the book complained about this fact and that Poirot was set aside for this story in favor of Colonel Race and Harry Rayburn. The story was serialized in several parts in the London Evening News in 1923-24 (Anne the Adventurous) before being published in novel form.

I like this story! It's almost 100 years old now....and the main character is a young girl, alone in the world, heading off to find adventure and a life of her own. Anne refuses to do the normal thing -- get married for security, have babies, clean house, etc. She wants more than that -- she wants some adventure, to live life on her own terms....   Pretty brave for 1924! I loved the story in 1980....and I find it still a very enjoyable read in 2020!

I read and listened to this book at the same time. The audio book I checked out using Kindle Unlimited said that some "editorial edits'' had been made to the story. So I pulled out my 45-year old paperback version, and read along with the audio to see what changes were made. Mostly superficial....some differences in where chapters started and ended....a word changed here or there...sentences added/removed. Nothing major. My old paperback copy has an unusual cover, so I'm going to add a photo of it. :) So 1970s!


All in all, a very enjoyable read. A bit dated in spots....but not bad for a book written 97 years ago! On to the next book -- The Secret of Chimneys (1925)!

A made-for-television movie starring Stephanie Zimbalist was released in 1988. It's on youtube...  The movie makes significant changes to the story -- it's set in modern times, and so makes major plot changes.  But, it's still an enjoyable watch! 






Sunday, March 1, 2020

REVIEW: The Submarine Plans (Agatha Christie)

The Submarine Plans
Author: Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot short story was first published in The Sketch magazine in the UK on November 7, 1923. US publication followed in The Blue Book magazine in July 1925.

Poirot is once again approached by the British government to help solve a case. Plans for a new Z type Submarine have been stolen, and Poirot's little grey cells are needed to help the Ministry of Defense get them back. An entertaining little story with some intrigue and great sleuthing on Poirot's part as usual!

Christie later expanded the story idea from this short mystery into a novella, The Incredible Theft. The Incredible Theft was first published in the Daily Express in seven parts in 1937, as well as in the story collection Murder in the Mews and Other Stories. The television show Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted this longer version into an episode (Season 1, episode 8), so The Submarine Plans was not adapted for television.

I am enjoying these early, short Poirot mysteries! Because they are all so short, they lack the twisty plots and classic reveals of the novels but they do showcase Poirot as a character and Christie's wit. She can stuff a lot into just a few pages. Each story is a nice glimpse into the character of Poirot. I'm sure these stories helped bump up readership for her next two Poirot novels, Murder on the Links (1923) and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, (1926) which is often recognized as one of the best mystery novels ever written.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

REVIEW: The Case of the Missing Will (Agatha Christie)

The Case of the Missing Will
Author: Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot short story was first published in the UK on October 31, 1923 in The Sketch magazine. US publication followed in The Blue Book magazine in January 1925.

Hercule Poirot is hired by a woman whose wealthy uncle has died. She and her uncle had a difference of opinion about the education of women. When he passed away, he left a will that gave her a year to find another document that would leave her his money. If she couldn't find the document within that time, all his money and property would go to various charities. Can Poirot's wits and little grey cells find the hidden will?

A very interesting and creative story! It is definitely more than a bit dated though. The old uncle thinks that women should not be educated, but learn homemaker skills and dairy work....that women are only useful around the house. He is basically estranged from his niece because she wants to go to college. And she does! Despite the fact that the uncle threatens to disown her....and then plays a ridiculous game of find-the-will to prove that her education is worthless and that he can outwit her from the grave. What an ass!

The television show Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted this story into an episode (Season 5, episode 4). For the first time, I have to say that I did not like the episode. It makes such sweeping changes to the plot of Christie's original story that it can't even be seen as the same story. The timeline is moved up to the 1930s, Hitler, Mussolini, Germany overtaking other countries,  and going to war are mentioned, and the basic plot is all together different. Ick. David Suchet and the rest of the cast do a great job acting the script they were given.....but, why did they decide to basically trash Christie's original story? No reason for it.

On to the next story: The Submarine Plans!

Friday, February 28, 2020

REVIEW: The Great Matter Monologues

The Great Matter Monologues:
Katherine, Henry, Anne
Author: Thomas Crockett

The Great Matter. It's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII decided he wanted to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn. What started out as merely a question of divorce bloomed into all sorts of intrigue, including England splitting away from the Catholic Church. The Great Matter Monologues gives a theatrical slant to this age-old true story, alternating between the 3 main players in the drama: Katherine (the first wife), Henry (the King), and Anne (the replacement wife). This is a drama that still plays out on a smaller scale in normal lives.....when Henry VIII sought to "trade up'' so to speak, it was a completely different matter......one that people still talk about many, many lifetimes later.

I'm familiar with the history of the King's Great Matter, so the subject wasn't anything new for me. I've read many non-fiction and fiction books about the Tudor era, as I find the drama fascinating. Henry VIII was a horrible, yet mesmerizing, king.

The first 100 pages or so of this book kept my attention....the emotions playing out, the characters giving their side and reactions to events, etc. But, then it just started waxing on a bit long.....I got a bit tired of Katherine lamenting, Henry being angry, and Anne being a shrew. 340+ pages of emotional monologing constantly alternating from character to character was just a bit of overload for me. I love the creative concept of this book.....great idea to set up the scenario like a play and have the characters unload their emotional baggage. But after awhile, I just wanted to slap all three of them and tell them to pull their heads out and just get on with it.

So, interesting concept....I did stick with it and finish, but the last 100 pages or so were a struggle. I like  the concept, but disagree with the portrayal of Anne in particular. Sure....she was The Other Woman, but she really comes off as a total shrewish waste of space. I'm not sure that is a fair portrayal.

Interesting and intriguing concept. Well written for the most part. But just a bit disappointing for me. Maybe I have read too much on this era to thoroughly enjoy another rehashing? Or perhaps my first inclination is correct.....and the alternating emotional monologues just went on for too many pages.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from John Hunt Publishing. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


Thursday, February 27, 2020

REVIEW: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Agatha Christie)

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
Author: Agatha Christie

This early Hercule Poirot short story was first published in The Sketch magazine in the UK in October 1923. US publication followed in The Blue Book magazine in December 1924.

Poirot and Hastings are dining with a friend when their meal is interrupted by an urgent phone call for help. When they arrive at Count Foscatini's lodgings, the man is dead. Who killed the Count?

I found this story to be a bit cliche (mafia, corrupt officials, etc), but it was written nearly 100 years ago...so not so cliche back then. Interesting case! Poirot as usual solves the case based on the smallest of clues. Chalk another one up to his fabulous little grey cells!

Agatha Christie's Poirot adapted this story for television (Season 5, episode 5). The show makes quite a few changes and embellishments to fill an hour time slot...but the episode remains basically true to the original story.

I'm enjoying these brief Poirot stories. Christie wrote the first few Hercule Poirot short stories while on a round the world trip. She led such an interesting life! Just as authors today put out short stories and novellas to pull in readers for their novels, Christie published more than 20 of these short Poirot cases after publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I wish I could get ahold of a copy of  The Sketch or The Blue Book magazine just to see all the stories from various authors of the day, advertisements, etc.

I'm on a reading journey to enjoy all of Christie's writing in publication order. She has been my favorite author for decades...and I've always wanted to read every book and every story. So, finally doing it!! Having a great time!

On to the next story: The Case of the Missing Will!


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

REVIEW: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote

I grew up in a small town in Kansas not unlike Holcomb where the Clutter family lived. Two men entered their home one November night in 1959 through an unlocked door. They bound and gagged the four family members in the house and then shot them at close range with a shotgun. The closest home was far enough away that the neighbors didn't hear the blasts. Nobody knew anything was amiss until friends showed up the next day to attend church with the family and were met with complete silence. The Clutters were dead.

I read this book for the first time in 8th grade. It was before the days of permission slips for controversial books....and I don't believe the district where I went to school ever banned a book. I had read every other book on the required reading list for my class and my teacher didn't know what to do with me. He finally decided to go rogue, and began handing me books from his personal library. The Mouse that Roared. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Invisible Man. The Grapes of Wrath. The Jungle. And....In Cold Blood.

I was profoundly affected by In Cold Blood. I was growing up....and learning the lesson that The World could be a very unsafe place. People could be hurt or even killed by complete strangers...for no reason. Good people....who never did anything harmful or wrong to others....could end brutally and unjustly. The idea first entered my head when John Lennon was gunned down in 1980 on the sidewalk outside his apartment in NYC by a stranger. I remember being dazed when I realized that a complete stranger could walk up, point a gun, and kill ANYBODY without any explanation or cause whatsoever. It shocked and scared me. Then a year later, I read In Cold Blood....it added to the awakening. A family asleep in their small town farm house.....good people. Kind people. They thought they were safe....safe enough to leave their doors unlocked at night. It was a mistake.

I have never slept a night in any house with an unlocked door since I read this book in 1982. Never.

It wasn't the description of the Clutters, their lives, their deaths that got to me.....it was more the fact that Truman Capote also described the killers in detail. Their lives. Their families. Their feelings, emotions, motivations. I found myself feeling sorry for them....abused children, hard lives, brutal lessons. I learned another adult lesson -- every human being is a person, even brutal murderers. There are reasons that people go down a dark path. This book taught me that not all children have happy, safe lives....some parents are abusive, some drink, use drugs, abandon their families. I lived a sheltered life in a tiny town in the  middle of nowhere. I had no idea that some kids had brutal lives. There is a space in time where every child grows up, starts to learn adult lessons and learns the truth about the world.....my awakening was filled with so many things. The Iran hostage crisis. The assassination of Anwar Sadat. John Lennon shot. Reagan shot. And....this book.

I want to watch the movie Capote, so I decided to revisit In Cold Blood first.  I wondered if it would still bother me like it did when I first read it in 1981. I find this book had much more power when read by 13-year old me than it does several decades later. I have lived through so much, seen so much, read so much that it no longer shocks me that bad things happen to good people. I am no longer the innocent unworldly girl that didn't realize that people kill each other over silly things like money....or for no reason at all.

There are rumors that Capote took liberties with the facts while writing In Cold Blood. Even if he did,  the book is still masterfully written and tells both sides of the story. The Clutters. Perry Smith. Richard Hickock.

I listened to the audio version of this book (Books on Tape) and let Scott Brick read me Capote's words. I found myself thinking the what-if questions -- what if those kids had lived and gone on to have wonderful lives....what would have happened to Smith and Hickock if they hadn't killed the Clutter family that night.....what if, what if, what if. So I guess my final thoughts are that yes...this book still affects me profoundly. But...differently. Instead of thoughts about the world not being safe and being surprised by that.....I found myself feeling sad that all of these lives were ruined, wasted, ended. Nancy and Kenyon Clutter would have done so much as adults, but they never got the chance. Herb and Bonnie Clutter would have lived out their days on their Kansas farm. Maybe Perry Smith and Richard Hickock wouldn't have been hanged in a Kansas prison. Lives wasted. For nothing. As a 50-year old grandmother, this book makes me sad.....as a 13-year old girl this book made me scared and shocked. Still emotional. Just different.

And that in itself makes me sad, too. I wish I was still shocked by a tale about an entire family gunned down in their own home. It says something about the world we live in that the story isn't shocking anymore.

Now, I'm going to go read a middle grade book about something magical or watch something on Disney channel to clear my head. And I'm going to check .... just to make sure .....that the front door is LOCKED.

Sigh.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

REVIEW: Soot

Soot
Author: Dan Vyleta

The basic premise of this series made me want to enjoy this story. When I first requested a review copy of this book, I did not realize it was a follow-up to an earlier novel, Smoke. I immediately backtracked a bit...and read Smoke. Then came back to this sequel. While some of the original characters returned in this newest story, most of the magic and power of the first book did not. The plot in places just seemed muddled and confusing, and the magical feel of the first story just didn't carry through into this sequel.

I enjoyed the first novel enough to give this series another go. I think I might enjoy this book more in audio format. So, once this is released, I'm going to listen to both books in audio....and see if that makes this story more enjoyable for me. Listening to a voice actor perform a story sometimes breathes some new life into a book that falls flat for me the first time. I liked Smoke enough to give this book a second chance at a later date. And, I will revise this review at that time.

So, at this point, I will just say that this sequel just didn't work for me. I never really engaged with the plot or the characters. Not every story is for every reader....and this one is just not for me. But I'm willing to let the smoke clear (see what I did there?) and try it again in audio format.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Doubleday. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, February 24, 2020

REVIEW: Coconut Layer Cake Murder

Coconut Layer Cat Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke

I have been reading the Hannah Swensen series ever since the first book, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, came out in 2000! I love the setting, the characters, the recipes, and the light mysteries. Each time a new book comes out, I nab it as quickly as possible and binge read it to find out what's going on in good ol' Lake Eden, MN.

Coconut Layer Cake Murder is the 25th book in the series. I happily curled up with this newest book, a cup of tea and my chihuahua for a long night of happy reading. The last book ended on a bit of a cliff hanger of sorts and I just HAD to find out what was going on.....  I waited an entire year to find out! :)

I enjoyed this newest book. About 3 books ago, there were some major writing problems with this series, but it's HANNAH....I can't do without my Hannah-fix each year. The writing seems to have smoothed itself out for the most part, as have some plot developments that left long-time Hannah fans upset (the evil R...boooo hisssss). But, I still see differences in these later books when compared to earlier books in the series. The mystery portion of the plot is much lighter, and the recipes are much longer (instead of just recipes and cooking instructions, they include cute comments from story characters and other things. And each one can be 3 pages long or more). After reading a series this long, I'm ok with the books being shorter, but it does make me think that the series might be winding down. Maybe when Hannah finally makes The Decision, the series will have a final book? I read through this entire book in less than 2 hours....I'm a fast reader, but a lot of this book is recipes. I'm ok with that -- some of them really sound YUMMY this time! I'm going to do a bit of experimenting and see if I can't change over some of the cookie recipes to a diabetic version my hubby can enjoy. :) There are several savory recipes as well -- a mushroom rice dish as well as other non-dessert goodies.

All in all, a fun entertaining read as usual. I'm definitely in line for my next visit with my book friends from Lake Eden! And maybe......The Decision????  It's been 20 years....we need The Decision.ha ha

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**